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Joseph Smith’s Teen Brides

One of the Gospel Topics essays on polygamy produced by the church indicates that Joseph Smith married young women, one of “who[m] was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.”  I talked to polygamy expert Dr. Brian Hales about these sealings.  What does he have to say about this?

Brian:  There are two 14-year-olds.  The other 14-year-old was Nancy Maria Winchester.  We don’t know anything about that relationship, when it happened.  She may have been 15; my bet is she was 14.  Helen Mar Kimball is the one 14-year-old.  For several reasons I don’t believe that relationship was consummated, but Joseph gets accused of all kinds of crazy things.  People even call him a pedophile.

Now a pedophile is someone who’s interested in children under 11, which would not apply to Joseph in the wildest of rumors, but he was sealed to probably two 14-year-olds, and a 16-year-old.

Brian indicated that these were non sexual marriages, and he discusses Helen some more.

We can piece together from what Helen wrote, the sealing occurred, and after the sealing, Helen continued to go to dances and balls and socialize for the next several months until at one point Joseph stepped in and said, Look.  We don’t want her doing this anymore.

Later Helen said that she hated polygamy.  She wrote this down early on.  This was one of the early writings before she wrote her books defending it.  But the reason why she hated polygamy was not because of her own relationship with it, but because of how it affected her mother.  I argue that if she were having conjugal relations with Joseph and finding that to be undesirable, she might have actually used her relationship with Joseph as a reason for hating polygamy.

I asked Brian why she wasn’t sealed as a wife rather than as a child under the Law of Adoption.

Do you know there were no adoptions performed during Joseph’s lifetime.  The only adoptions that we have any record of occurred in the Nauvoo Temple and they occurred around, depending on your definition of an adoption, there’s 205 or something.  A lot of these, I use the word adoption to mean a child is sealed to parents who they are not biologically related.

What do you think of these marriages?  Do you agree that these sealings were likely non-sexual?

Don’t forget to enter our contest for a free book!  Check out our audio, video or transcripts here on our website, or on Amazon!  Don’t forget to check out our previous episodes with Brian Hales, as well as our discussion of polygamy with Dr. Mark Staker!

Joseph Smith’s Youngest Teen Brides





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Fanny Alger Part 2: Plural Marriage or Adultery?

Here’s part two of our discussion about Joseph’s plural marriage to Fanny Alger.  In this discussion we’ll talk about Emma Smith as well as Oliver Cowdery’s reaction.  They both thought it was adulterous.

What we understand is that more or less, the people that Joseph Smith told about Fanny Alger as a plural wife, they didn’t believe him….

Joseph, according to one of the accounts gets Oliver and says in the middle of the night.  ‘Oliver, come help me with this.’  Oliver hears the story and sides with Emma and thinks Joseph is having an adulterous affair.  That was his opinion, probably right up until his death, that Joseph was not authorized to marry her.  It wasn’t a marriage.  He made hints to members of the high council that Joseph had been guilty of adultery.  He did not accept any story of a marriage ceremony as being valid, and neither did Emma.

On the other hand, Fanny’s family seemed to believe that it was a legitimate marriage.

But most of the people that learned it from Fanny did believe which is interesting.  Fanny’s family believed.  The family that Fanny went to live with was Chauncey Webb and Eliza Jane Webb, they believed that this was an actual marriage

Fanny eventually married a non-Mormon man in Indiana, but her family came to Utah, and her brother was a polygamist!

Brian:  Whatever actually happened between Joseph and Fanny did not bother their faith of these people who knew the details, same with Eliza Snow.

GT:  Was it true that her parents came all the way to Utah?

Brian:  Her brother did and I don’t know if they died or all, but they didn’t leave the church. It’s interesting that John Alger in 1891, this is right after the 1890 Manifesto, he left the church over the Manifesto.  He had a polygamist wife and he could not accept that.  So again some irony.

GT:  Fanny’s brother was a polygamist?

Brian:  Uh huh, and he left the church over the Manifesto of 1890.

Why do you think people believed Fanny, but not Joseph?  Were you surprised to learn that Fanny’s family stayed in the church?  (Check out parts 14 as well!)

Check out a transcript!

Fanny Alger Part 2: Plural Marriage or Adultery?


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1st Plural Wife Fanny Alger: Time or Eternity Polygamy?

We’re here to talk about Joseph’s first plural wife. Dr. Brian Hales noted that this marriage likely occurred prior to the sealing power being restored. Was this a time, or eternity sealing?

Brian:  If it wasn’t a sealing, then what authority was used?  The state wasn’t going to allow Joseph to marry a second wife, so the only authority that it could have been would be priesthood authority and Joseph was already using that authority to marry people just for time there in Kirtland.  So one interpretation is Joseph gave that authority to Levi and this would have been strictly a priesthood marriage that Joseph would have argued God recognized and so if he recognized it and Fanny and her family apparently recognized it as did others who were involved, but not Oliver [Cowdery] and not Emma.

What do you think?  Was this an adulterous relationship, or was it a true marriage?  Was it a sealing, or just a polyamist marriage for time?  What do you think of polygamy?

Check out parts 1, 2, and 3, as well as Mark Staker’s interview on Kirtland polygamy!  See the video here:

1st Plural Wife Fanny Alger: Time or Eternity Polygamy?