The April 2011 edition of Ensign magazine includes an article about early Latter-day Saint Rebecca Swain Williams. As the article notes, Rebecca and her husband, Fredrick G. Williams, converted to the LDS Church in late 1830 while living in Kirtland, Ohio. Back in New York, Rebecca’s father opposed her conversion to Mormonism. This caused a deep and lasting division in the Swain family. Nevertheless, Rebecca remained faithful to the LDS Church until her death in 1861. She was never reconciled to her non-LDS family.
The history of Rebecca Swain provided in the Ensign is somewhat incomplete. Though the article follows her life beyond the death of her husband in 1842 as it reports her relocation to Utah (in 1848-49), her obedience to Brigham Young’s call to settle then-remote Cache Valley, Utah in 1860, and her death in Smithfield, Utah in 1861, it fails to mention Rebecca’s marriage to Heber C. Kimball in 1846.
Rebecca Swain Williams became the nineteenth (or twentieth) plural wife of Heber C. Kimball (for time only) on February 7, 1846 in the Nauvoo Temple. Her place in the list of Heber’s wives is questionable because Heber also married Sarah Shuler the same day.
When she married Heber C. Kimball, Rebecca had the dubious honor of becoming a member of a family that held 2nd place in two categories. With 37 total wives during the Nauvoo years (1841-1846), the Kimball family was second only to the Brigham Young family (that included 40 plural wives). For the Utah years, the Kimball family was again just behind the Young family with 44 and 55 wives respectively. But in one category, Rebecca’s new family took 1st place. Heber C. Kimball married five pairs of sisters while Brigham Young only married four pairs (George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 287-288).
Rebecca was 47 years old when she married Heber C. Kimball. They did not have any children together. However, she must have enjoyed the company of Heber’s children by his other wives. According to Heber’s Find A Grave web page,
“Officially Heber C. Kimball was married to 43 wives, of which he had connubial relationships with only 17. These 17 bore him a total of 65 children of which 43 lived to maturity.”
The Ensign article praises Rebecca’s tenacity, mentioning that she drove her own wagon west to Utah, took charge of a farm on Mill Creek, and again drove her own wagon when she relocated to help settle Cache Valley. As one of 44 wives, it’s not surprising that she received no help from her husband. But what’s interesting (though also not surprising) is that nowhere in the retelling of any of this is Rebecca’s status as a plural wife of an apostle and member of the Church’s First Presidency disclosed. Surely, in an article intended to highlight the “steadfast & immovable” faith of an early convert to the Church, Rebecca’s willingness to live The Principle is an important aspect of her history that shouldn’t be neglected.
But it was. Why?