The Purpose of This Website

The focus of these website is to enhance understanding of the history of Mormon polygamy and show through well-documented historical reconstructions that early polygamy represented a religious practice to participants who devoutly sought to fulfill what they perceived to be God’s will.

Avoiding Presentism

Exaggerations and assumptions regarding early Mormon polygamy are commonly found in Internet discussions, podcasts, and articles. The temptation to fill in the gaps in the historical record often results in distortions that stir up emotions and create tantalizing soundbites that, even if largely fictional, may generate unnecessary fear and confusion.

Analysis through a twenty-first century lens hasn’t been particularly helpful either. The early Saints were different from us, so we shouldn’t expect that they would think or behave as we do. Cultural historian Robert Darnton warned that when looking at history we must be prepared for culture shock:

Other people are other. They do not think the way we do. And if we want to understand their way of thinking we should set out with the idea of capturing otherness. … We constantly need to be shaken out of a false sense of familiarity with the past.

Too often we see criticisms that are based on anachronistic thinking measured against twenty-first century mores. In our writings, we attempt to situate those seeking understanding firmly in the nineteenth century — the time when these events unfolded.

Context and accurate information can assuage some common concerns. While some of the marital choices Joseph made seem odd and difficult to comprehend, reading the accounts of the participants adds a Nauvoo framework for understanding the purpose of these plural marriage sealings.

That is not to say that the practice of polygamy was any less shocking to the early Saints than it is to us now. When Benjamin Johnson first heard of it, he recalled: “If a thunderbolt had fallen at my feet I could hardly have been more shocked or amazed.”

After studying the lives of the early Saints, we have grown to admire the conviction of both those who accepted, and those who rejected polygamy. We have also mourned with those that faced remarkable hardships. For a people already familiar with trials, plural marriage represented perhaps their greatest challenge.

The Prophet’s Wives

Few aspects of Joseph Smith’s life have been scrutinized more in recent years than his personal practice of polygamy. As distant observers, our questions are natural and not necessarily evidence of a lack of faith.

Both Brian and I started our research because we had questions that we wanted answered. In the essays on this website, we share some of what we have learned.

It is our hope that while readers may not fully comprehend why plural marriage was practiced in the early Church, they will absorb more context, learn more history, and move toward a better understanding of Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage.

To access a brief narrative of the unfolding of the practice of polygamy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, proceed to the essay on Joseph Smith’s Practice of Polygamy.

For a more complete treatment of the topic, please read our book Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.

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