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119: Brian Hales and Joseph Smith’s Pre-Nauvoo Accusations


We sit down with Brian Hales, LDS author of “Joseph Smith’s Polygamy”  We ask him about the 11 occasions where Joseph was accused of sexual impropriety.  We talk about how the majority of the accusations come very late, even decades after the death of the prophet.  We talk about what the evidence is in each case and why we should in all likelyhood throw each of these out with the exception of Fanny Alger which is a completely different circumstance.  Brian’s multi volume book “Joseph Smith’s Polygamy”

“Joseph Smith’s Polygamy” VOL I

“Joseph Smith’s Polygamy” VOL II

“Joseph Smith’s Polygamy” VOL III

Brian Hales Website

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7 thoughts on “119: Brian Hales and Joseph Smith’s Pre-Nauvoo Accusations”

  1. What is your evidence that Sarah Pratt was involved in a relationship with John C. Bennett other than the affidavit that Sarah claimed were a false accusations? There is ample evidence that Joseph and co. would lie to cover up polygamy (I am accused of having seven wives while I can only find one comment and John Taylors denial of Mormon polygamy while serving mission over seas) and so what other evidence do you have?

    1. I am only aware of Joseph’s testimony and a neighbor’s recounting what was said by Joseph as he stormed away from the Pratt’s home. Outside of that it is conjecture it seems.

    2. Good question. Of course Sarah is going to deny the evidence, but there is much more than the one piece she denied:

      In August of 1842, non-Mormon J. B. Backenstos, signed an affidavit charging, “Doctor John C. Bennett, with having an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt, and some others, when said Bennett replied that she made a first rate go, and from personal observations I should have taken said Doctor Bennett and Mrs. Pratt as man and wife, had I not known to the contrary.”

      Sarah Pratt boarded with Stephen H. Goddard and his wife in 1841. In a letter to Orson Pratt dated July 23, 1842, Stephen claimed: “She could let a certain man smack upon her mouth and face half a dozen times or more in my house without making up the first wry face.”

      Stephen and Zeruiah Goddard signed an affidavit that stated: “from the first night, until the last, with the exception of one night it being nearly a month, the Dr. was there as sure as the night came, and generally two or three times a day–for the first two or three nights he left about 9 o’clock–after that he remained later, sometimes till after midnight; what their conversation was I could not tell, as they sat close together, he leaning on her lap, whispering continually or talking very low–we generally went to bed and had one or two naps before he left. After being at my house nearly a month she was furnished with a house by Dr. Foster, which she lived in until sometime about the first of June, when she was turned out of the house and came to my house again, and the Dr. came as before. One night they took their chairs out of doors and remained there as we supposed until 12 o’clock or after; at another time they went over to the house where you now live and come back after dark, or about that time. We went over several times late in the evening while she lived in the house of Dr. Foster, and were most sure to find Dr. Bennett and your wife together, as it were, man and wife.”

      Ebenezer Robinson reported in 1890: “In the spring of 1841 Dr. Bennett had a small neat house built for Elder Orson Pratt’s family [Sarah and one male child] and commenced boarding with them. Elder Pratt was absent on a mission to England.”

      John D. Lee recalled: “He [John C. Bennett] became intimate with Orson Pratt’s wife, while Pratt was on a mission. That he built her a fine frame house, and lodged with her, and used her as his wife.” Another Nauvooan recalled that Joseph Smith tried to intervene.

      Mary Ettie V. Coray Smith wrote: “Orson Pratt, then, as now [1858], one of the “Twelve,’ was sent by Joseph Smith on a mission to England. During his absence, his first (i.e. his lawful) wife, Sarah, occupied a house owned by John C. Bennett, a man of some note, and at that time, quartermaster-general of the Nauvoo Legion. Sarah was an educated woman, of fine accomplishments, and attracted the attention of the Prophet Joseph, who called upon her one day, and alleged he found John C. Bennett in bed with her. As we lived but across the street from her house we heard the whole uproar. Sarah ordered the Prophet out of the house, and the Prophet used obscene language to her.”

      Sometime later on July 14, 1842, visitors reportedly heard Joseph Smith refer to Sarah Pratt as a “[Whore] from her mother’s breast.”

  2. BH or BR,
    Thanks for pulling together this podcast. A lot of information you both have studied to sort through to try to get to the bottom of it all…

    I thought I heard BH say (or maybe I read it on his site) that JS was commanded by an angel to start polygamy before the Fanny episode. Isn’t the only documentation we have on that comes from the early 1900’s – almost 70 years later? And isn’t that a second hand account? Does this one just come down to giving JS the benefit of the doubt especially since his closest confidants at that time appear to have been Emma and OC?
    Thanks again for all the work.

    1. Hi Jay,

      You are correct. The dating of the angel’s first visit comes from Mary Elizabeth Rollins. She stated: “In 1834 he [Joseph Smith] was commanded to take me for a wife… The angel came to him three times.” (Mary Elizabeth Rollins, February 8, 1902 statement, HBLL MS 1132.) She also quoted the Prophet: “The angel came to me three times between the years of 1834 and 1842 and said I was to obey that principle or he would slay me.”(Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, “Remarks” at Brigham Young University, April 14. 1905, vault MSS 363, fd 6, Harold B. Lee Library, Special Collections.)

      We must be careful, however, when dealing with Fanny Alger. Of the twenty documents mentioning her relationship with Joseph Smith, the earliest is 1838. That means nothing was written contemporaneously. Also, sixteen are dated after 1872. (See .

      Consequently, anyone who demands contemporaneous accounts to judge Fanny Alger will be left without any historical documents at all.

      If we look at the twenty documents, eight of the accounts give a date. Four list 1832-1833 and four list 1834-1835. Who can judge?
      I might also add that the timing is of little importance to my way of thinking. The important question is whether a marriage ceremony was performed. We have several evidences supporting that it was a plural marriage including an account from Mosiah Hancock describing how his father performed the ceremony and an attestation from Eliza R. Snow. The behavior of the Webb family, the Alger family, and others like Benjamin F. Johnson support it was a marriage not a sexual liaison.


      Brian Hales

  3. Brian, thanks for your great research and insight on a difficult topic. And thank-you for making your research and documentation available to the public.

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