Sunday, November 13, 2011

Joseph Smith's Spiritual Wives

Most people know that the LDS Church practiced polygamy back when it first started, beginning in 1833 and ceased this practice not long after in compliance with US Law and a supreme court decision. My wife has ancestors on both her maternal and paternal side that practiced polygamy over 150 years ago. Unfortunately, when most people think of polygamy, they immediately think of the fundamentalists and people like Warren Jeffs. However, this was nothing like how polygamy was practiced by the LDS. That said, a friend recently asked about the several wives of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Some of these wives were from 14 to 17 years old when they were sealed. The following is a brief comment listing some of the things I have learned concering the case of Fanny Alger who was the first spiritual wife of Joseph Smith.

Critics of the LDS Church love to say things like, this is just the typical thing that happens with cult leaders. They are such megalomaniacs, they think the rules don't apply to them, and they can just do whatever they want. And true to form, the first chance they get, they try to justify their desires for sin. This is just another blatant yet typical example of the bad fruit of a false prophet.

Considering this case, it seems to me that its the age of a few of these young women that is the real issue here. Most Christian know in their heart that God would never permit sexual perversion of any sort. Enemies of the LDS Church love to make Joseph Smith sound like some sort of predator. Critics even mistakenly use the word pedophilia which by definition does not fit because that would involve abuse of children before they reach puberty. And there is absolutely not a single shred of evidence of anything like that. But, understandably, a 16 year-old is considered a minor and marital relations would be considered statutory abuse as a minor cannot give consent. However, it needs to be said that in every case, the parents of these young women did give their consent to what was a non-physical, platonic, spiritual sealing.

There are several cases were there are hearsay accounts and rumors that the first child of some of Joseph Smith's "spiritual wives" belonged to Joseph Smith. However, recent Y-Chromosome DNA testing has been done on almost all the direct descentants of these possible offspring of Joseph Smith. Turns out, JOSEPH WAS NOT THE FATHER in any of the cases. In 2005, DNA testing showed that Orrison Smith, son of Fanny Alger, was not the offspring of Joseph Smith. (Perego et al., 2005). So, Joseph Smith entered into these "spiritual sealings" and there is no evidence that there was any "physical" aspect to any of these relationships except rumors and hearsay.

In the case of Fanny Alger, she was about 16 at the time and was working as a nanny and housekeeper for Joseph and Emma. It seems that Emma did know from the beginning about polygamy and was supportive. It is also clear that Fanny Alger's parents were also aware and supportive. However, not long after the sealing, it turns out that Fanny Alger became pregnant while living with Joseph Smith and Emma. Upon learning of the pregnancy, Fanny Alger was kicked out of the house. Joseph made arrangements for her to stay with the school teacher Chauncery Webb.

So, here is the facinating and unfortunate facts of the case. Here you have a 16-year-old helping out Smith and Emma. Joseph Smith is given the revelation on Plural marriage and he feels inspired to ask Miss Alger to be a "spiritual wife" all the white assuring Emma that everything is going to be platonic and that its not going to be physical. So, Emma and Miss Alger's parents are supportive and positive. Alger comes from the Hancock family who were very early and strong members of the church. And the Hancocks stayed active in the LDS Church. My wife ancestor is a Hancock.

However, when Fanny Alger mysteriously becomes pregnant, not everyone in Kirkland were aware of the sealing, and now the accusations and rumours fly. Even Emma is thinking that Joseph and Algers had relations and was angry even though they were spiritually married. Emma wasn't angry because she didn't know what everyone else knew, that Joseph and Algers were "sealed", she was angry because Joseph was assuring her everything was going to be non-physical at least until Fanny was much older.

But now with the DNA evidence, we know what must have happened. Fanny Algers might have had an affair and got pregnant by someone else. And her pregnancy made it look like Joseph Smith was the one who was responsible. And this was what caused all the headaches and problems and accusations and roumors surrounding Joseph Smith and the practice of "sealing" which followed.

Annother issue at play here is the coverup for Fanny Alger's protection. It can be easy to forget that Joseph and Fanny are "Sealed". Therefore, Joseph had the responsibility to protect Fanny. So, instead of directing rumors and blame onto Fanny, Joseph Smith seemed to allow the rumors, and gossip, and accusations focus on him. Instead of "outing" Fanny for being the one who had the affair, he only insisted that he was not guilty of adultery. He never put any blame on Fanny, he only defended himself.

Again, from several journal accounts at the time, it is clear that a handful of people were present at the sealing of Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger including Emma, and Algers parents and extended family (Hancocks) as well as other church leadership and several non-lds like Chauncery Webb (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness).

So, the issue is, if all the necessary people knew that the sealing had taken place, why the scandal when Algers becomes pregnant and not before when they were sealed in the first place. Also, why did Fanny Algers' parents, uncle, and brother stay active strong members of the LDS church. The point I am making is, all these facts prove that that the relationship between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger was a purely non-physical "spiritual sealing."

Jo Kester, a living descendant of Fanny Alger reports that Brigham Young accompanied by Fanny's brother John Alger asked to marry Fanny after the death of Joseph Smith. (he and John Taylor offered to care for all of Joseph Smith's spiritual wives.) Fanny replied, "You are a nice young man, but I want to be an only wife."

Fanny then went on to marrying Solomon Custer and leaving Missouri and settling in Indiana. After the death of Joseph Smith she was asked by her brother about her relationship with Joseph Smith to which responded, "that is all a matter of my own, and I have nothing to communicate." (bushman)

So, what do we know:
1. Joseph Smith and Fanny Algers were sealed in 1833. Fanny Algers was about 16.
2. Emma Smith, parents and uncle of Fanny Algers and church leadership were aware and/or witnesses of the sealing.
3. Fanny Algers becomes pregnant will working in the home of the Smiths as a housekeeper
4. Emma Smith is angry and there are rumors, speculation, accusations
5. Fanny is taken by uncle Levi Hancock to stay with teacher Chauncery Webb
6. Fanny remarries Solomon Custer after Joseph Smith's death and settles in Indiana
7. Fanny's parents, uncle, and brother stay active members in the LDS Church and follow the Church to Nauvoo, Il and to Utah.

Before, I end this post, I just want to emphasize something. I am really blown away by how Joseph Smith delt with this. He could have so easily diverted all the criticism and accusations toward Fanny Alger and "thrown her under the bus" so-to-speak. But Joseph Smith never did. Many of his closest friends deserted him over this. But Joseph was beyond honorable in his protection of Fanny Alger.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad that a member of the Church is recognizing how messed up this situation is! Is it just me or does this whole situation seem weird, awkward, and like parts of the puzzle just don’t add up?? I like how you fist pointed out that Emma was toootally fine with Joseph’s marriage to Fanny…when she clearly wasn’t. Having a strictly platonic and spiritual marital relationship with young women is also something practiced my many modern day cult leaders. I was under the impression that members of the LDS faith have a strict idea of how a marriage should be and what type of relationship that entails (This is important for many reasons pertaining to entry into the celestial kingdom-another aspect of Joseph Smith’s teachings). I also like how when Fanny is found out to be pregnant, she was the one who must have had an affair…having the prophet of the Church as her husband just wasn’t enough for her apparently. Oliver Cowdery even disapproved of the relationship. Here are just a few statistics about the wives of Joseph Smith. The mean age of Joseph’s wives was 28 and the median age was 27; the total number of wives was 34. 44% of his wives were under 25 at age of marriage, while 26% of his wives were over 35 at age of marriage. 15% of his wives were over the age of 40 at the time of marriage, while 32% were age 20 or younger. Also, 50% of all marriages were in one year-1843. Finally, I would like to mention that in my opinion, Joseph Smith did no favors to Fanny Algers; he married her and went through sacred temple ordinances with her-sealing them “together forever”, got her pregnant, shipped her off to live with someone else, all while pretending that he was not the father of her son. Thanks for not “throwing her under the bus”, Joseph. It makes me really sad that most people of the LDS faith have little to no idea of the truth about Fanny Algers or any of the other messed up things that happened in the early Church. Some of the current fundamental beliefs and rituals that are based off of what Joseph Smith said are hidden from mainstream LDS society and teachings. Secret oaths, promises, and combinations are needed to get into the kingdom of heaven, making me wonder what exactly is so secret...

David B said...

1. Please read "in sacred loneliness" first before you talk about knowing anything about Emma Smith.

2. Scientific DNA Paternity testing proves that Joseph Smith is NOT the father of Fanny Alger's child Orison.

3. I am not saying Fanny Alger had an affair. There could have been abuse or rape. But whatever happened has not whatever to do with Joseph Smith's DNA.

4. Why would you deny scientific proof that Joseph Smith never had any children by these women?

5. There is nothing secret about the LDS Temple.

Anonymous said...

Over the past couple days I've been reading comments about this. This article truly makes me smile because it is the only thing I have heard lately that's based on real research. People just blindly follow the opinions of others without doing any research of their own. I just want to know, what makes these people feel so good about bashing a church that does so much good for so many people around the world? Again, thank you for this post.