So Cheryl Bruno has compiled an anthology on early Mormon polygamy, that Signature Books is publishing sometime next year, and I actually have two chapters in that. And the first one is about the chronology of Joseph Smith’s relations with Fanny Alger, one of Joseph Smith wives. So specifically, I can figure out when Emma discovered the relationship and evicted Fanny from the house.
I like to say that much of history is just getting the events in the right order. Until you have the events in the right order, you don’t really have a story or you certainly don’t have the right story, right. So like, if we were trying to figure if we were scientists trying to figure out the laws of nature, and we didn’t know which order the events went in, you know, did the you know did did it fall before after he let go of it or you know, whatever, like, like, you couldn’t figure out the laws of nature a little knowing. So, like, a lot of people have thought that well, okay. Todd Compton. You’re familiar with him. So one of the people who’s done the most influence on the current views on Joseph Smith and polygamy is Todd Compton. Todd is a Latter-Day Saint. He believes in Joseph Smith, but he does not believe that polygamy was from God. So he wrote a book called In Sacred Loneliness, it’s a biography of Joseph Smith and the women that we can for sure identify as Joseph Smith’s plural wives, something like 34 women and so thank you he did a he did before he published his book. In the 90s. He did an article about Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger and he argued that Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger actually was a marriage.
So this cuts against the grain of most of the more liberal or disaffected folks, right. So Fanny Alger had a cousin who many decades later in 1890-ish writes an account of supposedly how the marriage came about and so he places the marriage in 1833. In his account, he’s writing this over 60 years later claiming that this is what happened and it was before he was born and he says that there was a marriage. He says that his father Fanny’s uncle performed in the marriage Levi Hancock. But he places it very early. He places it back in 1833 when Fanny was 15. So what the dominant narrative has come to be, among sort of the disaffected and so on is that there was no marriage, but it was just an affair, but for whatever reason, they still are using Todd Compton’s date for when it started making her 15, right.
If you reject Mosiah Hancock’s account of the marriage, you’ve got no reason to place it in 1833. But they’re doing that nonetheless. So there’s just a standard story that’s passed around that Joseph Smith had an affair with a 15 year old who was living in a state, which would qualify as one of Joseph Smith youngest wives. And then people have tended to think that the relationship was discovered in 1835. And they’ve connected it to different instances from 1835. So in the first of these two chapters that I’ve got forthcoming, I show first that like I’ve already argued this previously, but with the Mosiah Hancock account, it’s not that it doesn’t have any value, but it’s riddled with holes.
When it comes to the date he mentions, there was no source for that; the only indication is that he is the source, but he’s a very late source. There are plenty of other sources about the relationship in In Sacred Loneliness, and Compton uses some of those but the only source that he has for timing it when he does is from Levi Hancock. So Fanny Alger’s mother is Clarissa Hancock Alger. So Levi Hancock’s sister. So they buy in like the 1870s or 1880, or something, he writes his reminiscence of his life. And he mentioned that, at some point – that he doesn’t give a date for – in Kirtland, Joseph told him to take Fanny Alger and go to Missouri. And so he does mention him. And he’s involved in some events when she’s leaving Kirtland, which was after Emma had discovered the relationship. So he puts this in his memoir/autobiography then something like 16 years later, well after Levi Hancock has died in 1896, his son Messiah Hancock adds an addendum to his father’s autobiography. It’s actually on the same document. He just keeps writing and he adds his own stories. And his stories are much more fantastical.
These are secondhand at best. I think he is remembering in some cases, bits and pieces of different stories that he’s been piecing together in the wrong way. And they’re much more fantastical too, and make their family sound more important. He has his father performing the first plural marriage in this dispensation. He has his father doing this daring rescue where Fanny Alger was trapped in the temple by, like, the center’s and like, she’s up on the second story and he has sort of like climb out a window and spirits are away on a horse. And like, I mean, there may be the tiniest nub of truth behind all that, but it’s very tiny. Like, the height of the windows wouldn’t have allowed it. I actually don’t think the windows could open. Like nothing about it actually makes sense. So here’s the thing. First, if I performed the first plural marriage in this dispensation, I’m putting up my own damn autobiography. I’m not going to need somebody else to put it in for me, when I’m dead, right? So, why didn’t he say it?
And I’ve given critique elsewhere of Mosiah Hancock’s account. I’ve published about it, like, it’s got all kinds of problems. So if we don’t go with that account, then when did the relationship happen, right? So the first thing I was looking for was signs of when the relationship ended between him and Fanny, one of Joseph Smith youngest wives. And it turns out, here, Levi Hancock’s autobiography is amazingly helpful. Because remember, he says, ‘Joseph told me to take Fanny Alger and go to Missouri,’ but he doesn’t give a day. He’s given the date earlier to show this was summer of 1836. And then he gives all the surrounding events, he’s narrating events, not dates. So he says I got a letter from my brother Solomon, who told me he’d gotten remarried and he wanted to go to Missouri. We know the date when Solomon got married. And so we know that in early July 1836, Levi would have learned about his brother’s marriage. Then he says, ‘Joseph told me to take Fanny Alger and go to Missouri,’ but turns out Joseph leaves for the east coast during that time, and by the time he gets back a couple months later, Levi is already gone. So this conversation had to have happened before Joseph left and we know Joseph left on July 24. So there we’ve got a couple of pens. So then I use other things that he said. ‘Well, right about the time that Joseph told me that we got a letter from the seeds in Clay County, Missouri, saying there had been mob action against them.’
By Don Bradley, Source Expert
Don Bradley, an author and historian specializing in the early days of the Latter-day Saint Restoration, holds a Master’s in History from Utah State University. His extensive contributions include serving as the main researcher for Brian C. Hales’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy series and receiving the Mormon History Association Best Article Award in 2021 for his work on the Kinderhook plates.
Fact checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert
Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and YouTube host of the Gospel Learning YouTube Channel. His channel currently has over 41,000 subscribers with over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also developed the Gospel Learning App, a trusted source where truth-seeking individuals can easily find trusted answers to religious questions from the best teachers in the world.
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