Did Joseph Smith Marry His Foster Daughters & A Set Of Sisters?


“Among the women was a mother-daughter set and three sister sets. Several of these women included Joseph’s own foster daughters.”
(CES Letter)

Not Foster Daughters – Joseph Smith did not have foster daughters. Some women helped briefly as maids and nurses in Smith’s home. So who is CES Letter referring to?

  • Partridge Sisters – They mention the “Partridge sisters” but Eliza and Emily Partridge were nurses for Joseph Smith’s babies, and that was it. Emily Partridge said she was “a nurse girl, for they had a young baby.” Eliza Partridge said this arrangement lasted “about three years.”
  • Fanny Alger – The allegation that she was Joseph Smith’s “adopted daughter” rests entirely on Antimormon Ann Eliza Young, in a book she wrote many years later. Nobody else claimed this. By other accounts, Fanny Alger possibly spent some time as a maid for Emma. That was it. Evidence is scant that Joseph Smith had anything to do with Fanny Alger.
  • Lucy Walker – Lucy Walker refused in court to answer what kind of relationship they had. Lucy said that she had stayed at the Smith home briefly while her father was ill, and that this was when Joseph Smith requested a sealing. That was it.
  • Lawrence Sisters – While it is true that Joseph Smith was entrusted with managing the Lawrence Sisters’ interests in their deceased father’s estate, their mother was still alive and they were in no way his foster daughters. Even Antimormons admit they were possibly “hired help” in the Smith home and that’s it. A lawsuit prepared by Joseph Smith over William Law’s claim of adultery indicates that the sealings did not involve physical relations.

Sealed For Afterlife – Most of Joseph Smith’s sealings were for “eternity only,” which means they did not involve physical or earthly relations. Antimormons equate the sealings with conventional marriage but they were totally different things.

Modern DNA testing and investigation of witness accounts suggests Joseph Smith had no physical relations with any of his plural “wives,” even with those to whom he was sealed for both time and eternity.

Old Enough For MarriageCES Letter claims they were “young girls living in Joseph’s home as foster daughters.” But certainly by early 1800’s standards, these women were of common marrying age.

The average marrying age for women at that time was 21 years old. The 1850’s census shows 36% of married women were teenagers compared to only 2% of married men. Stats show it was common for there to be an age gap, as 13% of women married men 10 years or older than them. We are talking about how society was two centuries ago, after all. Considering it was all just a sealing ceremony for the afterlife, people were not scandalized by this.

  • Emily was 19 and Eliza was 22 years old.
  • Fanny was 19 years old when we get the earliest second-hand account that suggests Joseph Smith possibly was sealed to her. But nobody really knows if there was really a sealing at all or what happened.
  • Lucy Walker was 17 years old.
  • The Lawrence sisters were 17 and 19 years old.

Law Of Moses Not ApplicableCES Letter acts upset that the alleged polygamy included “a mother-daughter set and three sister sets.” I guess they think this contradicts the law of Moses which forbids marrying sisters? But the law of Moses is defunct, so I don’t see why that matters. CES Letter appears to be bringing this issue up simply to make the polygamy sound more salacious.

Fake Quote From Oliver Cowdery

“Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger was described by Oliver Cowdery as a ‘dirty, nasty, filthy affair’ – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323”
(CES Letter)

The only source I have seen for this quote is skeptic Richard Bushman. The letter that this quote supposedly came from is not found at josephsmithpapers.org and I have not seen evidence that it exists. The quote is also not provided in context. We don’t know what he is actually talking about. I haven’t seen the full quote, and I don’t even know if it is a real quote. Certainly a fake quote.

The truth is, little is known about the Fanny Alger relationship or even if there was one. We don’t have any reason to think it was anything but a simple sealing ceremony.

It is easy for us to judge historical cultures, but unless you were there you have no idea how things were and why people made the choices they did. There are all kinds of theories about why Joseph Smith was told to institute polygamy, but it is pretty much futile to speculate about a pre-Civil war culture. It was a different time, and nothing like the polygamist cults that abuse people today. I find it truly bizarre that scholars, the media, and popular culture cherry-picks this one thing to obsess over, while there are so many peculiar and offensive things from this early America time period they could complain about. What does this say about them?

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

Falsehoods CES Letter incorrectly claims the Lawrence sisters, Partridge sisters, Fanny Alger, and Lucy Walker were Joseph Smith’s “foster daughters.” Totally false. The premise of this argument is a flat-out lie.

CES Letter claims these were “young girls.” Some were 17 years old, but Eliza Partridge was 22 years old. By 19th century standards, they were not very young.

Argument From
The “new and everlasting covenant” of sealing was different from civil marriage, as if it was for the afterlife only that means it did not involve earthly relations. Only those sealed “for time” could have involved sexual relationships. There is no evidence of sexual relationships between Joseph Smith and any of his polygamous wives.
Strawman Argument Despite their vast research into “the real origins of polygamy and how Joseph Smith really practiced it,” CES Letter totally misunderstands what happened. It is easy to tell salacious tales of sordid affairs with teenagers, but CES Letter provides zero evidence that the sealing to those women was the same thing as marriage.
Ad Hominem This entire argument is an attack on Joseph Smith’s character.
Repetition After detailed attacks on Joseph Smith’s character, CES Letter repeats the sordid claims as part of a condense list. This solidifies their characterization of him as a disgusting creep.
Etymological Fallacy The LDS semantics are unusual, and it is easy for CES Letter to just lump everything together as “marriage.” Marriages for time and sealings for eternity were totally different. Few, if any, of Joseph Smith’s sealings included “for time,” and did not involve physical, earthly relations.

Narrative – Skeptics can get away with this narrative because it takes so long to actually investigate the evidence. Even mainstream church apologists are beaten down by all of the accusations. Even if you don’t believe the allegations, just this association frames Joseph Smith in a horrible light.

Contradiction – Well, even if that were all true and he were a fraud, so what? Aren’t Mormons still nice people who make the world a better place? The powerful thing with these polygamy arguments is that we might start to come up with reasons why Mormonism is evil: it victimizes. This is easy rhetoric for them to push, as the internet is filled with all kinds of false rumors about Mormon polygamy. It is easy to just repeat the claim over and over, not give any evidence, and make the issue personal through manipulative repetition.

Attack On Family -An alternative, for example, to Mormonism is the Marxist ideology. Marxism is all about protecting victims from the predators. Marxists think the biggest miracle about mankind is that we evolved to the top of the food chain without ever becoming predators of other animals. Economically, Marxists protect working classes from a predator class. Marxism is all about protecting the vulnerable from those seeking unequal advantage–and all about keeping people weak in order to keep them reliant on a benevolent dictator for safety. The ideal for Marxists is a state where men and women are completely equal working bees and children are grown and raised by the benevolent dictator state. Nobody is preying on anybody.

Mormon standards of modesty, chastity, and family obligations are desperately needed in our time. Most folks are adrift with no clue how to secure loving relationships or how to find peace and happiness. The polygamy narrative is a foil that prevents Mormons from sharing these important principles with the world, from encouraging behavior that was once common sense but is now lost to modern political correctness. It is really too bad. We don’t appreciate what we have, with these moral standards to guide us, and the unfathomable blessing of eternal marriage. We must not lose sight of our basic standards of decency, basic behaviors of modesty, or lose our focus on eternal families. We must never be ashamed of our legacy. Never stop working to be part of a happy and successful family.

(All claims in this article are personal opinion and speculation. Quotes regarding CES Letter are derived the March 2015 version of CES Letter and may not reflect more recent versions.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *