Joseph Smith Wives: Don Bradley’s Insights on Joseph’s Relationship with His Youngest Wives (Part 3)

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

So that is part of the narrative, though, and I think it’s true, that she found them together in the barn. In at least one of his accounts, he never says quite exactly what it was that Emma saw Joseph Smith Fanny Alger doing. Like he seems to be hinting at sex, but maybe it’s just because it’s the Victorian era but he never quite says it, you know. And that is often how Victorians talked about sex by not talking about it, right? That was kind of their way, but in one of the accounts, he says that she witnessed the sealing. Now, I first thought this was entirely facetious. And then I started analyzing it more like for a year and a half and I’m not sure he’s just being facetious. And so it may be that the MSE is multiple themes. So there may have actually been like, some sort of sealing or ceremony performed, and then Joseph and Fanny are getting intimate, right? And Emma’s like watching through a crack in the door. But there’s, there’s a lot we don’t know, in detail. 

If we were perfectly confident that it had been in the barn, and we knew that the barn wasn’t created until a certain date, then obviously that would date it, right? But like, we have the fact that Eliza R. Snow said that she was living there at the time. We know when she’s living there, and that’s in 1836. So we know how old Fanny is. She’s 18 in 1836. And so, Emma would have to be clueless for three and a half years, and that would date it at the end of 1836.

For rhetorical purposes, it might be optimal to say that there wasn’t a bar until a certain point in time. But I don’t know that that’s the case, first of all, that a pardon wasn’t there and that we can date when the discovery happened. We do know that Eliza lived there at the time. We know that Fanny’s uncle is the one who takes her away from Kirtland, we know when her uncle takes her away from Kirtland after Emma kicks her out, so we know when it happens. I mean, this whole narrative at least maps it out to happening after Elijah comes. And we know that she was 18.

So in history, we deal on probabilities, right? So maybe only occasionally would we say something is absolutely. Do I think that they had a physically intimate relationship? Certainly. But I might stop short of saying absolutely. If you’re saying ‘Do we know absolutely?’ Well, I don’t know that we know absolutely. We know it’s close to absolutely. There were like 20 sources that talked about the relationship. I’d have to look to see which specific ones and how many of them talk specifically about a physical relationship being discovered. So the fact that essentially everybody seems on the same page about this would be one reason, right? But then as far as specific sources? As part of mapping out this chronology, I can tell when Fanny Alger, one of Joseph Smith wives, leaves the home, and then I can tell where she goes next, right? So we have an account where Eliza Jane Churchill Webb writes through multiple letters in the 1860s or late 1870s, just smoking Fanny Alger, and then her daughter publishes a book where she gets an account of what happened in Josephine County. So in Eliza Jane’s letters and in the daughters book, she says that ‘when Sister Emma expelled Fanny from the home, she came and lived with me,’ Eliza Churchill Web, right? So no one that I’ve seen has ever questioned that. But even though no one’s ever questioned it, like I can nail it down, and here’s how. We know that when Joseph is leaving town after the relationship is discovered, he tells Fanny’s uncle to take her to Missouri. So Fanny has been evicted from the Smith home. She’s been placed into the care of her uncle. 

And here I would trust that Mosiah Hancock is talking from firsthand experience. We can trust him here because he’s talking from his own experience. Hancock remembers when he was a little boy in Kirtland, he remembers their house, he remembers that they just had a bedroom and a kitchen. In the bedroom, we know they had David Hancock and his wife and then they have three kids under the age of five or something like that, including a newborn. And the only place in the house that Fanny could have slept was in the kitchen. So they have this tiny place. They don’t have a lot of room. They have neighbors, who have more room and are better off. And there is a wagon shop that Mosiah Hancock remembers and it appears that his father, Levi Hancock, was actually working at the Wagon Shop. And I only know of two wagon shops in Kirtland, one of them was run by a non-Mormon and was on the other side of town. Mosiah Hancock remembers going out and watching the men work at the Wagon Shop. And he remembers the name of one of the men, because he found the name amusing. The man’s name, he says, was Pardon. So this would have been really funny and like something being named, ‘Excuse Me’. And so there was a wagon maker in that part of Kirtland, named Pardon Webb who worked there. Chauncey Webb who owned the wagon shop, his wife was Eliza Jane Churchill Webb, who said Fanny came and stayed with them. So we know that the Webbs were neighbors to the Hancocks. And Levi Hancock writes that he was working on repairing his wagon, creating wagon wheels for his brother Solomon, so they could all go out to Missouri. 
Where would he have been doing this? He would have had to been doing it at a place where they had the tools, like the wagon shop nearby. And we think he was probably actually working at the Wagon Shop which is why his son is coming and watching the men work, right? So the Webb’s are neighbors to the Hancock’s and Chauncey Webb is apparently Levi Hancock‘s boss. The Hancocks have a tiny house with no room in it, but they need to take care of Fanny. The Webb’s are better off than them and they don’t have any children yet, so it appears that the Hancocks arranged for Fanny to stay with the Webb’s while they’re finishing working on the wagon. So all that is background to like, why we should give credence to what Mrs. Webb says. And so in one of her letters, she said, ‘I do not know that the sealing commenced in Kirtland, but I’m satisfied that something like it commenced then. And my judgment is based principally on what Fanny Alger herself told me.’ So we have all these accounts from people about Fanny Alger, but we only have one person who says they directly talked to Fanny Alger about it and Fanny Alger told them what happened, and that’s Mrs. Webb, whom she stayed with. It makes perfect sense that she would have told her I mean, she’s been evicted from the Smith home, she probably feels some need to explain why she has been evicted. This is her benefactor she’s staying with for a month or so till they head out west. So in her other letter that she writes that deals with Joseph Smith Fanny Alger she says something about sexuality like early polygamy or something, and she says something like, ‘all I know is that Sister Emma expelled Fanny from her home because of the Prophet’s intimacy. So, the one person who actually talked to Fanny about it is saying ‘all I know is, Emma kicked Fanny out because of Joseph intimacy with her.

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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