Ezra T. Benson and Pamelia Andrus first met the Latter-day Saints in Quincy, Illinois in 1838. At that time, they had just made the journey from Philadelphia. They were religious seekers and impressed by their Mormon neighbors and their doctrines, the Bensons were baptized in 1840. After a rapid rise through the ranks of Nauvoo leadership, Ezra departed in 1842 on a year-long preaching tour to the Northeast. In 1843, among other Saints and new converts, Adeline Brooks Andrus returned with him. A few months later, on April 27, 1844, Adeline was sealed for eternity to Ezra as his first plural wife, joining her sister Pamelia who had been married to Ezra for 12 years.
Two years later and shortly before departing Nauvoo in 1846, Benson was sealed for time to Desdemona Wadsworth Fullmer. It seems likely that pragmatism was a motivation for this marriage, given the impending rigors of the westward migration. In 1852, Desdemona and Ezra were divorced.
With Pamelia and Adeline both pregnant in 1846, the expanded Benson family began the long trek westward to the Salt Lake valley, during which time Ezra was sealed to both Eliza Ann Perry and the young, recently widowed Lucinda Burton West. In 1846, Lucinda had lost her husband Joseph West, to whom she had been sealed for eternity. As for Eliza Perry, who was 19 years old at the time of her marriage to Benson in Winter Quarters, family lore indicates that she was sent by her parents to help the Benson wives care for their children. Evidently, Eliza’s parents did not anticipate that she would become Benson’s wife and vehemently disapproved of the union in light of the 17-year disparity in their ages. Although there is no record of their feelings for one another, we do know that she remained married to Ezra for the rest of her life.
After settling in Utah, Benson married an additional three wives: Olive Mary Knight, Elizabeth Gollaher, and Mary Larsen. According to family memories, Elizabeth Gollaher became acquainted with Benson before the migration and was sealed to him at age 20 in 1851, when he came to help settle the Toole, Utah area where her family lived. Little is known of how Olive Mary Knight came to know Benson, whom she married in 1858 at age 28. Mary Larsen took a job working in Benson’s household shortly after immigrating from Denmark in 1863. After working for him for 2 years, she married him at age 23 in 1866, 3 years before his unexpected death in 1869.
Pamelia Andrus, Adeline Andrus, Eliza Ann Perry, Elizabeth Gollaher, Olive Mary Knight, and Mary Larsen remained married to Ezra until his death, producing a total of 34 children.
Benson, Ezra Taft. “Autobiography,” The Instructor 80 (1945):53, 101-03, 162-64, 213-15, http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/ETBenson.html.
Bergera, Gary James. “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841–44,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38, no.3 (2005): 1–74, 5–6.
Brown, Lisle G., comp. Nauvoo Sealings, Adoptions, and Anointings: A Comprehensive Register of Persons Receiving LDS Temple Ordinances, 1841–1846 (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2006), 283.
Compton, Todd. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 582–583.
Desdemona Fullmer Smith, Affidavit, Salt Lake Co., Utah Territory, 17 June 1869, 1:32, 4:32 in Joseph F. Smith, Affidavits about Celestial Marriage, 1869–1915. CHL. MS 3423.
Smith, George D. Nauvoo Polygamy…”But We Called It Celestial Marriage” (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008).
Whitney, Orson F. History of Utah in Four Volumes, Vol.4: Biographical (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons Co., Publishers, 1904), 42–44.