Early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James walked 800 miles to Nauvoo.
Quincy: Her trunk got lost, at least that’s what Charles Wandell says. In the Nauvoo Neighbor, the local paper, there is an ad that appears for several weeks running. The title is “Lost.” It describes the trunk and offers a small reward for its return. But Jane is essentially left without anything but the clothes on her back, which she finds to be a truly sorry state of affairs, in part, because I think she used her possessions as a way of asserting her respectability. She describes the clothing in the trunk as beautiful clothes, mostly new. She’s left without all of them. All she has are the shoes that have worn out, the stockings that have ripped and torn, the dress that she was wearing, and very little else. So she relies on the kindness of strangers. She needs to get a job. She needs to get some new clothing, all that kind of stuff.
GT: I know in the movie, Emma and Jane, there’s a really interesting scene where Jane comes to meet the Prophet Joseph and Emma. I know she’s pretty embarrassed. But she’s like, “I don’t have any clothes.” And Joseph says, “Let’s go get her some clothes, Emma.” Can you tell about that story?
Dr. Quincy Newell tells us more about that story, and tells us that Jane was a great friend of Joseph and Emma Smith. In fact, it appears Emma may have asked Emma to be sealed to her as a family member. In our next conversation, we will discuss this proposal, and Jane’s attempts to be sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith’s family.
Quincy: [Jane] starts telling anyone who will listen that Emma came to her and said that Joseph Smith had told her, Emma, to offer to Jane the opportunity to be adopted as a child. Jane, at the time said, “No thanks.” But starting in 1880, she starts petitioning church leaders to say, “You know, I’d really like to change my mind about that. Could I please be adopted to Joseph Smith, as a child as he offered to do back in Nauvoo? Would that be okay? When can that be accomplished?”
GT: This was not a legal adoption, but a religious adoption. Is that correct?
Quincy: That’s how Jane frames it. So at the time that Jane says the offer was being made, parent-child sealing, which is sort of how she frames it in the 1880s, was not really a thing. It was at least theoretically a thing. But it was not a thing that had been practiced. So nobody is really doing this. By the 1880s, lots of people are doing it. Lots and lots of white people are petitioning to be adopted as Joseph Smith’s children. They never laid eyes on Joseph Smith. He was dead long before they became converts to the church. Their requests are being granted right and left. I think probably thousands of people were adopted. He’s got a huge family. So Jane is basically asking for what lots of other people are getting as sort of a matter of course.
GT:Oh, really? It just a widespread thing by then.
Quincy: It’s a very widespread thing. So she’s just asking for something that everybody else is getting. But church leaders find this a really difficult request to grant in her case.
GT: I can imagine.
Quincy: I think it’s because they have a lot of trouble imagining giving Joseph Smith a black daughter in eternity. But she just keeps kind of poking them. So she writes letters to them. She has friends write letters to them. She goes to visit the church presidents in their homes. She talks about this at every opportunity. It’s in her autobiography. It’s in every account of her life. She sort of states this over and over again. She seems to make the argument that she should be allowed to have a sealing to Joseph Smith, as a child. She should be allowed to receive her endowments because she has been a virtuous Mormon woman, and because Joseph Smith would let her do this. So why won’t the church leaders at the time, let her do that?
Her repeated requests resulted in the most unusual sealing ceremony ever granted. Check out our conversation….