Brian Hales and Don Bradley Discuss Polygamy

by: Mormon Heretic

March 11, 2013

Brian Hales

I was pleased to attend a book signing at Pioneer Book in Orem, Utah Saturday night. Brian Hales has put together a new comprehensive set of 3 volumes concerning the theology and history of polygamy in the early church. Initially the book was over 1000 pages, so the editors at Greg Kofford Books asked if he could split up the information into 3 volumes: Volumes 1 and 2 document every known reference to polygamy, and Volume 3 discusses the theology of polygamy. Don Bradley was also on hand to answer questions; Brian hired Don to do research for him at the LDS History library.

Brian said that Volume 3 (the smallest and least expensive volume) might be the best one to read first. He said that nobody has fully considered the theology, and this is probably the biggest contribution to the study of polygamy. Volumes 1 and 2 discuss various aspects of polygamy, and it was fun to ask Brian and Don questions. (Volume 2 also contains an index of volumes 1 and 2 that is very valuable to looking up information.)

The most controversial aspect of early polygamy was the fact that Joseph was sealed to wives of other men. Hales stated that of the 14 women currently married to other men (known as polyandrous sealings), 11 were “eternity only” sealings. These women were married to non-Mormons and Hales believes there is no evidence of any sexual relations between these women and Joseph Smith. Hales believes that there were no sexual relations between the other 3 women who were married to LDS husbands.

Hales has often stated that even though these 14 sealings are strange, none of the men complained about the sealings. As a follow up question, I asked Brian specifically about the relationship between Joseph Smith and Sarah Pratt, wife of Orson Pratt. It was my understanding that Joseph sent Orson on a mission and then was secretly sealed to Sarah. Upon Orson’s return, he was upset with Joseph and Sarah; Orson and Sarah later divorced, though Orson did later embrace polygamy.

Hales indicated that he covers that information extensively in his book, and he does not believe that Sarah was sealed to Joseph; rather Hales believes that Sarah had a sexual relationship with John C. Bennett, the former mayor of Nauvoo and member of the First Presidency. Bennett was later excommunicated for unauthorized polygamy, and became a bitter anti-Mormon. (Some believe Bennett may have organized the mob that killed Joseph in Carthage.) Hales does not count Sarah in his list of 14 women married to other men but sealed to Joseph. As I reviewed Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling (pages 466-468), Bushman states the controversy but does not seem to take a position on the issue.

Concerning the theology, Hales stated that Joseph’s theology only permits a polygyny (one husband, multiple wives), not polyandry (one wife, multiple husbands). There is a rumor that Joseph offered Emma another husband (William Law) and a veiled reference in D&C 132:51

Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to aprove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.

Hales said that there is some evidence that Emma was so upset about these sealings that she was threatening a divorce and asked Joseph to divide up the property in anticipation of a separation and divorce. Hales said that there is no evidence to suggest that William Law was ever offered to her despite the rumors. (William was strongly against polygamy and became one of the editors of The Expositor, the newspaper that Joseph destroyed just prior to his death.)

Don Bradley

Don Bradley gave some interesting insights into the Fanny Alger “affair.” There is a famous quote by Oliver Cowdery that Joseph had engaged in “a filthy, nasty, affair” with Fanny Alger. Bradley examined the letter, and noticed that the word “affair” had been written over another word “scrape”, so the phrase would have originally been “A filthy, nasty scrape.” Looking up the words affair and scrape in a 19th century dictionary does not give the same meaning that we think of when we think of affair. According to Bradley, Cowdery may have simply felt that a polygamous marriage was not legitimate, and may not have accepted Joseph’s explanations that it was a legitimate marriage.

Bradley stated that Alger may have been pregnant; when Emma discovered this, she threw Fanny out of the house. (Fanny had been a domestic servant in the Smith household.) Many have questioned whether the sealing to Alger was a legitimate polygamous sealing, or Joseph’s clumsy attempt to cover over a sexual affair. In a previous Sunstone presentation, Bradley stated that he thinks Emma discovered Fanny’s pregnancy in 1835 in Kirtland. Bradley believes that if Fanny was pregnant, the baby did not survive. Fanny left Kirtland quickly and went on to marry a non-member in Indiana.

The first time Fanny was listed as a wife of Joseph Smith was on a list compiled by early Church Historian Andrew Jensen (he served 1886-1899.) Because of Bradley’s work as an intern in the LDS History Library, he looked at the list and noted that the handwriting for the list of Joseph’s wives was very similar to Eliza R. Snow’s handwriting. Snow was also living in the Smith home with Fanny Alger (and Snow was also a plural wife of Joseph.) Eliza would have been well positioned to know about Fanny and it seems likely that Jensen’s list was actually composed by Snow.

Someone asked if there was any evidence of a child of Joseph to a plural wife. Hales also said there is evidence of Joseph’s offspring from one of these wives, but I didn’t take notes, so I hope that Hales drops by to add any other information. I wish I could have had Brian and Don sign my book, but I bought in on Amazon (it’s actually less than wholesale there), and it hasn’t arrived yet. (I should get it this week.) I’ll have to get them to sign it at the MHA convention this summer!

Bradley always gives entertaining presentations. I got a chuckle when he said that the reason why he and Brian had time to research polygamy was because they both practiced “zero-gamy.” (Neither one of them is married.) It was a real fun night, and if any of you have the chance to hear either of these men speak, I encourage you to take the opportunity. Both are engaging speakers.

What are your thoughts?

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13 Responses to Brian Hales and Don Bradley Discuss Polygamy

  1. FireTag on March 11, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Very interesting post, MH. It was a long way from treating human females as sexual equals (even in the heavenly procreation of spiritual children) if sealings were one man, many wives. I’m not sure there would be a good theological foundation for that conclusion other than cultural blindness. Leaves a lot of unpaired males in heaven, too, doesn’t it?

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  2. will on March 11, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Polygamy has always been an odd practice to me. I admit I struggle with this issue. I understand the reasons given for Israelites and the early saints and how this connects with the scripture in Jacob – to raise up a righteous seed and more importantly when it is approved by God.

    I see no need for it in the current dispensation. I know Kody Brown’s former bosses well when he lived here in Utah and had the chance to meet him once. He came across as egotistical. Everything was about him. I think you would need this type of personality to have more than one wife in this culture. In the past, with the way the culture was, I could see it necessary for one man to have more than one wife. Women were vulnerable then with little or no chance for meaningful employment and there were no social programs to take care of widows or their kids. I could see a man taking on more than one wife in this ancient culture. In this society, I don’t see that as necessary.

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  3. MH on March 11, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    FireTag, I have to agree with you. I think it was cultural blindness. Hales made the point that Joseph thought there would be more women in heaven, but I just don’t accept that assumption. There was a recent BYU Studies article (free for subscribers) that said that even in St. George where nearly 50% of adults participated in polygamy, the numbers of men and women were roughly equal. I just don’t think it makes any sense.

    On the other hand, I spoke with someone at the meeting Saturday night and he said that of the 130 cultures in the world, 87% allow polygamy. Apparently it is the western cultures (most dominant) where monogamy is the standard.

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  4. FireTag on March 11, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    “Apparently it is the western cultures (most dominant) where monogamy is the standard.”

    The CofChrist adopted this in its canon as the basic standard of CHRISTIAN marriage about 40 years ago when we first started to make converts in polygamous cultures within India. I hope we recognize the same principle in dealing with issues like gay marriage.

    As you know from my last OP, I think you of necessity end up with plural marriage for BOTH men and women in the spiritual realm anyway, but I’m definitely a one-spouse-per-physical-universe kind of guy. :D

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  5. MH on March 11, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    I want to point out that Cheryl at World’s Without End just published a review (in much more detail than I did) of Hale’s review of the Alger affair/scrape. See

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  6. hawkgrrrl on March 11, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    Cheryl’s review was well worth a read, although mostly pointing out the caveats to Hales’ assertions.

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  7. Douglas on March 11, 2013 at 6:30 PM

    Any man who’s been married at least one would figure out that it’s enough of a job (but with blessings) to deal with ONE woman. With all due respect to the fairer sex, I’ve never met one that would make a “tag-team” marriage a workable proposition. I would suppose that if anything, an even greater degree of selfLESSness would be needed on both the man and his wives’ parts, as if there was cause for any ‘holding’ back in a monogamous marriage! I’ll take ’em one at a time, thank you.
    Will, I agree just from seeing “Sister Wives” that Cody Brown has an ego that needs a Mack Bulldog to haul. He’s lucky in that all FOUR women put up with him (and each other, but it appears that the sisterhood part is the less difficult part of it). I just wonder how he keeps track of all those kids! I had my batch which is considerably smaller, and all but one are grown and gone, and when the last one hits eighteen (five years, eight months, and about three weeks…), I am DONE. I’m now a Grandpa, and the best part of it is…it’s a “rent”, not BUY, proposition! I want to see Cody Brown in about twenty years with about 75 grandkids. Yikes. All that blond hair.

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  8. Syphax on March 13, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    If the purpose of polygamy was to “raise up seed” like stated in Jacob, then I wonder what the purpose of “for eternity only” marriages would be. I suppose it could be to raise up seed in the eternities – but then again, it’s eternity. If you have infinite time to make babies, then you have no time or resource constraints. And if so, there don’t seem to be any reasons by way of productivity or efficiency why multiple women would be necessary. There’s got to be more to it than just to “raise up seed.” Perhaps it’s more of a mystery.

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  9. MH on March 13, 2013 at 10:59 PM

    Syphax, I think raising seed was just 1 aspect of polygamy. 1 Cor 11:11, “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”

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  10. Mike S on March 14, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    #3 MH: On the other hand, I spoke with someone at the meeting Saturday night and he said that of the 130 cultures in the world, 87% allow polygamy. Apparently it is the western cultures (most dominant) where monogamy is the standard.

    According to Brigham Young, this is what’s leading to the downfall of the Western world. Perhaps, according to Tea Party philosophy, our insistence on monogamy is what lead to the election of Obama.

    “Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout all Christendom, and which has been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.” – Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 11, p. 128

    Maybe if we still practiced polygamy, we wouldn’t have such “rottenness and decay” in our national institutions?

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  11. Mike S on March 14, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    Also, I don’t buy the “raising seed” argument for modern polygamy. It doesn’t explain Joseph Smith’s polygamy, including marrying women who were already married. It doesn’t jive with the studies that suggest there were actually more men in the early days of Utah than women. And it doesn’t jive with the trends toward “higher in Church hierarchy -> more women” that we see both in the early days of our Church and in the modern continuation of the same trend in the fundamentalist LDS faiths.

    So, I don’t buy that we had more kids in Utah because there was polygamy argument.

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  12. Douglas on March 15, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    #11 – just “buy” that the Lord commanded the faithful core of the Saints to raise up a seed unto Him via Polygamy, demographics overall of UT notwithstanding. How many Church leaders trace their ancestry back to a polygamous family?
    Still, glad that it’s back to “one and done”!

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  13. Richard on March 16, 2013 at 10:39 PM

    D&C 132:66 promises more revelation concerning “this law” (the new and everlasting covenant). John Taylor’s revelations include things that could be considered a partial fulfillment of this promise. 3 Nephi 16:7-13 predicts a latter-day SHIFT against the Gentiles, and a restoration of true Israel. I believe further revelation has been given for Israel concerning the NAEC of marriage. It is clear that the marriage laws of God cannot be fully set in order without true Israel being identified and restored to their former blessings. It simply could not be done correctly in the times of the Gentiles. The Second Book of Commandments has many revelations that continue the fulfillment of the promise in D&C 132:66.

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