Timeline of Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger
Joseph receives a visit from an angel commanding him to take plural wives, according to a late recollection.
The sealing keys are restored to Joseph in the Kirtland temple.
The Alger family leaves Kirtland for Missouri.
July 12, 1843
The revelation on plural marriage is recorded.
39 years pass.
April 4, 1899
Fanny Alger is posthumously sealed to Joseph Smith in the Salt Lake Temple.
Who was Fanny Alger?
Fanny Alger[BIO] was most likely the first plural wife of Joseph Smith. She was born to Samuel Alger[BIO] and Clarissa Hancock[BIO] (the sister of Levi Hancock[BIO]). Her father joined the Church in 1830 while they were living in Ohio. Fanny ended up living with the Smith family as hired help.
Was Joseph and Fanny's relationship just an affair?
No, probably not. Although there is no official record or date, there are numerous second and thirdhand accounts that refer to their relationship as a marriage and/or sealing. The marriage likely took place in 1835, but there are conflicting accounts.
Wasn’t this marriage before the written revelation on eternal marriage and polygamy?
However, there are accounts that claim Joseph Smith taught plural marriage as early as 1831.
But wasn't it also before the sealing keys were restored?
So if the marriage of Fanny and Joseph was before the keys were restored, how could their marriage have been legitimate?
The Church in 1835 believed that regular marriages could "be solemnized . . . by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, elder, or priest," though the concept of eternal marriage/sealing hadn't been introduced yet. Joseph himself performed a marriage that same year.
How old was Fanny when she married Joseph Smith?
Joseph was 29 years old in 1835.
Isn't it creepy to have a 29-year-old marry an 18-year-old?
One study of marriages in 1880 indicated that husbands aged 34–38 in the U.S. had an average age gap of approximately 10 years. The 1850 US Census indicated that about 25% of women married in the West-South Central region were 15–19 years old.
Since Joseph was Fanny's religious leader and employer, was the relationship kind of problematic?
Maybe. It's unclear how Fanny personally felt about it. There's no evidence that she was coerced, and available historical records indicate that she agreed to the arrangement, as did her family. Contemporaries seemed principally concerned with Fanny being Joseph's second marriage, not the context or dynamics of that relationship.
How long did Joseph's relationship with Fanny last?
It's unclear. Possibly less than a year, or maybe even a little over two years. She reportedly lived with the Smiths for "several years" before she left for Missouri with her family in 1836. Later that year, she married a non-Latter-day Saint named Solomon Custer[BIO] in Indiana.
Was their relationship sexual?
Possibly. Although neither Joseph nor Fanny left any record of the relationship, there were rumors and gossip about a sexual relationship. In a letter to his brother, Oliver Cowdery[BIO] referred to their relationship as a “dirty, nasty, filthy scrape” (the word scrape was later edited by Oliver's nephew to say affair).
Were Joseph and Fanny caught having sex in a barn?
Probably not. The only historical record with that detail comes from an 1872 account from William McLellin,[BIO] who claimed Joseph and Fanny were "caught in the act" of being "sealed" in a barn by Emma Smith.[BIO] In addition to the account being thirdhand and a recollection from many decades later, McLellin had been excommunicated for apostasy, had a personal vendetta against Joseph, and was an active participant in the Missouri mobs.
Did Fanny have children with Joseph Smith?
No, probably not. DNA tests have shown that several candidates for Joseph's offspring via polygamy (including through Fanny) are most likely not his direct offspring.
Was Fanny Alger pregnant? Did she have a miscarriage?
Possibly, though pregnancy is only mentioned in one very late account, attributed to Chauncey Griswold Webb[BIO] and recorded in an anti-Mormon book. Miscarriage is not mentioned in any historical record.
But didn't Emma push Fanny down the stairs and cause her to miscarry?
What did Oliver Cowdery mean when he called Fanny and Joseph’s relationship an "affair/scrape"?
He probably meant a sexual affair. An account of the 1838 high council meeting on the subject of Oliver Cowdery’s knowledge of the relationship refers to it as an “adultery scrape.”
Cowdery could have also been using a more general term. A contemporary dictionary defined the word "affair" as "business of any kind," "transactions in general," the "condition of business or concern," or "a private dispute." The same dictionary defined "scrape" as "Difficulty; perplexity; distress; that which harasses."
What was the conclusion of the 1838 high council meeting?
Oliver was found guilty of "seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith jr, by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery" and was excommunicated. The council also determined that Joseph had not committed adultery nor confessed such to Oliver. Oliver was rebaptized into the Church in November 1848.
Was Emma okay with the marriage?
No, probably not. Although there are no firsthand records of how Emma felt, many decades later it was reported that she was upset when she learned of the marriage.
Why was the marriage done in secret?
It's unclear. Several late accounts indicate that Joseph was reluctant to practice plural marriage. One account recalled Joseph's own "repugnance," "prejudices and prepossessions" toward plural marriage along with "those of the whole Christian world." But he may have especially worried about Emma's reaction.
Did Fanny ever say anything about her relationship with Joseph Smith?
Possibly. A single, very late source reported her saying this about her relationship with Joseph Smith: “That is all a matter of my own, and I have nothing to communicate.”
Did Fanny stay committed to the Church after she left Kirtland?
No, probably not. The last time she appeared in Church records was in 1840. Fanny's obituaries noted that she joined the Universalist Church and became involved in the practice of spiritualism, but they don't mention Joseph Smith or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of her family remained with the Church.
- Karen B.
“I appreciate the even handed approach to a difficult subject…difficult because the main characters in the action are silent leaving us open to conjecture and drawing inaccurate conclusions. Good job.”
- William H.
“After considerable research about the subject, I consider this account to be in context and to be fair. In our modern world, the subject seems very foreign. In a historically religious sense, it is part of the Church history.”
- Sydney S
“Joseph and Emma were very much in love. I would imagine the relationship was very hard on them both.”
“The rumors I had heard was that Fanny was 14. That extra 4 years does make a difference even to our modern sensibilities about age gaps. Interesting how information is corrupted when someone has an agenda, even when they are genuinely well-meaning. Thanks for doing this research”
“It is difficult to understand how anyone can look at the information provided and conclude that Joseph had any relationship, marriage or affair, with Fanny. All you have is rumor and heresay from disgruntled member and an enemy of the church.”