Moving along with Meg Stout’s series of posts on Joseph Smith’s plural marriages …
She begins her next section, “Six Funerals and a Blessing,” by restating the straw man argument she opened with previously:
When discussing Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, many have simply presumed that Joseph initiated marriages whenever there was a plausible opportunity for Joseph to be in the same town or house or room as a putative wife. This seems to be the rationale behind Compton’s assertion that Joseph married Lucinda Pendleton in 1838 or the belief that Joseph fathered children with Hannah Dubois in the early 1830s.
As I said before, I don’t believe any serious historian has ever said that Joseph Smith entered into plural marriage with any available woman, apparently to satisfy his lusts. Certainly, that is not the reason Todd Compton lists Lucinda Morgan as one of Joseph Smith’s wives. But let’s get into the heart of her arguments.
The main thesis of this section is that several deaths, including that of Joseph’s father, in 1840 opened Joseph’s mind to the need to seal parents to children and thus hastened the practice of plural marriage. She first notes the untimely death of Jane and William Neyman’s teenaged son, Cyrus, who had not been baptized, correctly linking that death with Joseph’s explication of baptism for the dead a few months later at the funeral of Seymour Brunson.
At this point, the connection between these deaths and the introduction of plural marriage is not clear, but then Ms. Stout brings up the death of Marietta Carter Holmes, who was killed as a result of an attack by a mob. After Holmes’s death, Marietta’s husband and two daughters were taken into the Smith home, where one of the children died shortly thereafter. At this point, Ms. Stout launches into pure conjecture:
I imagine Marietta being carried from her burning home to the homestead. Jonathan hurries in, stopping in horror as his worst fears are realized. Joseph Smith watches, knowing that Marietta bears the wounds intended for Emma and himself.
It seems clear to me that Joseph would have comforted Jonathan and Marietta. Though death was imminent, their union and their love could persist despite the cruelty of the mob, despite the tragedy of a life ended so young.
Marietta died August 20, 1840. She was only twenty years old.
Joseph knew of the New and Everlasting Covenant that could bind husbands and wives together for eternity. He had received the keys of that power more than four years earlier, but had yet to use that power to bind his own marriage, much less the marriage of any other couple. As they buried Marietta, I believe Joseph must have realized that the ordinance of marriage could also be performed for those now dead, just as baptism could be performed by proxy.
When Marietta’s daughter died, Ms. Stout again has Joseph pondering baptism for the dead:
I believe it was in this crucible that Joseph finally understood that the sealing power could bind parents to their children and children to their parents. It could seal infant Mary to Jonathan and Marietta. It could seal his own departed children to himself and Emma. It could seal him to his own father, bedridden since March 1840.
Finally, Joseph’s own father died two days after the death of Mary Holmes. Once again, Ms. Stout veers far away from the historical record into speculation:
I submit Joseph’s attempt to obey the 1831 commandment regarding plural marriage and the New and Everlasting Covenant did not start in earnest until September 14, 1840, at the deathbed of his father.
What reason does she give to support this belief? None that I can see, but her next chapter is based on the assumption that these deaths spurred Joseph to begin seeking plural wives in earnest. Accordingly, he approached Joseph Bates Nobles in the fall of 1840 to teach him about the principle and ask for his help in securing Noble’s sister-in-law Louisa Beaman as a wife. Around the same time he approached Zina Huntington, who refused him.
Now things get a little muddled in Stout’s telling. By this time John C. Bennett had firmly established himself as one of Joseph Smith’s chief lieutenants and confidants, as Bennett had been instrumental in getting the state legislature to approve Nauvoo’s city charter. In March 1841, Joseph received confirmation from George Miller that Bennett had abandoned a still-living wife in Ohio. When further confirmation came in June of that year, Smith confronted Bennett, who admitted his guilt. It would be another year before Bennett lost his position in the church.
In the fall of 1840, Elvira Annie Cowles was living in Joseph Smith’s home as a governess for the Smith children. She would not marry Joseph until 1843, a fact that puzzles Ms. Stout. Once again Ms. Stout abandons the evidence and weaves a narrative that suits her:
Here was a possible answer, then. Elvira Annie Cowles, of all the plural wives Joseph would covenant with, appears to have promised Emma that she would not enter into a Covenant with Joseph until after Emma herself had accepted the Covenant.
Even though Elvira Annie wasn’t the first plural wife, there is no reason to think she was not the first woman Joseph talked with after his father’s death. She was an intimate of the Smith family. Emma loved Elvira and trusted her. Elvira may have witnessed the conversation between Joseph and the dying Marietta Holmes and the death bed blessing Father Smith pronounced on Joseph’s head. With this background, Elvira would be uniquely prepared to comprehend the strange doctrine of plural marriage.
Assuming Joseph approached Elvira about joining him in the New and Everlasting Covenant as a plural wife during September 1840, Elvira also understood one other thing about plural marriage. The first wife had to agree–Emma would have to give her consent. There is no good reason to suppose Joseph and Elvira kept this from Emma. If Elvira was going to refuse Joseph, then it seems only natural that she was doing so based on knowledge of Emma’s wishes.
To be clear, there is no evidence that:
1. Joseph Smith approached Elvira Cowles about plural marriage, let alone that she was “the first woman Joseph talked with after his father’s death.”
2. Elvira Cowles made any promise to Emma about marrying Joseph.
3. Elvira Cowles knew that “the first wife had to agree,” as Joseph entered into other marriages without Emma’s knowledge or consents.
4. Elvira Cowles refused any proposal of Joseph’s for any reason, including “Emma’s wishes.”
It’s difficult to overstate how problematic this is. Once again, we have a whole lot of assertions based on no evidence. This is not reputable history; it’s not even good apologetics.
But it gets worse. Next Ms. Stout asserts, again with no evidence, that Dr. Bennett must have pursued Elvira Cowles after Joseph refused to “excoriate” him for his transgressions: “More importantly for Bennett, the reprieve would give him time to secure the affections of his new beloved.” Who was this new beloved? Elvira Cowles:
When Dr. Bennett began to court, I suggest Elvira Annie Cowles was very likely the woman he sought. When Joseph learned of Bennett’s shady past, it became a matter of significant importance to warn the young woman involved of the impropriety, to break off the acquaintance, as Joseph termed it. Significantly, it was around the timeframe of the Miller letter that Bennett moved out of the homestead, apparently taking a room in the home of Sarah Pratt.
Why is Ms. Cowles “very likely the woman [Bennett] sought”? No reason in particular. She was at the house, so why not? Based on this conjecture, we get a second conjecture, that Joseph tried to warn Elvira about Bennett’s shady past. What evidence is there of such a warning? None, just the suggestion that since Bennett moved out of the house in May, it must have had something to do with improper advances on Elvira.
More speculation follows, including Ms. Stout’s apparent belief that Joseph Smith tried to persuade Noble to enter into plural marriage:
Was it not possible that Joseph Smith was trying to convince Joseph Bates Noble to enter into plural marriage himself? The sight of Joseph Bates Noble assisting his wife and sister-in-law down the street must have been arresting to Smith–so like a vision of plural marriage at its best. If Smith attempted to persuade Noble to take on a plural wife, however, Noble did not act in the winter of 1840/41.
Is it possible? Anything’s possible, but is there any evidence? Again, no. So, to sum up, she says:
By April 1841 Joseph Smith knew he couldn’t trust Dr. Bennett. Elvira Cowles wouldn’t marry him. Zina Huntington wouldn’t marry him. Joseph Bates Noble wouldn’t take a plural wife.
Is there any evidence that Joseph had lost trust in Bennett by April 1841? No. Is there any evidence Elvira Cowles refused a marriage proposal? No. Nor is there evidence that Joseph Noble refused to take a plural wife. The only statement that can be substantiated is that Zina Huntington refused Joseph’s proposal in the fall of 1840.
Finally, Stout explains that Louisa Beaman consented to marry Joseph in April 1841 and that the newlyweds spent the night in Joseph Noble’s house. But even here she can’t bring herself to acknowledge that anything sexual might have occurred. “Despite Joseph and Louisa spending their wedding night under the same roof, Joseph Bates Noble was unable to testify that he’d actually seen the couple get in bed together. ”
I will just quote from Joseph Noble’s actual testimony to show how preposterous this is.
Q. Do you know whether Joseph Smith ever lived any with Louisa Beaman as his wife?. . .
A. I know it for I saw him in bed with her. . . .
Q. What made you say the other day that Joseph Smith and that woman you sealed to him slept together that night?
A. Because they did sleep together.
Q. If you were not there that night, how do you know they slept together?
A. Well, they slept together I know. If it was not that night it was two or three nights after that.
Q. Where did they sleep together?
A. Right straight across the river at my house they slept together. . . .
Q. Did he sleep with her the first night after the ceremony was performed?
A. He did.
Q. Now you say that he did sleep with her?
A. I do.
Q. How do you know he did?
A. Well I was there.
Q. And you saw them go to bed together?
A. I gave him counsel . . . .
Q. What counsel did you give him?
A. I said “blow out the light and get into bed, and you will be safer there,” and he took my advice or counsel . . . .
Q. Well did you stay there until the lights were blown out?
A. No sir I did not stay until they blowed out the lights then.
Q. Well you did not see him get into bed with her that time?
A. No sir.
Q. And so you don’t know whether he followed your advice from your own knowledge?
A. No sir, I did not see him, but he told me he did.
Q. Well, you know from your own knowledge that he did?
A. Well, I am confident he did.
Q. But you don’t know it of your own knowledge from seeing him do it?
A. No sir, for I was not there.
Corroboration comes from Benjamin Winchester:
Q. Were you personally acquainted with any of Smith’s wives?
A. Yes, but especially with Louisa Beaman from a girl. About the year 43 Joseph Smith took rooms for her in my father’s house, and Smith came to see her about once a week.
Q. Did they sleep together?
A. Yes they did.
Q. Was there only one bed in the room?
A. Yes just one bed.
Q. Are you sure it was in 1843?
A. No, but it was about that time, or from 42 to 44
Apparently, Ms. Stout believes that, unless a third party actually watched them have sex, it’s unreasonable to believe that, when they spent the night together in a bedroom with the lights out, they didn’t actually share a bed and “the marriage between Joseph Smith and Louisa Beaman likely remained unconsummated.” Indeed, Joseph Smith must have lied when he told Joseph Nobles he slept with Louisa.
I am trying very hard not to condemn or ridicule Ms. Stout, but I will simply say that this kind of stuff strains credulity.