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Phase 2: First Families

1840 – 1844

Not until 1840, did Smith possess sufficient social stability to initiate among his followers the final element of his biblical restorationism: the family patterns of the ancient patriarch Abraham, adapted to the patriarchal ambiguities of the Early Republic. He began with his closest associates, teaching them individually and only obliquely referencing the subject, in public sermons. Here, you will find short summaries of the first 27 families who committed to turning their monogamous marriages into polygamous ones.

In telling these stories, the first research question that presented itself to us and, we imagine, to these root marriages was “who?” — who would satisfy and be satisfied by the terms of plural marriage and the existing family custom, ethic and structure? Since they seldom and, if ever, only many years later, left a record of such a fraught negotiation, we can only know the answer by the choices that were made. Of course, this begs the question of who had the superior power to choose and we will look for that answer as well. Therefore, the more specific question for this study is how were these relationships structured. Our wager is that the answer in each case would, especially in the aggregate, tell us much about the practice and the intentions of the parties.

Since circumstances changed radically over the period of our study, we anticipate the reasoning might change and, with experience, the rules might also. Hence, the five-phase division of this analysis. Between Joseph Smith’s 1844 death and Brigham Young’s 1852 public announcement that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage, approximately 600 families became polygamous and many more enlarged their families through marital and adoptive sealings. We cannot tell all their stories, but we will be adding them as we are able and according to the patterns made discernible by our data.

Sealings Before July, 1844: List of all time and eternity sealings by Joseph Smith.

Recommended Readings

Bergera, Gary James. “Identifying the earliest Mormon polygamists, 1841-44.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38, no. 3 (2005): 1-74.

Cooper, Eugene. “Promises Made to the Fathers: Mormon Covenant Organizations. University of Utah Press, 1990

Hales, Brian C., and Don Bradley. Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. Greg Kofford Books, 2013. (3 vols.), https://josephsmithspolygamy.org/plural-wives-overview/.

Leonard, Glen M. Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise. Deseret Book Company, 2002.

Leonard, Glen M. “Nauvoo: A Place of Peace.” A People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002) 307.

Smith, George D. Nauvoo Polygamy:”… But We Called it Celestial Marriage.” Signature Books, 2008.