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Root Marriage

Joseph A. Kelting, 20
Elizabeth Ann Martin, 14

First Plural

Lucy Matilda Johnson, 16

Subsequent Plural

Minerva Orrilla Wood, 16
Minerva Orilla Woods
Joseph Kelting

Joseph Andrew Kelting and Elizabeth Ann Martin were civilly married in 1832 and joined the church no later than 1836. By 1843, Joseph and Elizabeth were living in Nauvoo where Joseph was a lawyer and sheriff of Hancock County. Joseph and Elizabeth’s marriage most likely became polygamous in the spring of 1844, when Minerva Orilla Woods and Lucy Matilda Johnson were sealed to Joseph for eternity.

According to statements Joseph gave near the end of his life, he had heard rumors concerning the practice of plural marriage and approached Joseph Smith in the spring of 1844 to ask about them. Given his professional responsibilities, it is unsurprising that Kelting may have been uneasy about polygamy, and Smith, knowing the dangers of revealing his secret to the sheriff, was reluctant to divulge the truth. After assurances from Kelting that he would not betray Smith, the latter admitted that he had been practicing and teaching plural marriage. As a show of good faith, Kelting asked Smith if he would like for him to take a polygamous wife. Smith confirmed, and according to the affidavit describing these circumstances, Kelting married two plural wives before Smith’s death later in June 1844.

Minerva had joined the church at age eight in upstate New York, where she was born. Her age likely signals that her family were already Latter-day Saints at the time. In the late 1830s, she migrated to Nauvoo along with some of her family members. It is unknown when Lucy was baptized, but sometime between 1840 and 1844 her family moved to Nauvoo from Michigan.

The Keltings left Nauvoo with the main body of the church but in 1847 after a brief stay at Council Bluffs, Iowa they followed Bishop George Miller, who had refused Brigham Young’s leadership and was headed south. The Miller party joined another splinter group in Zodiac, Texas, where two of Lucy’s sisters, Cynthia and Sylvia, lived. Many of Miller’s followers remained there for years. Miller himself, however, soon clashed with the group’s leader and, in 1850, departed to join James J. Strang’s movement in Michigan. For unknown reasons, the Keltings also left Zodiac, but chose to rejoin the Latter-day Saints in Iowa. The next few years were a pivotal time for the family: Elizabeth died in 1850 and Lucy appears to have left the marriage. Although she appeared in an 1850 census at Pottawattamie, Iowa, she disappeared from the documentary record after 1850, and her fate is unknown. She may have died or joined family in Zodiac. All that is known is she did not travel to Utah in 1852 with Joseph and Minerva.

In 1852, Joseph and Minerva travelled to Utah, settling in Provo until their 1856–57 mission to Australia. In the early 1860s, they joined the Latter-day Saint settlement in San Bernardino, California, and remained until the end of their lives. Minerva died in 1896 at age 67 and Joseph, in 1904 at age 93.


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

“Col Joseph Almon Kelting, Sr,” and “Minerva Orella Woods Kelting,” FindAGravehttps://www.findagrave.com/.

Johnson, Melvin C. Polygamy on the Pedernales: Lyman Wight’s Mormon Village in Antebellum Texas (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2006).

“Kelting, Joseph Andrew,” The Joseph Smith Papershttps://www.josephsmithpapers.org/person/joseph-andrew kelting?highlight=Joseph%20Andrew%20Kelting.

“Kelting, Joseph Andrew,” and “Kelting, Minerva Orilla,” Pioneer Database 1847–1868https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/overlandtravel/.

Kelting, Joseph Andrew. Affadavit, March 1, 1894. “Affadavits [on Celestial Marriage], 1869–1915.” Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Minerva O. Kelting obituary,” Deseret Evening News, 8 August, 1896., p.296, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=2714439.