I give up. I am not going to waste any more time on a point-by-point rebuttal of Meg Stout’s deplorable work. She has complained to me that I haven’t dealt with specific details of the evidence; as I told her, the reason I haven’t bothered with the tiny details is that the big stuff is all wrong. She makes sweeping generalizations and assertions upon which her arguments rest, but these come out of nowhere, with no evidence other than Meg’s wishful thinking. She invents conversations and motives out of whole cloth and then interprets the evidence we do have on the assumption that her invented fantasies are demonstrated fact.
This is beyond poor research and poor history. It’s simple dishonesty based on the kind of man Meg Stout wishes Joseph Smith was, regardless of the actual evidence. I don’t think Meg Stout is a bad person, and I suspect she may not even be conscious of her problems with evidence and honesty. That said, it’s not worth anyone’s time to go through the rabbit-hole of selective evidence mixed with fantasy that is at the heart of her “research.”
With that in mind, I’ll just point out some of the obvious problems in the rest of the series.
“The Angel, the Sword, and the Heron Seduction”
Here we’re told that in the fall of 1841, Joseph was threatened by an angel with a sword, “Joseph had to establish the principle, or his position and very life were forfeit.” But as she acknowledges, Joseph had already established the principle when he married Louisa Beaman earlier in the year.
The four women Joseph would marry in response to the angel’s threat were women who were married to other men. I believe Joseph did this because he had already contracted one marriage that did not involve sex. Perhaps he was already aware of how unhappy lack of intimacy had made Louisa Beaman. It would be unreasonable to expect other single women to be satisfied with a marriage that didn’t involve physical intimacy. But these married women would be relieved if the celestial marriage were purely ceremonial.
We’ve already established the evidence that Joseph’s marriage with Louisa was sexual in nature, and the only evidence against it is Meg’s denial. So, based on that denial, Ms. Stout believes Louisa was unhappy because the marriage wasn’t sexual(!) and that the married women would therefore expect no intimacy. This is pure fantasy.
Speaking of Zina Jacobs, Stout writes:
She expected that by becoming Joseph’s celestial wife she would never again be looked upon as an honorable woman by those she dearly loved. One presumes she spoke of her husband, Henry Jacobs, and those of her siblings who knew about celestial marriage: Prescendia, Dimick, William, and Oliver.
Begging the question of why “celestial marriage” would cause her dishonor, we again see Meg writing her own facts, as there’s no evidence that Henry Jacobs was aware of Zina’s marriage to Joseph.
But what takes the cake is the insistence that Mary Heron Snider was “the first to be seduced by the unknown band of evil-doers:
I believe Mary came to the attention of Dr. Bennett because she was still in her thirties, yet had not produced children for more than a decade. He had to have a first victim. He also had to train his acolytes how to seduce women without causing pregnancy. The barren Mary Heron would not conceive if the man assigned to seduce her failed to follow Bennett’s instructions on having sex without risk of procreation. This kind of sex may have included the sometimes synonymous practices of onanism, petting, vulvar massage, frottage, and frigging.
So, to recap, we have an imaginary ring of “evil-doers” seducing Mary Heron, and we get speculation on what kinds of sexual activities were involved. The evidence for this? Years later, Mary Heron Snider’s son-in-law mentioned in a disciplinary council that he had been “familiar with the first frigging [slang for sexual relations]—that was done in his house with his mother in law—by Joseph.” As Michael Quinn has shown, Mrs. Heron was connected with Joseph Smith and with plural marriage, having been noted traveling with Smith and Sarah Cleveland, who was known to be one of the women Joseph used to convince prospective brides to accept his proposals. But here’s Ms. Stout’s take:
I believe Joseph Ellis was trying to explain the abhorrence he personally felt, explaining that he rejected the notion that it was OK to bed a woman out of wedlock as long as it was not found out, that part of his rejection of this behavior is because his own mother-in-law had been a victim. I propose the transcript could read “I was made familiar by Joseph Smith with the story of the first frigging. The bastards frigged my mother-in-law, Mary Heron Snider, around the time I was married to her daughter, in the same house where we stayed there in Nauvoo before moving back down to Ramus.”
But when Michael Quinn came across this record in 2009, he read it differently. Here, he believed, was proof of yet another of Joseph Smith’s sexual conquests. Never mind that it makes no sense for Joseph Ellis to tell the apostles, “By the way, I know we’re in the middle of my church hearing for adultery and I’ve just told you seducing people secretly is abhorrent to me. But did I tell you I am familiar with the fact that Joseph Smith secretly externally shagged my mother-in-law, Mary Heron, in my house in Nauvoo. She was the first, you know. Random factoid I thought you’d like to know.”
As Quinn explains, it makes absolute sense for Johnson to mention that Smith had slept with a married woman as an attempt to justify or at least mitigate his own misbehavior. Needless to say, he says he was aware of the “frigging” that was done “by Joseph.” There is no justification for reading it as “the bastards frigged my mother-in-law.” But based on that–shall we say–creative reading, she makes yet another leap:
Personally, I don’t think Michael Quinn’s interpretation makes sense. But I am grateful for his constant vigilance. The tale of Mary Heron allows us to pinpoint when Joseph Smith could have learned of the abuse Bennett and his followers were systematically inflicting on women in Nauvoo, the beginning of the desperate hunt for the seducers in Joseph’s City Beautiful.
This leads us to the next chapter.
“Hunt in the City Beautiful”
Here Ms. Stout tells us of a “manhunt I believe Joseph and Emma Smith conducted together, trying to identify those abusing the women of Nauvoo during the fall and winter of 1841/1842.” I’m assuming she’s lifted this from Richard and Pamela Price’s ludicrous web site, “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy.”
Wherever she got the idea of an investigation, it goes without saying that there’s no evidence that it ever happened. In fact, the only documented investigation of Nauvoo plural marriage was instigated by Emma Smith, which caused considerable conflict between her and Joseph and ended with Joseph shutting down the Relief Society when she would not give it up.
In Meg’s world, however, women known to have been married to Joseph Smith were instead victims of John Bennett’s “sex ring.” They were sealed to Joseph not because he wanted plural wives but “as part of either securing their loyalty or offering them protection.” What evidence is there? None, of course. But that doesn’t matter to Meg. In her eyes, the women Joseph is known to have used to procure wives, such as Sarah Cleveland and Elizabeth Durfee, become detectives helping Joseph and Emma uncover the dastardly deeds of the Bennett sex ring.
We’ve seen already that she thinks, based on no evidence, that Joseph discovered that Mary Heron had been abused by unnamed bastards. Similarly, Nancy Winchester, Stout tells us, ” was a victim of the Bennett ring during the winter of 1841/42, when she was barely 13 years old.” Again, is there any evidence of such abuse? Apparently, just that she received a blessing for “fits” in 1845 “–plausible as a post-traumatic stress reaction if she was attacked during the winter three years earlier.” I’m sorry, Meg, but, no, that kind of grasping at straws is pathetic, not plausible. Almost as an aside, she says she believes that the intended victim had been Clarissa Marvel, not Nancy Winchester. Why? She doesn’t say.
Based on nothing in particular, she suggests that Joseph and Emma brought Dr. Willard Richards, midwife Patty Sessions, and Sessions’ daughter, Sylvia Lyon, “wife of the town store clerk and druggist, Windsor Lyon,” to help in the investigation:
Involving Sylvia Lyon in the investigation indicates Joseph and Emma feared a drug was being used to molest women. Involving Patty Sessions indicates Joseph and Emma now feared the molestations may have resulted in pregnancies.
Again, unsupported speculation. Her treatment of the case of Marinda Hyde and Willard Richards is particularly fun:
On January 13th Willard Richards moved from the home of Brigham Young to live with Joseph. I propose this is the date when Joseph discovered abuses that required the attention of a doctor. Two weeks later, Joseph received another uncanonized revelation, directing the Twelve Apostles to take charge of the Times and Seasons. Robinson and his family were evicted, but Marinda remained. Willard Richards moved into the lower floor of the Times and Seasons, barring the windows, and shooting off his gun. These actions are usually interpreted through the eyes of those who thought Willard and Marinda were having an affair. However if the Times and Seasons had become a location frequented by Bennett’s ring, the shooting could have an alternate interpretation, one of Willard warning everyone that there was new management in the building, and that they could take their unholy business elsewhere.
Again, the evidence for this? Nonexistent. But we do come up with this perfectly marvelous paragraph:
By April, Marinda was assisting Joseph’s investigation. On April 9th, Marinda invited Nancy Rigdon to her home at the printing office to meet with Joseph Smith. Nancy believed she was being propositioned. However if you read the correspondence between Joseph and Nancy with the idea that Joseph was hunting out guilty men, who had enthralled Nancy as her “suitors,” it becomes clear that he was desperately trying to win her soul back from the corrupted path she was beginning to take.
Most Mormons are quite familiar with Joseph’s letter to Nancy Rigdon, in which he tells her that, when God gives “special revelation,” whatever he commands is right, even if it violates one’s conscience. This letter makes no sense if Joseph was “hunting out guilty men” but makes perfect sense if Nancy Rigdon rightly believed she was being propositioned. Indeed, it was John Bennett who made the letter public, and we are left wondering why he would have revealed a letter showing that Joseph Smith was hunting him and his sex ring.
Delcena Johnson Sherman, Marinda’s sister, is another wife that Stout claims is a victim of the sex ring. Again, no evidence is given, other than she was a plural wife and she moved in with Louisa Beaman, another wife.
Joseph’s concern for women living without protection (as in Marinda’s case) might be the reason he asked Delcena to move in with Louisa Beaman, already his plural wife.
However Joseph had to have learned of the seduction of Mary Heron Snider, mother-in-law of Delcena’s brother, in some fashion. I propose that the abusers had swept up the widow Delcena in their predations, and that Delcena was the individual who informed Joseph of what had happened to her and to Mary Heron. If such damage had been done to Delcena, Louisa stepped up to become Delcena’s protector. Louisa provided a home, shared the resources she had, and could provide Delcena an understanding of the New and Everlasting Covenant to combat the tales of the seducers.
I’m sorry, but this is pure fantasy, based on nothing.
By May of 1842, rumors were rampant that church leaders, including Joseph Smith, had been engaging in plural marriage. Emma Smith appears to have been outraged and exhorted a Relief Society meeting to root out the “heinous sin” among the Saints. Given Joseph’s history with Fanny Alger and possibly Lucinda Morgan, the thought that the practice was starting again had to be distressing to Emma, so she made it clear that she did not believe the practice was “sanction’d by Prest. Smith.” To me, this indicates pretty strongly that Emma was not aware of Joseph’s previous marriages, now totaling nine in addition to Emma.
But for Meg, Emma’s distress wasn’t over Joseph marrying plural wives but was connected to their attempts to discover who had been abused by Bennett’s gang of rapists. Consequently, she has Elizabethe Durfee (known as one of Joseph’s intermediaries in setting up plural marriages) as questioning Emily and Eliza Partridge about possible abuse at the hands of the aforementioned bastards.
When Joseph was unable to find a time to talk with Emily, he offered to give her a letter, provided she would promise to burn it after reading it. Emily refused the letter. Elizabeth Durfee was sent in next, and invited Eliza and Emily Partridge to her home. Mrs. Durfee then struck up a conversation with the girls about what they might think of spiritual marriage. The girls said nothing. However the very attempt to determine if they’d been caught in Bennett’s web raised suspicions in the girls’ minds. There is no indication the Partridge girls ever suspected the questioning was in service of apprehending evil-doers.
The reason they didn’t suspect that is that the questioning wasn’t regarding “evil-doers,” unless you consider Joseph Smith an evil-doer. Emily Partridge explains quite clearly the subject of her conversation with Joseph:
He told me then what he wanted to say to me, and he taught me this principle of plural marriage called polygamy now, but we called it celestial marriage, and he told me that this principle had been revealed to him but it was not generally known; and he went on and said that the Lord had given me to him, and he wanted to know if I would consent to a marriage, and I consented. . . . I was married to him on the 4th day of March, 1843.
Joseph wanted consent to marry, not information about abuse.
I can only throw up my hands in disgust at this blatant dishonesty. Ms. Stout is well aware of the reasons Joseph Smith approached Emily Partridge, and yet she ignores it because it does not fit her narrative.
Meg Stout claims to be a researcher uncovering the facts. She even told me she’s “pissed that no one else has previously put this story together.” Frankly, I’m pissed that I have wasted so much time on this dishonest garbage. I can understand someone interpreting the facts differently, but this stuff is fantasy mixed with dishonesty, plain and simple.