The Polygamy Revelations of Joseph Smith

The recent gospel topics essays by the church on plural marriage provide an unprecedented, frank look at a number of aspects of plural marriage previously not included in church discourse. With an announcement in the Church News, a letter to church leadership and plans to include the essays in some curricula, attention will turn to the topic of polygamy.[1]

Emma and Joseph at the organization of the Relief Society

The essay “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” discusses the introduction of plural marriage by Joseph Smith, noting that his close associates said he received the revelation around 1831 and that “the revelation on plural marriage was not written down until 1843.”[2] On July 12, 1843, Hyrum Smith asked Joseph Smith to provide a revelation to help convince Emma Smith to accept polygamy. Joseph said he knew the revelation by heart and did not need to use the Urim and Thummim, and dictated the “revelation on marriage” (as it’s referred to in the essay) published in the LDS Doctrine and Convents, Section 132 (which I’ll refer to as D&C 132).

The first revelation on polygamy has been traditionally dated to 1831. In 1935, Church Historian and Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

“The exact date I cannot give you when this principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith, but I do know that there was a revelation given in July 1831, in the presence of Oliver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps and others in Missouri, in which the Lord made this principle known through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Whether the revelation as it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants [w]as first given July 12, 1843, or earlier, I care not. It is a fact, nevertheless, that this principle was revealed at an earlier date[3]

A reading of the 1843 revelation indicates that some aspects of it had to do with events current to 1843.[4] This raises the question of how much of the revelation came from 1831, how much was given in 1843, and if there were other sources between those dates. There are a number of references to revelations by Joseph Smith having to do with polygamy in addition to the 1831 and 1843 revelations – some of which may have informed Joseph Smith as he dictated 1843 revelation “from memory”.

In this article, I’ll look at revelations through Joseph Smith regarding polygamy. I’ll review evidence for the 1831 revelation as well as look at ten other potential revelations in addition to D&C 132 received by Joseph Smith about polygamy. I will list only those mentioned in sources before Joseph Smith’s death in 1844 – avoiding recollections occurring decades after the fact.[5]

Bible Translation

The essay suggests the 1831 revelation may have come from “Joseph Smith’s study of the Old Testament that year” from verses that justified “my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon … as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines.” (D&C 132:1)

Between February 9 and April 4, 1831, Joseph Smith translated text from Genesis having to do with Abraham taking additional wives, and through September 12 he translated later Genesis text covering other polygamous relationships.[6]

In March (or May[7]), he received a revelation about Shakers (who encouraged celibacy): “… whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God … Wherefore, it is lawful that [man] should have one wife” (D&C 49:15-16). Perhaps his encounter with Shaker doctrines spawned further thinking on the subject of alternative marital relationships.

July 17, 1831 Revelation to Marry Lamanites

Joseph Smith had a revelation on July 17, 1831 having to do with marrying Indians which may have had to do with polygamous marriage. A group of Elders travelled into Indian Territory west of Jackson County, Missouri to begin the “Lamanite Mission.” Four months later in December, Ezra Booth wrote: “… it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the Natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory…” [8]

Booth’s statement indicates the marriage alliance was “pleasing to the Lord,” who “promised to bless those who do it abundantly.” If this alliance was a revelation about polygamy, Booth’s statement shared concepts of blessings for participants also found in D&C 132:5, 48 & 55. Nearly 14 years later in an 1845 council meeting, W. W. Phelps referred to the revelation:

“Phelps s[ai]d. 6 or 8. went over the boundaries of the U.S. to preach – Jos[eph]. went to prayer – he then commenced a revelation that Martin [Harris] was to [marry] among the Lamanites – & that I was to preach that day – &c &c it was a long revelation”.[9]

Harris was disaffected from his wife by the time of the revelation. According to a late source, “He [Martin] claimed he had a revelation when he first came to Kirtland (1831) for him to go to Missouri, and obtain an Lamanite Indian squaw for a wife to aid them in propagating Mormonism.” The statement goes on to say that about 1836 Joseph Smith “named two” women who “would accommodate” Harris’s single status, suggesting a proposed polygamous relationship. This account does not suggest polygamy until 1836.[10]

In 1861, Phelps wrote Brigham Young about a revelation for “Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, Joseph Coe, and Ziba Peterson”, dated July 17, 1831 regarding polygamous marriage to Native Americans. A party of elders had crossed “over the boundary, west of Jackson Co. Missouri” into “Indian Country.” The revelation came while they were praying to know which of the seven elders should first preach to the “remnants of the Lamanites and Nephites”. They had no pen and paper, but Joseph said “the Lord could preserve his words as he had ever done, till the time appointed.”

The fourth paragraph (of seven) of the revelation had to do with polygamy:

   “Verily I say unto you that the wisdom of man in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood. but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.”

1861 letter from W. W. Phelps to Brigham Young recalling an 1831 revelation for elders to marry Lamanites

1861 letter from W. W. Phelps to Brigham Young recalling an 1831 revelation for elders to marry Lamanites

Phelps’ letter continued, saying that in about 1834, he asked Joseph Smith “how ‘we,’ that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the ‘natives’—as we were all married men? He replied instantly ‘In th[e] same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Katurah [Keturah]; and Jacob took Rachel Bilhah and Zilpah: by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.'”[11]

It is unclear if Phelps confused the “marriage alliance” with plural marriage when recalling events 30 years earlier. However, D&C 132:30-31 shares the concept of God fulfilling his purposes regarding linage through polygamy.[12] And D&C 132:34, 65 uses Abraham, Hagar and Jacob as justification for polygamy through revelation.

Circa 1840/41, Sarah Pratt proposal

Regarding Sarah Marinda Pratt, disaffected former Assistant President of the church John C. Bennett warned that Joseph Smith “would approach her in the name of the Lord, by revelation.” He quoted Joseph Smith as saying “Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives. I have the blessings of Jacob granted me, as he granted holy men of old, and I have long looked upon you with favor, and hope you will not deny me.”

Sarah Pratt -"Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives"

Sarah Pratt -“Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives”

According to Bennett, Sarah replied: “I care not for the blessings of Jacob, and I believe in no such revelations, neither will I consent under any circumstances.” Jacob’s blessing of exaltation is mentioned in D&C 132:1, 37.

Bennett and Smith both charged each other of having a relationship with Pratt.[13]

April 1, 1842, Brigham Young proposal to Martha Brotherton

According to her account, Martha Brotherton reported her discussion with Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young and Joseph Smith about plural marriage and an associated revelation. About April 1st, 1842, Heber C. Kimball told her:

“Well,” said he, “there are many things revealed in these last days that the world would laugh and scoff at; but unto us is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom. …

A little later, Brigham Young proposed to her saying:

   Brother Josaph [Joseph] has has [sic; had] a revelation from God that it is lawful and right for a man to have two wives; for as it was in the days of Abraham, so it shall be in these last days … if you will accept of me, I will take you straight to the celestial kingdom; and if you will have me in this world, I will have you in that which is to come… “

Ten minutes later, Joseph came into the room and told her:

“Yes,” said Joseph, “and I know that this is lawful and right before God, and if there is any sin in it I will answer for it before God, and I have the keys of the kingdom, and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven; and if you will accept of Brigham, you shall be blessed… it would be the greatest blessing that was ever bestowed upon you….”

Brigham Young added:

and you will never have reason to repent it — that is, if I do not turn from righteousness, and that i trust I never shall …

As she concluded her account, she noted:

The next day being Sunday, I sat down, instead of going to meeting, and wrote the conversation, and gave it to my sister …[14]

The conversation is informed by the mentioned revelation, and matches concepts in D&C 132, including the restoration of polygamy as practiced by Abraham, exaltation, marriage for time and eternity, binding on earth and heaven, and possibly justification from sin (D&C 132:7, 18, 30-33, 46-47, 49, 59).

April 10, 1842 Proposal to Nancy Rigdon

On April 10, 1842, Joseph Smith proposed to Nancy Rigdon, daughter of First Presidency member Sidney Rigdon.

George Robinson reported Joseph telling Nancy Rigdon, “the Lord was well pleased with this matter, for he had got a revelation on the subject, and God had given him all the blessings of Jacob, etc., etc., and that there was no sin whatever.”[15]

Nancy refused his proposal and Smith penned a letter to her about plural marriage, hoping to convince her to marry him:

Happiness is the object and design of our existence … we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them … That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. …

… This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted–by revelation … Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation. …

Smith told her that there are unknown commandments that seem wrong, but are right under current circumstances that come by the principle of revelation. He gave an example of Solomon, who asked for wisdom and received a “special revelation” which granted “every desire of his heart” that others “considered abominable.”

Solomon’s polygamy is referenced in D&C 132:1, 38. Joseph Smith continued:

“[I]t is proper that we should enjoy His gifts and blessings whenever and wherever He is disposed to bestow; but if we should seize upon those same blessings and enjoyments without law, without revelation, without commandment, those blessings and enjoyments would prove cursings

He told Nancy Rigdon that enjoying God’s “gifts and blessings … and enjoyments” is not sin with revelation, and that those who receive this blessing “shall have abundantly”. He continued:

… Blessings offered, but rejected, are no longer blessings, but become like the talent hid in the earth … the blessing is bestowed on those who will receive and occupy; for unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly, but unto him that hath not or will not receive, shall be taken away that which he hath, or might have had.”

Those who “will not receive” will lose what which they have, like talents hidden in the earth. Joseph would teach this concept a year later. In early April, 1843, Joseph Smith told Benjamin F. Johnson that he would preach a sermon about plural marriage “that no one but you will understand.”[16] On April 2nd, Joseph preached about the parable of the ten talents:

What is the meaning of the scriptures. he that is faithful over a few thi[n]gs shall be  made ruler over many? & he that is faithful over many shall be made ruler over  many more? “[17]

Benjamin F. Johnson noted the plural marriage aspects of the sermon. Joseph Smith “showed plainly that to him that hath shall be given more, and from him that had but one should be taken that he seemed to have, and given to him who had ten.”

The concept of losing a wife (or husband) for disobedience, or gaining more due to righteousness is also included in D&C 132:51-55.

Embedded in the letter is a second revelation for Nancy Rigdon (and Joseph Smith):

   “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find;” but, if you will take that which is not your own, or which I have not given you, you shall be rewarded according to your deeds; but no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly before me, and do my will in all things—who will listen to my voice and to the voice of my servant whom I have sent; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom; for all things shall be made known unto them in mine own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.[18]

The revelation apparently warns that she should refrain from those “I have not given you.” It is unclear if the 19-year-old Nancy had other romantic interests.

The revelation then appears to address those being taught about polygamy “who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom”. Presumably to those to whom Joseph proposed to, the Lord will not withhold any “good thing” for those who “do my will in all things — who will listen to … the voice of my servant,” for God delights in those who to “know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom.” Perhaps referring to turmoil they may feel, “in the end they would have joy.”

This revelation has parallels to D&C 132, including taking a wife (or a husband) that you are not entitled to receive, the importance of heeding Joseph Smith’s council, asking for, receiving, and obeying “the law”. (D&C 132: 3, 40-42, 54, 64-65)

Before July 2, 1842, proposal to Melissa Schindle

Melissa Schindle testified that Joseph Smith proposed a sexual encounter with her sanctioned by revelation.

He … told her it was the will of the Lord that he should have illicit intercourse with her, and that he never proceeded to do any thing of that kind with any woman without first having the will of the Lord on the subject…[19]

D&C 132:35, 37, 51 & 65 give examples of receiving a revelation before a proceeding with a relationship.

December 2, 1842 Instructions to Nancy Marinda Hyde

Apostle Orson Hyde served an overseas mission from April, 1840 to December 7, 1842, leaving his wife Nancy Marinda to fend for herself. Regarding her difficult circumstances, Joseph Smith received a revelation on December 2, 1841, calling for assistance:

… inasmuch as you have called upon me to know my Will  concerning my handmaid Nancy Marinda Hyde, Behold it is my Will  that she should have a better place prepared for her, than that in which  she now lives…

Nancy went to live with another family, improving her circumstances. The revelation ended foreshadowing a forthcoming proposal from Joseph Smith:

… let my  handmaid Nancy Marinda Hyde hearken to the council of my Servant  Joseph in all things whatsoever he shall teach unto her, and it shall be a  blessing upon her and upon her children after her, unto her justification,  saith the Lord.[20]

The editors of the Joseph Smith’s “Journals, Vol. 2” provide additional information:

[Nancy] Hyde reported that this revelation had been delivered to her shortly after Joseph Smith had taught her the “doctrine of celestial marriage” and that she “followed the council of the prophet Joseph as above instructed” and continued to hope for “the fulfilment of the promises and blessings” contained in the revelation[21]

She married Joseph Smith in either April, 1842 or May, 1843.[22] The concept of teaching the doctrine of plural marriage and the subsequent blessings (or cursings) is shared in D&C 132:64-65.

July 27, 1842 Plural Marriage Ceremony for Sarah Ann Whitney

On July 27, 1842, nearly a year before D&C 132 was penned; Joseph Smith received a revelation giving the words of a polygamous marriage ceremony. The words were used by Newel K. Whitney to seal his daughter Sarah Ann to Joseph Smith. A modified version of this ceremony is used in temple marriages today. The revelation begins:

Verily thus saith the Lord unto my se[r]vant N. K. Whitney the thing that my se[r]vant Joseph Smith has made known unto you and your Famely [Family] and which you have agreed upon is right in mine eyes and shall be crowned upon your heads with honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old & young because of the lineage of my Preast [Pirest] Hood saith the Lord it shall be upon you and upon your children after you from generation to generation By virtue of the Holy promise which I now make unto you saith the Lord.

The Newel K. Whitney is told that for receiving the concept of plural marriage, his entire family will be “crowned” with “eternal life” with blessings passing down through his linage.

The revelation continues:

these are the words which you shall pronounce upon my se[r]vant Joseph [Smith] and your Daughter S. A. [Sarah Ann] Whitney. They shall take each other by the hand and you shall say:

you both mutu[al]ly agree calling them by name to be each others companion so long as you both shall live presser[v]ing yourselv[es] for each other and from all others and also through [o]ut all eternity reserving only those rights which have been given to my servant Joseph [Smith] by revelation and commandment and by legal Authority in times passed [past].

Sarah Ann Whitney - "...these are the words which you shall pronounce upon my servant Joseph and your Daughter S. A. Whitney."

Sarah Ann Whitney – “…these are the words which you shall pronounce upon my servant Joseph and your Daughter S. A. Whitney.”

“If you both agree to covenant and do this, then I give you S. A. [Sarah Ann] Whitney my Daughter to Joseph Smith to be his wife to observe all the rights betwe[e]n you both that belong to that condition. I do it in my own name and in the name of my wife your mother and in the name of my Holy Progenitors by the right of birth which is of Priest Hood vested in me by revelation and commandment and promise of the living God obtained by the Holy Melchizedek Gethrow [Jethro] and other of the Holy Fathers commanding in the name of the Lord all those powers to concentrate in you and through to your po[s]terity for ever

all these things I do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that through this order he may be glorified [glorified] and [that] through the power of anointing Davied [David] may reign King over Iseral [Israel] which shall hereafter be revealed let immortality and eternal life henc[e]forth be sealed upon your heads forever and ever.

The revelation notes that previous revelation and commandment has granted rights to Joseph Smith. Concepts common to D&C 132 including being crowned with eternal life, marriage for time and eternity, the authority of Joseph Smith, and past authority restored (D&C 132:7, 18, 40, 45, 54-55).

Between June 23 and July 12, 1843 – Emma Smith to “partake not”

On July 12, 1843, an earlier revelation regarding Emma Smith was rescinded. D&C 132:15 refers to an earlier commandment telling Emma that she “partake not of that which I commanded you to offer her … to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else.” (D&C 132:51)

Earlier that summer on June 23, Joseph confided some “delicate matters” to William Clayton who wrote about a “snare” Emma wanted to set for Joseph as a matter of revenge. Speaking of Joseph, Emma said “She thought that if he would indulge himself[,] she would too.”[23]

Joseph Jackson reported that Joseph Smith told him that “Emma wanted [First Counselor William] Law for a spiritual husband, and that she urged as a reason that as he had so many spiritual wives, she thought it but fair that she should at least have one man spiritually sealed up to her”.

Emma Smith - "... partake not of that which I commanded"

Emma Smith – “… partake not of that which I commanded”

Apparently referring to the same revelation referred to in D&C 132:15, Jackson said Joseph Smith “got up a revelation that [William] Law was to be sealed up to Emma, and that Law’s wife [Jane] was to be his [Joseph’s]”[24]

Jackson said they were to “swop wives.” Years later, William Law said it was not a swap, recalling that “Joseph offered to furnish his wife, Emma, with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy”.[25]

Apparently the commandment to Emma about marrying William Law occurred after Joseph described the “delicate matters” to Clayton on June 23, 1843. Just over two weeks later On July 12, D&C 132:15 rescinded the offer to Emma, categorizing it as an “offering” by “sacrifice.”

… A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice. … And I com

mand mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. … (D&C 132:51, 54)

Before May 24, 1844, [26] William and Jane Law not to be sealed

Another revelation regarding Joseph Smith, Jane and William Law was mentioned by Joseph Smith to Alexander Neibaur. After Smith recounted his first vision experience to Neibaur, he continued and “told about Mr Wm [William] Law–wisht to be Married to his Wife [Jane] for Eternity[.] Mr Smith said [he] would Inquire of the Lord, Answered [“]no[“] because Law was a Adultereous person.“

Later, when William was not at home, Joseph reported that Jane invited him in:

she drawing her Arms around him [Joseph, said] [“]if you wont seal me to my husband Seal myself unto you.[“] he Said [“]stand away[“] & pushing her Gently aside giving her a denial & going out. when Mr Law came home he Inquired who had been in his Absence. she said no one but Br Joseph, he then demanded what had[pass[ed.] Mrs L[aw] then told Joseph wandet [wanted] her to be Married to him.[27]

William Law - "Mr Smith said he would Inquire of the Lord -- Answered 'no'.

William Law – “Mr Smith said he would Inquire of the Lord — Answered ‘no’.

The relationships between Emma and William; and Joseph and Jane are complex. It is unclear if Jane’s request to be sealed to Joseph, or Jane’s statement that Joseph wanted to marry her were part of the revelation preventing Jane and William from being sealed.[28]

September 15, 1843, the third sister, Lydia Moon

The last verse of D&C 132 states “I will reveal more unto you, hereafter.” Just over two months later, Joseph Smith received a revelation regarding martial harmony in polygamous relationships. In addition to his first wife, William Clayton had married two sisters, and wanted to marry a third – Lydia Moon. He asked Joseph Smith about it. Clayton recorded:

   “President Joseph told me he had lately had a new item of law revealed to him in relation to myself. He said the Lord had revealed to him that a man could only take 2 of a family except by express revelation and as I had said I intended to take Lydia he made this known for my benefit. To have more than two in a family was apt to cause wrangles and trouble. He finally asked if I would not give L[ydia] to him. I said I would so far as I had anything to do in it. He requested me to talk to her.”[29]

Lydia refused Smith’s proposal.


It is apparent there was a revelation telling Martin Harris and possibly other Mormon elders to enter into some sort of marriage relationship with American Indians. If Phelps’ 1861 account is an authentic recollection, then the stated purpose for restoring polygamy was because Lamanite women were “more virtuous than the gentiles” and presumably their posterity could become white and delightsome through polygamous breeding with white Mormon men.[30]

It is certainly possible Phelps’ recollection three decades later was tainted by the militantly polygamous culture of the Mormon west. The earlier references suggests a marriage alliance rather than polygamy. The only documented revelation on marriage from 1831 says man “should have one wife.”[31] Contemporary evidence for polygamy in 1831 is lacking.[32] Further historical data is needed before accepting the traditional view of an 1831 polygamy revelation.

A number of revelations were received by Smith before proposing marriage to various women. Later recollections suggest there were more, and the Nancy Rigdon letter indicates that each marriage proposal was preceded by a revelation. If this was the case, there would have been over 40 revelations on polygamy.

Many of the concepts in these revelations share concepts common to D&C 132 including being blessed abundantly, justification for the practice from Old Testament figures, marriage for time and eternity, binding on earth and heaven, losing or gaining spouses for disobedience or righteousness, proper sanction before marrying, marrying when commanded, sacrifice, obedience to Joseph Smith, and as a pathway to eternal life. These shared concepts lend credence to the idea that Joseph Smith recalled aspects of these earlier revelations when dictating section D&C 132.

New concepts not included in D&C 132 are included in the “Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon” letter, written to convince the 19-year-old to accept his proposal. There, Joseph Smith gives an example of “special revelation” granting “every desire of [Solomon’s] heart,” normally viewed as “abominable.” Speaking of revelation from God, Joseph tells Nancy “we should enjoy His gifts … wherever He is disposed to bestow” but warns about seizing those “enjoyments” without revelation.

The letter demonstrates that sexual desire was part of polygamy, meant to be enjoyed despite the outward appearance as abominable behavior.

The Mary Schindle account adds a concept not included in D&C 132: “[H]e never proceeded to do any thing of that kind with any woman without first having the will of the Lord.” And the Lydia Moon revelation states that more than two sisters married to a man “was apt to cause wrangles and trouble.”

The proposition of a comprehensive revelation in 1831 from which most or all of D&C 132 was recalled is doubtful. Smith’s doctrinal views expressed during the Kirtland era lack many of the ideas associated with polygamy and eternal marriage expressed in Nauvoo. His ideas evolved over time, “line upon line, precept upon precept.”[33]

A more likely scenario is that revelations including those preceding his proposals allowed the doctrines of plural and eternal marriage to form. Hyrum Smith’s attempt to resolve a crisis situation with Emma by asking Joseph Smith for a revelation allows us today – to view an extensive revelation encapsulating ideas from previous revelations, plus new concepts resulting from the crisis. It gives us a rather remarkable glimpse into the views of Joseph Smith – on what is his most controversial practice.

This article is a work in progress. If there are additional revelations, or corrections, I hope you’ll let me know.

[1] September 9, 2014 letter “To: General Authorities; Area Seventies; Stake, Mission, and District Presidents; Bishops and Branch Presidents; From: Priesthood Department, Subject: Gospel Topics”; “Church publishes two new essays on past history of plural marriage” Tad Walch, Deseret News, Oct. 24 2014 available at (accessed 11/8/2014)

[2], accessed 11/06/2014

[3] Joseph Fielding Smith to J.W.A. Bailey, letter dated Sept. 5, 1935, transcript in my possession.

[4] For example, see D&C 132:51-57

[5] Late accounts are used to supplement details of revelations established in contemporary accounts. For some examples of late recollections of revelations on polygamy, see Todd M. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books (1997) 80, 407, 463, 495.

[6] Marquardt, H. Michael, The Four Gospels According to Joseph Smith, Publisher: Xulon Press (2007), Chronology: Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision, 1830-1835

[7] Earlier dating of this revelation was mid-March, but the recently available Revelations Book 1 specifies May 7th.

[8] Booth to Rev. Ira Eddy, 6 Dec. 1831, Ohio Star 2 (8 Dec. 1831): 1, transcription available at My thanks to Michael Marquardt for suggestions with this section.

[9] “Meeting of the Twelve & others in the Recorder’s office,” February 27, 1845, LDS Archives as quoted in Marquardt, H. Michael, “Ezra Booth on Early Mormonism: A Look at His 1831 Letters”, John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 28 (2008):51, note 74 available at; Also in Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1910-1951, Privately Published, Salt Lake City, Utah 2010

[10] “Statement of Rev. S. F. Whitney on Mormonism,” Naked Truths About Mormonism, Vol. I. No. 1. (January, 1888) Arthur B. Deming, editor. Martin and Lucy separated in June, 1830 and Lucy died in the summer of 1836, and he remarried in the fall.

[11] W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young, August 12, 1861, Young Collection, CHL as quoted in H. Michael Marquardt, The Joseph Smith Revelations Text and Commentary, p. 374-376. Three of the four specified elders were already married and Ziba Peterson would marry Rebecca Hooper within a month, Scott Kenny, 1831 Chronology,, accessed 2011/10/05 (archived at For background on this revelation coming to light to the historical community, see Jerald and Sandra Tanner Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, p. 230A-230D.

[12] Apparently viewed as a reversal of the curse in 2 Nephi. 5: 21.

[13] “Bennett’s Second and Third Letters,” Sangamo Journal, 15 July 1842, Vol X, No. 47, Springfield Illinois, available at Thanks to Joseph Johnstun for bringing this to my attention. Caution has been suggested for Bennett’s sources (Joseph Smith Papers: Nauvoo Journals, December 1841-April 1843, Introduction to Journals, xxvii-xxx). For a treatment the Smith / Bennett / Pratt story, see Van Wagoner, Richard S. (1986), Sarah Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (2): 79. For a possible revelation for wives of all the twelve to marry Joseph Smith, see Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal, Mormon Portraits I (SLC: Tribune Printing & Pub., 1886) 71.

[14] Affidavit of Martha H. Brotherton dated July 13, 1842, published in the Sangamo Journal, July 22, 1842, available at Thanks to Joseph Johnstun for bringing this to my attention. Caution has been suggested for Bennett’s sources (Joseph Smith Papers: Nauvoo Journals, December 1841-April 1843, Introduction to Journals, xxvii-xxx). For estimation of proposal date, see George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage” (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 154.

[15]  “Extract of a letter from General George W. Robinson to General James Arlington Bennett” (July 27, 1842) quoted in John C. Bennett, History of the Saints (Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842) 246

[16] Benjamin F Johnson, My Life’s Review: Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Johnson, Grandin Book Company, 1997, 83-84 available at

[17] April 2, 1843 entry “President Joseph Smith’s Journal,” Journal, 4 vols., Dec. 1842–June 1844, Joseph Smith Papers, available at

[18] “Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon,” 11 April 1842, “History of the Church,” Vol. 5, pp.134-36. Willard Richards penned this letter to Nancy, and wrote a similar letter to his wife with similar phraseology. See Devery S. Anderson, ‘“I Could Love Them All”: Nauvoo Polygamy in the Marriage of Willard and Jennetta Richards’, Sunstone Magazine 171 (June 2013). For an account of the Rigdon proposal, see Affidavit of John Wickliffe Rigdon, dated July 28, 1905, MS 3423, Church History Library, quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905), 83–84

[19] “Bennett’s Second and Third Letters,” Sangamo Journal, 15 July 1842, Vol X, No. 47, Springfield Illinois. Schindle’s signed the sworn affidavit with an “X” suggesting she didn’t know how to write, and received assistance producing the document – possibly from the disaffected Bennett or her husband George. Caution has been suggested for Bennett’s sources (Joseph Smith Papers: Nauvoo Journals, December 1841-April 1843, Introduction to Journals, xxvii-xxx). Also mentioned in the same Affidavit is a relationship with Catherine F. Warren. For possible revelation for wives of all the twelve to marry Joseph Smith, see Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal, Mormon Portraits I (SLC: Tribune Printing & Pub., 1886) 71.

[20] “Revelation, Nauvoo, IL, 2 Dec. 1841” in Book of the Law of the Lord, p. 66, Church History Library, image and transcription available at (accessed 11/06/2014)

[21] Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, Statement, [ca. 1880]; Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Vol. 2: 1841-1843, Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, Richard L. Bushman (editors), Introduction to Journals: Volume 2, xxvi.

[22] Conflicting dates are given, one from a list of marriages recorded in Joseph Smith journal (14 July 1843) and an 1869 affidavit. See Scott Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 396; Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 1:15, 4:15, Church History Library.

[23] William Clayton, June 23, 1843, An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, George D. Smith, ed., Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books 1995, pg. 108.

[24] Joseph H. Jackson, A Narrative of the Adventures and Experience of Joseph H. Jackson, Warsaw, Illinois: Signal Office, 1844, transcription at Some question the reliability of Jackson’s testimony who is hostile towards Joseph Smith.

[25] “Three Letters from William Law on Mormonism: Letter I. Shullsburg, Wis., Jan. 7, 1887”, reprinted in the Daily Tribune: Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 3, 1887, available at (accessed 11/06/2014)

[26] While the best date I have for this is “before May 24, 1844,” I have not listed this in chronological order, choosing to group it with the related entry above.

[27] Journal of Alexander Neibaur, 24 May 1844, Church Archives, image available at Thanks to Joseph Johnstun for bringing this to my attention and Joe Geisner for pointing me to the diary images.

[28] For further analysis, see Grant H. Palmer, “Why William and Jane Law Left the LDS Church in 1844,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2012):43-51, available at; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 176-179; Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 97-100.

[29] George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle; The Journals of William Clayton, Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, Salt Lake City, 1995

[30] The church is moving away from such racial classifications. See “Church removes racial references in Book of Mormon headings,” Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune (December 20, 2010) available at (accessed 11/7/2014)

[31] D&C 49:15-16

[32] Early contemporary evidences of plural marriage are the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants a denial of rumored polygamy, Section 101 and the Fanny Alger relationship with Joseph Smith, starting sometime between late 1832 and 1836. For dating this relationship by various historians, see Hales, Brian C., “The Joseph Smith-Fanny Alger Relationship: Plural Marriage or Adultery?”, accessed 11/6/2014.

[33] For a detailed treatment of doctrinal evolution, see Line upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, Gary James Bergera (editor), Signature Books (1989), online at (accessed 11/06/2014).


The Polygamy Revelations of Joseph Smith — 12 Comments

  1. @ Steve are you saying that the practice of polygamy in Nauvoo and Kirtland with its associated lies and betrayals was “grotesque”? Because Clair’s article and scholarship are very good

  2. I’m not following you, Clair. You wrote “I will list only those mentioned in sources before Joseph Smith’s death in 1844,” but the only source you used from before that date that mentions polygamy was a secondary transcript purporting to be the 1842 Sangamo Journal, containing allegations of anti-Mormon John C. Bennett and through him allegations of Martha Brotherton. So do you find the entire transcript of Bennett and Brotherton to be credible, or just the parts that support polygamy? (There is some inflammatory other information in the accounts.) For balance, why don’t you include Joseph Smith’s multiple assertions that there was no polygamy? Or do you find apostate John C. Bennett to be more honest than Book of Mormon translator Joseph Smith?

  3. John, the 1842 Sangamo Journal was published before Joseph Smith’s death — and I therefore include the mention of revelations included from its pages — which fits into the scope of this article.

    I realize there are issues with the accounts of Bennett and Brotherton (as well as Joseph Jackson). I chose not to discuss the merits of each alleged revelation — in part due to the length of the article.

    As to Joseph’s statements about his not practicing polygamy — that is beyond the scope of this article, although I’d love to see a paper about the polygamy essays and the issue of honesty.

  4. Yes, I know the 1842 Sangamo Journal was printed before 1844. Your copy is a modern un-scholarly Internet typescript from anti-Mormon and Community of Christ member Dale Broadhurst. If you had used the original, this would be your only source from before June 27, 1844. But your introduction says ALL of your sources are from before June 27, 1844. I enjoyed the excellent writing and the concise summary of the issue (especially the focus on the Abraham and Jacob theme), I just didn’t understand you setting out to use only sources from before June 27, 1844, and then you not using any at all.

  5. Ahh, John, I see what you’re saying. Yes, you are correct. I did not look at any original documents, only transcriptions of sources. I compared a number of online transcriptions. If you notice any errors in the transcriptions I use, please point them out.

    Check the footnotes for notes of caution about Bennett and Jackson sources.

  6. Nice research!

    A couple of observations. First, quoting anything that comes through John C. Bennett, like Melissa Schindle’s implausible account or alleged conversations between Bennett and Joseph Smith, requires us first to establish that Bennett was a polygamy insider. This we should not assume without plain supportive evidences and dealing with the contradictory evidences. I have an article outlining the numerous problems in the JMH in the summer edition, but my books (JOSEPH SMITH’S POLYGAMY) have three chapters dealing with Bennett and the problems that writers probably should address before quoting him.

    Second, Mary Elizabeth Rollins reported an angel came to Joseph Smith three times, the last with a sword commanding him. I would count these as revelatory experiences perhaps more important than any of the one’s listed above.


    Brian Hales

  7. Thanks Brian and Abdul-Qarim.

    Yes Brian, I know there are issues with Bennett — I hope my footnotes made that clear. I’ll take a closer look at your research regarding Bennett. As for Mary Elizabeth Rollins, I tried to keep these focused on just those revelations referenced during the life of Joseph Smith. I believe Mary Elizabeth Rollins’s accounts of the angel occurred at a later date.

    At some point, I may expand this to include later references to revelations/visions.

  8. There are also issues with Rollins. Mainly that she was a fantasy storyteller who misappropriated to herself the center-stage of every drama from Independence to Nauvoo.