Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

In Sacred Loneliness Part 3: A Levirate Marriage, and A Mother and Daughter

by heather

For those wondering why the wives of Joseph Smith are relevant, besides the fact that Mormon history is really fascinating, go back and read the first part of Part 1. When I was growing up as a youth in the LDS Church I remember someone asking if Joseph Smith practiced
polygamy. We were told that no, he didn’t really practice it. There were several women who wanted to be sealed to him after he died. It was just like Catholic nuns believe they are married to Jesus, but the only woman that was actually married to Joseph Smith was Emma. The truth is far more complicated. His next three wives include his sister-in-law and a mother/daughter pair. His marriage to his sister-in-law was after the death of his brother and was a levirate marriage. By marrying his sister-in-law Agnes, he was fulfilling the ancient order of marriage as written in Deut 25: 5-6,  where he would ‘take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her’. Patty was Joseph’s first older wife. Her daughter Sylvia is significant because she is the only polyandrous wife who specifically claimed that Joseph Smith was the biological father of her child. There are various questionable accounts of early Mormons ‘knowing’ that some of his wives’ children were conceived of Joseph Smith because they looked like Joseph’s children more than their own ‘full siblings’, but Sylvia’s claim is not as vague or unreliable.

Agnes Moulton Coolbrith (Smith Smith Smith Pickett)
born July 9, 1808 in Scarorough, Maine
married to Don Carlos Smith on July 30, 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio
married to Joseph Smith on Jan 6, 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois
married to George Albert Smith on Jan 28, 1846 in Nauvoo, Illinois
married to William Pickett in spring 1847 in St. Louis, Missouri
died Dec 26, 1876 in Oakland, California

  • Most of what we know about Agnes Moulton comes from following the life of her first husband, Don Carlos Smith, and from the writings of her daughter, Josephine Donna Smith, or ‘Ina’. Ina went by the pen name Ina Coolbrith and was a famous poet and ‘pioneer librarian’. Ina’s friends included Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain.
  • Agnes was the third of eight children. In 1832 she moved to Boston. While she was living there Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith converted her, and the following year she moved to Kirtland. (pg 146-147)
  • In Kirtland, Agnes met Don Carlos, ‘who was reportedly quite handsome’. In May 1837, they moved to Missouri with several other Smith family and friends.
  • Unfortunately, Mormons often left a deteriorating situation in Kirtland only to find Missouri even more hostile and chaotic. In late summer increasingly militant Mormons skirmished violently with murderous Missourians. In the midst of this turmoil and because of it, Don and his cousin George A. Smith were called on missions out of state to help raise money to help the saints leave Missouri. (pg 149)
  • On October 18th, at 10:30 pm, a mob approached Agnes’s house, turned her out, looted it and then burned it to the ground. She ran three miles in the snow with a two-year old and a six-month old, then she waded through a waist-deep icy river to reach refuge on the other side. (pg 149) Research has shown that however unjustifiable and cowardly the persecutions of the Missouri mobs were, Mormon extremism, authoritarianism and militarist rhetoric help fan the flame. (pg 170)
  • Soon after she received a tender letter from her husband “I want you to be careful of your health…to charge you to be careful of the children is useless knowing you never neglected them” He then ends his letter with a poem expressing his love for her.
  • In February 1839 they left Missouri with other Smith family members. They had to walk five days through continuous rain before they found anyone who would give them shelter. The next day they walked through the mud and rain to the Mississippi river, where they slept on the banks. They awoke to find their bedding frozen. Eventually they were ferried across to Quincy. (pg 150-151)
  • One of the few documents written by her is a letter to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, who were still in jail. She spoke words of comfort, saying she had not forgotten them and she prayed for their deliverance. (pg 151)
  • That summer Agnes and Don Carlos moved to Nauvoo, where Don edited the Times and Seasons. He later was given multiple positions of political and ecclesiastical honor in the city. (pg 152)
  • On Jan 25, 1841, Agnes was probably present at the death of her best friend, Mary Bailey Smith. They had lived together in Boston, joined the LDS faith together and both married Smith brothers. Mary died in childbirth. (pg 152)
  • In 1841 Joseph married Louis Beaman. Don was in Joseph’s inner circle, but according to some sources he adamantly opposed polygamy. One contemporary reported Don Carlos saying “Any man who will teach and practice the doctrine of spiritual wifery will go to hell; I don’t care if it is my brother Joseph.’ He also said that Don Carlos “was one of the most perfect men I ever knew” however, “He was a bitter opposer of the ‘spiritual wife’ doctrine which was being talked quite freely, in private circles, in his lifetime.” (pg 152)
  • According to Ina, because Don opposed Joseph’s polygamy, he planned to leave Illinois in protest. “He quietly made plans to move back to Kirtland, and was only prevented by his death.” Joseph F. Smith, her polygamous cousin, opposed her statements about her own father. (pg 152)
  • According to Lucy Mack Smith, Don Carlos died of consumption on Aug 7, 1841. Consumption was a term for what we now refer to as tuberculosis. According to Ina, on his deathbed Joseph asked his brother if he had any last requests. “Yes, I have, Joseph Smith, I want you for the rest of your life to be an honest man.”. Joseph F. Smith denied this statement as well, calling it ‘contemptible’. (pg 152)
  • Don Carlos died at age 25 leaving Agnes with 3 young daughters, one of them died of scarlet fever a few months later. Agnes married Joseph about six months later  Joseph Smith journal on the date said “Truly this is a day long to be remembered by the saints of the Last Days; a day in which the God of heaven has began to restore the ancient <order> of his Kingdom unto his servants & his people” (pg 153-154)
  • Agnes was sealed to Don Carlos for eternity, with Joseph Smith standing proxy and being sealed to her for time. Little is known about her married life with Joseph, beyond that she did spend time with him and some of his other wives. (pg 154)
  • In March there was a scandal in Relief Society. Emma heard a rumor that Joseph was married to Agnes. It upset her to have anyone besmirching the name of  her husband and a beloved sister-in-law. She commissioned a couple members of the Relief Society (who also happened to be Joseph’s polygamous wives) to investigate. Joseph’s comment on the matter was “Sometimes [your] zeal is not according to [your] knowledge.” 3 days later the accuser signed the following statement “This is to certify that I never have at any time or place, seen or heard any thing inproper or unvirtuous in the conduct or conversation of either President Smith or Mrs. Agnes Smith.” (pg 155)
  • During this time Agnes earned a living as a dressmaker and used her sewing skills to support herself throughout her life.
  • At the time of Joseph’s death, Agnes was living with Lucy Walker, another of Joseph’s wives. Later Agnes wrote about hearing the news of his death “At length we returned to our chamber and on our bended Knees poured out the Anguish of our Souls to that god who holds the destinies of his children in his own hands.” (pg 145) After his death she gathered with his other widows to mourn. (pg 146)
  • After Joseph’s death Agnes became very involved in temple work, performing ordinances and sewing upholstery for the temple.
  • When she married George A. Smith, she became his 8th wife. This was a quasi-Levirate marriage, as she was her husband’s cousin. A month after their marriage the main group of Latter-day Saints, including George Albert (Feb 1846). Agnes stayed in Nauvoo for reasons that are somewhat unclear. According to Ina, “The church left Nauvoo. There was no provision made for her to accompany it. She was left to shift for self and children…George A. did come to see her the day before leaving; his goodbye being, ‘Well Agnes, I suppose if some one comes for you some dark night, you’ll be ready.’ “ Joseph F. claimed Agnes stayed behind because her mother-in-law Lucy Mack Smith and brother-in-law were there. (pg 157)
  • In June Agnes wrote a letter to George A., expressing uncertainty about joining the saints without Don Carlos, Joseph or Hyrum, but she did expect him to come and get her the following spring. Sometime before November she moved to St. Louis and was counseled to stay there. Of her time there she wrote “My health is very poor and has been all sumer I was very sick after my arival at this place….I find it very hard to get along in St. Louis a person has to work almost day and night to get along at all.” (pg 158)
  • In spring 1847 Agnes married a fourth husband, William Pickett, who joined the Mormon faith after the Nauvoo exodus. William was a former lawyer and foreman of a newspaper printing office. In December Agnes gave birth to twin boys, naming them Don Carlos and William.
  • In 1849 the Mormon Battalion found gold in California, and William was hit with ‘gold-fever’. He left for California leaving Agnes in Missouri with the four children. In 1851, he came back to bring her west with him. They moved to Utah for a time, where William practiced law with George A. At this time he threatened a court judge, was found in contempt, fled Utah and left Agnes alone with the children again. (pg 158-159)
  • Agnes and her children (as well as many of the residents) lived in extreme poverty while they were in Utah. Her daughter, Agnes Charlotte, age 14 at the time they lived there said they would not return to Utah “until they had some means of supporting themselves after they got there…they had been there once in a destitute condition and knew how bad it was.” (pg 159)
  • In April 1852, Agnes left for California and somewhere along the way was joined by her husband. Through various struggles they didn’t make it to California until May 1853.
  • In 1855, Orrin Porter Rockwell (former body guard to Joseph Smith) visited Agnes. She was recovering from typhoid fever which had caused her to lose her hair. Rockwell had long hair because Joseph Smith had promised him that if he kept his hair long “his enemies would have no power over him and he would not be overcome by evil”. “When he met Sister Smith he had no gold dust or money to give her, so he had his hair cut to make her a wig.” (pg 161)
  • William became an alcoholic. Agnes who was in poor health sewed to support the family.  Ina, who at age 14 was already publishing poems said of the time “Because my stepfather was a victim of intemperance, I was condemned to abject poverty…compelled when a young girl to take his place in the chief maintenance of the family.” (pg 161-162)
  • Ina corresponded frequently with her cousin Joseph F. Smith. “Mother has very poor health indeed, and is growing old fast. She sends her love to you.” He kept trying to persuade her to move back to Utah. She responded that she would never do so as long as she had “one particle” of common sense left. She also critiqued polygamy. “I think I see myself, vowing to love and honor, some old driveling idiot of 60, to be taken into his harem and enjoy the pleasure of being his favorite Sultana for an hour, and then thrown aside, whil’st my Godly husband is out Sparking another girl, in hopes of getting another victim to his despotic power. Pleasant prospect, I must say…I don’t believe in polygamy and I never will.” It is possible that Ina’s views reflected those of her mother.  Agnes added a brief (and kinder) message to this letter, wishing him well and hoping to have a reunion with all of the Smith widows. (pg 162-163)
  • In another letter to Joseph F. Smith, Agnes said “there are none greater than those that belong to the household of Joseph our Dear Dear Dear departed one Joseph there is none greater there is none better none more honest and upright and tries to do right than those that have been left behind…I could say many things to you Joseph that I know and that has been told me by those that are dead and gone but perhaps you would not believe me no I know that you would not so it is best for me to keep silent.” (pg 166-167)
  • In 1870 William Pickett deserted Agnes Moulton. In 1873, her widowed daughter, Agnes Charlotte died, leaving Agnes Moulton and Ina to care for her two young children. (pg 167-168)
  • In 1876 David and Alexander Smith, sons of Joseph Smith came to visit Agnes. During their visit, their talk turned to polygamy. According to Lucy Walker, who was also visiting, the Smith brothers emphatically denied polygamy. Agnes “told them that what they had seen and heard in Salt Lake was Truth that those women were their fathers Wives, and it was useless to promulgate falsehood to the World and advised them to desist.” David was struck dumb. Alexander said he would not take anybodys word— not even Aunt Agness” (pg 169)
  • If Agnes’s life with William Pickett was difficult, life as a polygamous wife in Utah was difficult, though in entirely different ways. If Pickett deserted her, polygamy was almost an institutionalized form of marital neglect….Despite Agnes’s failed fourth marriage, she raised and spent her later life with Ina Coolbrith, one of the most brilliant and accomplished women in California or Mormon history. In 1907, Ina wrote “I have never ceased for one waking moment to miss my beloved Mother in all the long, long years she has been absent from me.”

Patty Bartlett (Sessions Smith Perry)
born Feb 4, 1795 in Bethel, Maine
married David Sessions on June 28, 1812
married Joseph Smith on March 9, 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois*
married John Perry on Dec 14, 1851 in Salt Lake City, Utah
died Dec 14, 1892 in Bountiful, Utah

  • Patty Bartlett Sessions was awesome, really the stuff that heroines are made of. Her journals recount story after story that showed her kindness, her determination and her strength. She was a famous midwife that delivered almost 4000 babies.
  • Patty was well-documented by her own diaries and by the autobiography and journal of her oldest son, Perrigrine Sessions. (pg 172)
  • Patty was a middle child of nineteen children. Perrigrine wrote “My Grand Father Enoch made no pretentions to religion and never belonged to any sect he was very liberal to the poor and was honest and upright” Of his mother he said “I feel thankful that I had a mother that put me to work when I was young and learned me how.” (pg 172)
  • Patty married David against her parents’ wishes. They moved in with his parents in Ketchem, Maine where she learned  from her mother-in-law to be a midwife. (pg 173)
  • In August 1833 “Hason Aldrig” and “Horace Cowin” taught Mormonism to the Sessions family. Patty was immediately converted, but David wanted time to investigate. Like many new Mormon converts in small towns, she was probably subjected to gossip or ostracism, but “she stood firm stemming all oposition”. (pg 175)
  • On June 5, 1837, the Sessions started a 2000 mile journey. Patty was pregnant with her last child, Amanda. On arriving in Kirtland they contracted the measles and had to stop for several weeks. Once recovered they continued on to Missouri. When they arrived the rains were so bad that many roads and bridges were flooded. (pg 176)
  • In February 1839, the Sessions clan left for Illinois. Perrigrine described this journey: “The wether was cold and we had to tent by the way this tried our Souls when we would pass through towns and Villages they would holler at us and ask us where our Old Jo.Smith was or our Mormon God and whare we were going or going too and threten us with death and some they whiped nearly to death here Women and Children traviled on foot untill they wore their shoes out and went barefoot when you could track them by blood on the praries.” (pg 177)
  • Patty’s journal from their time near the Mississippi river “Still muddy…Trust in God and pray for courage and endurance” (pg 178)
  • Shortly after arriving in Nauvoo in 1840, the Sessions family came down with malaria. A few months later, Amanda Sessions died of croup. (pg 178)
  • In her journal she wrote “I was sealed to Joseph Smith by Willard Richards March 9, 1842 in Newel K Whitneys chamber Nauvoo for time and all eternity…Sylvia my daughter was presant when I was sealed to Joseph Smith.” It is probably that this ceremony was purely religious in nature. Patty was an important part of Smith’s extended family. She educated other prospective wives and acted as a witness at ceremonies. (pg 179)
  • In December 1842, she became sick. “The Prophet came and laid hands on her and she was healed”.
  • Patty was an important presence in early Nauvoo Relief Society meetings. She frequently gave blessings and prophetic interpretations when other women would sing in tongues (pg 179 & 182)
  • On Oct 3, 1845, David Sessions took a second wife, Rosilla Cowins. Over time this proved problematic. Rosilla frequently told lies about Patty and other family members. David would then frequently verbally abuse Patty based on Rosilla’s accusations. Patty would often stay up all night attending births and Rosilla refused to help with any family tasks or even eat with the family. One entry from Patty’s journal at this time reads: “I have never felt so bad as now, but I am not discouraged yet…my health is poor my mind weighed down but my trust is in God” After they headed west, David and Rosilla would leave the rest of the party for days at a time. Rosilla kept trying to persuade David to abandon his family and go back to Nauvoo with her. Patty felt rejected and wrote often of her sorrow and loneliness. David admitted that he and Rosilla had been unfair to and abused Patty. Rosilla eventually left the family without David.  (pg 185-189)
  • In April 1847, much to her joy, her daughter Sylvia came to visit her at Winter Quarters. Sylvia left with a poem that Eliza R. Snow had written for her. (pg 190)
  • In May 1847, two of Joseph Smith’s former wives laid their hands on her head and gave her a prophetic blessing. In June she gave blessings to two of Heber C. Kimball’s wives. (pg 190)
  • Her journal of her journey west is very descriptive. She took note of the groundhogs, buffalo, rattle-snakes and building-like bluffs.  They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in late September 1847. Patty, the New England farm wife, had transformed into a woman of the frontier. (pg 191-192)
  • In November, Heber C. Kimball “the second most authoritative man in the Mormon hierarchy” asked Patty to anoint and bless his wife (pg 192).
  • She was a charter member of the Council of Health when it was founded in 1848. (pg 194)
  • In January 1850, David married the 19 year old Harriet Wixom. He was almost 60. David spent most of his time at a separate residence with Harriet. In her journal Patty wrote “I wish to do right, but I feel I shall fail through sorrow.” (pg 195)
  • At the end of July, David suffered a stroke. He was brought back to Patty’s home where she cared for him until he died 10 days later. (pg 196)
  • The next year Patty married the widower, John Parry, who was known for being the first conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “I feel to thank the Lord that I have someone to cut my wood for me.” (pg 196)
  • Two years later Parry took a second wife and spent most of this time at a separate residence with the new wife. Though technically Mormon polygamists were supposed to have the permission of the previous wives before marrying again, the rule was often ignored. Her husband’s actions hurt Patty.
  • Patty provided for herself through midwiving and gardening as Parry didn’t. Parry also asked her to provide for his second wife. Here we see another characteristic of polygamy: the men often were willing to add plural wives to their families, but after the marriage took place found they were unable to support them. To be fair the men were often pressured to take more wives, regardless many wives left their husbands or were wives in name only. (pg 199)
  • In June 1854 Patty was elected president of the “Indian Relief Society”, designed to clothe needy Indians. This was an important step to restoring the Nauvoo Relief Society. (pg 197)
  • On July 3, 1867, “she received her fullness of priesthood ordinance” and was sealed to Joseph Smith Jr. with Joseph F. Smith standing proxy.  Parry died in 1868. (pg 200)
  • Unlike many of Joseph Smith’s wives, Patty was well-off in her old age. She traveled, built houses, schools, barns and granaries. She provided jobs for her many grandchildren and was known for giving generously to the Relief Society and other charitable causes. (pg 200-203)
  • Her obituary says: “She was ever a true and faithful Latter-day Saint, diligent and persevering, her whole soul and all she possessed being devoted to the Church and the welfare of mankind. She has gone to her grave ripe in years, loved and respected by all who knew her.” (pg 203)

Sylvia Porter Sessions (Lyon Smith Kimball Clark)
born July 31, 1818 in Andover Surplus, Maine
married Windsor P. Lyon Apr 21, 1838 in Far West, Missouri
married Joseph Smith Feb 8, 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois*
married Heber C. Kimball Sep 19, 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois *
married Ezekial Clark Jan 1, 1850 in Council Bluffs, Iowa
died Apr 13, 1882 in Bountiful, Utah

  • Much of what we know of Sylvia’s life comes from the accounts of Patty Sessions, as most of her life was spent near her mother. She joined the LDS Church with her mother and was a part of the journeys from Maine to Missouri and Missouri to Illinois.
  • Joseph Smith performed her marriage ceremony to Windsor Lyon, an “army physician”. (pg 177)
  • Windsor was the first to construct a major building in Nauvoo. It had his mercantile and drug business on one side and his house on the other. (pg 178)
  • Virtually nothing is known about the internal dynamics of her marriage to Joseph Smith other than she claimed he was the father of her daughter Josephine. We don’t know Windsor’s reaction or whether or not he knew of it, although at the time Windsor was a faithful member who accepted Joseph as a prophet. (pg 179)
  • In March 1842, Sylvia’s oldest child Marian Lyon died. His body was brought to Joseph Smith while he was preaching and he changed his remarks to the salvation of children. Technically Marian was now sealed to him, not Windsor, in the eternities. (pg 179)
  • In August 1842 Windsor Lyon was excommunicated. He had some financial difficulties and asked the stake president, William Marks to return the large amount of money that he had loaned him. Marks stalled so, Lyon sued him in a civil court for the money. This went against a church taboo, that Mormon leaders settle disputes among themselves. After the civil court, Windsor was tried in a Church court and lost his membership over the matter. Both trials are well-documented. (pg 180-181) Despite this, Windsor was known as “a true friend of the prophet Joseph Smith”  and often loaned him money. (pg 182)
  • Sylvia’s home was a social hub for Nauvoo women. (pg 182)
  • Smith would often ask his wives to shelter other wives. The Partridge sister came to live with Sylvia and Windsor for months after they were kicked out of the Smith home. (pg 182)
  • One of Smith’s visits to Sylvia is documented by William Clayton. (his secretary) “Joseph and I rode out to borrow money, drank wine at Sister Lyons. P.M. I got $50 of Sister Lyons and paid it to D.D. Yearsley.” (pg 183)
  • Josephine Rosetta Lyon was born on Feb 8, 1844. As an adult she wrote the following affidavit: 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 from me and from all others 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 was out of fellowship with the Church.  However this is interpreted, Sylvia at least believe that Joseph was the father of her child and shows that Smith had sexual relations with his wives, including his polyandrous spouses.(pg 183)
  • The internal dynamics of her polyandrous marriage to Heber are also unknown. She was known to spend time with Heber (pg 184)
  • In 1845, Sylvia helped decorate the interior of the Nauvoo temple. (pg 185)
  • On Christmas Eve, Sylvia received a surprise visit from her non-Mormon cousin, Enoch Tripp. He was afraid to enter the Mormon city for he had heard that Latter-day Saints often murdered non-Mormon visitors. Sylvia “greeted him with a kiss and thanked the Lord that he had preserved her life to behold some of her blood relatives from Maine.” Enoch was soon baptized, at the same time that Windsor was re-baptized. (pg 185)
  • After Windsor’s rebaptism, Sylvia was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity with Heber standing proxy, and sealed to Heber for time. Family traditions says that Windsor gave his consent. Sylvia continued to live with Windsor as husband and wife. Syliva was the focal point of a civil marriage to Windsor (with sexuality and children), a time and eternity marriage to Smith (which included sexuality and children) and a proxy marriage to Smith with Kimball standing proxy and being sealed to her for time. (pg 186)
  • When most of the Saints left Nauvoo, Sylvia and Windsor stayed behind to sell their properties and planned head west the following year, along with Sylvia’s brother David Jr. (pg 187) In 1847, they were living in Iowa City. (pg 192)
  • In January 1848, Windsor died of tuberculosis. In July 1849, Heber received a letter from Sylvia requesting her family to come and get her. In October Perrigrine came to get her. He traveled 1300 miles, 600 miles through the snow to arrive on the day that she married her fourth husband, a non-Mormon, Ezekiel Clark. Perrigrine was upset and returned to Salt Lake with David Jr. (pg 193)
  • In the two years after this wedding, her last two children by Windsor died, meaning she had lost five by this point. She had three children by Clark before leaving him. She “realized that he was very intolerant of her religion and resentful of the fact that she was sealed to the Prophet.” Perregrine came again to take her to rejoin the Sessions clan in Utah. Clark cooperated with her departure. (pg 197) Later Clark traveled to Utah to try to convince her to return with him to the midwest with the children, but she refused.
  • In Utah, Sylvia would go to visit Heber. It is odd to see a wife paying a social call on her husband…but in Mormon polygamy husbands can often seem to be merely friends. (pg 198)
  • Syliva built a large house in central Bountiful that she ran as a hotel. Her mother sold her house in Salt Lake City, and built a house in Bountiful near Sylvia.
  • Sylvia’s funeral was held in the Bountiful tabernacle and attended by 500 people. Joseph Bates Noble and Apostle John Henry Smith spoke. “The deceased was noted for her liberality and integrity to the truth.” (pg 202)

In Sacred Loneliness Part 1

In Sacred Loneliness Part 2


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