Bennett is a complicated source. On some level, it is clear that he had access to inside information that has been verified by scholars over time (for instance, he was able to indicate by initials many of Joseph’s early polygamous wives). At the same time, he was a serial adulterer, and it is difficult to interpret many of his statements as anything but lies. So, there are very good reasons to consider Bennett a compromised and untrustworthy source, generally.

Martha emigrated from England with her family (arriving in Nauvoo the 25th of November, 1841) to settle in Nauvoo. All modern scholars (including those who deny that Joseph Smith himself was involved) agree that a proposition event took place. This event then triggered Martha to tell her parents, causing them to spread news of the proposition among the Saints and that would convince them to leave Nauvoo even though they would leave two sisters and a brother-in-law behind.

Bennett claims to have met with Brotherton in St. Louis

Bennett recorded his thoughts after visiting Martha in St. Louis and reports them in History of the Saints (pg. 236):

Miss Brotherton is a very good-looking, amiable, and accomplished English lady, of highly respectable parentage, cultivated intellect, and spotless moral character …

Bennett claimed Martha wrote the affidavit herself

[LDS leaders] were foiled in their hopeful scheme [of winning Martha for Brigham], and utterly defeated by the determined resistance of their intended victim, as will be seen by the following graphic letter from her own pen

Female literacy was at about 50% in England1 when Brotherton’s family left, so it is not unreasonable to believe that she was able to read and write.

Martha does not mention the meeting or Bennett’s influence

In her letter to the St. Louis Bulletin, Martha does not refer to a private meeting between her and Bennett, instead conveying that her affidavit was merely in response to Bennett’s newspaper solicitation.

DEAR SIR [to Bennett]: – I left Warsaw a short time since for this city, and having been called upon by you, through the “Sangamo Journal,” to come out and disclose to the world the facts of the case in relation to certain propositions made to me at Nauvoo, by some of the Mormon leaders, I now proceed to respond to the call, and discharge what I consider to be a duty devolving upon me as an innocent, but insulted and abused female.

At least in her letter, Martha gives no indication that Bennett assisted her or influenced her in the preparation of her affidavit.

Affidavit by Martha alone or in some combination with Bennett

Taken together, the circumstantial evidence suggests that either Brotherton alone or Brotherton with some assistance or influence from Bennett were responsible for producing her affidavit. It is difficult to preference one or the other possibility from clues outside the text of the affidavit itself.

The two possibilities listed above are acknowledged by Richard and Pamela Price, RLDS researchers who defended Joseph Smith against charges of polygamy. They write:

At that time Martha (or Martha and Bennett together) produced the … lengthy affidavit

The accuracy of Brotherton’s claims

Brian Hales has compared Joseph Smith’s system of polygamy (i.e., “the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage” (NAECOM) with the system John C. Bennett practiced and accused Smith of practicing: “spiritual wifery” (SW) including three orders of polygamous wives.

The extent of influence of Bennett on Brotherton’s affidavit may be inferred to a degree by examining whether Brotherton’s claims tend towards how Joseph and other polygamy insiders spoke about polygamy or how John C. Bennett practiced spiritual wifery. If Brotherton is relaying an authentic experience with little deviation from actual events, then we expect the details to conform with the features of NAECOM. The more her account conforms with who Bennett imagined Joseph practicing polygamy (i.e., SW) the more likely his influence.

Restoration of Old Testament polygamy?


… brother Joseph has had a revelation from God [not yet written down] that it is lawful and right for a man to have two wives; for as it was in the days of Abraham, so it shall be in these last days

Angel with a sword commanding?

The angel with a drawn sword was only mentioned to some. Nevertheless, an explicit revelation is mentioned [what about with Bennett??]


Joseph has had a revelation from God [not yet written down]

Emily Partridge spoke similarly on this point:

Did Joseph Smith, the Prophet claim to have a revelation on polygamy, or plural marriage?”… It is a positive fact that he did so claim, and teach, and also practice. I am a living witness of the same. With me it is neither guess work on or hearsay. I had it from his own mouth. To us, it was the word of the Lord.

Ceremony required?

and brother Joseph will marry us here to-day

Priesthood authority required?

I have the keys of the kingdom, and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven

Worthiness required?

Not mentioned. Implied by BY’s statement:

“Yes,” said Young, “and you will never have reason to repent it—that is, if I do not turn from righteousness, and that I trust I never shall; for I believe God, who has kept me so long, will continue to keep me faithful. Did you ever see me act in any way wrong in England, Martha?” “No, sir,” said I. “No,” said he; “neither can any one else lay any thing to my charge.”

More remotely implied by other statements attributed to BY in Brotherton’s affidavit:

whoever is the first that is willing to take up the cross will receive the greatest blessings

If you will take my counsel, it will be well with you, for I know it to be right before God,

if she will not fall into temptation [but this is probably in reference to breaking her promise not to reveal what was told to her]

Husband-wife marriage relationship established? - Yes

… brother Joseph has had a revelation from God [not yet written down] that it is lawful and right for a man to have two wives

Eternal Relationship formed? - Yes

if you will have me in this world, I will have you in that which is to come

“No sin where there was no accuser” argument?

Hales may be mistaken because Wilford Woodruff recorded that Joseph Smith taught this principle in 1841.

“…if we did not accuse one another God would not accuse us & if we had no accuser we should enter heaven. He [Joseph] would take us there as his backload. If we would not accuse him [Joseph] he would not accuse us & if we would throw a cloak of charity over his sins he would over ours. For charity coverd a multitude of Sins & what many people called sin was not sin & he did many things to break down superstition & he would break it down. He spoke of the curse of Ham for laughing at Noah while in his wine but doing no harm.” (Source: Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.137, November 7, 1841)

[h/t Johnny Stephenson)

Brotherton does not recount an “accuser” argument being made, but she does record a somewhat similar argument. The concern is similar—whether there was any residual sin (with no accuser there would be no accounting; with BY or Joseph Smith answering for any sin in it, Brotherton need not worry about in sinfulness inherent to the union, if any:

if there is any sin in it, I [BY] will answer for it

and if there is any sin in it, I [JS] will answer for it before God

h/t Johnny Stephenson

Polyandrous sexual relations permitted?

No reference to this one way or another.

Need to keep relationship completely secret?

Was known by Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young, and Joseph Smith, so arguably not a requirement to keep completely secret. Hiding from parents was standard in several of the known proposals by Joseph Smith [reference].

Proposals were asked to be kept secret:

He came into the room where I was one day, when I was in the room alone, and asked me if I could keep a secret. I was about eighteen years of age then I think, — at any rate, I was quite young. He asked me if I could keep a secret, and I told him I thought I could, and then he told me that he would sometime, if he had an opportunity, — he would tell me something that would be for my benefit, if I would not betray him, and I told him I wouldn’t.

Three orders of polygamous wives?

Nothing mentioned in her affidavit would support the idea that there were different orders of polygamous wives.


Other aspects of Brotherton’s recounting are similar to details from other proposals Joseph Smith’s wives would later retell.

Invited into brick store for the proposal

Mary Elizabeth Rollins:

In January [1842] … Brother Joseph and Brother Brigham came to see me and invited me to go the next day to his office in the Brick Store. I was surprised at this. He asked me if I was afraid to go? I replied, “Why should I be afraid of a Prophet of God?” He said Brother Young would come for me.

Use of emissaries

Mary Elizabeth Rollins:

In January [1842] … Brother Joseph and Brother Brigham came to see me and invited me to go the next day to his office in the Brick Store. I was surprised at this. He asked me if I was afraid to go? I replied, “Why should I be afraid of a Prophet of God?” He said Brother Young would come for me.


Kimball and I went to the store together. As we were going along, he said, “Sister Martha, are you willing to do all that the Prophet requires you to do?”

Joseph explained the doctrine to the reluctant participant

brother Joseph wishes to have some talk with you on the subject—he will explain things

Higher Priesthood may assume a wife from one with lesser Priesthood

if he turns you off, I will take you on.

“lawful and right” in Joseph’s talk on polygamy. “lawful” is in D&C 132

According to Brotherton’s account, Brigham Young and Joseph Smith repeatedly use the phrase “lawful and right” in describing the union. The words “lawful” and “righteousness” are both used in D&C 132 in a manner similar to how they are used in Brotherton’s account.

  1. From David Mitch, “Education and Skill of the British Labour Force,” in Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson, eds., The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Vol. 1: Industrialization, 1700–1860, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. p. 344.