Critique of Richard and Pamela Price analysis of Martha Brotherton
A response to Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, vol 2, chapter 1 (pdf (need to find a better link))
Bennett “very attracted” to Brotherton
The Price’s suggest that Bennett was “very attracted” to Martha:
Bennett apparently was very attracted to Martha, for he wrote, “Miss Brotherton is a very good-looking, amiable, and accomplished English lady, of highly respectable parentage, cultivated intellect, and spotless moral character” (Bennett, History of the Saints, 236).
Given Bennett’s rhetorical purpose (to demonstrate Joseph Smith’s illegal relationships and threats of violence), it seems to stretch beyond the data to assume that Bennett was himself attracted to Martha (or that this had anything directly to do with him soliciting her affidavit). The purpose of presenting her in such fashion seems designed to suggest to the reader that Brotherton was moral (i.e., would give an honest report), intelligent (i.e., capable of understanding and properly reporting the events), and attractive/amiable (would be desirable as a polygamous wife for LDS leadership). In other words, whether or not Bennett himself was attracted to Bennett seems beside the point and perhaps only suggested by the Prices in order to throw (additional) suspicion on Bennett or his motives.
Martha a “part of Bennett’s clique”
The Price’s write:
Martha soon became a part of Bennett’s clique, and began spreading rumors in which she accused Joseph of sanctioning a plurality of wives. She also stated that Brigham had tried to persuade her to become his plural wife.
The idea that Martha was part of Bennett’s “clique” is unsubstantiated and appears to be an extrapolation based on the rumors that we can infer were going around based on the denials that Hyrum and Joseph issued in April 1842 General Conference. Besides Bennett’s testimony that he saw Martha being escorted to the room in the red brick store (referenced later), no data exist that directly link Martha with Bennett in Nauvoo, much less to suggest she was part of his “clique”—the “clique” seems to be an unwarranted extrapolation.
“Martha’s Story of Being Imprisoned Is Absurd”
It is important to determine who was telling the truth in the controversy outlined above. Were Bennett and Martha telling the truth when they declared that Joseph was sponsoring polygamy, or were they lying to cover their own sins? Was Joseph teaching polygamy secretly and at the same time denying it openly? If so, he was a false prophet and a “Mormon demigod” as Bennett declared. There are some internal evidences in the above story about Martha Brotherton that help determine who was telling the truth.
The records show that Martha changed her story. As Hyrum reported to the Conference, at first she had told that she was locked in a room for days. But since that was such a ridiculous, unbelievable story, she changed it in her St. Louis affidavit to read that Brigham locked her in Joseph’s office for only “about ten minutes.”
We do not have access to Martha’s original story, we only have access to Hyrum’s report of the rumor. The report, given in April 1842 General Conference, was this:
He [Hyrum Smith] then spoke in contradiction of a report in circulation about Elder Kimball, B. Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alleging that a sister had been shut in a room for several days, and that they had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives …
In her affidavit, Martha states that she was locked into the room, while Brigham was retrieving Joseph, for “ten minutes.”
The discrepancy between “days” and “ten minutes” could originate in one of three ways:
- Martha could have changed her story, originally spreading the “days” rumor and later changing her story.1
- Martha could have accurately conveyed her story to others initially but the rumor was exaggerated as it was passed around the Saints before it was delivered to Hyrum Smith.
- Hyrum Smith may have exaggerated the report.
Without additional data, it is virtually impossible to distinguish the source of the discrepancy, but the two alternatives to Martha being the source of the discrepancy are at least equally compelling. As stories circulate, elements are often exaggerated. Leaders might also have been motivated to exaggerate the negative aspect of one claim (locked in the room for days) in an attempt to distract from the truth of the other claim (“that they [BY and JS] had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives”.
It would have been impossible for Martha to have been imprisoned in any room in the Red Brick Store without it being detected. In fact, she could not have gone up and down the stairs and from room to room without being observed by many. The store was a small, two-story building, and Joseph’s office was only about ten feet square. Since dozens of people came to the store daily, her calls for help would have been heard. Martha had but one witness—John Bennett, who asserted in the Sangamo Journal for July 15, 1842, “She was locked up . . . I saw her taken into the accursed room.”
If Martha’s story had been true, there would have been many witnesses, because Joseph’s store was the hub of activity in Nauvoo. People came to the store to buy everything from food to footwear. The store building also housed the headquarters for the Church and the city. There the people paid their tithing and taxes, and conducted banking and real estate business. The store was alive with people by day and by night, for it was also in constant use as a civic and religious center. A writer for the Wasp described the crowded condition which he always found when he went to Joseph’s store:
Whenever I go into General Smith’s store and find a dozen or more loungers, or loafers, or, to use a more familiar phrase, lazy set of fellowslopping and lolling on the counter; or filling up the entrance into the Recorder’s office . . . (Wasp 1 [June 4, 1842]: 2)
With so many people in the building, it would have been impossible for Martha to have been imprisoned. No wonder John McIlwrick said “the statements which she has reported in different places [such as Nauvoo and Warsaw] are quite contrary to those reported here [in Martha’s affidavit].” Also, Martha’s sister testified in her April 20 letter, “I can prove that my sister has told some of the greatest lies that ever were circulated.”
If Martha’s affidavit is the accurate rendition of events, then she was there for 10 minutes, so virtually all of their arguments are irrelevant to that scenario. In addition, neither the rumor nor the affidavit mentions Martha calling for help (“her calls for help would have been heard”). If she was there for 10 minutes, then it does not make sense that she would have been calling out for help. If she was there for days (which seems unlikely), it is not necessarily the case either that she would have been calling out for help since according to her affidavit she was trying to remove herself from the situation with as little attention as possible.
In addition, Bennett presumably had Martha’s affidavit in hand when he was introducing it for the Sangamo Journal, and so he would have known that she only claimed to have been “locked” in the room for 10 minutes. Hence, appealing to Bennett to substantiate the claim that Martha was locked in the room for days is incoherent.
Reading the Sangamo Journal letter of 15 July 1842 provides more context for Bennett’s emphasis on her being locked in the room. Before introducing Brotherton’s affidavit, Bennett discusses how Joseph Smith locked a door before threatening him:
On the 17th day of May, A. D. 1842, Joe Smith requested to see me alone in the preparation room of the Nauvoo Lodge, U. D., on some important business. We entered, and he locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and drew a pistol on me and said — “The peace of my family requires that you should sign an affidavit, and make a statement before the next City Council, on the 19th, exonerating me from all participation whatever, either directly or indirectly, in word or deed, in the spiritual wife doctrine, or private intercourse with females in general; and if you do not do it with apparent cheerfulness, I will make cat fish bait of you, or deliver you to the Danites for execution to-night — for my dignity and purity must and shall be maintained before the public, even at the expense of life, — will you do it or die?” I replied that he had better procure some other person or persons to do so, as there were a plenty who could do it in truth. “No,” said he, “that will not do — for it is known that you are well acquainted with all my private acts, better than any other man, and it is in your power to save me or damn me; and as you have now withdrawn from the church in an honorable manner, over my own signature, a privilege never granted to any other person, you must and shall place it out of your power to injure me or the church, — do it or the Mississippi is your portion, — will you do it?” I remarked that it was a hard case, and that I would leave peaceably, and without any public exposition, if he would excuse me. He replied “I tell you as I was once told, “your die is cast — your fate is fixed — your doom is sealed,” if you refuse, — will you do it, or die?” I remarked that I would, under the circumstances, but that it was hard to take the advantage of an unarmed man. “lf you tell that publicly,” said he, “death is your portion — remember the Danites!” He then unlocked the door — we went into the room below, and I gave the affidavit as subscribed before Alderman Wells …
The emphasis on locking the door seems to have been to demonstrate primarily that the requests made behind closed and locked door were of a sinister/suspicious nature—requests at odds with the public persona of Joseph Smith and other leaders.
The accuracy of Bennett’s statement about witnessing Brotherton being escorted to the room may be considered independent of Brotherton’s affidavit. Brotherton does not mention seeing Bennett, but Bennett may have seen Brotherton. On the other hand, Bennett is known to have been untrustworthy in many instances, so he may have fabricated the brief story of witnessing Brotherton being escorted to the room simply as a means to bolster readers’ confidence in Brotherton’s account. However, since Brotherton does not mention seeing Bennett, either scenario may be the case, and neither undermines Brotherton’s account directly.
It is fair to say that seeing someone escorted up the stairs (especially for a mere 10 minutes) in a bustling store where visitors are probably frequent would not necessarily arouse any suspicion or recollections. Outside of the immediate participants Brotherton flagged, we simply have no data on whether someone else at the store witnessed Brotherton being escorted up the stairs. and there are reasons why a witness may not have wanted to come forward, so that ultimately is an argument from silence. In addition, an outside observer, if they could see the door at all, would not likely know whether the door was being locked or not during a given visit, and indeed Bennett himself only mentions seeing her “taken into the accursed room.” His verbiage implies that he is leaning on her testimony to know that she was actually locked in the room.
Finally, the busy nature of the store is a good reason why witnesses would not have taken any notice of someone being escorted up the stairs—presumably visitors and such movement was frequent. It is unreasonable that anyone would have been tracking Brotherton’s presence/absence in such conditions.
Ultimately, the Price’s arguments against Brotherton’s account are strawmen primarily mustered against the rumor and not her affidavit. The story as conveyed in her affidavit is quite plausible and resists all the above efforts to undermine it.
The coherence of Martha’s account
After migrating with other Saints from England, Brotherton’s account caused her such distress, and was believable enough to her parents, that she, her parents (, and one brother [need to look up again]??) left the Saints, never to rejoin their ranks. Hence, the account is consistent with her actions.
Historical vindication of primary claim
The historical record demonstrates that those who impugned Martha’s character for sharing her story about a polygamous proposal (e.g., in affidavits or newspaper publications) would indeed be taking plural wives in close temporal proximity to the alleged event. The Prices acknowledge the claims against Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Parley P. Pratt—they only dispute that Joseph was practicing polygamy, also.
- Brigham Young took his first plural wife (Lucy Ann Decker Seeley, June 15, 1842) shortly after the Brotherton event, a mere two months after Joseph and Hyrum would denounce the rumors initiated by the Brotherton event. And, despite accusing Brotherton of lying, Brigham Young would later have Brotherton sealed to himself (by proxy) as a plural wife.
- Heber C. Kimball would also take his first plural wife in 1842, Sarah Peak Noon (also an English immigrant). Since she birthed her first son in December of 1842 or January 1843, then it argues that sexual relations and/or some kind of sealing ceremony was taking place in close temporal proximity to the Brotherton event.2
- Although the Prices argue against Joseph being a polygamist, virtually all
other scholars argue that Joseph Smith was being sealed to multiple women
at that time. Hales provides the following sealing/marriage dates for
Joseph Smith in close temporal proximity to the Brotherton event (and the
time around the Brotherton represents an uptick in polygamous marriage
- 1841-10-27 Zina Diantha Huntington Sealed October 27, 1841
- 1841-12-11 Presendia Lathrop Huntington Sealed December 11, 1841
- 1842-01-06 Agnes Moulton Coolbrith Sealed January 6, 1842
- 1842-02 Mary Elizabeth Rollins Sealed February 1842
- 1842-03-09 Patty Bartlett Sealed March 9, 1842
- 1842-04 Marinda Nancy Johnson Two Sealing Dates: April 1842 and May 1843
Others who maligned the character of Brotherton and countered her claim that LDS leaders were taking plural wives, would eventually take or become plural wives themselves (as a matter of the historical record that transcends debates about Joseph Smith’s polygamy):
- Although he likely was not aware of those practicing polygamy at the time, one of the most vociferous claims that Brotherton was lying was provided by Parley P. Pratt in the August 1842 Millenial Star. However, within 2 years, Parley P. Pratt would take Elizabeth Brotherton—Martha’s sister—as a polygamous wife.
- Elizabeth Brotherton and Mary Brotherton concurred with the testimony of their brother-in-law and husband (respectively) J. McIlwrick that Brotherton was “a wilful inventor of lies” and “has also to my certain knowledge at sundry times, circulated lies of a base kind, concerning those whom she knew to be innocent of what she alleged against them.” Within 2 years and 9 years respectively, the Brotherton sisters would become plural wives of Parley P. Pratt (for Mary, see Meg Stout analysis).
Regardless of their defense of Joseph Smith himself, nearly all other individuals3 whom the Prices used in an effort to argue that Martha was lying would eventually—by their actions—acknowledge that LDS leadership were practicing plural marriage before the death of Joseph Smith.
As explained in Assessing the accuracy of Martha Brotherton’s affidavit, Brotherton’s affidavit coheres with the basic theology of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and significantly deviates from the claims made by Bennett about how Joseph Smith was practicing spiritual wifery. Most significantly:
- Restoration of Old Testament polygamy
- A ceremony was required
- Priesthood authority was required
- Establishes a husband-wife relationship
- An eternal relationship would be formed
None of these were elements of Bennett’s claims about Joseph practicing spiritual wifery. Were Brotherton merely repeating or amplifying claims made by Bennett, then her story would not be expected to cohere so well with Joseph Smith’s polygamy theology but would have been expected to cohere with Bennett’s claims of spiritual wifery.
In addition, her affidavit resonates with several other historical accounts of Joseph Smith’s polygamy (e.g., use of emissaries and invitation into the red brick store for the proposal of Mary Elizabeth Rollins).
After acknowledging that Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball did begin practicing polygamy around that time and so might have been involved in such a proposal event with Martha, they hedge around implicating Joseph:
Even if Brigham and Heber tried to get Martha to become Brigham’s plural wife, it does not prove that Martha was telling the truth about Joseph. Without a doubt Bennett, out of revenge, would have added the part about Joseph, or would have influenced Martha to have done so.
It is difficult to rule this out completely, but this scenario would mean Brotherton was not making up the event whole-cloth: we have to acknowledge that Brotherton’s story coheres well with historical facts that even the Prices acknowledge (i.e., the participating of BY and HCK in polygamy just following that time). And, as discussed above, Brotherton’s account of the proposal does not cohere well with Bennett’s claims about how Joseph was practicing spiritual wifery, so this makes the idea that Bennett influenced Brotherton’s affidavit in other details somewhat less likely.
When examined carefully, the Prices’ attempt to undermine Martha Brotherton’s affidavit falls apart. Most of their claims or insinuations are red-herrings or not supported by the historical record. Virtually all of the witnesses used to undermine Martha’s character and primary claim that the leadership was making polygamous proposals would shortly or eventually participate in the practice of taking plural wives. Finally, Brotherton’s testimony coheres well with the basic theology of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and not with the claims of Bennett, suggesting she did indeed participate in (or at least have access to) an event which informed her of the principles of polygamy as taught by LDS leadership at the time.
Regardless of how the story was spread that she was locked in the room for “days” (as LDS leadership reported of the rumor), Brotherton reported “ten minutes” in her sworn affidavit, and nothing in the changing story would preclude that from being veridical. Martha might have been locked in the room for 10 minutes and exaggerated the story, or others might have exaggerated the story in the retelling. ↩
The Prices directly acknowledge that Heber C. Kimball may have participated in the proposal event: “Perhaps Heber C. Kimball tried to get Martha to marry Brigham as she claimed in her affidavit, for Heber also married a plural wife in 1842—an English immigrant named Sarah Peak Noon who gave birth to his son in December 1842 or January 1843 (Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball—Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer [Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1981], 97, 311).” ↩
The Prices muster the testimony of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Elizabeth and Mary Brotherton, and Parley P. Pratt against Brotherton’s story that the LDS leadership had solicited her to become a polygamous wife. Even outside of the defense of Joseph Smith, the historical record readily demonstrates that all these individuals would either shortly be practicing polygamy (BY and HCK within months and Elizabeth and PPP within 2 years) or would eventually practice polygamy (Mary Brotherton to PPP by 1851). The only claimant they muster who not eventually implicated in polygamy was J. McIlwrick, who apparently became separated from Mary by 1851. ↩