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What Happened Between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger?

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Kevin Prince

Source Expert

Kevin Prince serves as the Source Authority at Mormonism Explained. Mr. Prince is a religious scholar as well as a technology industry CEO and entrepreneur.

Updated July 3, 2024

In 1836, Joseph Smith entered into his first polygamous marriage with a young woman named Fanny Alger. Fanny and her family had joined the Church in 1830. While working in the Smith household, she became acquainted with Joseph. It is reported that Smith “proposed marriage to Fanny with the help of Levi [Hancock, her uncle] and the approval of her parents.” According to one source, Levi performed a ceremony using words provided by Smith.

However, their marriage was short-lived. In 1836, Fanny and her family left Ohio for Missouri. While traveling through Indiana, Fanny met Solomon Custer, a non-Latter-day Saint, and soon married him. According to Fanny’s brother John, she remained friendly to the church throughout her life, but when asked about her relationship with Joseph Smith, she said, “That is a matter all my own.”

Did Emma Smith know about Joseph’s Marriage to Fanny Alger? Did Emma Smith catch Joseph Smith and Fanny in a barn?

It seems as though Emma came to know about Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger shortly after the sealing and did not approve. The narrative comes from a third party account which was given decades later by William McLellin.

Was Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger adulterous?

(answer) Critics of Smith and his relationship with Alger insist that it was adulterous. To make this assertion, they rely on a letter written by Oliver Cowdery, a high-ranking church leader, to his brother on January 21, 1838, which characterized Smith and Alger’s relationship as “a dirty, nasty, affair.” However, it is important to note that the word “affair,” as defined by Webster’s dictionary in 1844, simply meant a matter of business or event. The word “affair” did not connotate an extramarital relationship until at least the early 1900s.