The history books say Joseph Smith had sex with his plural wives. Even dedicated Mormon apologists say the matter is settled. But they fail to consider the evidence in its entire context. Careful investigation reveals a much more skeptical picture.
DNA Testing Disproves Paternity
Researchers have carefully investigated claims of Joseph Smith’s paternity by descendants of Joseph Smith’s wives, and each one has been thoroughly debunked by DNA testing. Joseph Smith did not have children from any of them.
Sylvia Sessions told her daughter that she was Joseph Smith’s child:
“Just prior to my mothers death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days on earth were about numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret fro me and from others until no but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon had was out of fellowship with the Church.”
But DNA testing has since proven this is false. DNA researcher Ugo. A. Perego found Sylvia Sesson’s husband Windsor Lyon, who she was married to “for time” while she was sealed to Joseph Smith “for eternity,” was Josephine’s father.
It is not like Joseph Smith was infertile either. He had five children with Emma in a short length of time. Yet none of these other women that Joseph Smith allegedly had sexual relations with had any children? Why not?
Three of Joseph Smith’s plural wives made direct allegations of physical relationships:
Almera W. Johnson I “lived with Joseph Smith as his wife.” Malissa Lott “Did you ever room with Joseph Smith as his wife?” “Yes sir,” Emily Partridge “Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?” “Yes sir,”
Here are allegations from other witnesses:
Joseph Nobles “Right straight across the river at my house they slept together.” (Louisa Beaman) Benjamin F. Johnson “occupied the Same Room & Bed” (Emily or Eliza Partridge) Benjamin F. Johnson “The first plural wife brought to my house with whom the Prophet stayed, was Eliza Partridge.” Benjamin F. Johnson “I saw one of my sisters [Almera] married to him and know that with her he occupied my house on May 16 and 17, 1843.” Lucy Walker (according to D. H. Morris via Vesta P. Crawford) I “married Joseph Smith as a plural wife and lived and cohabited with him as such.” Theodocia Frances Walker Davis Lucy Walker told her that she lived with Joseph Smith as a wife. William Law (bitter apostate) Lived “in an open state of adultery” with Maria Lawrence. Lucy Walker (according to Robert B. Neal) “I know that [Emma] gave her consent to the marriage of at least four women to her husband as plural wives, and she was well aware that he associated and cohabited with them as wives.”
Other than these three, the wives either suggested they did not have sexual relations with Joseph Smith, or they dodged the question. Of the three, the only clear indication that there was sexual intercourse comes from Emily Partridge in the Temple Lot court case (p.484).
But this came only after lengthy badgering from the examining lawyer. During the lengthy hearing, the lawyer asked her about it over a dozen times, and ridiculed her for dodging the question. Emily Partridge was under pressure to prove her relationship with Joseph Smith as legitimate marriage, because a splinter sect was trying to claim ownership of temple grounds based on the claim that polygamy never actually happened. The LDS church eventually won the case on the grounds that they were the true successor to Joseph Smith, because they practiced polygamy.
Emily Partridge said her marriage to Joseph Smith was for time and eternity, which meant it was a physical “earth” marriage as well as a spiritual marriage for the afterlife. Therefore, the type of relationship allowed every opportunity for children. Her subsequent marriage to Brigham Young after Joseph Smith had died was only for time, a physical “earth” marriage.
Kelly How many children did you have by Joseph Smith? Partridge None at all. I have told you two or three times I had none…. Kelly You had children by Brigham Young? Partridge Yes sir. Kelly The the law of proxy–marriage by the law of proxy–will raise children, while marriage by the law of the church will not? Is that it? Partridge I don’t understand your question…. Kelly Then you were sealed to Joseph Smith at the same time that you were married to Brigham Young, were you now? Partridge Yes sir, I was sealed to him on that day…. Kelly For eternity? Partridge Yes sir. Kelly Well how were you married to Brigham Young? Were you sealed to him also? Partridge Yes sir, but I was sealed to him for time. Kelly You were not sealed to him then for both time and eternity? Partridge No sir. Of course I was not sealed to Joseph Smith then for he was dead when I married Brigham Young, but I had been sealed to him before that…. Kelly That you were sealed to Brigham Young during your natural life that day? Partridge Yes sir. Kelly And eternity you were to be the wife of Joseph Smith? Partridge Yes sir. Kelly But you never had any children by Joseph Smith? Partridge No sir…. Kelly Now Mrs. Young, don’t you know that you were just simpl[y] sealed to him for eternity? Don’t you know that that was all that was done Mrs. Young–that you were simply sealed to him for eternity? Partridge I know that I was sealed to him for time and eternity.
But she gives a contradiction. Emily goes on to claim none of the plural wives lived with Joseph Smith. Those other women said they did.
Kelly Did you ever live with Joseph Smith after you were married to him after that first night that you roomed together? Partridge No sir. Emma knew that we were married to him, but she never allowed us to live with him… Kelly Well do you make the declaration now that you ever roomed with him at any time. Partridge Yes sir. Kelly Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him in the same bed? Partridge Yes sir. Kelly How many nights? Partridge One. Kelly Only one night? Partridge Yes sir… Kelly Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith? Partridge Yes sir. Kelly How many nights? Partridge I could not tell you.
She claimed that she and the other wives were not allowed to live with Joseph Smith, yet the other women claimed they lived with Joseph Smith and never made mention of carnal intercourse?
Emily claimed she only slept with Joseph Smith one time, yet she didn’t know to what extent she had carnal intercourse? How is that? If she didn’t know because the number of times was too great, why was there no pregnancy, considering they were both very fertile?
With the shifting and the contradictions, it seems like Emily Partridge exaggerated her relationship. Yes, the marriage was for time and eternity, but did it involve a peck on the cheek or much more? What exactly did she consider carnal intercourse?
Just Going Through The Motions?
Joseph Smith claimed that he was uneasy about the new plural marriage doctrine. It took an angel threatening him with a sword to finally take it seriously. Most roll their eyes. Yeah, sure he wasn’t into it!… But, well, maybe he actually wasn’t into it. This would explain Emily’s behavior.
Think about it. By the time of her court testimony, Emily Partridge and the other women were old ladies, surrounded by polygamy, and were roundly admired for being Joseph Smith’s wives. They had every reason to boast about deeply intimate relationships with Joseph Smith. But instead they didn’t want to talk about the details.
It reminds me of the wedding of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones. In the show, 17-year old Sansa is arranged to be married to a snarky middle-aged little-person named Tyrion. Tyrion smartly keeps up appearances by going through the motions, but when they are alone in the bed chamber he sleeps on the floor. They both would be dishonored if they showed disgust for the arrangement. Sansa admires Tyrion as a person and is grateful for his respect, so she puts on a happy public face and goes through the motions.
As prophet, Joseph Smith was tasked with introducing polygamy to a very puritan Christian society. Not an easy thing to do, especially since lots of people were already trying to kill him. He had to introduce things gradually. He had to show enthusiastic support and insist on everyone adopting the policy, and he had to set the example.
Cultists like Jeff Warrens escalate their perversions, but Joseph Smith did not go on to be sealed to ever younger girls, but old widows. He barely spent any time with any of his wives. When they got older and once he was dead, none of the women denounced Joseph Smith, but instead they always spoke highly of him, with deep respect and admiration, as Sana Stark would have spoken of Tyrion Lannister. In the court testimonies, they don’t sound like women who are being pressured to say nice things about their abusers. They have no problem criticizing Joseph Smith in other ways. For example, Emily Partridge makes it clear that she wish he had told her more about the technicalities of plural marriage arrangements. But really, they sound more like chummy old friends recounting old times than abuse victims recounting trauma. It all just does not fit the picture of a perverted relationship. With many of the wives, Joseph Smith was married only for “eternity,” which meant no physical relations in any case.
Burden Of Proof
Some of the sealings included “for time,” which meant he had every opportunity to assume sexual relationships. The circumstances of a religious leader introducing polygamy certainly gives the appearance of this intent. But there is little evidence that this is actually what happened. There is only a few mentions of sharing a bed from a few of the women.
Even if he did have physical relationships with them, so what? What does that prove? Well, the anti-Mormon narrative is that Joseph Smith got caught having an affair with Fanny Alger, so he came up with polygamous sealings as a cover to excuse himself. But that seems like an awfully elaborate and unnecessary cover story. Why not just deny the affair instead? Or some kind of “holy nudity” excuse like Catholic priest abusers have done? Why a big elaborate mess about polygamy that you know is just going to get you in more trouble? And besides, there is no direct evidence for this narrative, just innuendo and circumstance.
From what I could tell, Joseph Smith probably did his best to make the women feel comfortable in such an awkward situation, but that he wasn’t really into having physical relations with them. Maybe some of them he felt more comfortable with so he went so far as to kiss them? Maybe that’s what happened with Emily Partridge? But it is fairly certain that he did not marry them just so he could take advantage of them and move on to the next girl.