Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mormon Polygamy

It's time . . . .

3rd-Great-Grandpa Matthew Bristow Wheelwright center just left of man in suit
President George Q. Cannon seated in back (Utah Pen., November 1888)
Another convicted cohab ancestor just popped out of Family Search, Family Tree today (that makes four!). I knew Matthew Bristow Wheelwright (1828-1891) had plural wives. I did not know until today that he served time in the Utah Territorial Penitentiary for it (he's not in George C. Wood's prison diary). And it's my wife who is a Kimball and a Burton descendant and none of them seem to have been convicted (and the feds really were after Robert Taylor Burton for other grievances as well!)

So, it's time to address historical Mormon polygamy.

Mormons like to refer to it as "plural marriage." "Polygamy" being technically correct as having more than one spouse, but "polygyny" more accurately specific as having more than one wife. And we didn't do any polyandry (more than one husband -[except in some rare cases in Nauvoo that did not set up family households and are still not fully understood]).

The doctrinal basis is simply Doctrine & Covenants Section 132. Read it. The doctrine has not been revoked, but the practice has. You can read that revocation authority called "the Manifesto" also in the Doctrine and Covenants at Official Declaration No. 1. And that's all I will say about the doctrine except that I respect and honor my ancestors who lived "the principle" (another term they called it) and went to prison for attempting to live their religion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not condone nor support polygamy in modern days and neither do I. It is a sure way of excommunication for any member who attempts anything of the sort. I can't speak for the splinter groups that still may practice.

Fortunately, and a h/t to Ardis at Keepa today who linked to the best and most succinct explanation of the legal history of Mormon Polygamy I've seen. It is a video of Nate Oman, Assistant Professor, Marshall Wythe School of Law, William & Mary College. I heartily encourage you to give this a few minutes of your attention:

So, there we have it. No sordid details here. Marriage was marriage and required a partnership of man and woman just like today. Plural marriage required a few more concurrent partnerships of the man and a lot of strain and patience on the women. It was bad enough to have to share your husband - and then the feds came to cart him off to jail. It wasn't easy, but they did it. They accomplished it in a lot of different ways too - separate households, divided homes with separate wings, divisions of household responsibilities, and occasional missions for the men far from home.

I for one would not be here without it. God bless them and their wives!
David Bowman Bybee (1832-1893), Elizabeth Adelaide Rice (1856-1945)*, Mary Elizabeth Penrod (1842-1922), Adelia Higley (1836-1921).
Joseph Harris Ridges (1827-1914), Adelaide Whitely (1830-1919)*, Agatha Pratt (1848-1914), Ann Agatha Walker (1829-1908), Emma Girdlestone (1835-1914), Elizabeth Jane Robins (1847-1921).
Matthew Bristow Wheelwright (1828-1891), Mary Ann Farrar (1829-1878)*, Catherine Emma Farrar (1838-1910), Nancy Bristow (1828-1873), Martha Hurst (1832-1902).
George Cotton Wood (1854-1923), Adelaide Ridges (1857-1927)* (daughter of Adelaide and Joseph  Ridges above), Juliette Howard (1870-1948).
*My female progenitors.

October 29, 2014

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on its Gospel Topics, had published a series of scholarly and religious articles on the history of plural marriage. You can find them at the links below:

Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo - (Joseph Smith's Practices)
Plural Marriage in Early Utah - (Brigham Young Era)
The Manifestoes and the Winding Down of Plural Marriage 

It's good knowing that the LDS Church has my back on these subjects.


  1. Hi cousin! This is your dad's cousin Doris. Snooping around the internet, I found your blog. And just so you know, Grandpa Wheelwright did have his own prison autograph book, copied and published sometime in the 70's by the Wheelwright family organization. Looks like you have been doing a lot of Vaughn family history. If you get to working on the Wheelwright side of things, let me know. Kathleen has my contact info, don't like to put it online.

    1. Great to hear from you, Cousin Cindy. Glad to know I can find you through Kathleen. We'll get it touch when I get the chance. Thanks!


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