Persis Goodall, 20
Lorenzo Dow Young and Persis Goodall were civilly married in 1826 in New York. They were introduced to Mormonism eight years later by Lorenzo’s older brother Brigham. By 1834, the Youngs were living in Kirtland, Ohio and over the next several years, they migrated with the Saints to Missouri and Nauvoo in 1841. Their marriage became polygamous in March 1843 when Lorenzo was sealed for eternity to Harriet Page Wheeler, who was separated from her husband Isaac Decker. Two of the Decker daughters would later become plural wives of Brigham Young.
While living at Kirtland as a young mother of four children, Persis was one of the few women who attended the Kirtland Hebrew School which met in the Kirtland Temple and was associated with the “School of the Prophets.” In 1838 near Far West, Lorenzo was involved in the “battle” at Crooked River, a prominent skirmish between Latter-day Saints and Missourians that helped catalyze Governor Lilburn Boggs against the Mormons. In the aftermath of the battle, Lorenzo was forced to flee, leaving Persis to take her young family—under duress and destitute of food and supplies—to Illinois.
It is not clear why Harriet ended her civil marriage to Isaac by being sealed for eternity to Lorenzo. Family lore suggests that the relationship soured when Isaac refused to marry polygamously or at least refused to marry a woman Harriet had chosen for him, since he would marry polygamously in 1846. The Deckers and the Youngs had known each other since at least 1838, when Lorenzo had furnished a wagon and supplies to the Deckers to help them flee from Missouri. Harriet brought six children to her marriage to Lorenzo.
The Young and Decker families are an example of the flexibility of family formation during this period and suggest some of the motivations, as well as continuing relationships, at work. In particular, the opening of the Nauvoo temple for sealing ordinances in winter 1845-1846 led a number of people to change partners and reshape their temporal connections to conform to their eternal aspirations. Persis left her civil marriage to Lorenzo to be sealed, as a plural wife, to Levi Richards on the same day as he was sealed to his first wife, Sarah. As for the abandoned husbands, the day before Persis was sealed to Levi, Lorenzo was sealed to Susan Ann Ashby and, a few days later, Isaac Decker was sealed to Mary Eliza Greene and Maria Louisa Roberts.
Persis found her way to Utah in 1850 with fourteen-year-old daughter Harriett and in the same wagon train as Isaac Decker and his family. Levi and Sarah Richards followed three years later, after a five-year mission to England. On arrival to the Salt Lake Valley, Persis joined her son William, already a head of household, and she appears to have lived with her other children for the reminder of her life but with support from the Levi Richards family until her death in 1894. Lorenzo and Harriet arrived in 1847, with the first company of pioneers. Harriet’s was the first child born in the Valley, though he died six months later. Harriet herself died in 1871. Between 1855 and 1863, Lorenzo was sealed to an additional five women. He died in 1895.
“Christiana Nelson (LZP2-27X),” “Eleanor Jones (LLQK-FWZ),” and “Harriet Ida Hewitt (LKVB-39P),” FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org/.
Grey, Matthew J. “’The Word of the Lord in the Original’: Joseph Smith’s Study of Hebrew in Kirtland,” in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 249–302.
“Hewitt, Hannah Ida,” “Lee, Electa Jane,” “Nelson, Christiana Hailsen,” “Young, Harriet Page,” “Young, Lorenzo Dow,” and “Young, Susan Ann,” Pioneer Database 1847–1868, https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/overlandtravel/.
“Life Story of Persis Goodall Young Richards,” http://coleancestry.blogspot.com/2013/06/life-story-of-persis-goodall-young.html.
Little, James Amasa. “Biography of Lorenzo Dow Young,” Utah Historical Quarterly 14, no.1, no.4 (1946): 25–132.
“Susan Ashby,” FindAGrave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21711373/susan-ashby.
“Young, Harriet Page Wheeler Decker,” First Fifty Years of the Relief Society, https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/the-first-fifty-years-of-relief-society/people/harriet-page-wheeler-decker-young?letter=D&lang=eng.
“Young, Lorenzo Dow,” The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/person/lorenzo-dow-young.