Early Mormon Marriages: Tangled Webs to Sort Out in the Eternities

Many people are aware of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. A subset of those people are also aware that some of Joseph’s plural wives were married to other men at the same time they were married to Joseph. Many of these folks think Joseph Smith was the only Mormon leader to engage in these strange polyandrous plural marriages. The Utah District Court said as much in its 2013 ruling on polygamy when it said polyandry, “was unknown outside of a few instances involving LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.” The “few instance” involving Joseph Smith refers to the Prophet’s eleven polyandrous plural marriages; but Mormonism’s second prophet followed in Joseph’s footsteps.

According to biographer John Turner, “Brigham Young also married a goodly number of already married women.”

“As Joseph Smith had done on many occasions, Young also married women who already had husbands. Out of his approximately fifty-three plural wives, around fifteen women were legally married to other men at the time of their sealings to Young. Some of these prior marriages had failed, others were in the process of failing, but others persisted for many decades.” (John G. Turner, Brigham Young Pioneer Prophet, 136)

One of Brigham Young’s polyandrous wives was Zina Huntington. John Turner tells her story:

011“Zina Huntington, her parents, and most of her siblings had been devoted members of the church since the mid-1830s. Her father and brothers were priesthood leaders, and Zina – a slender, dark-haired woman with piercing eyes – maintained a firm testimony of Mormonism’s truth, spoke in tongues, and joined Nauvoo’s Female Relief Society. After marrying Henry Jacobs in 1841, Zina – following a long period of anguished prayer and searching – accepted Joseph Smith’s offer of plural marriage. She continued to live with Henry, and two months after her sealing to Smith, she gave birth to a son.

“On an unknown date, likely in the spring of 1845 [after Joseph Smith’s death], Brigham Young was sealed to Zina. His wife’s second plural marriage apparently troubled Henry. Doubts nagged at Zina as well. ‘The thoughts of my heart or emotions of my minde causes my very head to acke,’ she wrote in her diary in early May 1845. A week later, she prayed that God would comfort ‘Henry in his trouble, for he has not repined a word.’ Zina provided no details of their sorrows, but she recorded one month later that ‘Henry went to see Pres. B. Young to be counceled upon his and his families situation.’ If these sparse entries do indeed chronicle the couple’s agonized response to Zina’s second plural sealing, Henry manifested his peace with the latest development in his marital saga by witnessing Zina’s early February 1846 temple sealing, in which a ceremony sealed her to Smith for eternity and as ‘husband & wife for time’ to Young. ‘Henry B. Jacobs expressed his willingness that it should be so,’ recorded the temple clerk. He still lived with Zina, who was visibly pregnant with what would be the couple’s second son.” (136-137)

Todd Compton tells a bit more about Zina’s “long period of anguished prayer” following Joseph Smith’s proposal of plural marriage. She had been struggling with the issue since late 1840 or early 1841:

“Zina remained conflicted until a day in October [1841], apparently, when Joseph sent [her brother] Dimick to her with a message: an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish polygamy he would ‘lose his position in life.’ Zina, faced with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally acquiesced.” (In Sacred Loneliness, 80-81)

Joseph and Zina were married on October 27. Interestingly, though Joseph persuaded Zina to become his plural wife by convincing her that she would be responsible for his failure if he did not establish polygamy as he claimed he’d been commanded to do, Zina was not the Prophet’s first plural wife, but his fourth. (A few weeks later Joseph married Zina’s older sister, also a woman with a living husband.)

Compton records Zina’s hesitancy over Brigham Young’s proposal as well. Again Zina had to be persuaded to enter into a polyandrous marriage. Compton wrote that according to family tradition, “President Young told Zina D. if she would marry him she would be in a higher glory.” (84)

Spider WebZina continued to live with her legal husband, Henry, until 1847. As they were moving west across Iowa during the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Brigham Young sent Henry on a mission to England. While he was away, Zina began living with Brigham.

“The final episode in in Henry’s marriage to Zina was approaching. Zina now knew that she was going to live as Brigham Young’s earthly wife, not as Henry’s, but Henry apparently did not understand this fully. On June 20 she wrote a letter to [her sister-in-law]…Mary Neal Huntington…she apparently told Mary that she was living with Brigham Young and was no longer married to Henry…Henry was left feeling depressed and resigned…

“Before this Henry may have seen Zina’s marriage to Brigham Young as ritual only; she would continue to live with him. Now he probably realized that she had in effect divorced him completely. However one might understand Zina preferring Brigham to Henry, one has to sympathize with Henry, considering how the divorce was effected – while he was far away, and after the polyandrous ‘second’ husband himself had sent him on a mission.” (Compton, 91-92)

Though Zina “effectively” divorced Henry, no legal divorce was obtained. In a General Conference address on October 8, 1861 Brigham Young explained,

“There was another way – in which a woman could leave a man – if the woman preferred – another man higher in authority & he is willing to take her. & her husband gives her up – there is no Bill of divorce required in the case it is right in the sight of God.” (Quoted in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 45)

Though Henry’s wife and children then belonged to Brigham Young, Henry never stopped loving them and hoped for a future where all would be made right.

In their lifetimes, Brigham Young had fifty-three wives, Henry Jacobs had four wives, and Zina Huntington Jacobs Smith Young had three husbands. As difficult as these plural and polyandrous unions are for us to keep straight, according to Mormonism, many of these marriages continue on into the next life – “families are forever.” But Henry, at least, wasn’t concerned about that. Todd Compton noted,

“As Henry had remarked, God would sort out the tangled webs of our earthly relationships in the eternities.” (113)

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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12 Responses to Early Mormon Marriages: Tangled Webs to Sort Out in the Eternities

  1. falcon says:

    I know I’m over stating this, but all I could think of when I was reading the article is that it sounds something like sex trafficking or the Mormons’ version of what was called in the 70s “swinging” or the people who practiced wife swapping as “swingers”. What was happening is what happens in some religious groups and that is you get lecherous people that are following their own lust and justifying it with some sort of “spiritual” stamp of approval.
    In Smith’s era there were a lot of groups with all sorts of odd and peculiar practices and one was a sort of free love society.
    “Polygamy was not an idea that occurred to Joseph alone. Utopian ideologue John Humphrey Noyes had been propagandizing free love during the 1830s and introduced a system of “complex marriage” at his upstate New York Oneida colony in 1848. At Oneida, all men and women were married to each other, and exclusive attachments were forbidden. It was Noyes who famously observed that “there is no more reason why sexual intercourse should be restricted by law than why eating and drinking should be.” There is no evidence that Noyes and Smith ever met, although it seems likely they would have known about each other from the popular press.”
    http://www.salon.com/2014/04/20/blood_vows_joseph_smith_mormonism_and_the_invention_of_american_polygamy/

    Who knows where Smith came up with the idea but it is known that it was justified via the OT. I find it interesting that Smith was “restoring” all of these things that were presumably lost after the death of the apostles. There is no evidence that the first century church practiced polygamy or polyandry but I guess that’s just a small detail.

  2. luvinlife says:

    Often Mormon’s bring up the false belief that polygamy was commanded by God in the Old Testament. Below is a link to an excellent article on this topic. Not only is this something good to give to your lds friends, but it is also something that every Christian should brush up on in order to combat this falsehood. If you interact often with Mormons, then I highly recommend you read this article.
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/16251145/OldTestamentPolygamy.pdf

  3. falcon says:

    The interesting thing is that the LDS are still fed a steady diet of mis-information on this topic. The LDS apologists will contend that all of the information can be accessed from the companies’ sources but then why the subterfuge?
    Mormons will be told the practice was limited, it didn’t include sex, it was spiritual and that there were a lot of widows who needed to be looked after. Many Mormons actually believe that Smith didn’t practice polygamy. It was all Brigham Young’s doing.
    I think polygamy, which included a couple of Smith’s fourteen year old girl “wives” and the polyandry that was practiced, is a real problem for women. Once the “prophet” is questioned, a downward spiral of faith is inevitable for the faithful believer, especially women.
    The only way they can get by it is to believe that there was no sex involved. Don’t be so naive. What was the supposed point of the practice? How was a man going to get the brass ring with the reward of being in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom?
    Take a look at the practice in 19th century Utah. Were there children born as a result of these polygamous and polyandry relationships? The men were said to be “gods in embryo”. They were doing on earth what the said they’d be doing in the Celestial Kingdom; procreating. That was the point of the whole program. To become a god.
    We are told that today the LDS don’t have to “practice” it to reach the god level. They just have to “believe” in it. Funny how the Mormon god told Joseph Smith one thing and something totally different to another prophet. The FLDS have held on to Mormonism as it was “revealed” to Smith, Young and other 19th century leaders.

  4. falcon says:

    Think about this. Zina was sleeping with two men simultaneously not once but twice. How messed-up is that? That should also give LDS women pause as they consider what kind of men these “prophets” were.
    So LDS woman, you’re married and sealed in the temple to your husband. Then one day Thomas Monson spots you at General Conference. He sends for you and in the course of your discussion he proposes that you should become his wife. He will allow you to continue to live with your husband but he, Monson, also has bedroom privileges with you. You will be sealed to him for time and eternity. Your kids will be sealed to him too. Your hubby is on the outside of the Celestial Kingdom looking in at this point.
    Does that sound far fetched? Well that’s pretty much what happened with the women who were sealed to the prophets Smith and Young. This isn’t even at a level to be called a little bit kinky. It’s total sexual perversion and that’s the sort of men who are revered by the LDS as great men of God.
    I think it would be a good idea to reevaluate that idea.

  5. falcon says:

    This fact alone ought to cause LDS members to not only question the morality of the prophet, but the man’s mental stability. Who makes this sort of thing up?

    “……….an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish polygamy he would ‘lose his position in life.’ Zina, faced with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally acquiesced.” (In Sacred Loneliness, 80-81)”

    A sociopath is someone who cares only about their own pleasure. Consider this:

    “This disorder is characterized by a disregard for the feelings of others, a lack of remorse or shame, manipulative behavior, unchecked egocentricity, and the ability to lie in order to achieve one’s goals.”

    I think this pretty well describes Joseph Smith. The cruelty of the man apparently knew no bounds as he pursued his own sexual lust at the expense of the women and girls whom he enlisted. Today the LDS church is a billion dollar corporation that has as its foundation the lies and deception of the founding leader.
    There is a steady stream of members leaving the church for various reasons today. Knowing who Smith really was ought to cause them to run and not simply walk away!

  6. falcon says:

    The LDS church has done a fine job of trying to create a reputation for Smith that doesn’t match reality. If an LDS member is in the dark about Smith’s behavior and the early history of the Mormon sect then they’re religious commitment is based on pure hype. What generally happens when a Mormon begins to learn the nasty truth about Smith, their first reaction is to deny it. Then it moves to rationalization. Some get stuck in one of these two tracks. But there are those who begin to realize that, alas, the truth doesn’t match the fantasy. Then they go through the emotional stages necessary to resolve the psychological disequilibrium.
    The sad fact is that many of these folks are then so turned off by what they see as lying and obfuscation by what they thought was the “one true church” that they throw in the towel on religion all together.
    My hope and prayer is that they will come to understand that the commitment must be to Jesus Christ and not to some religious sect. I’d suggest they go back to the New Testament and discover who God is and what His plan of salvation entails. Hint; it has nothing to do with what we do but what God has done for us through Christ Jesus Our Lord.

  7. falcon says:

    The “Zina” situation is an excellent example of what happens when people ignore the Bible, Church tradition/history and the basic theological doctrine of orthodox Christianity and start listening to men who call themselves prophets. The result is not only spiritual deprivation but also moral decay. It’s not all that unusual that there are “prophets” who take advantage of those who believe in them and their message. Spiritual abuse is not all that different in psychological/emotional factors as other forms of abuse. With Zina we see both spiritual and sexual abuse. She begins to look like a woman who got passed around for the pleasure of Smith and Young.
    It’s important for Christians in particular to be able to spot a false prophet. In the Book of Acts Paul warns the Ephesians about those wolves who would come in and ravage the flock. Too often, religious people are seen as easy marks to those who would take advantage of them. As Paul warned the Ephesians to “be on guard” each of us must follow his admonition. One of the ways to do this is to have a firm understanding of the basic doctrines of Christianity so that when someone begins to preach another god or gospel, or propose strange doctrines and practices, they can be exposed.

  8. spartacus says:

    “Considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion…” – Joseph Smith

  9. falcon says:

    If Joseph Smith, at the end of his life, changed his mind about polygamy, was he a fallen prophet? Was he a fallen prophet for proposing and practicing it or was he a fallen prophet for (supposedly) denouncing it. Consider the following:

    In The Mormon Hierarchy : Origins of Power, Michael Quinn recounts the last days of Smith’s life:

    1. Smith denounced polygamy, destroyed polygamy revelation……………………….
    “Smith was, in fact, willing to destroy the original manuscript of the 1843 polygamy revelation. Based on “Many (some of whom are now living)” in Utah, Joseph F. Smith wrote that the prophet “consented for her [Emma Smith] to burn the paper containing the original copy of the revelation.” An obscure 1853 publication also reported that the original text of the polygamy revelation “by Joseph Smith’s command was burned.”” (Quinn page 147) Quinn references Letter of Joseph F. Smith to William E. McLellin, 6 Jan. 1880, fd21, box 5, Scott G. Kenney Papers, Manuscripts Division, Marriott Library.

    “Emma Smith remembered that the prophet did more than consent to the revelation’s destruction. According to her 1847 account, while alone in their Mansion House bedroom, Smith “told her that the doctrine and practice of polygamy was going to ruin the church” and then he burned the revelation. Clayton’s diary shows just before the prophet returned to Emma [that night], he told his secretary to burn the Council of Fifty’s minutes. It makes sense that while he was alone with her the night of 23 June 1844, only hours before surrendering for trial, he directed his attention to destroying the written evidence of polygamy.” (Quinn page 147) For the Emma quote, Quinn references William E. McLellin letter to Joseph Smith III, 10 Jan. 1861 and July 1872, archives, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the Clayton reference, Quinn refers to Clayton diary 22 June 1844 with an explanation referring to other Clayton journal entries.

    http://www.i4m.com/think/history/fallen_prophet.htm

    Finally, Church President Brigham Young declared:

    “If Joseph Smith, Jun., the Prophet, had followed the Spirit of revelation in him he never would have gone to Carthage and never for one moment did he say that he had one particle of light in him after he started back from Montrose to give himself up in Nauvoo.”
    – A Series of Instructions and Remarks by Brigham Young at a Special Council, Mar. 21, 1858, Brigham Young Papers, Church Archives. Also See: http://webpages.marshall.edu/~brown/suc-pres.html under “24 Jun 1844”

    So was Young declaring Smith a fallen prophet?

  10. falcon says:

    Here in lies the problem with following a “prophet” without fully vetting the guy, or gal as the case may be.
    When the MM come tap-tap-tapping on your door their major selling point is that the gospel message of the first century church was lost and now its been restored by a modern day prophet. The pitch is that God’s people in the OT were led by a prophet and wouldn’t a modern day church led by a modern day prophet logically be God’s one true church?
    The question is framed so that the prospect will answer yes. Then the MM boys really go into their pitch with the goal of recruiting the prospect to get baptized and the sooner the better.
    I would say that the Community of Christ Mormon sect has come to conclusions as has at least one other sect I’m aware of, that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. Well, at least it’s a start, the idea that he was a fallen prophet. The fact of the matter is Smith was never a prophet in the first place.
    One more thing. If the gospel of Jesus Christ was never lost then the premise for their needing to be a prophet to “restore” it, is also false. It doesn’t take much inquiry to figure the whole scam out.

  11. Mike R says:

    When Joseph Smith apostacized from the gospel preached by Jesus’ true apostles by introducing
    false doctrine like polyandry it created problems in women’s personal lives . They didn’t deserve
    that . Marriage can be difficult enough , false prophets can make it a lot harder by their new
    revealments . Sadly , Mormon women were deceived .

  12. SR says:

    So I brought the latest Gospel Topics essay on Joseph Smith’s plural marriages to a friend of mine who had defended JS before and even gave me other excuses for early polygamy, and all the reply I received was, “Oh, yeah I knew all of this already and none of it surprised me.”

    Any thoughts on how to combat that sort of response?

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