Behind the Veil
Nauvoo, Illinois became the home of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in 1839. With hard work and commitment, mosquito infested swamp land was changed into a thriving city. Indeed, Nauvoo had become one of the largest cities in Illinois by 1844 claiming a population of 12,000 residents. However, due to irreconcilable differences with their neighbors, the Mormons left the city in 1846, moving west to establish their own kingdom in the wilderness. Nauvoo slowly declined until it was nearly deserted. Today it has a permanent population of only 1,100 citizens.
Owing to their shared history, Nauvoo has become something like a "Mecca" to the LDS Church. Faithful Mormons have invested millions of dollars to renovate and restore Nauvoo. The historic streets, quaint brick buildings, immaculate grounds and tour guides dressed in 1840s costume draw thousands of visitors to the area each year. In addition, for one week each summer tourists are treated to a lavish outdoor musical pageant purportedly depicting Nauvoo's history.
The show begins with a rousing song and dance, "City of Joseph, City Beautiful! City of Joseph-Nauvoo!" To the pageant-watching tourists, who have just witnessed a beautiful sunset over the Mississippi River, the message is absolutely true! Nauvoo is beautiful.
But this is a recreation of that frontier town. The 1840s Nauvoo scarcely resembled a picture postcard. This was the time and place that Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, chose to begin teaching the practice of 'plural marriage' to his trusted followers. Though denied vehemently in public, the inner circle of the Mormon Church secretly lived this "commandment"-which was required for their salvation-to its fullest extent.
Behind the veil of "faith-promoting" history lies a very different view of historic Nauvoo. Following are just a few examples of characteristics prevalent in this 1840s town of which many tourists remain unaware.
In 1841 Joseph Smith sent Henry B. Jacobs on a
mission. While he was absent, Joseph seduced and married Jacobs' wife, Zina O.
Huntington Jacobs. She became Joseph's 7th wife. One report states that when
Jacobs returned from his mission he found his wife pregnant with Joseph's child.
In 1846, after Joseph's death, Zina left Jacobs to marry Brigham Young,
Mormonism's second Prophet. Brigham reportedly told Jacobs
that since Zina had been Joseph's spiritual wife, and since Brigham was now
Joseph's proxy, Zina and her children belonged to him (Brigham). He consoled
Jacobs by telling him that he (Jacobs) could go and get a different wife for
Of the 49 'wives' of Joseph Smith, 13 of them were married to other men at the time they married Joseph. He also married 5 pairs of sisters and one mother/ daughter set (for a biblical perspective on this, see Leviticus 18:17,18; 20:14). Six of Joseph's wives had at one time been wards in his home and cared for by his legal wife, Emma.2
If one's convictions condone marrying other men's wives, it is a small step to accept the appropriateness of trading wives. Mormon John D. Lee wrote, "Some have mutually agreed to exchange wives and have been sealed to each other as husband and wife by virtue and authority of the holy priesthood. One of Brigham's brothers... made an exchange of wives with Mr. Decker... They both seemed happy in the exchange of wives."3
Sometimes these polygamists thought it was advisable to check compatibility between wives before the actual marriage in order to avoid problems later on. Lucretia Fisher spent two months living in the Hosea Stout home with his legal wife and family before her marriage to Hosea.4 The Prophet's brother, William, had a wife that lived with him one or two weeks before their marriage; she couldn't remember which.5
When the idea of plural marriage was new Joseph chose mainly married women to become his 'brides'. Therefore, if a pregnancy resulted it did not create a problem within the highly moral community; the child was naturally assumed to be that of the woman's legal husband. However, as the practice of polygamy spread to include additional men and unmarried women, there arose a need for the services of John C. Bennett, an abortionist. Dr. Bennett, who had at one time been Joseph's closest confidant, admitted that he had performed abortions in Nauvoo.6
Doubtless, the vast majority of women did not consider abortion to be an option; this left many fatherless children. The public blame for these children was placed on John C. Bennett after he had lost favor with the Prophet. The children themselves were absorbed into trusted Mormon families.7
For women who had legal husbands there was a different complication. Many women reported that they did not know who the fathers of their children were. In the case of Joseph's third wife, Prescinda Huntington Buell, "she did not know whether Mr. Buel (sic) or the Prophet was the father of her son." However, according to a Mormon historian, photographs lend strong support to the latter being responsible.8
One may wonder who took responsibility for the physical needs of these fatherless families. At least in the case of Joseph Smith, "No evidence exists that he assumed the support of his wives in the traditional sense of providing them with food, clothing, and shelter, except for the young women in his house." Some of Joseph's wives lived with their parents, some with other plural wives, and some with other polygamous families.9 The institution of "family" in Nauvoo had become reprehensible.
Some women who were approached with the idea of secretly marrying a man in addition to her legal husband-or a man who already had another wife-did not easily accept the proposal. In many cases persuasion was required. Lucy Walker was told by Joseph Smith that he had been commanded by God to take her as his wife. He indicated that if she truly believed him to be a prophet of God she would consent. When Lucy hesitated Joseph said, "I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you." Lucy described her agony: "I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable... I felt at this moment that I was called to place myself upon the alter a living sacrifice...". On May 1, 1843 Lucy became Joseph's 25th wife. It was one day after her 17th birthday.10
Nancy Rigdon was 19 years old when both John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith vied for her devotion. Having been forewarned by Bennett that Joseph would ask for her hand in plural marriage, she was ready when the invitation came and refused the Prophet in no uncertain terms. However, Joseph would not take 'no' for an answer and, despite Nancy's tears, would not allow her to go home. After she threatened to scream and bring the whole town running Joseph let her go, but he sent her an imploring note the next day in order to convince her that polygamy was sanctioned by God. Nancy showed the letter to her father who immediately confronted the Prophet. Joseph denied everything at first, but when the letter was produced he admitted the truth. However, he excused himself by explaining that he had merely been testing Nancy's virtue.11
Certain women, highly offended at being solicited to practice this form of adultery, exposed the efforts of the men who tried to convince them. One such case involved Martha Brotherton. Brigham Young wanted her for his wife and even enlisted the Prophet's help in his appeal. Martha asked for time to consider; when she arrived home she told her parents and wrote down the whole episode while it was fresh in her mind. The Brothertons soon left Nauvoo, but told Martha's story to as many as would listen. Church leaders publicly claimed that the story was a base falsehood and linked Martha's name with the evil John C. Bennett. Others alleged Martha was a harlot and a liar. One of her accusers was her own sister, who later became a plural wife of Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt.12
One of the foremost characteristics of 1840s
Nauvoo was deceit. Polygamy was kept a secret from all except the 'inner circle'
and was publicly denied. One Sunday morning Joseph preached from the Stand, "What
a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven
wives, when I can only find one." Joseph had not 7, but 48 secret wives when he
preached this sermon; how those poor women must have felt as they listened to
their Prophet husband mock their 'sacred' marriages!13
In addition to the denial of polygamy, wives deceived husbands; husbands deceived wives; children were told lies about their parentage; women deceived their friends, at times being involved in an adulterous relationship with the friend's husband; and the list goes on....
One of the modern-day arguments in favor of polygamy asserts that this practice reduces the incidence of extra-marital affairs. However, Nauvoo history challenges this conclusion. The town had a brothel and presumably enough business to support it. Two thousand people would pass the building on their way to Sunday meetings each week. The city council eventually put the house on rollers and pitched it over the edge of a deep gully!14
Joseph Smith had enemies wherever he went. Illinois was no different from any other place the Church had called home. Non-Mormon neighbors were fearful and troubled by several issues: the power the Mormons held politically; the unusual City Charter Nauvoo had obtained; the dictatorial rule exercised within the city; and the peculiar ways of the Mormons. These fears turned one-time allies into enemies. Mormon John D. Lee disclosed how these enemies were dealt with: "I knew of many men being killed in Nauvoo by the Danites. It was then the rule that all the enemies of Joseph Smith should be killed, and I know of many a man who was quietly put out of the way by the orders of Joseph and his apostles while the Church was there." 15
There were some people of integrity in Nauvoo who could not reconcile the practices of the Church with its ideals. Many believed Joseph was a fallen prophet and yearned to effect a reformation within the Church. Others considered Joseph a base imposter. These people left the Church and mounted a campaign against the Prophet. They began by bringing law suits against Joseph for slander, adultery, polygamy, and false swearing. They obtained a printing press and published a newspaper exposing many of the distinctly unprophet-like dealings in which Joseph was involved. The assault ended a short time later with the death of Joseph Smith.16
And thus began the death of Nauvoo.
"City of Joseph, City Beautiful! City of Joseph-Nauvoo!"
On May 3, 1842 a Presbyterian minister living in Hancock County, where Nauvoo lies, wrote to a fellow pastor, "I presume Nauvoo is as perfect a sink of debauchery and every species of abomination as ever were Sodom or Ninevah."17
Is this a portrait of a community of saints? Does this typify the Mormon Church's 13th Article of Faith, penned by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo in 1842: "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men..."? Apparently this was just another of the Prophet's lies.
Before the veil Nauvoo is disguised as City Beautiful. Behind the veil is the ugly truth.
Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, remains central to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Membership in the Church is not granted to those who do not profess faith in him. In fact, Mormon salvation hinges on this faith. The second Prophet of the Church taught: "no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith... every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are..."; "All those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet... are in possession of the Holy Spirit of God and are entitled to a fullness.'18
How contrary this is to the Bible, God's Holy Word! Jesus Christ said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me." The Apostle Paul taught, "...if Thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.'19
Beware of that which hides behind the veil. Be encouraged to solidly place your trust in the absolute and certain message of John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Information from -
Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center
Nauvoo, Illinois 62354