Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger, his first and only plural wife prior to the Saints settling in Nauvoo, has received much scrutiny so warrants discussion.

Researching the relationship between Joseph Smith and Fanny is difficult because of limitations in the available documentation. Firm conclusions are not always possible and questions will likely always exist.

Born on September 20, 1816, as one of ten children to Samuel Alger and Clarissa Hancock Alger, Fanny worked as a domestic in the Smith household in Kirtland, Ohio.

According to Mosiah Hancock, writing in 1896, Joseph did not approach Fanny directly with a marriage proposal. Rather, he enlisted Levi Hancock, the brother-in-law of Fanny’s father, to serve as an intermediary.

Mosiah Hancock states that a ceremony was performed making the relationship a plural marriage from a religious perspective. However, his narrative is not without its problems. Mosiah was born in 1834 and consequently could not have been an eye witness or participant. Furthermore, he recounted the story decades later in 1896.

Todd Compton provides this useful assessment: “Mosiah’s first-hand reminiscences are admittedly subject to the strengths and weaknesses generally found in Mormon and other autobiographies: inaccuracies in dates, misremembered events, an easy willingness to accept the miraculous, and a tendency to overidealize oneself or a hero such as Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, I accept it as generally reliable, providing accurate information about his own life, his family’s life, and Mormonism in Kirtland, Nauvoo and Salt Lake City.” 1

The strength of Mosiah’s account is its consistency with some of Joseph Smith’s later plural marriages, which involved an intermediary to teach and to ascertain the willingness of the woman. 2 The narrative also recounts how a marriage ceremony did indeed occur, even providing the name of his father as the officiator.

The Eliza R. Snow Document

Important new evidence supporting that the relationship was a plural marriage was recently discovered by researcher Don Bradley. Through the recent efforts of historians researching the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a large collection of previously uncataloged documents at the LDS Church History Library was made available for investigation. As a result, Bradley obtained access to a folder containing Andrew Jenson’s research notes, 3 which he used to write “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (June 1887): 6:219–40. Jenson interviewed several Nauvoo polygamists still living including Joseph’s plural wives Malissa Lott and Eliza R. Snow. Then he wrote,

5.4 AJs FA sheet Alger Eliza’s proximity to the events is important because it provides a chronological marker because she went to live with the Smith family in the “spring of 1836,” 4 and she “was well acquainted with her [Fanny Alger] as she [Eliza] lived with the Prophet at the time” that “Emma made such a fuss about” her. 5 Thus, it appears Eliza was an eye witness to the “fuss” associated with the discovery of the relationship.

Eliza’s knowledge of the incident is important because Don Bradley was able to determine that she personally wrote Fanny’s name on a list he was making of Joseph Smith’s wives in 1886. It appears Jenson interviewed Malissa Lott, obtaining information on thirteen of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, writing their names on a document now called “document 1.”

Sometime thereafter, Jenson met with Eliza R. Snow who apparently took the paper into her own hands and penned thirteen additional names. Eliza’s handwriting has many distinctive features and historian Jill Derr, an expert on Eliza R. Snow, reviewed the document stating the thirteen names have “every indication” of being penned personally by Eliza. 6 Clearly they are not in Andrew Jenson’s handwriting. fannyalger_1 Alger Bradley explains the significance of these two documents:

(1) Not only did Snow actively participate in identifying Joseph Smith’s plural wives but may have served as Jenson’s sole source on Fanny Alger. Indeed, Jenson’s notes mention no second source, and the uniformity of his handwriting suggests that he produced the document at a single sitting.

(2) Eliza was unquestionably knowledgeable, since she had lived in the Smith home during or near the time Joseph’s polygamous relationship with Fanny and when Emma expelled her.

(3) Snow’s testimony as a contemporary witness helps to break the scholarly deadlock about whether Joseph and Fanny were actually married as opposed to having an affair. If she had had any doubts whether the relationship was a marriage, she could simply have remained silent. It also demolishes the position, held by relatively few, that they had no relationship.

(4) She remembered that Emma “made such a fuss” about it (for unknown reasons these words were crossed out presumably by Jenson), a reaction consistent with Emma’s response to later relationships, including Snow’s own plural sealing to Joseph. 7 AlgerBradley summarizes: “Eliza’s late, but firsthand and friendly, testimony concurs on this point with Oliver Cowdery’s hostile but roughly contemporaneous statements. When intimate friend and intimate foe agree on the basic facts of Joseph Smith’s behavior, we have reason to trust their accuracy.” 8

Other Supportive Evidences of a Plural Marriage

The behavior of Fanny’s family and friends, those people who were closest to her, seems to support that they believed the relationship was a genuine polygamous union. For example, Chauncy and Eliza Webb reported that they were “intimately acquainted with Joseph Smith and his family for eleven years,” 9 and “offered to take her [Fanny] until she could be sent to her relatives” after she was sent away from the Smith home. 10

Eliza Jane recalled: “Fanny Alger had lived in Joseph’s family several years, and when she left there she came and lived with me a few weeks.” 11 Throughout their recollections, they (and their daughter Ann Eliza Webb Young born in 1844) consistently maintained that a marriage ceremony of some kind was performed, referring to it as a “sealing.” 12

Eliza Jane wrote: “I do not know that the ‘sealing’ commenced in Kirtland but I am perfectly satisfied that something similar commenced, and my judgment is principally formed from what Fanny Alger told me herself concerning her reasons for leaving ‘Sister Emma’.” 13

The behavior of Fanny’s parents and John, her brother, also suggest that a marriage occurred and they accepted the relationship as legitimate. 14 Researcher Thomas Milton Tinney observed: “The fact that the parents [of Fanny Alger] came to Utah seriously questions the suggested immoral behavior of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.” 15 According to Eliza Jane Churchhill Webb, Fanny’s mother told her: “Fanny was sealed to Joseph.” 16

Following the Prophet’s counsel, the Algers left for Missouri in September 1836, accompanied by Fanny. 17

Two months later in Wayne County, Indiana, Fanny married Solomon Custer on November 16. 18 Fanny stayed in Indiana while her parents and at least one brother, John, continued on to Missouri, then followed the body of the Saints to Nauvoo in 1839. They also joined the migration west in 1846, and settled in southern Utah where they died in the 1870s. 19 This course would be less likely if Joseph had violated his own publicly declared standards of sexual morality with their daughter. Nothing in Joseph’s behavior with their daughter seemed to weaken the Algers’ faith in the Restoration.

John Alger eventually settled in St. George, Utah. At one point Apostle Heber C Kimball reportedly introduced him as a “Brother of the Prophet Josephs first Plural Wife.” 20

John was excommunicated shortly after the issuance of the 1890 Manifesto because he could not accept the discontinuation of plural marriage, a position of perhaps excessive devotion to the principle. 21 It seems less likely that he would have remained faithful up to that point if he felt that his sister had experienced a hypocritical conjugal relationship with Joseph Smith.

Evidence of Adultery?

It is apparent from what transpired that Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery either did not believe a valid plural marriage ceremony had been performed or they were unaware of it. Oliver later referred to it as a “dirty, nasty, filthy scrape” and someone, not Oliver, overwrote “scrape” with “affair.”

It appears that Oliver’s statements generated some rumors. An 1842 statement from Eliza Brewer published in John C. Bennett’s History of the Saints, alleged that in 1837, “There was much excitement against the Prophet, on another account, likewise,– an unlawful intercourse between himself and a young orphan girl residing in his family, and under his protection!!!” 22 Brewer’s recollection supports that in the years immediately after the incident, some rumors were spoken but they were never loud enough to make the local newspapers, which would have loved to print such scandalous allegations. Decades later in Utah, a writer in the Anti-Polygamy Standard named “Historicus” also made reference to the episode, but his informant has not been identified.

When Did the Relationship Occur?

Due to inadequacies in the documentary records, historians have differed regarding the timing of the relationship between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger. 23 Three scholars have suggested 1833 or perhaps even earlier. 24 They based their conclusions on several accounts. Martin Harris, in a second-hand narrative from an 1875 interview, dates it “in or about the year 1833.” 25 William McLellin linked the episode to Joseph Smith III’s birth, which occurred on November 6, 1832. 26

Other writers date the marriage to 1835–36, which seems more likely. 27 Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816–1844, 451, dates this relationship “prior to the fall of 1836.” In an October 19, 1995, letter to Gary J. Bergera, Marquardt also observed: “Concerning Fanny Alger I have compiled some material relating to what has been said concerning her and Joseph Smith. … It appears that whatever occurred with Fanny Alger probably happened in the year 1836 with Fanny leaving Kirtland, Ohio. This year is closer to the events relating to Oliver Cowdery since Cowdery had discussed the matter with Joseph Smith and others in the summer and fall of 1837.” 28 In a 1903 letter, the sixty-nine-year-old Benjamin F. Johnson dated the marriage to 1835. 29

After Fanny Alger left the Smith home, she reportedly stayed with Chauncy and Eliza Jane Churchill Webb (Ann Eliza Webb Young’s parents). Eliza Jane wrote to a correspondent in 1886: “Fanny Alger’s mother says Fanny was sealed to Joseph by Oliver Cowdery in Kirtland in 1835- or 6.” 30

Richard Van Wagoner asserts that it was not until 1835 that Fanny became the Smiths’ hired girl and lived in the Smith home. 31

Mark Lyman Staker informally constructs this scenario:

Mary Johnson [daughter of John and Alice Johnson born in 1818] lived in the Smith home (Whitney Store) to provide assistance to Emma. She died March 30, 1833. Her death was unexpected and shook up the family. I believe Fanny Alger replaced Mary as household help for Emma. If that’s the case, it is unlikely Fanny lived with the family while they were living at the store and it is unlikely she assisted them before mid-1833. She most likely assisted between 1834 and 1836, in their home up near the temple. After that, Eliza R. Snow moved into the house on the hill and taught school for Joseph’s children in the rear portion of the home. 32

Joseph and Emma were living with other families in very cramped quarters until mid-1834 when they finally obtained their own residence. It seems next to impossible for Joseph and Fanny to have concealed a sexual relationship (plural marriage) from Emma, especially for as long as three years (which would be required by a marriage date of 1833 or earlier).

Regardless of when the relationship began, it was not discovered until spring or summer of 1836. 33

What Authority was Used to Solemnize the Marriage?

Another question related to the ceremony performed by Levi Hancock is the authority by which he acted. Obviously civil law would not ratify a polygamous marriage. 34 Nor would the sealing keys be restored until April 1836 (D&C 110:13–16). Therefore, Levi was not acting with the authority by which plural marriages were later sealed in Nauvoo, even though “sealed” is the term used by Eliza Jane Churchill Webb. 35 “Sealing” in Ohio seems to have been used only in “sealing up to everlasting life.”

When Joseph performed marriages, as with the Newell Knight-Lydia Goldthwaite Bailey wedding in Kirtland on November 24, 1835, 36 he did it by “authority of the preisthood which he held.” Knight recorded:

Both myself & Lydia [Goldthwaite Bailey] had desired that it might be so that the Prophet might seal the bond of matrimony for us, but had not made our desires known to nay save the Lord. … when Brother Hiram [Smith] invited the Prophet & his family he [Joseph] observed that [Hyrum] was going to invite [LDS Elder] Brunson to marry us, Joseph replied Stop I will marry them my self, this was good news to us; it seemed that the Lord had granted unto us the desires of our hearts; suffice to say the feast was prepared, the guests were ready, the Prophet & his Council were there, we received much Instruction from the Prophet concerning matrimony, & what the ancient order of God was, & what it must be again concerning marriage. In the name of the Lord, & by the authority of the preisthood which he held, he joined us in the bond of matrimony on Tuesday Nov 23rd [24th] 1835. The evening passed of[f] well, & all felt edefied & glad of the opportunity of enjoying instruction from the Lord through the beloved Prophet. 37 (Bold added.)

In addition, Newell Knight reported Joseph as saying: “I have done it by the authority of the holy Priesthood and the Gentile law has no power to call me to an account for it. It is my religious privilege, and the congress of the United States has no power to make a law that would abridge the rights of my religion.” 38)

It is clear that Joseph Smith believed that the priesthood authority he possessed in 1835 could solemnize a marriage that would stand for the duration of mortal life, so long as that union was approved of God. That priesthood authority could be bestowed upon others who would be similarly empowered to perform a matrimonial ceremony that would be valid according to God’s laws even if “gentile law” would not allow it. 39

Immediate Consequences of the Alger Marriage

Although there are no documents from the actual participants, available manuscripts show that it did not turn out well. Following its discovery, both Emma and Fanny were traumatized and Oliver Cowdery was alienated.

Ann Eliza Webb Young, whose source was doubtless her parents, provided this version of events in 1886:

Mrs. Smith had an adopted daughter, 40 a very pretty, pleasing young girl, about seventeen years old. She was extremely fond of her; no own mother could be more devoted, and their affection for each other was a constant object of remark, so absorbing and genuine did it seem. Consequently it was with a shocked surprise that the people heard that sister Emma had turned Fanny out of the house.

This sudden movement was incomprehensible, since Emma was known to be a just woman, not given to freaks or caprices, and it was felt that she certainly must have had some very good reason for her action. By degrees it became whispered about that Joseph’s love for his adopted daughter was by no means a paternal affection, and his wife, discovering the fact, at once took measures to place the girl beyond his reach.

Angered at finding the two persons whom she loved most playing such a treacherous part towards her, she by no means spared her reproaches, and, finally, the storm became so furious, that Joseph was obliged to send, at midnight, for Oliver Cowdery, his scribe, to come and endeavor to settle matters between them. 41

What role Oliver played, if any, in trying to reduce the emotional mayhem is unclear.

The Alger family left for Missouri in September 1836, accompanied by Fanny. Two months later in Wayne County, Indiana, Fanny married non-member Solomon Custer. 42

Fanny’s Later Life

In Indiana Fanny married Solomon Custer and raised a large family. She apparently joined the Universalist Church in 1874 and remained a member until her death in 1889. Her obituary stated:

She [Fanny Alger] joined the Universalist church on the evening of the 10th of October, 1874, and until her last, held to that belief. She passed away peacefully and resignedly, with an abiding faith in the justice and love of an All Powerful and Supreme Being, and with joy in the full belief that she would meet with dear ones gone before.

Having fulfilled the duties of life, with a conscientious regard for the welfare and happiness of those who were compelled to lean on her in her middle and early life, she passed away, fully trusting that the welcome applaudit summons, “well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord,” would greet her on the other side. Funeral services were held at the Universalist church in Dublin [Indiana], on Sabbath morning, Dec. 1, 1889, Rev. P.S. Cook and C.T. Swain, officiating.”43

Late in life she reportedly rebuffed questions about her relationship with Joseph Smith: “That is all a matter of my own, and I have nothing to communicate.”44

Although he does not provide a source for his declaration, according to Benjamin Johnson, “She did not turn from the Church nor from her friendship for the Prophet while she lived.”

This is a brief overview of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. If it has piqued your interest, then please check out Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.

  1. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 29.  (back)
  2. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 41–42, views this conversation as an “exchange of women” between Joseph Smith and Levi Hancock. Yet the assertion is weakened because Levi and Clarissa were already mutually attracted to each other.  (back)
  3. Documents 1–18, Andrew Jenson Papers, ca. 1871–1942, MS 17956, Box 49, fd. 16, LDS Church History Library.  (back)
  4. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, ed., The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow (Logan: University of Utah Press, 2000), 10.  (back)
  5. Document #10, Andrew Jenson Papers, Box 49, fd. 16.  (back)
  6. On July 25, 2008, Don Bradley, Jill Derr, and the author, met at the Church archives to evaluate the documents where she made the comment. Used by permission.  (back)
  7. Probably because of Emma’s outrage over the sealing, Fanny disaffiliated with Mormonism and married another man later that year on November 16, 1836. Jenson did not publish Eliza’s information about Emma’s “fuss” over Fanny. He also referred to the relationship as a “sealing,” rather than a “marriage,” a pattern he followed when he was aware that the woman was legally married to someone else during Joseph’s lifetime. He also misrepresented Fanny as “a wife of Joseph the Prophet, who since his death married again in Indiana.” (Andrew Jenson, “Church Encyclopaedia,” Historical Record, vol. 8 [Dec. 1889], 942.)   (back)
  8. Don Bradley, Analysis of Documents 1–18, Andrew Jenson Papers MS 17956, Box 49, fd. 16; copy in my possession; used by permission.  (back)
  9. Wilhelm Wyl, Joseph Smith the Prophet: His Family and His Friends, also entitled Mormon Portraits (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing, 1886), 7.  (back)
  10. Ann Eliza Webb Young, Wif e Number 19; or, The Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Dustin, Gilman, 1876), 67.  (back)
  11. Eliza J. Webb [Eliza Jane Churchill Webb], Lockport, New York, to Mary Bond, April 24, 1876, Biographical Folder Collection, P21, f11, item 7, 8, Community of Christ Archives.  (back)
  12. Young, Wife No. 19 (Hartford, Conn: Dustin, Gilman & Co., 1875), 66–67. Eliza J. Webb [Eliza Jane Churchill Webb], Lockport, New York, to Mary Bond, April 24, 1876, Biographical Folder Collection, P21, f11, item 7, 8, Community of Christ Archives. Chauncy Webb quoted in Wilhelm Ritter Von Wymetal (W. Wyl), Mormon Portraits (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Company, 1886), 57.  (back)
  13. Eliza J. Webb [Eliza Jane Churchill Webb], Lockport, New York, to Mary Bond, May 4, 1876, Biographical Folder Collection, P21, f11, item 9, Community of Christ Archives.  (back)
  14. “Died” [Samuel Alger obituary], Deseret News Weekly, October 14, 1874, 7.  (back)
  15. Thomas Milton Tinney, “Fanny Alger, the First Plural Wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr.: A Preliminary Genealogical Report,” n.d. Microfilm. MS 9034, LDS Church History Library, 10.  (back)
  16. Webb, Letter to Mary Bond, April 24, 1876.  (back)
  17. Mosiah Hancock also adds an additional statement regarding Fanny Alger and the “apostates”: “As time progressed the Apostates thought they had a good hold on Joseph because of Fanny and some of the smart ones confined her in an upper room of the [Kirtland] Temple determined that the Prophet should be settled according to their notions Brother Joseph came to Father and said ‘Brother Levi what can be done’?–There being a wagon and a dry goods Box close by and Joseph being strong and Father active Father soon gained the window Sill and Fanny was soon on the ground Father mounts his horse with Fanny behind him and although dark they were in New Lyme forty five miles distant.” Mosiah Hancock, “Autobiography of Levi Ward Hancock with additions by Mosiah Hancock,” 64. This account in confusing in two ways. The second-story windows of the Kirtland Temple are at least twenty feet off the ground, too high to allow the safe, stealthy exit that Mosiah describes. Second, Oliver Cowdery, who seemed to be a primary source of complaint, would not have been classified with any “apostate” group in mid-1836.  (back)
  18. “The clerk recorded: ‘Dublin November 16th, 1836 This day married by me Levi Eastridge a Justice of the Peace for Wayne County and State of Indiana Mr Solomon Custer and Miss Fanny Alger both of this town.” Wayne County, Indiana, marriage license, photocopy of holograph in my possession. Benjamin Johnson reported this marriage but misdates it by more than a year: “Soon after the Prophet’s flight in [the] winter of 1837 and 1838 [actually January 1838], the Alger family left for the west and stopping in Indiana for a time, Fanny soon married one of the citizens there.” (Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 33).  (back)
  19. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 37, 40.  (back)
  20. Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 45. Johnson’s memory is faulty in that the introduction reportedly occurred “in the Saint George Temple.” Kimball died before this temple was completed. It seems likely that the conversation occurred but in another setting.  (back)
  21. John Alger, Record of Excommunication.  (back)
  22. John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints; or, an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism (Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842), 85.  (back)
  23. Van Wagoner, “Joseph and Marriage,” Sunstone 10, no. 9 (January 1986): 32–33. See also the summary in Compton, “Truth, Honesty and Moderation in Mormon History: A Response to Anderson, Faulring and Bachman’s Reviews of In Sacred Holiness,” section “The Date of Fanny Alger’s Marriage,” accessed February 11, 2007,  (back)
  24. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage” (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 22, 38, 222; Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 33; D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 45, 587. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 323, suggests that Joseph’s involvement with Fanny Alger might have been “as early as 1831” but does not document the statement.  (back)
  25. Martin Harris, quoted in Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast (Malad, Ida.: Author, 1888), 72.  (back)
  26. William E. McLellan, M.D. to Joseph Smith III, July 1872, Community of Christ Archives. An anonymous writer, perhaps McLellin himself, wrote similarly, dating the event to “the time the present Joseph Smith [III] was an infant.” Historicus [pseud.], “Sketches from the History of Polygamy: Joseph Smith’s [indecipherable] Revelations,” Anti-Polygamy Standard 2, no. 1 (April 1881): 1.  (back)
  27. Donna Hill, Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1977), 187–88; Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, The Mormons, and The Oneida Community (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 137–38; Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 66; Kimball Young, Isn’t One Wife Enough? (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1954), 91.  (back)
  28. Original letter in H. Michael Marquardt Collection, Marriott Library, University of Utah; Photocopy of letter in my possession; used by permission.  (back)
  29. Dean R. Zimmerman, ed., I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs, Reporting Doctrinal Views of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1976), 38–39.  (back)
  30. Eliza Jane Churchill Webb, Letter to Mary Bond, April 24, 1876, Myron H. Bond Collection, P21 f11, Community of Christ Library-Archives.  (back)
  31. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 14. He provides no reference for this conclusion. See also Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 66; Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, “Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd M. Compton,” in FARMS Review of Books (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, October 2, 1998), 78–79.  (back)
  32. Mark L. Staker, E-mail to Brian Hales, September 9, 2008.  (back)
  33. Andrew Jenson Papers [ca. 1871–1942], MS 17956; CHL, Box 49, Folder 16, document #10. Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” in “Utah and Mormons” collection, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, microfilm copy in CHL, under call number MS 8305, Reel 1, Item 11, page 7.  (back)
  34. Janet Ellingson, “Alger Marriage Questioned,” vi–vii, doubts that “Levi Hancock, a man who had no civil authority, willingly and quickly accepted Smith’s demand that he perform a ‘a marriage.’” Compton, “Response to Janet Ellingson,” Journal of Mormon History 23 (Fall 1997): xviii, disagrees: “Ellingson finds it unbelievable that Levi Hancock would consent to perform a marriage without civil authority. Personally, I find it very believable—both that Smith would place his religious authority above civil authority and that one of Smith’s disciples would give him unquestioning obedience.”  (back)
  35. Eliza Jane Churchill Webb, Letter to Mary Bond, April 24, 1876.  (back)
  36. See William G. Hartley, “Newel and Lydia Bailey Knight’s Kirtland Love Story and Historic Wedding,” Brigham Young University Studies 39:4 (2000): 6–22; M. Scott Bradwhaw, “Joseph Smith’s Performance of Marriages in Ohio,” Brigham Young University Studies 39:4 (2000): 23–68; Gregory Prince, Power from on High (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 182.  (back)
  37. Newel Knight, “Autobiography and journal [ca. 1846];” MS 767, Folder 1, item 4, page 58-59; LDS CHL. Joseph Smith’s journal and the calendar affirm that Tuesday was the 24th. Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashhurst-McGee, Richard L. Jensen, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals Volume 1: 1832–1839 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 109.  (back)
  38. “Sketch of the Life of Newel Knight,” CHL, MS 767, Folder 3 (manuscript). Quinn identifies this as a “first draft” although the manuscript does not so indicate, it is the shortest of several in the collection. See D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books), 326n32. Lydia Knight quoted Joseph as saying: “Our Elders have been wronged and prosecuted for marrying without a license. The Lord God of Israel has given me authority to unite the people in the holy bonds of matrimony. And from this time forth I shall use that privilege and marry whomsoever I see fit. And the enemies of the Church shall never have power to use the law against me.” (Lydia Knight’s History: The First Book of the Noble Women’s Lives Series, by “Homespun,” [Susa Young Gates] (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1883), 31.  (back)
  39. There was a belief in Nauvoo that all eternal sealing ceremonies performed outside of a temple, whether monogamous or polygamous, would need to be repeated within temple walls (with the same individuals or by proxy) at some point. By this logic, the Joseph Smith–Fanny Alger plural marriage would also have needed to be re-performed within a temple in order to have become an eternal marriage.  (back)
  40. Ann Eliza Webb Young mistakenly believed that Fanny had been adopted by the Smiths. Other accounts incorrectly refer to her as an orphan. She was neither.  (back)
  41. Young, Wife Number 19, 66. On April 12, 1838, David W. Patten testified before the Far West High Council that “He [Oliver] said that Joseph told him, he had confessed to Emma.” Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 167.  (back)
  42. “The clerk recorded: ‘Dublin November 16th, 1836 This day married by me Levi Eastridge a Justice of the Peace for Wayne County and State of Indiana Mr Solomon Custer and Miss Fanny Alger both of this town.” Wayne County, Indiana, marriage license, photocopy of holograph in my possession. Benjamin Johnson reported this marriage but misdates it by more than a year: “Soon after the Prophet’s flight in [the] winter of 1837 and 1838 [actually January 1838], the Alger family left for the west and stopping in Indiana for a time, Fanny soon married one of the citizens there.” (Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 33).  (back)
  43. Accessed September 6, 2008,  (back)
  44. Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 33, punctuation and spelling standardized. The Lima Branch (Illinois) of the Church organized October 23, 1842, lists Fanny Custer as a member, but whether she was physically present there is not known. (Emer Harris’s Book of Patriarchal Blessings, no. 210, cited in Van Wagoner, Letter to Newell, n.d., Newell Collection, Marriott Library.)   (back)

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