Paul A. Douglas
14. How can we deal with Fanny Alger and Plural
Marriage Before the Revelation on Plural Marriage?
There is overwhelming evidence that in 1835, Joseph had a sexual relationship with a nineteen-year-old girl by the name of Fanny Alger who was then employed in his own home as a servant girl.
Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris considered the relationship to have been simply adulterous. Cowdery wrote a letter to his brother Warren in January 1838 referring to “a dirty, nasty, filthy scrape affair of his and Fanny Alger’s.”
Martin Harris reports the Prophet indicated that the ‘servant girl’ was claiming he had made, “improper proposals to her, which created quite a talk amongst the people.” Believing there was no truth to it, Harris told Smith, “take no notice of the girl, that she was full of the devil, and wanted to destroy the prophet of God.” Smith, however, “acknowledged that there was more truth than poetry in what the girl said,” to which Harris then told Smith he would have nothing to do with the matter and that he could, “get out of the matter the best way he knew how.” 1
William McLellin in a letter to Joseph’s son in 1872, rather bluntly described the affair:
“Now Joseph I will relate to you some history, and refer you to your own dear Mother for the truth. You will probably remember that I visited your Mother and family in 1847, and held a lengthy conversation with her, retired in the Mansion House in Nauvoo. I did not ask her to tell, but I told her some stories I had heard. And she told me whether I was properly informed. Dr. F. G. Williams practiced with me in Clay Co. Mo. during the latter part of 1838. And he told me that at your birth your father committed an act with a Miss Hill [sic]—a hired girl. Emma saw him, and spoke to him. He desisted, but Mrs. Smith refused to be satisfied. He called in Dr. Williams, O. Cowdery, and S. Rigdon to reconcile Emma. But she told them just as the circumstances took place. He found he was caught. He confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness. Emma and all forgave him. She told me this story was true!! Again I told her I heard that one night she 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
It is difficult to describe this as one of Joseph’s ‘plural wives’ as we know from the D&C he did not have the power to “seal” at the time he “married” Fanny. Joseph was given such authority in April 1836, when he claimed that he and Oliver Cowdery had a vision in which Elijah appeared to them and gave them “the keys of this dispensation.”
Fanny and her parents left Kirtland in September 1836 moving to Dublin, Indiana where Fanny married Solomon Custer, a non-Mormon.
Fanny was by no means the only girl or woman that Joseph had a sexual relationship with without ‘the benefit of a clergy.’
There is increasing evidence that Smith’s practiced his unique form of concubinage. I say unique because unlike the concubines that Old Testament prophets took, Smith seemed to offer these women no level of commitment. In modern parlance, we might use words such as an affair, dalliance, liaison or friends with benefits to describe these sexual relationships.
I think it is important to note that there were many accusations of sexual impropriety and illicit sexual conduct made against Smith between 1827 and his death in 1844.
At present, there are no accounts of Joseph’s sexual experiences before 1827. The hints at it perhaps when he writes in the official Church history that, “I was left to all kinds of temptations, and mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the corruption of human nature, which I am sorry to say led me into divers temptations, to the gratification of many appetites offensive in the sight of God.”
Joseph does not specifically identify which were the “temptations” or the “many appetites” that he gratified which were “offensive” to God. Could his “gratification of many appetites” be referencing sexual liaisons, masturbation or something altogether different?
We know he attended many camp-meetings, he says, “as often as occasion would
It is well known that these ‘camp-meetings,’ were rather bawdy affairs, and were not just attended by the pious seeking salvation but by drinkers, thrill-seekers, and prostitutes. They were hotbeds of sexual opportunity with men and women lying around together in the dark. One wag commented that at these meetings, ‘more souls were begotten than saved.’
Joseph was arrested again on several charges on June 30th, 1830. A court trial was held before Judge Joseph Chamberlain at Bainbridge, New York. A dozen witnesses were called, including Miriam and Rhoda Stowell, the daughters of Josiah Stowell of Bainbridge. Smith had worked for Stowell as a fortune hunter, between October 1825 to March 1826. During this period, Smith frequently associated with the Stowell girls who were eighteen and twenty years of age
Seeking to determine Smith’s “character and conduct,” the prosecutor called the Stowell girls as witnesses. Joseph Smith said that both girls “were severally examined … particularly as to my behavior towards them, both in public and in private.”
Nothing came of this case, according to Joseph.
The prosecutor may have called the Stowell girls because of the recent sexual accusations made against Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Levi Lewis, Emma Smith’s cousin accused Joseph of attempting “to seduce Eliza Winters,” a close friend of Emma’s. Lewis said that being well “acquainted with Joseph Smith Jr. and Martin Harris and that he has heard them both say, [that] adultery was no crime. Harris said he did not blame Smith for his attempt to seduce sixteen-year-old Eliza Winters.” 4
Joseph and Emma’s abruptly left Harmony in May of 1829
“Joseph’s name was connected with scandalous relations with two or three families” according to Benjamin Winchester, a close friend of the prophet, said the Kirtland accusations of scandal and “licentious conduct” against him was discussed, “especially among the women.” The rumors mentioned a Miss Vienna Jacques and a Miss Marinda Nancy Johnson specifically. 5
Sexual allegations were also made against Smith in Hiram, Ohio. Related to Marinda Johnson. Luke Johnson—Marinda’s brother, and later member of the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835 wrote:
“While Joseph was yet at my father’s, a mob of forty or fifty came to his house, a few entered his room in the middle of the night, and Carnot Mason dragged Joseph out of bed by the hair of his head; he was then seized by as many as could get hold of him, and taken about forty rods from the house, stretched on a board, and tantalized in the most insulting and brutal manner; they tore off the few night clothes that he had on, for the purpose of emasculating him, and had Dr. Dennison there to perform the operation [castration]; but when the Dr. saw the Prophet stripped and stretched on the plank, his heart failed him, and he refused to operate. The mob … in attempting to force open his jaws, they broke one of his front teeth to pour a vial of some obnoxious drug [aqua-fortis, a poison] into his mouth. The mob [then] became divided [because they] did not succeed … put poured tar over him, and then stuck feathers in it and left him, and went to an old brickyard to wash themselves and bury their filthy clothes. At this place a vial was dropped, the contents of which ran out and killed the grass.… [then] part of the mob went to the house that Sidney Rigdon occupied, and dragged him out, and besmeared him with tar and feathers.” 6
One member of the mob screaming for Smith castration was Eli Johnson who believed that Smith had been intimate with his sixteen-year-old niece.
It seems that Joseph had more accusers than Bill Cosby!
1 Metcalfe, Anthony. Interview with Martin Harris, ca 1873, in ‘Ten Years before the Mast,’ Malad, Idaho, 1888.
2 William McLellin, Letter to Joseph Smith III, July 1872, Community of Christ Archives
3 Joseph Smith-History,” 1:8, The Pearl of Great Price
4 ” Levi Lewis affidavit, 1
5 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy,4.
6 Luke Johnson History, p. 57
FairMormon’s Comments on Fanny Alger
Response to claim: “Why did Joseph Smith’s polygamy pre-date any revelation sanctioning it?”
I am sure that there are more than a few lawyers volunteering their time to FairMormon who can instruct you that under section 107 of the US Copyright Law, any duplication by me of your, “Dwould constitute a “fair use” as the use of such copyrighted material, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, is offered to the public without profit.
But since FairMormon seems to want to stymy debate on this issue, I will assume that they have no defense of this obvious extramarital affair and move on to his numerous ‘marriages’ with long girls.