13. How did plural marriage begin with the Saints?
A. Polygamy was associated with Religious Reform
B. The Cochranites
C. Revelations to Brigham and Lorenzo Snow in England
D. A Church plan to care for the Widows
E. The Peacemaker
F. Misunderstandings about sealings and conflating Celestial Marriage with polygamy
G. Brigham Young and others were involved in plural marriage without Joseph's knowledge
Mormon polygamy began in the nineteenth-century climate of the Second Great Awakening which led to a large-scale reexamination of society, property, and marriage, all associated with an expectation of the “end-times.” In about 1817 in Maine, Jacob Cochran, one of the nation’s many utopian idealists, advocated “spiritual matrimony” wherein “any man or woman, already married or unmarried, might enter into [a union] choosing at pleasure a spiritual wife or spiritual husband.” Mormon missionary Orson Hyde, who proselytized in Maine in 1832, described the Cochranites’ “wonderful lustful spirit” as manifested in their belief “in a ‘plurality of wives’ which they call spiritual wives, knowing them not after the flesh but after the spirit.” He added skeptically, “But by the appearance they know one another after the flesh.” Nor were the Cochranites alone in their marital experiments. Several hundred years of discussion and experimentation with plural marriage preceded those in nineteenth-century America. Utopian societies like the Oneida Perfectionists, a group separate from the Cochranites, embraced “complex marriage” with the goal of minimizing individual separation. (The Forgotten Story of Nauvoo Celestial Marriage, George D. Smith, Journal of Mormon History, vol. 36, no. 4, p. 129-130)
Jacob Cochran (also Cochrane, 1782-1836) was a non-denominational preacher born in Enfield, New Hampshire, United States who founded the Cochranites in Saco, Maine. Cochranite worship is said to have resembled Shakerism, but which also practiced a new doctrine called spiritual wifery. Cochranism may have influenced the Mormon doctrines of plural marriage and the United Order, as well as the free love practice called complex marriage once favored by the Oneida Community. . . .
Cochran dismissed traditional concepts of marriage, citing passages in the bible where seven wives shared one man. As early as 1818-1819 the group was referring to spiritual wifery. Cochran would assign women to the men since legal marriages were not considered valid. He would also shift these women between men as he saw fit as their prophet. It was said that about half of the women in the group were once assigned to him. . . .
Cochran has been called a "John the Baptist" for Mormonism by Saco Valley historian G.T. Ridlon because so many Cochranites were among those who converted to Mormonism and moved west. . . .
Latter Day Saint historical sources indicate that Mormon missionaries were laboring successfully to make converts among Maine's Cochranites as early as 1832: at the Church conference held in Saco, Maine on August 21, 1835, at least seven of the newly ordained apostles were in attendance.
(From Joseph Fought Polygamy, Vol 1, Chapter 3)
The above selections from the journals of Orson and Samuel are sufficient to show that the Church's missionaries labored extensively among the Cochranites. A vast amount of information is available in libraries in many states, including the LDS Church and RLDS Church archives, which shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that polygamy entered the Church through the Cochranite religion!
There were other polygamous societies in America and England during the Kirtland-Nauvoo period, and they too contributed toward polygamy entering the Church. But Cochranism was the polygamists' primary mainspring into the Church. However, many who joined the Church in Cochranite areas were not polygamists, but stalwart Christians with excellent morals. Among those faithful ones were two young women, Mary Bailey and Agnes Coolbrith, who were baptized as a result of Orson and Samuel's preaching. Samuel Smith, the Prophet's brother, married Mary Bailey, and Don Carlos Smith, another brother, married Agnes Coolbrith. Also from the midst of the Cochranites came Arthur Milliken, who married Lucy Smith, Joseph's youngest sister. Neither Mary nor Agnes embraced polygamy, and Arthur Milliken was a faithful member of the Church during the presidencies of Joseph the Martyr and his son, Joseph III. Arthur and Lucy bitterly opposed polygamy.
Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith were not the only missionaries who journeyed through the Cochranite areas. Other Church ministers traveled and preached throughout the region with great success during the Kirtland and Nauvoo eras. But Saco, Maine, a Cochranite stronghold, was one of the most fruitful fields for missionary work—so much so that a conference was held in Saco on June 13, 1834 (The Evening and the Morning Star 2 [August 1834]: 181; RLDS History of the Church 1:521). The following year, "On August 21, 1835, nine of the Twelve [apostles] met in conference at Saco, Maine" (Messenger and Advocate 2 [October 1835]: 204207; RLDS History of the Church 1:583). With nine of the twelve apostles making their appearance in Saco, there is no doubt that each one of them became well acquainted with the doctrines of Cochranism, for at that time it was a popular secular and religious news topic. Those evil dogmas must have made a deep impression on the apostles, for of the twelve who were in the apostolic quorum at the time of Joseph's death, at least eleven became polygamists!
It would take volumes to tell the complete story of Brigham's involvement in polygamy and how he was instrumental in bringing it into the Church. Part of that story is the account of how he requested to travel alone on missions, met a married woman, Augusta Cobb, who was acquainted with members of the Cochranite sect and their teachings, and later took her to Nauvoo and married her as his polygamous wife—before Joseph's death. When Joseph discovered the polygamous practices of Brigham Young and others, he sought to bring them to trial, but was assassinated before he could do so. The polygamist party under Brigham Young then took control of the Church, which assured the success of polygamy as a doctrine among the Utah Saints.
Brigham's Cochranite Connections
Brigham Young had a thorough knowledge of Cochranism, for he made several missionary journeys through the "Cochranite territory" from Boston to Saco, and later married Augusta Cobb as previously noted. He attended the 1835 Church conference in Saco. Brigham chose to travel alone in Cochranite territory instead of going with another elder, "two by two" as the Scriptures direct (see RLDS DC 52:3c; 60:3a; 61:6b; and 75:5c–d; also LDS DC 52:10; 60:8; 61:35; 75:30–36).
The High Council met at Kirtland on February 20, 1834, and its record states:
Why did Brigham insist upon traveling alone in an area where adulterous temptations were sure to befall any lonely elder?
The report for the June 1834 Church conference at Saco stated that "a numerous concourse had assembled" (Evening and Morning Star 2 [August 1834]: 181). Although Brigham did not go to the 1834 conference, he was on a mission to the eastern states from May to September 1835 (Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, Appendix A, 413).
Brigham continued to work in that area and he reported that he also had been to a conference in Maine on August 12, 13, and 14, 1836, where fifty-two members of the Saco Branch attended (Messenger and Advocate 2 [September 1836]: 381–382). Brigham's presence in and around Saco during the Cochranite era is another evidence that he was very familiar with Cochranite polygamy. . . .
Between 1834 and 1844, Brigham
Young made a number of journeys into the Boston area, where the
Cochranite doctrine was prevalent. During this time he met
Augusta Adams Cobb. Augusta was baptized on June 29, 1832, by
Samuel Smith, as noted in a previous chapter (see Missionary
Journal of Samuel Harrison Smith—1832, and Journal of Orson
Hyde). Both journals show that Augusta Cobb requested baptism at
a meeting where at least two Cochranites were present. This
establishes the fact that Augusta was familiar with the
doctrines of the polygamous Cochranites when she met Apostle
Young. Augusta was an educated woman from a well-known Boston
family, married and living in luxury with her husband of
twenty-one years—Henry Cobb. According to Augusta's great
granddaughter, Mary Cable, Augusta and Henry were the parents of
seven children (American Heritage 16 [February 1965]: 50). In
the fall of 1843 Augusta deserted her husband and all of her
children but the two younger ones—Charlotte, six, and Brigham,
only a few months—and went with Brigham Young to Nauvoo to
become his plural wife (ibid., 52).
Brigham’s mission to England was in 1839-40. Speaking of it in 1874, Young stated, “While we [he and ten of the
Twelve] were in England, (in 1839 and 40) I think, the Lord manifested to me by vision and his Spirit, things [concerning “spiritual wifery’] that I did not then understand. I never opened my mouth to any one concerning them, until I returned to Nauvoo; Joseph had never mentioned this; there had never been a thought of it in the Church that I ever knew anything about at that time, but I had this for myself, and I kept it to myself. And when I returned home, and Joseph revealed those things to me, then I understood the reflections that were upon my mind while in England. But this (communication with Joseph on the subject) was not until after I had told him what I understood— this was in 1841” (Brigham Young, Deseret News, July 1, 1874).
In a meeting with U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Shuyler Colfax (June 17, 1865, Ulysses S. Grant was the Presidential candidate), Young said he received the polygamy revelation, not Joseph Smith. In his private journal, Colfax recorded that Young brought up the subject of polygamy, stating, “the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants declared for monogamy, but that polygamy was a later revelation commanded by God to him and a few others, and permitted and advised to the rest of the church” (Shuyler Colfax journal entry, quoted in The Western Galaxy, Vol. I, p. 247).
Lorenzo Snow stated, “There is no man that lives that had a more perfect knowledge of the principle of plural marriage, its holiness and divinity, than what I had. It was revealed to me before the Prophet Joseph Smith explained it to me. I had been on a mission to England between two and three years, 1843] and before I left England I was perfectly satisfied in regard to something connected with plural marriage” (Deseret Semi-Weekly News, June 6, 1899).
Lorenzo Snow was single and unmarried at the time Joseph spoke with him about Celestial Marriage. Soon after Joseph's death in October 1844, Snow married, for the first time, two sisters from England on the same day. [If Joseph supported plural marriage why did many such marriages take place soon after his death?] He admitted years later that he became a believer in polygamy while serving his mission in England. Interestingly, Young and Snow served part of their missions at the same time in England. (Joseph Smith, A Faithful Telling p. 252-253)
About the year '42 there were a great many poor widows living out in the farther part of town—Nauvoo is laid off very large—and there was a good deal of complaining, and they sometimes had to suffer, as the roads were bad and they had no children large enough to send to the bishop.
And at the conference Joseph Smith proposed that those poor widows that lived out there, and had good faithful brethren living by them, should be adopted into these brethren's families. There was a vote taken on it at the conference, and I voted for it; thought it was a good thing. It carried unanimously. Well they were adopted, there were plenty of brethren that adopted them into their families, and it went on very well for awhile. In place of treating them as one of their families, they went to making what was called spiritual wives of them. And Joseph Smith and [Nauvoo Stake President] William Marks called the Church together, at the Masonic Hall, and there the meeting was carried on for three days and nights, speaking against it, and showing the consequences of what they had done, and Joseph Smith's last speech was this, "Brethren, you that had no hand in it, for God's sake never have, for those that have had a hand in it are damned to all intents and purposes."
Bro. Luff—At about what time was that discussion?
Ans.—Either in the fall of '43 or in the spring of '44.
Pres. Smith—Was it held in the Masonic Hall or in the Seventy's Hall?
Ans.—It was in the Masonic Hall. The Seventy's Hall was not large enough to hold such a throng of people as was gathered there.
Bro. Luff—Was William Marks connected with that denunciation, or associated with Joseph Smith in that work?
Ans.—He was, he was, we had a great deal of confidence in William Marks.
Brother Luff—Did he publicly talk about it?
Ans.—That was what the meeting was for, to put it down. He spoke just the same as Joseph. They spoke time about [took turns speaking]. The meeting continued three days and three nights.
Bro. Luff—Have you any knowledge as to whether any of those men who have been prominent in Utah were present at those meetings?
Ans.—Lots of them were, but I could not now tell who.
Bro. Luff—Do you know any others who were there that you were certain of?
Ans.—Old David Seely, who died up here at San Bernardino, was there. He and I used to go [do Church work] together. I do not recollect of any that are now living, but David Bennett, my father-in-law was one of the members of the Church. He was there. He heard it. Cyrus H. Wheelock was there, and many others.
Bro. Luff—Did Joseph Smith, during those speeches ever make any direct statement to the effect that the conduct of those people was foreign to the general intent of the adoption?
Ans.—That was the effect of his whole remarks, showing them where they had transgressed the law of God, in doing the way they had done.
Bro. Smith—Did you ever hear of polygamy or plural wifery in Nauvoo, before Father's death?
Ans.—No sir, no sir, only that of which I was talking. (Stanley Ivins Collection, Utah State Historical Society Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; also Manuscript Collection, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri)
That the church funds have been misapplied, I have no hesitation in asserting, for of necessity I have been made acquainted with the fact, that several houses have been filled up with women who have been secretly married to Brigham Young, H. C. Kimble [Heber C. Kimball], and Willard Richards—women with little children in their arms, who had no means of support except from the tithing funds. (William Smith, A Proclamation, Warsaw Signal, Warsaw, Illinois [October 1845])
Prior to March 1840, [Udney Hay] Jacob wrote a long manuscript for a book to prove that women should be completely subservient to men and that polygamy should be practiced in order to bring peace to the earth. . . .
In the fall of 1842 while Joseph was in hiding to avoid capture by the Missourians, and while he was busy supervising the anti-Bennett crusade and attempting to care for other Church and city business, workers at the Times and Seasons printing office printed the pamphlet for Jacob. On the cover they placed the words: "J. Smith, Printer." Because of this, people have assumed to this day that Joseph knew about the pamphlet and its polygamous contents before it was printed, and that he approved of it being published. Over the years since then, some have insisted that the Prophet had Udney Jacob write and publish it as a "feeler" to see if the Saints would accept polygamy in the Church.
But when Joseph saw a copy after it came off the press, he was surprised and angry that his name was associated with the polygamous pamphlet. He responded by publishing in the Times and Seasons:
[In 1843] I had a private interview with Joseph Smith. In that private interview was the time when he told me he had taken my sister [Eliza R Snow] as a wife. He did not say she was taken as a wife and married to him, he said she was sealed to him, sealed to him for eternity. I was not acquainted with the practice of sealing at that time. I had never heard of it before. I never saw the ceremony of sealing performed in the days of Joseph Smith. I never knew anything about the practice of sealing during the days of Joseph Smith. He didn't tell me anything about it at the time I had this conversation with him. (Abstract Evidence Temple Lot Case U.S.C.C. p. 317)Another example is found in the words of Samuel W. Richards during the Temple Lot case. Richards, the nephew of apostle Willard Richards, was asked what he knew about “the system of plural marriage” in Nauvoo. He stated “I did not hear anything or see anything direct from Joseph Smith himself while I was there in Nauvoo but others who were his clerks and secretaries and such like I had communication from them while I was living there on that subject." He then specifically named his uncle Willard, who was one of Joseph’s secretaries, as having been the one who taught him about plural marriage. He further clarified:
I heard Joseph Smith teach the Quorum of Twelve (perhaps not a full quorum) the principles of sealing. I never heard him teach it publicly, nor to any considerable number of people. He called it the order of celestial marriage,wrote a letter to Evangelist James A Thomas of Lamoni, Iowa. In it she relates a conversation Brigham had in her ancestors home.
Brigham Young had come to her mother’s home and explained the polygamist doctrine to her mother and herself and as he left telling them “you must tell no one of this, we must keep it quiet for as yet Bro. Joseph is not with us.”Sidney Rigdon accused the Twelve of carrying on spiritual wifery less than four months after Joseph died.
It is a fact, so well known, that the Twelve and their adherents have endeavored to carry on this spiritual wife business in secret ... and have gone to the most shameful and desperate lengths, to keep it from the public. ... How often have these men and their accomplices stood up before the congregation, and called God and all the holy Angels to witness, that there was no such doctrine taught in the church ; and it has now come to light, by testimony which cannot be gainsaid, that at the time they thus dared heaven and insulted the world, they were living in the practice of these enormities; and there were multitudes of their followers in the congregation at the time who knew it. (Sidney Rigdon, Messenger and Advocate 1 [October 15, 1844]: 14 (emphasis added) )
If Joseph Smith originated plural marriage in the church, why was their a large increase in those marriages after he died. In the six months of 1844 following Joseph’s death, Brigham Young increased his plural wives from 4 to 15. Heber C Kimball increased from 1 to 10. In the church at large, there were 56 new plural marriages in 1845. And in 1846, there were an astonishing 255 new plural marriages. (Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-6, George D. Smith, Dialogue Vol. 34, No. 1, p. 154)
Additionally, there was hardly any children born to polygamous unions while Joseph was alive.
According to an analysis by George D. Smith, there were a total of 42 alleged plural marriage unions involving 25 men (excluding Joseph Smith’s alleged activity) while Joseph was alive. There were 5 such unions in 1842, 21
in 1843, and 14 more before Joseph’s death in June 1844.
George Reynolds, a secretary to the First Presidency, hypothesized about the low birth rate as follows:
"The facts that you refer to are almost as great a mystery to us as they are to you; but the reason generally assigned by the [plural] wives themselves is, that owing to the peculiar circumstances by which they were surrounded, they were so nervous and in such constant fear that they did not conceive."(First Presidency Letterpress Copybooks , Letter to H. Neidig June 7 1892.)Reynolds does not dispute the lack of children. Instead he asserts that conception was
simply prevented by fear. However, it seems implausible that nearly all 40 women would be so
distressed over a period of 3 years that conceiving was virtually impossible. As Bergara points
out, during this same period of time before Joseph’s death, there were 14 children born by the
legal wives of the alleged polygamists.(Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44, Dialogue, Vol. 38. No. 3, p. 50)