Note: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not currently practice plural marriage. Please see the revelation on this subject.
In Nauvoo I first understood that the practice of plural marriage was to be introduced into the Church. The subject was very repugnant to my feelings—so directly was it in opposition to any educated prepossessions that it seemed as though all the prejudices of my ancestors for generations past congregated around me. But when I reflected that I was living in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, embracing all other dispensations, surely plural marriage must necessarily be included, and I consoled myself with the idea that it was far in the distance, and beyond the period of my mortal existence. It was not long, however, before the announcement reached me that the “set time” had come—that God had commanded His servants to establish the order, by taking additional wives. I was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith for time and eternity.
While my brother Lorenzo Snow was absent on his first mission to Europe, these changes had taken place with me, of which I supposed him to be entirely ignorant. Not knowing how my mother would receive it, I did not feel at liberty, and did not wish to assume the responsibility of instructing him in the principle of plural marriage, and either maintained silence, or, to his indirect questioning, gave evasive answers, until I was forced, by his cool and distant manner, to feel that he was growing jealous of my sisterly confidence—that I could not confide in his brotherly integrity. I could not endure this—something must be done. I informed my husband of the situation, and requested him to open the subject to my brother. A favorable opportunity soon presented and seated together on the lone bank of the Mississippi River they had a most interesting conversation. The Prophet afterwards told me that he found that my brother’s mind had been previously enlightened on the subject in question, and was ready to receive whatever the spirit of revelation from God should impart. That Comforter which Jesus said should “lead into all truth” had penetrated his understanding, and while in England had given him an intimation of what at that time was, to many, a secret. This was the result of living near the Lord, and holding communion with Him.
It was at the private interview referred to above that the Prophet Joseph unbosomed his heart and described the trying mental ordeal he experienced in overcoming the repugnance of his feelings, the natural result of the force of education and social custom, relative to the introduction of plural marriage. He knew the voice of God—he knew the commandment of the Almighty to him was to go forward, to set the example, and establish celestial plural marriage. He knew that he had not only his own prejudices and prepossessions to combat and to overcome, but those of the whole Christian world; but God, who is above all, had given the commandment, and He must be obeyed. Yet the Prophet hesitated and deferred from time to time, until an angel of God stood by him with a drawn sword, and told him that, unless he moved forward and established plural marriage, his priesthood would be taken from him and he should be destroyed! This testimony he not only bore to my brother, but also to others—a testimony that cannot be gainsayed. 1
Benjamin F. Johnson
In talking with my mother after the revelation on plural marriage was given, Joseph Smith told her that when the Lord required him to move in plural marriage his first thought was to come and ask her for some of her daughters; and I can now understand that the period alluded to was at Kirtland, where she had three unmarried daughters at home, two of whom died there.
As I have alluded to the law of plural marriage, I will relate the time and manner in which it was taught to me. About the first of April, 1843, the Prophet, with some of the Twelve and others, came to Macedonia to hold a meeting, which was to convene in a large cabinet shop owned by Brother Joseph E. and myself. As usual, he put up at my house.
Early on Sunday morning he said, “Come Brother Bennie, let us have a walk.”
I took his arm, and he led the way into a by-place in the edge of the woods surrounded by tall brush and trees. Through the swale ran a small spring brook, across which a tree was fallen and was clean of its bark. On this we sat down, and the Prophet began to tell me that the Lord had revealed to him that plural or patriarchal marriage was according to His law; and that the Lord and not only revealed it to him but had commanded him to obey it; that he was required to take other wives; and that he wanted my Sister Almira for one of them, and wished me to see and talk to her upon the subject.
If a thunderbolt had fallen at my feet, I could hardly have been more shocked or amazed. He saw the struggle in my mind and went on to explain. But the shock was too great for me to comprehend anything, and in almost an agony of feeling I looked squarely in the eye and said, while my heart gushed up before him, ” Brother Joseph, this is all new to me. It may all be true—you know, but I do not. To my education it is all wrong. But I am going, with the help of the Lord, to do just what you say, with this promise to you—that if ever I know you do this to degrade my sister I will kill you, as the Lord lives.”
He looked at me, oh, so calmly, and said, “Brother Benjamin, you will never see that day, but you shall see the day you will know it is true, and you will fulfill the law and greatly rejoice in it.” And he said, “At this morning’s meeting, I will preach you a sermon that no one but you will understand. And furthermore, I will promise you that when you open your mouth to your sister, it shall be filled.”
At the meeting he read the Parable of the Talents, and 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. This, so far as I could understand, might relate to families, but to me there was a horror in the idea of speaking to my sister upon such a subject, the thought of which made me sick.
But I had promised, and it must be done. I did not remember his words and have faith that light would come. I only thought, “How dark it all looks to me. But I must do it.”
And so I told my sister I wished to see her in a room by herself. I stood before her trembling, but I opened my mouth and my heart opened to the light of the Lord. My tongue was loosened, and I was filled with the Holy Ghost. I preached a sermon that forever converted me and her also to the principle, even though her heart was not yet won by the Prophet. And so I had great joy after my tribulation.
He had asked me to bring my sister to the city, which I soon did. His brother, Hyrum, said to me, “Now, Brother Benjamin, you know that Brother Joseph would not sanction this if it was not from the Lord. The Lord revealed this to Brother Joseph long ago, and he put it off until the angel of the Lord came to him with a drawn sword and told him that he would be slain if he did not go forth and fulfill the law.”
He told my sister to have no fears, and he there and then sealed my sister, Almira, to the Prophet.2
In the year 1842, President Joseph Smith sought an interview with me, and said: “I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.” My astonishment knew no bounds. This announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me. He asked me if I believed him to be a prophet of God. “Most assuredly I do,” I replied. He fully explained to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage. He said this principle was again to be restored for the benefit of the human family, that it would prove an everlasting blessing to my father’s house, and form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end. “What have you to say?” he asked. “Nothing.” How could I speak, or what could I say? He said, “If you will pray sincerely for light and understanding in relation thereto, you shall receive a testimony of the correctness of this principle. I thought I prayed sincerely, but was so unwilling to consider the matter favorably that I fear I did not ask in faith for light. Gross darkness instead of light took possession of my mind. I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable. Oh that the grave would kindly receive me, that I might find rest on the bosom of my dear mother. Why should I be chosen from among thy daughters, Father, I am only a child in years and experience, no mother to counsel; no father near to tell me what to do in this trying hour. Oh, let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul.
The Prophet discerned my sorrow. He saw how unhappy I was, and sought an opportunity of again speaking to me on this subject, and said: “Although I cannot, under existing circumstances, acknowledge you as my wife, the time is near when we will go beyond the Rocky Mountains and then you will be acknowledged and honored as my wife.” He also said, “This principle will yet be believed in and practiced by the righteous. I have no flattering words to offer. It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.”
This aroused every drop of Scotch in my veins. For a few moments I stood fearless before him, and looked him in the eye. I felt at this moment that I was called to place myself upon the altar a living sacrifice–perhaps to brook the world in disgrace and incur the displeasure and contempt of my youthful companions; all my dreams of happiness blown to the four winds. This was too much, for as yet no shadow had crossed my path, aside from the death of my dear mother. The future to me had been one bright, cloudless day. I had been speechless, but at last found utterance and said: “Although you are a prophet of God you could not induce me to take a step of so great importance, unless I knew that God approved my course. I would rather die. I have tried to pray but received no comfort, no light,” and emphatically forbid him speaking again to me on this subject. Every feeling of my soul revolted against it. Said I, “The same God who has sent this message is the Being I have worshipped from my early childhood and He must manifest His will to me.” He walked across the room, returned and stood before me with the most beautiful expression of countenance, and said: “God Almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that joy and peace that you never knew.”
Oh, how earnestly I prayed for these words to be fulfilled. It was near dawn after another sleepless night when my room was lighted up by a heavenly influence. To me it was, in comparison, like the brilliant sun bursting through the darkest cloud. The words of the Prophet were indeed fulfilled. My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that “I never knew.” Supreme happiness took possession of me, and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage, which has been like an anchor to the soul through all the trials of life. I felt that I must go out into the morning air and give vent to the joy and gratitude that filled my soul. As I descended the stairs, President Smith opened the door below, took me by the hand and said: “Thank God, you have the testimony. I too have prayed.” He led me to a chair, placed his hands upon my head, and blessed me with every blessing my heart could possibly desire.
The first day of May, 1843, I consented to become the Prophet’s wife, and was sealed to him for time and all eternity, at his own house by Elder William Clayton.
Today I have but one regret, which is that I have not been a more worthy representative of the principle of plural marriage, and that I have not lived a more perfect life. I can also state that Emma Smith was present and did consent to Eliza and Emily Partridge, also Maria and Sarah Lawrence being sealed to her husband. This I had from the Prophet’s own mouth; also the testimony of her niece, Hyrum Smith’s eldest daughter, (my brother Lorin’s wife), as well as that of the young ladies named themselves, with whom I was on most intimate terms, and was glad that they, too, had accepted that order of marriage. Instead of a feeling of jealousy, it was a source of comfort to me. We were as sisters to each other.3
Bathsheba W. Smith
I heard the Prophet give instructions concerning plural marriage; he counselled the sisters not to trouble themselves in consequence of it, that all would be right, and the result would be for their glond exaltation. . . Being thoroughly convinced, as well as my husband, that the doctrine of plurality of wives was from God, and having a fixed determination to attain to Celestial glory, I felt to embrace the whole Gospel, and that it was for my husband’s exaltation that he should obey the revelation on Celestial Marriage [D&C 132], that he might attain to kingdoms, thrones, principalities and powers, firmly believing that I should participate with him in all his blessings, glory and honor.4
Orange L. Wight
I now come to that part of my story that you will be most likely interested in, which regards the doctrine taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith in regard to the plural marriage system. At first the doctrine was taught in private, the first I knew about it was in John Higbee’s family; he lived close to us and being well acquainted with him and family I discovered he had two wives. The next I noticed when in company with the young folks the girls were calling one another spirituals. Now the reason why the young folks was in advance of me, my work was in the machine shop 22 miles above Nauvoo where I spent nearly all my time. But when at Nauvoo in the winter of 1841 and 1842, I became fully initiated.
At this time I was ordained an elder and attached to one of the Quorums of Seventies and sent on a mission to the eastern states where I traveled and preached in company with Jedediah and Joshua Grant and in the time went to Kirtland, Ohio and spoke several times in the temple, leaving the Grant brothers in Virginia. From Kirtland in the spring of 1843 I went back to Nauvoo. I was on this mission thirteen months. Now although in my 20th year [I] would not be 20 until 29 November, 1843, I concluded to look about and try to pick up one or more of the young ladies before they were all gone. So I commenced keeping company with Flora Woodworth, daughter of Lucian Woodworth (called the Pagan Prophet).
I was walking along the street with Flora near the Prophet’s residence when he, Joseph, drove, up in his carriage, stopped and spoke to I and Flora and asked us to get in the carriage and ride with him. He opened the door for us and when we were seated opposite to him he told the driver to drive on. We went to the [Nauvoo] temple lot and many other places during the afternoon and then he drove to the Woodworth house and we got out and went in. After we got in the house Sister Woodworth took me in another room and told me that Flora was one of Joseph’s wives. I was aware or believed that Eliza R. Snow and the two Partridge girls [see Eliza and Emily Partridge] were his wives but was not informed about Flora. But now Sister Woodworth gave me all the information necessary, so I knew Joseph believed and practiced polygamy.
Now while in the coach with Joseph he ask me a great many questions about my mission and about the other elders in my travels, more particular about the Grants and Apostle John E. Page. Page had charge of the Pennsylvania mission and I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with him part of the winter and with my father who was on a mission in New York State. While in conversation in the carriage I told the Prophet that a man by the name Brank was coming to Nauvoo. He looked troubled for a moment and said he had trouble enough with that man; Brank was an apostate. Then his countenance changed to one of inspiration and he said, “Orange, he will not come” and he never did come. That was a prophecy which seeing him and hearing the words I can never forget. It was proof to me that he was inspired. . . All the foregoing is written to show or prove to you that plural marriage was practiced and taught by the Prophet and Apostles of that day.
In all of this time I did not hear President Brigham Young’s name mentioned in connection with plural marriage. The doctrine was taught me by other apostles, bishops and members of the church; Bishop George Miller, William Clayton, Davis Clayton, Bishop Isaac Higbee, John Higbee and others, also by Joseph Smith, the Prophet by President and Revelation. I think Brother Brigham Young was on a mission most of the time in the eastern country. He and Father were in Boston, Massachusetts when the Prophet and Patriarch was martyred. So you see President Young did not or was not the first to preach and practice plural marriage.
Now you can see from what I have written that I was with the Prophet Joseph Smith most of the time from the year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints was organized to the year of his martyrdom and can in good faith bear my testimony that he was a Prophet appointed to take charge of this dispensation and that he taught by inspiration and revelations direct from God the Eternal Father in the name of Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of the Father, the God of Israel. With me there is no hearsay, my information as you can see is direct. I have written all the foregoing to prove to you that I am warranted in bearing testimony of the truth of the gospel of this dispensation as taught by the Prophet Joseph. I will now say that I wish this writing kept for the benefit of your children, mine and the rising generation, that they may know and have a witness from one that has as near a perfect knowledge of the rise and progress of the church L.D.S. [Latter-day Saints], as any man (as I believe) now living in this the year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ 1903.
And I wish all to bear in mind that I have seen the majesty of the great Prophet under nearly all the circumstances of his persecution and the rest of the Saints that were with him.
He [Joseph Smith] often referred to the feelings that should exist between husband and wives, that they, his wives, should be his bosom companions, the nearest and dearest objects on earth in every sense of the word. He said men must beware how they treat their wives. They were given them for a holy purpose that the myriads of spirits waiting for tabernacles might have pure and healthy bodies. He also said many would awake in the morning of the resurrection sadly disappointed; for they, by transgression, would have neither wives nor children, for they surely would be taken from them, and given to those who should prove themselves worthy. Again he said, a woman would have her choice; this was a privilege that could not be denied her.5
Remarks by President Joseph F. Smith at the funeral services of E. A. Whitney
Below are a few excerpts of remarks made by President Joseph F. Smith at the funeral services of Elizabeth Ann Whitney. In the which he mentioned plural marriage and the Prophet’s association with it.
Elizabeth Ann Whitney was the wife of Newel K. Whitney and mother of Sarah Ann Whitney (a plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith). These remarks are taken from the funeral services which were published in the Deseret Evening News, February 22, 1882. For a full transcript of the funeral services, please see “Funeral Services of Elizabeth Ann Whitney” on the Joseph Smith Forum Reference.
The speaker [Joseph F. Smith] testified in all soberness that henceforth and forever there was laid up for her a crown of glory, a queenly crown for her [Elizabeth Ann Whitney] and all those honorable women who sacrifice their own feelings in order to establish in the Church and make honorable in the earth, the doctrines of patriarchal [plural] marriage. He knew that such women would stand in the presence of the Eternal God crowned with glory and eternal lives, which none living can enjoy but those who are worthy and made this sacrifice.
Here, the speaker said, perhaps, for the first time in public, that the women who entered into plural marriage with the Prophet Joseph Smith were shown to him and name to him as early as 1831, the Lord showed him those women who were to engage with him in the establishment of that principle in the Church, and at that time some of these women were named and given to him, to become his wives when the time should come that this principle should be established. God knew their hearts, as he proved by the fact that they have been true and faithful through all the trying vicissitudes through which they have passed, and that too in the face of a frowning world; they have endured it all, and are to-day examples of womanhood and purity. It was something to be associated with righteous, honorable and pure woman, with women who dare receive and obey the revelations of God at the sacrifice of their own feelings, the most tender feelings of the human heart. God bless them now and forever.
Mother Whitney was one of those faithful women chosen of God as one of the pioneers, so to speak, of this peculiar doctrine; and she and her daughter [Sarah Ann Whitney] will receive the reward of those whom God will not forget in the day when He shall reckon up his jewels.6
- Eliza R. Snow, “Life Sketch,” handwritten manuscript. Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. Woman’s Exponent, II (January 1, 1874), p. 117; Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City, 1888), pp. 68-70; Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 57 – 58.
- Taken from the Autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson (1818-1905). Also in “They Knew the Prophet” [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 94-95
- Lucy Walker Kimball Autobiography
- Bathsheba W. Smith Autobiography
- Lucy Walker Kimball Autobiography
- “Funeral Services of Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” published in the Deseret Evening News, February 22, 1892. Please note that there are other earlier publications of the funeral services in the Deseret Evening News in the same month. President Joseph F. Smith made certain edits to the text, and the February 22, 1882 publication is the last publication with his revisions.