Joseph Smith Wives: Don Bradley’s Insights on Joseph’s Relationship with His Youngest Wives (Part 2)

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

Well, we know what day that letter from them arrives in Kirtland right? And it actually arrives just before Joseph is getting ready to leave. And then there are other things where it starts to close that window. Eliza R. Snow, another one of Joseph Smith wives, gave an interview to Andrew Jenson who was researching Joseph’s wives back in the 1880s when she told him that she knew Fanny Alger well, because she lived in the Smith home at the time the whole ruckus happened. Well, she lived – most people know she lived with the Smiths in Nauvoo, but she also lived with them twice in Kirkland. And so we know the second time she lived with him was 1837, by which time Fanny Alger was living in Indiana and married to a non-Mormon. So it’s not that time. It’s the first time she’s referring to. That was spring/summer 1836. So that gives us another thing to back up that this is the right time. Right? And then we’ve got some of the Levi Hancock stuff to like narrow that window tighter and tighter. 

And so it turns out but ultimately I can narrow it down to a window of just a matter of days. And I can even propose a probable day, exact night, when it happened: the night of July 22, 1836. That’s when Emma discovers Joseph and Fanny together. So another problem with placing the marriage in 1833 is this puts a relationship between Joseph Smith and a girl living in the Smith home under Emma’s nose for three and a half years, once we know when Fanny was evicted. We’ve got other reasons to think that Emma’s smart and more observant than that. So in Nauvoo, when there are four wives living in the house, Emma is like, extremely vigilant about this, right? And so the idea that for three and a half years, she’s oblivious? I wouldn’t buy it, right?

So I think the best, the most probable surmise would be that this is not going on under Emma’s nose for very long. And so, if Emma discovers the relationship in mid to late July in 1836, that allows a window of time for exactly when it would have started, right? Given that ending date, it could have started even after April 3, when Elijah comes with the sealing keys. And I talked more about that in this first paper. And I’m always looking for more evidence right? And like in the second paper, that gets convoluted because the second paper builds on the first paper and its timeline.

I can point to good reason to think that Joseph and Fanny’s relationship actually does start after Elijah on April 3. But it also gets really complicated in a way that I don’t know how to give the sort of elevator pitch on how that could be the case. I have a chapter on it for a book. 

Regarding the erection date of the barn Emma found them in, I have talked with Mark Staker some about the barn and stuff. I don’t know. I can talk with him more about it because he would probably know best when that was constructed. I mean, I don’t know that the barn would be like the key. So the barn According to William McClellan, and I think he’s accurate, was that Emma found Joseph Fanny Alger together, 

And do we have sources of a consummated relationship? Yes, I mean, the early sources and the late sources pretty unanimously agree that there was an intimate relationship. And that Emma became aware of those. Now they mostly don’t say how she became aware of it. So here’s the thing, history is messy and historical sources are messy and people want clear cut, ‘well, this is exactly how it happened.’ And I’m like good luck with that, right? Because they aren’t cut and dry stories. So William McClellan hears rumors in Kirtland about Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger. McClellan heard rumors in Kirtland in 1836, that Emma had discovered Joseph and Fanny together in the barn. And so three years after Joseph died, he goes to Nauvoo, and he stays in the Nauvoo house that Emma is running as a hotel. And he asks, he says, I’m going to tell you some rumors that I heard, and I just want you to confirm them to me. And so he tells her this narrative about Emma, you know, seeing that there was a light in the barn one night, she missed Joseph and Fanny from the house and sees the light in the barn. She goes out there, she finds them together, right? And McClellan writes this and we know he had that visit with Emma because there’s a source just a few months after the conversation, where McClellan mentions going to Nauvoo and talking for five hours for something with Emma. He didn’t record at that time what she said. And people tend to often be hyper-skeptical of sources that say things that they don’t like, right?  So they’ll say, like, ‘well McClellan just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ Well, he checked the rumor with Emma. ‘Oh, how do we know that he’s not just making up?’ Okay, well, here’s one way: When Joseph Smith III forms the reorganized church in 1860, and starts saying ‘my father never practiced polygamy’ soon afterward, William McClellan writes him a letter and says, ‘He most certainly did. Ask your mom.’ So Joseph Smith III does not ask his mom and instead he keeps saying this in public. So in 1872, McClellan wrote him another letter, and he gave him the details this time.
And that letter is how we know the conversation between him and Emma. He says, ‘I told her this rumor and asked her to confirm it. And she told me this was true.’ And he says, ‘ask her yourself.’ Emma, the first of Joseph Smith wives, was still living at this time. She would be living for several more years. And so even if McClellan was making up the story he’s saying, ‘Ask your mother,’ inviting him to confirm or disconfirm that he’s not making this up. Right? Because if he had made it up and says, ‘Ask your mother’ and he asked his mother and she disconfirms that, then whoa, you know, that only arms his cause, right? Sure. So there’s every reason that this actually happened, and there are other sources that dovetail with it. But the other sources generally do not. I mean, I can think offhand of one other source that says something like it was in a barn. It actually says it was in like an outhouse. So it’s a similar concept, you know, like, it’s an outdoor room. So whether they were discovered in a barn is less certain than that something happened that was discovered.

By 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 Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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