Hey guys, so as you already know, Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, or plural marriage — he was married or sealed to more than one woman. Now, some of the women he was sealed to were already legally married to other men. It appears that Joseph’s sealings to these women were for eternity-only, meaning that during their lives, they continued to live with their husbands like normal, and it wouldn’t be until after death that their marriage to Joseph Smith would begin, making these relationships not simultaneous marriages, but consecutive marriages. Anyway, we talk more about that topic in this video so go watch that if you haven’t yet. That video will provide some very important context for this video.
So what are we going to talk about today? Well, over the years, lots of people have claimed that Joseph Smith sent men on missions and then married their wives. The first person to make this claim was early Latter-day Saint dissident John C. Bennett, for example, here, here, and here. Fast-forwarding to modern times, one critic writes: “There is substantial evidence to show that Joseph Smith was sealed to the wives of other men … Many of the poor guys were on their missions when Joseph Smith married their wives.”
So here’s the deal. It’s not difficult to make general claims like this. It is much more difficult to actually name names. Who exactly are the “many poor guys” that were on missions when Joseph married their wives? Where exactly is the evidence that corroborates this rumor? In this video, we’re going to dive into the history and see what we can find.
Alright, so please understand that when it comes to questions about Joseph’s plural sealings, there’s often not a lot of evidence to go off of, and different scholars sometimes come to different conclusions. That said, the evidence suggests that 14 out of Joseph’s approximately 35 wives had legal husbands while also being sealed to Joseph. So, did Joseph send any of these 14 husbands on missions and marry their wives while they were away? Let’s just go about this methodically.
We’ll start with the easy ones: The husbands of Mary Elizabeth Rollins, Ruth Vose, and Sarah Kingsley were not members of the Church and thus were not serving missions when these women were sealed to Joseph. Presendia Huntington was sealed to Joseph on December 11th, 1841. Her husband was inactive at the time and thus was not on a mission.
Patty Bartlett was sealed to Joseph on March 9, 1842. Various records place her husband, David Sessions, in Nauvoo at this time. He actually served as a juror the day after the sealing. Thus, he was not on a mission. Sarah Ann Whitney, whose situation we talked more about in the last episode, was not married to anyone else at the time she was sealed to Joseph. Thus, no husband on a mission. She married Joseph Kingsbury later on. Zina Huntington was sealed to Joseph on October 27, 1841. Her husband, Henry Jacobs, was not a missionary at this time. He left on a mission in January of the next year. Elvira Cowles was sealed to Joseph on June 1, 1843. Her husband, Jonathan Holmes, was a shoemaker in Nauvoo. According to accounting records, he was not on a mission at this time. Sylvia Sessions was married to Windsor Lyon. She was most likely sealed to Joseph sometime after Windsor had been excommunicated on November 19th, 1842. Thus, not on a mission. Some believe the sealing happened in February 1842. In any case, a variety of documents place him in Nauvoo in 1842.
We know next to nothing about Joseph’s sealings to Esther Dutcher, Mary Heron, and Elizabeth Davis. I have not found evidence indicating that Elizabeth’s husband (Jabez Durfee) ever served a mission. The other two husbands, Albert Smith, and John Snider, did serve missions, but since we don’t know when (or frankly, even if) Esther and Mary were sealed to Joseph, we don’t know if there was any overlap. Thus, I’m marking these two cases as “inconclusive.”
Now, let’s talk about Lucinda Pendleton. Scholars Richard Anderson and Scott Faulring wrote that “…[the] claim that Lucinda was sealed to Joseph Smith is not based on impressive evidence.” Brian Hales seems to agree. But even if she was sealed to Joseph, we don’t have a sealing date. Some have suggested 1838. Brian Hales’ safe estimate was that it probably wouldn’t have occurred after July 1841. Her husband, George Harris, did serve a mission between July 1840 and September 1841. If she was sealed to Joseph, it could have been while her husband was away, but we just don’t know, so this one is inconclusive as well.
That leaves us with one more case to consider — Joseph’s sealing to Marinda Johnson. There are two possible dates for the sealing: Either April of 1842 or May of 1843, or she could have been sealed to Joseph on both dates. If she was sealed to Joseph in April 1842, then her husband, Orson Hyde, would have been away as a missionary. In 1840, Orson had a dream about being a missionary in the Holy Land. At a church conference that same year, he told leaders what he felt called to do, and they approved. By April 1842, he’d been gone for almost two years.
If Marinda was sealed to Joseph in April 1842, it is unclear whether Orson had given his approval beforehand or not. Two antagonistic sources indicate he was unaware of the sealing. Two other antagonistic sources indicate he had previously agreed to the sealing. All four sources are problematic for their own reasons. For what it’s worth, both Orson and Marinda were faithful members of the Church throughout the rest of their lives.
So, was Joseph sealed to men’s wives while they were off on missions? It’s a solid “no” for 10 of the 14 relationships. 3 others are inconclusive because we don’t know when their sealing dates were. And Marinda’s case is inconclusive as well since we have two possible sealing dates.
Some critics, like John C. Bennett, try to paint this picture of Joseph sending men on missions in order to get them out of the way so he could get with their wives. This is just not the story the historical record is telling us. And it’s not the story these women or their husbands told. I hope this information sheds some light on this question. There’s obviously much more that could be said about this, so if you want to really dig in, check out the resources in the YouTube description, watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day!
- “Biographies of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives,” via JosephSmithsPolygamy.org: https://bit.ly/3Su6jv9
- “Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to ‘steal’ their wives?” via FAIR: https://bit.ly/3Pe9dC7
- “Did Joseph Smith send Apostle Orson Hyde on a mission so that he could secretly marry his wife Marinda while he was gone?” via FAIR: https://bit.ly/3uRXmln
- “Joseph Smith’s Personal Polygamy,” by Brian Hales: https://bit.ly/3Swak24
- “Joseph Smith’s Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor’s New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?” by Brian Hales: https://bit.ly/3RDPy01
- “Was Joseph Smith sealed or married to other men’s wives without the knowledge or consent of the husbands?” via FAIR: https://bit.ly/3vInCPq
- Gospel Topics essay: “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” via the Church website: https://bit.ly/3AYGVav
- Gospel Topics essay: “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/2MITdwO
- Gospel Topics essay: “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah,” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3PxO2eo
- Gospel Topics essay: “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage,” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3ySG7kT
- “‘Denying the Undeniable’: Examining Early Mormon Polygamy Renunciations,” via Brian Hales: https://bit.ly/3v3l6TG
- “The Prophet Secretly Teaches Polygamy,” via Brian Hales: https://bit.ly/3PepVBo
- 1859 claim that Joseph sent 3 men on missions and married their wives (patently false): https://bit.ly/3z7BdSy Research from FAIR debunking this: https://bit.ly/3Pe9dC7
- “The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives,” (a book review) by Richard Lloyd Anderson & Scott Faulring (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/35kg6wN
- John C. Bennett claims that Joseph sent men on missions to marry their wives: https://bit.ly/3OdrFcK / https://bit.ly/3uRbn2E / https://bit.ly/3Pd2kkJ
- Two sources for Marinda Nancy Johnson’s marriage to Joseph: (1843) https://bit.ly/3z8AEru / (1842)