Five documents indicate that Joseph Smith may have experienced conjugal relations with his first plural wife, Fanny Alger. The earliest is from Oliver Cowdery in a private letter written January 21, 1838:

I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true. A dirty, nasty, filthy scrape [“affair” overwritten] of his and Fanny Alger’s was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deviated from the truth on the matter. 1

The next reference is thirty-four years later from William McLellin:

[O]ne night she [Emma Smith] missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story too was verily true.2

McLellin reported on the event again three years afterward in 1875 to J. H. Beadle:

He [McLellin] was in the vicinity during all the Mormon troubles in Northern Missouri, and grieved heavily over the suffering of his former brethren. He also informed me of the spot where the first well authenticated case of polygamy took place in which Joseph Smith was “sealed” to the hired girl. The “sealing” took place in a barn on the hay mow, and was witnessed by Mrs. Smith through a crack in the door! The Doctor was so distressed about this case, (it created some scandal at the time among the Saints,) that long afterwards when he visited Mrs. Emma Smith at Nauvoo, he charged her as she hoped for salvation to tell him the truth about it. And she then and there declared on her honor that it was a fact—“saw it with her own eyes.”3

Ten years later, Wilhelm Wyl reportedly quoted Chancy Webb, who said:

Joseph’s dissolute life began already in the first times of the church, in Kirtland. He was sealed there secretly to Fanny Alger. Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house.4

The final document was written in 1903 by Benjamin F. Johnson:

“I was . . . told by Warren Parish That He himself & Oliver Cowdery did know that Joseph had Fanny Alger as a wife for They were Spied upon & found togather.5

For more details, see Brian C. Hales (with Don Bradley), Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013.


  1. Oliver Cowdery, Letter to Warren A. Cowdery, January 21, 1838.  (back)
  2. William E. McLellin, M.D., Letter to President Joseph Smith [III] Independence, Mo., July 1872.  (back)
  3. William McClellin, quoted in J. H. Beadle, “Jackson County,” 4.  (back)
  4. Wilhelm Wyl quoting “Mr. W.” [Chauncy Webb], Mormon Portraits, 57.  (back)
  5. Dean R. Zimmerman, ed., I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs, 38.  (back)

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