This episode has a patreon only segment for the last 20 mins ~1:38-1:56. No need to edit after the listener mail and signoff are recorded.
Ep 115 – Bennett, Jo’s Kindred Scoundrel
On this episode, we begin with discussing the rumor mill that was Nauvoo. The Relief Society, with Emma as head, was tasked with tracking down the source of salacious rumors concerning adultery within the Mormon elite and squashing said rumors. John C. Wreck-it Bennett becomes too brazen with his propositions of polygamous relationships and must be excised from Church leadership. We begin to see the fracturing of the relationship between Jo and Bennett unfold.
Mormon Enigma by Newell and Avery
Bennett’s brothel in Nauvoo
Bennett, the ‘Lucifer’ of early Mormonism
JosephSmithsPolygamy on Bennett
Rise and Fall of Bennett
John Bennett and Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Addressing the Question of
Bennett, Saintly Scoundrel
Witch ointments and aphrodisiacs by J. Muller
Bennett’s alleged abortions in Nauvoo
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Add this in somewhere. Talk about Sam Young and best tool we have is to use the chat window.
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Hello, I just have a few questions about common practices within the Church.
Now chatting with: Erina and Kelly
Hi Bryce! This is Erina and Kelly from mormon.org.
What is your question? :)
Nice to meet you! What are worthiness interviews? I see videos on facebook of a hunger strike and was hoping to get more information.
Oh cool :) Is that Mormon movie??
I don't think so. This guy Sam Young is holding a hunger strike near temple square. The movement is called Protect LDS Children. Protect the children from what? What is going on with the worthiness interviews that children would need protection from?
Now chatting with: Anggely and Hyun
We are not sure about these news. We are full-time missionaries for the church so we do not watch any news or tv during this time
But we do have access to church newsroom that has a clear statement from the church about youth interviews
I'm aware of the press release, but I also understand that one-on-one Bishop's interviews still happen behind closed doors. Is that true?
We are not sure. Like I said we are full-time missionaries for the church. :) But the link we have provided should give you clear statements from church headquarters
Also the church has released the following:
Were you interviewed one-on-one behind closed doors with a bishop before your mission?
So from the article we sent you, it says
"If a youth desires, he or she may invite a parent or another adult to be present when meeting with the bishop or one of his counselors."
To go on a mission you have to be 18 or older. I was 21 so we meet with our leaders to prepare for our missions
So you, as a 21-year-old woman, met with a bishop alone, behind closed doors?
Who is a bishop to you?
I don't have a bishop because I don't go to Church, I just find the practice to be appalling given the possibility for something bad to happen and the liability if it does. Did you meet with a bishop one-on-one before you left for your mission?
Are you a member of the church? In this church, all of members, each individuals, have the opportunities to sustain leaders and we support them and they also have sacred responsibility to care for all the members.
I have been in many different wards and I have really grown to love and care for all my bishops and leaders of the church.
That's great to hear, I'm glad you find joy in the Gospel. But did you go through a worthiness interview before you could go on your mission?
Our bishops help us prepare for our mission. Sorry, can we ask what is your purpose for coming on this chat?
Only to ask about worthiness interviews. Frankly, if one-one-one closed-door interviews happen in the church, I'd be terrified bringing my kids to the Mormon church.
We are really sorry that you feel that way. We don't want anyone to feel that way either. It is odd to me personally that this is such an issue because many children/ young adults meet with other adults privately in other settings such as school, counselors, sports and parents trust them as well.
We encourage you to attend one of our church meetings and meet a bishop in person :) I think your perception will change
I don't really see how that's the same as a middle-aged man meeting with teenage girls and asking them about sex behind closed doors. Would you agree that's not the same things as adults meeting one-on-one?
Huh? That is not at all what interviews are about.
Does a bishop ask about "chastity"? one-on-one behind closed doors with teenagers?
This is exactly copied from the first presidency statement regarding the
youth interviews. "Bishops have a sacred responsibility to lead, teach,
and inspire youth. Effective personal
interviews are one important way they do this. These interviews provide opportunities to help
youth become disciples of the Savior, repent of transgressions, and live the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Is "the law of chastity" asked about in these interviews?
this is the reference. https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/multimedia/file/guidelines-interviewing-youth-2018.pdf
From heading "Matters for Discussion"
"When discussing obedience to the commandments, the bishop and his counselors make appropriate used of the limited-use temple recommend interview questions and the standards and explanations if 'For Strength of Youth'.
What kind of questions are asked concerning the 'Sexual Purity' section in 'For Strength of Youth'?
The exact questions asked in the interview are listed in the article we sent :)
"key matters for discussion include the growth of the young person’s testimony of Heavenly Father, the mission and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the restored gospel. The bishop and his counselors emphasize the importance of keeping baptismal covenants. They teach youth to prepare to make and keep temple covenants through daily righteous living."
We have to get going now Bryce because our shift is over. But we encourage you to meet the local bishop in your area. They are not randomly selected but I know that they have been carefully selected as representatives of Jesus Christ :)
I'm curious, what questions do Bishops ask when they use the Sexual Purity section of 'For The strength of Youth' pamphlet to make their questions?
The chat session has ended.
Today we’ll be discussing an aspect of Mormon history which will overwhelm our narrative for the rest of 1842. Once a close friend and confidant of the Prophet, now his greatest nemesis, an arch-rival of the prophet if you will. After the historical timeline segment, we’ll wrap up today’s show with a bit of a highlight reel of Sunstone and the live show and get into a little listener feedback as well, so stay tuned for the C segment.
When it comes to Mormon polygamy during the pre-Utah era, a lot has been written about it. Historians have been working for a century and a half to either prove or disprove that Joseph Smith and select Mormon elite were practicing polygamy to some extent and we’re going to take on the subject as our focus for today as the story has developed significantly in spring of 1842.
To preface the essay for today, we have a certain advantage when it comes to examining Nauvoo polygamy that many historians don’t have. What I mean by that is most historians who’ve covered Nauvoo polygamy have done so with an agenda to prove that what Joseph Smith was doing was sanctioned of God, or that he wasn’t practicing it in general if the historian comes from the RLDS tradition. We have the advantage of taking our examination where the evidence leads us without the divinely ordained part of the equation mucking up our analysis.
Nauvoo wasn’t the perfect little heaven on earth as it was frequently claimed to be by missionaries and propaganda pieces in the Wasp and Times and Seasons. A darker underbelly lurked behind those closed doors. A brothel, run by the mayor, stood in the center of town within eyeshot of Talos’ temple crown on the top of the hill, bearing a sign designating the purpose of the house of ill-repute. Publicly, alcohol sales were prohibited by statutes passed in early 1841, but grogshops and grocery stores dotted the landscape just outside the boundaries of Nauvoo city limits where a person seeking to satisfy their thirst were half a day’s journey from all the local brew they could stomach. Or, if you couldn’t make the journey out of town yourself, pop into the tavern and inevitably a Pistol packin’ Porter Rockwell or some of his ilk would be there with their private stores available at a premium for going to the trouble of transporting the wares into town.
Debt and lack of steady work drove a lot of people to the bottle. Idle hands are the devils workshop and too many Mormons were idle with only fraternizing with their fellow Saints to pass the time. Thus, Nauvoo became a rumor mill. Newspapers outside of Nauvoo picked up on rumors and quickly turned them into fact.
This world of hushed whispers and fluctuating fealty to the prophet and his cause sets our scene. If you read the minute books of the earliest meetings of the Relief Society, you can easily come away with the incorrect impression that it was formed for the sole purpose slowing the rumor mill that was Nauvoo and keep the practice of polygamy under wraps. Regardless of how many efforts were made to curtail the propagation of murmuring, facts are stubborn things. By spring of 1842, the prophet had taken about a dozen wives in secret, almost all of them were members of the Relief Society. He wasn’t the only one. A few of the Mormon elites and their wives were privy to the new and everlasting covenant, thus adding credibility to the whispers.
Soon, Emma Smith took control of putting out the rumor-fires cropping up all over town. Whether she wanted to or not didn’t seem to matter, the rumors were about her husband, the pious prophet of the lord, and his conduct directly affected nearly every aspect of her life, public and private.
Mormon Enigma p. 108
“Emma called the second meeting of the Relief Society to order in the lodge room and offered the invocation… Emma addressed the women: “Measures to promote union in the Society must be carefully attended to. Every member should be held in full fellowship… divest themselves of every jealousy and ill feeling toward each other… We will bring our conduct into respectability here and everywhere else. I rejoice in the prospects before me.”
When Vilate Kimball asked for a restatement of the purposes of the institution, Emma said, “No one need feel delicate in reference to inquires about this society. There is nothing private. Its objects are purely benevolent.”…
Emma reported that a young woman, Clarissa Marvel, “Was accused of [telling] scandalous falsehoods on the character of Prest. Joseph Smith without the least provocation,” and asked that “they would in wisdom, adopt some plan to bring her to repentance.” She continued, “I presume that most of [you] know more about Clarissa Marvel than I.”
There must have been silent consternation among a few in the group who were privy to the teaching of celestial marriage. Joseph’s plural wife Louisa Beaman sat in the meeting as did Sarah Peake Noon and Vilate Kimball. Did Emma know that her husband had approached some women and asked them to become his plural wives?
Agnes Coolbrith Smith, Don Carlos’s widow, came to the accused girl’s defense, apparently unaware that gossip linked her own name to Joseph’s “Clarissa Marvel lived with me nearly a year and I saw nothing amiss of her,” she reported.
The women discussed the issue and agreed that someone should talk with Clarissa Marvel, but nobody wanted to do it. One Hannah Markham was given the task but she “objected on the grounds that she was unacquainted with the circumstances.”
Emma acknowledged that the girl had no parents and needed friends, but “we intend to look into the morals of each other, and watch over each other. … All proceedings that regard difficulties should be kept among the members… None can object to telling the good, but withhold the evil.”
Springtime 1842 brought with it continually increasing rumors. There’s no evidence that Clarissa Marvel ever was sealed to Joseph Smith, the only evidence of their relationship lies within the rumors dealt with by the Relief Society. But consider her place in society, a young woman, possibly in her late teens or early twenties, orphaned with no friends, she was a perfect mark for a predator like Joseph Smith. However, her story has been lost to the annals of history and we only really have these entries from the Relief Society minutes to even know that she was a woman living in Nauvoo in the early 1840s.
We can’t know the result of any of the women meeting with her, history doesn’t care what we want, it just exists. However, if the next meeting of the Relief Society is any indication of what had transpired, we may be able to draw some tentative conclusions from it.
“Undoubtedly word spread that the society was investigating Clarissa Marvel. The third meeting opened with “The house full to overflowing.” Joseph was in front with Emma and rose to speak. He talked briefly about the society’s organization and observed that “none should be received into the society but those who were worthy.” He advised, “The society should grow by degrees, [it] should commence with a few individuals—thus have a select Society of the virtuous and those who will walk circumspectly … The society should move according to the ancient Priesthood … [I will] make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day.”
Joseph also commented on the women’s zeal to “purge out iniquity,” but added that “sometimes [your] zeal is not according to knowledge.”
After that, Jo left the meeting to the direction of its president, Emma. Clarissa’s case was still up in the air, the rumors had only gained strength since the last meeting of the Relief Society. Jo’s language conveyed a simple message at face value, but the way it was delivered and his body language must have told a deeper story.
“Emma proceeded with business… As previous interviews with [Clarissa Marvel] seemed to prove her innocent, Sarah Cleveland moved that Elizabeth Durfee and Elizabeth Allred should investigate whoever had reported her. Unknown to Emma, Joseph had already taught these older women the principles of plural marriage. Sometimes referred to as “Mothers in Israel,” they assisted Joseph by contacting women, explaining the new order of marriage to them, and occasionally delivering marriage proposals. Thus Mrs. Durfee was uncomfortably caught between her role as Joseph’s emissary and her assignment to investigate Clarissa Marvel. She objected. Emma encouraged, “We are going to learn new things, our way is straight, we want none in this society but those who could and would walk straight.” Within three days Clarissa Marvel marked an X next to her name on the following statement: “This is to certify that I never have at any time or place, seen or heard any thing improper or unvirtuous in the conduct or conversation of either President Smith or Mrs. Agnes Smith. I also certify that I never have reported any thing derogatory to the characters of either of them.” Apparently Emma took responsibility for closing the issue, for she told the women that the “disagreeable business of searching out those who were iniquitous seemed to fall on her.” Emma obviously did not know that her widowed sister-in-law, Agnes Coolbrith Smith, had become a plural wife of Joseph.”
These passages read as if Emma was able to keep things under control, that would be a massive error in judgement as the rumors were only abated for a very short time before the powder keg caught fire. The statement signed by Clarissa Marvel doesn’t read as if she penned it, that was crafted simply to have a legalistic signed statement to point to when rumors of Jo and Clarissa became too prevalent to be waved away. The selection of women to talk to Clarissa and deal with the rumors is curious to say the least. Why did Emma task Elizabeth Durfee, Sarah Cleveland, and Elizabeth Allred with putting down these salacious rumors. They were all already Jo’s wives. Did she know they were her sister-wives and knew they were good masons who could keep a secret, or was she unaware and simply picked them as her trusted friends who she knew she could rely on? That single detail in Emma’s decision-making process is a question historians will never be able to answer but has serious ramifications that hinge on Emma’s knowledge and involvement in 1842 polygamy.
The next Relief Society meeting is incredibly weird read out of context. But, when we know another detail of 1842 history, it suddenly shifts into focus. So, let’s discuss that before we read the next set of meeting minutes.
Jo and John C. Wreck-it Bennett had a parting of ways in May of 1842, where our historical timeline currently resides. It can be argued that the entirety of their disagreements devolved to the practice of polygamy alone. In fact, in June of 1842, an excommunicated member of the church named Oliver Olney said “If Bennett had not moved quite so fast, all would have been well.” The breakup between Jo and Bennett was ugly. Bennett was practicing spiritual wifery, while Jo was practicing the divinely sanctioned version of polygamy, the new and everlasting covenant of celestial marriage. These were semantic labels used to cast aspersions at Wreck-it Bennett and his overly aggressive practice of polygamy, while Jo, Bloody Brigham Young, and Heber the Creeper Kimball were much more calculated and secretive about it.
Let’s discuss John C. Bennett in a bit further detail. Once he broke away from the Church, Jo collected a bunch of affidavits from which we can gain a bit of a window into what Bennett was doing. His background was as a physician specializing in obstetrics. He was likely familiar with Thomsonian medicine, or practiced some form of herbal and vegetable medicine, which held all sorts of wonderful cures for all sorts of ailments associated with people fornicating. Thomsonian medicine included “Bachelor’s Delight” as it was called, which was a tincture of lobelia and some pain relieving herbs injected in the penis or vagina to relieve symptoms from STIs. It also included a forerunner of what became twilight sleep in the mid-20th century, administered during labor which essentially knocked women out in between contractions and often made them completely forget the pains of labor as they were only semi-conscious during the process. And, of course, an obstetrician who knew their way around roots and herbs knew exactly what could be employed should a pregnancy become undesired for any reason.
The affidavit collected from Hyrum Smith about Wreck-it Bennett provides the explicit reference to his method of acquiring women into his personal practice of polygamy. Let me quickly preface this affidavit before reading it. The way it’s worded, referring to Bennett’s methods, clearly reveals that he was a Nauvoo elite who was privy to the revelation on polygamy, even though modern D&C 132 had yet to be penned. This affidavit is mixed with language casting aspersions at Bennett for what he did, but shows he was using words that Jo and the other polygamous elite were using in propositioning women to become their wives. Bennett was an insider and one of Jo’s few trusted Mormon elite, until he wasn’t anymore and was used as a scapegoat for all the rumors of adultery infecting Nauvoo.
HoC Vogel 5:70-71
“…testimony … by several females who testified that John C. Bennett endeavored to seduce them, and accomplished his designs by saying it was right; that it was one of the mysteries of God, which was to be revealed when the people was strong enough in faith to bear such mysteries—that it was perfectly right to have illicit intercourse with females, providing no one knew it but themselves, vehemently trying them from day to day, to yield to his passions, bringing witnesses of his own clan to testify that there were such revelations and such commandments, and that they were of God; also stating that he would be responsible for their sins, if there were any, (That reads exactly like a number of Jo’s propositions, here’s the kicker) and that he would give them medicine to produce abortions, provided they should become pregnant.”
If you’ve ever questioned why Joseph Smith has almost no descendants, even though he was married to well over 30 women, that question should no longer remain. When we consider Bennett’s likely familiarity with plants and herbs, the rest of the affidavit takes on a much darker tone.
“One of these witnesses, a married woman that he attended upon in his professional capacity whilst she was sick, stated that he made proposals to her of a similar nature; he told her that he wished her husband was dead, and that if he was dead, he would marry her and clear out with her; he also begged her permission to give him medicine to that effect; he did try to give him medicine, but he would not take it. On interrogating her what she thought of such teaching, she replied she was sick at the time, and had to be lifted in and out of her bed like a child.”
The rest of the affidavit reveals how much Bennett was becoming the sacrificial lamb for Nauvoo polygamy by July of 1842 when it was created. Let’s put a pin in Bennett and the public backlash from his departure for a minute, we’ll get back to it very soon. I want to add another piece to the root and herb puzzle here for which no explicit evidence exists when it comes to Bennett, but constitutes a bit of contextual speculation.
Datura and Belladonna were common medicines used in herbal remedies in the 19th century, as well as long before that. One of the active chemicals in these plants is scopolamine, which can be extracted as a fine, white powder with a complicated bit of chemistry. At low dosages, scopolamine acts as an anesthesia, treats muscle spasms for those with Parkinson’s disease, and suppresses nausea and vomiting. It’s even in seasickness patches you can buy over the counter as a transdermal patch. However, in high doses Scopolamine is a hell of a nasty drug. There was a VICE documentary done back in the late 00s where the reporters went to Columbia and tracked down scopolamine and talked to people who’d been affected by it. While it was VICE, so take that with a grain of salt, the people they interviewed claimed that once surreptitiously dosed with a tiny hit of scopolamine, as little as could be passed on the edge of a business card, the victim would basically become a mindless zombie. With a tiny bit of persuasion, the victim would lead the person who dosed them to their own home, help them load up their own furniture and belongings in the perpetrator’s vehicle, thus robbing the victim blind with the victim’s help, then the person would pass out and wake up to an empty home the next day and have no memory of anything that had transpired the night before.
Let’s not view Nauvoo Mormonism through a presentist lens, allow me to caveat a bit. Scopolamine is a highly refined white powder in pure form and is legal in FDA approved forms for the uses I listed earlier. The DEA hasn’t classified it as an illegal drug, but it has many illegal uses. If you want to learn one aspect of how dark the world can be, google scopolamine mind control, and read away. If you want a scholarly take on it, you’ll find a link in the show notes to an article published by the national institute of health in 1998 by J. Muller titled “Witch ointments and aphrodisiacs”. Here’s the abstract:
The nightshades (solanaceae) were used as intoxicants since the ancient civilisations and are still in use today. Their alkaloids, atropine and scopolamine, were the major active substances of the ointments of witches, of medieval "anaesthetics", and of modern poisons for murder. In a medium dose-range the predominant symptoms are hallucinations and illusions. This explains the use of nightshades in fortune-telling and religious rituals. In higher doses the alkaloids produce coma and apnea. Scopolamine enjoyed a particular popularity as a poison for murder. In the 19th century the nightshade alkaloids were also in clinical use. This article focusses on the medical history of the psychosis due to intoxication with Solanaceae.
With that in mind, for an obstetrician with a notorious sex-drive, like Bennett was rumored to have, who knew his way around plant medicines, you can see how useful a psychoactive like scopolamine might have been for some of his more obstinate prospective spiritual wives. Any further information you can infer for yourself.
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Pulling the pin back out of Bennett, as far as aborting pregnancies specifically are concerned, a few other affidavits collected in 1842 reveal his other methods of causing abortions for the express purpose of concealing polygamous relationships from the public.
From Mormonpolygamydocuments.org, Brian C. Hales brain dump website:
“Also, Mrs. Zeruiah Goddard affirmed on August 28, 1842: “Mrs. Pratt stated to me that Dr. Bennett told her, that he could cause abortion with perfect safety to the mother, at any stage of pregnancy, and that he had frequently destroyed and removed infants before their time to prevent exposure of the parties, and that he had instruments for that purpose, &c.” Sarah Pratt described the instrument Bennett may have used: “a pretty long instrument of a kind I had never seen before. It seemed to be of steel and was crooked at one end.”
I’m not a woman, but reading that turns my spine into shattered glass. I want to be VERY clear here, the only real difference between Jo and Bennett’s practices of polygamy was that Jo had a voice in his head telling him it was okay, whereas Bennett had Jo’s voice in his head saying it was okay. Spiritual wifery, celestial marriage, whatever label you prefer, Jo and Bennett were doing the same immoral and heinous things to satiate their physical desires. I simply can’t understand the derision of Bennett from historians who go on to champion Joseph Smith in the same paragraph, it’s appalling and completely dishonest.
Hopefully everything discussed so far offers a bit of a sobering look into Bennett’s true role in Nauvoo history beyond his military and political contributions.
Now that we understand a bit of Wreck-it Bennett and his practices, the minutes from the next Relief Society meeting have a bit more context when they say this:
“Before adjourning the meeting Emma read a document that Joseph and the church leaders had prepared for the Relief Society in March. It stated that some men were approaching women to “deceive and debauch the innocent,” saying they had authority from Joseph or other church leaders. “We have been informed that some unprincipled men … have been guilty of such crimes—We do not mention their names, not knowing but what there may be some among you who are not sufficiently skill’d in Masonry as to keep a secret … Let this epistle be had as a private matter in your Society, and then we shall learn whether you are good masons.”
That epistle was prepared by Jo and signed by him, Hyrum Side-kick Abiff Smith, Heber the Creeper Kimball, White-out Willard Richards, Vinson Knight, and Bloody Brigham Young.
They prepared it in March and it was read to the Relief Society at the end of April, and then we find in the history of the Church vol. 5:12 when Bennett and Jo finally broke and immediately the finger-pointing began to use Bennett as the scapegoat for Nauvoo’s adultery rumors.
“Thursday [May] 19.—It rained, and I was at home until one o’clock: when I attended a special session of the city council. John C. Bennett having discovered that his whoredoms and abominations were fast coming to light, and that the indignation of an insulated and abused people were rising rapidly against him, thought best to make a virtue of necessity, and try to make it appear that he was innocent, by resigning his office of Mayor, which the council most gladly accepted; and Joseph Smith was elected mayor of the City of Nauvoo by the council, and Hyrum Smith, Vice-Mayor.”
They even forced Bennett to appear before Alderman Daniel H. Wells and swear a testimony to clear Jo’s name. They clearly had a lot on Bennett, but as we’ll come to learn, Bennett had a lot on the Mormon elites as well so there’s plenty of dispute as to who had the real leverage here. All Bennett had to lose was his office as Mayor, Jo had the reputation of a pious and holy monogamous prophet on the line with roughly 10,000 people under his spell which could have easily been undermined or destroyed if any credible allegations of adultery rose to the surface.
Some of the language in this signed statement by Bennett that we’re about to read leaves room, you’ll see what I mean. Read at face value, the statement seems like an unequivocal condemnation of adultery, but in order to understand the language, we need to understand that Jo and the Mormon elites saw the law of God as superior to the laws of the United States. When the law of God came into conflict with the law of the land, the law of God was held to until that could no longer be the case; see the 1838 Mormon war in Missouri and resulting incarceration in Liberty Jail as a prime example. Jo had illustrated regularly throughout his history a reckless disregard for law because he was operating by the dictates of his own personal God who directed him as a voice in his head. So, when it comes to what was considered illegal, or illicit intercourse with females in this statement, we have to judge it by what standard of laws it was considered illegal. If it was seen as good in the eyes of the Lord as had been repeatedly justified by Jo up to this point, the practice of celestial marriage wasn’t illegal or illicit intercourse with females. Adultery was illegal, spiritual wifery was illegal, celestial marriage, however, is not only sanctioned by God and therefore legal, but explicitly commanded by God in order to achieve celestial glory.
“John C. Bennett, who being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and sayeth, that he never was taught anything in the least contrary to the strictest principles of the gospel, or of virtue, or of the laws of God or man, under any circumstances, or upon any occasion, either directly or indirectly, in word or deed, by Joseph Smith; and that he never knew the said Smith to countenance any improper conduct whatever, either in public or private; and that he never did teach to me in private that an illegal, illicit intercourse with females, was, under any circumstances, justifiable, and that I never knew him so to teach others.
JOHN C. BENNETT”
With that signed statement, Bennett’s role in Mormon hierarchy was erased.
Bennett, once the highest governmental authority and second in military command to Joseph Smith, a powerful member of the Mormon elite, was now used up and thrown aside after the sins of the Mormon forefathers were cast upon him and the blighted scapegoat was removed from his positions of influence and authority. Now, Jo and Hyrum Smith were the most powerful men in town holding the top two positions in the Church, military, and city government. Jo and Hyrum could trust each other, Bennett obviously couldn’t be controlled anymore. Jo and Hyrum were now Prophet and assistant president of Mormonism, Lieutenant-General and Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, and Mayor and Vice-Mayor of Nauvoo, the largest city in Illinois at that time.
The disastrous excision of Bennett was just as much over his brazen and gluttonous practice of polygamy as it was a power grab by Jo and Hyrum, and it worked. So, let’s try and tease this apart. What happened between Jo and Bennett to cause such a riff.
To rewind a little bit, Bennett had won the confidence of Jo quickly upon his arrival in Nauvoo. Episode 62 introduced Bennett where we discussed the letter exchanges between him and Jo as Commerce, Illinois was still in its infantile stages and the refugee Mormons were living out of wagons and lean-to shacks hastily constructed to keep the spring-time rain off their backs.
Once Bennett joined the church, his charisma led to a meteoric rise up the ranks of Mormon hierarchy. He began as just another guy, but Jo quickly gravitated to Bennett, likely due to his office and political connections. At the time, Bennett was quartermaster-general of the state of Illinois. Such an office was really convenient for Jo to befriend as he was trying to amass a militia which would soon become the Nauvoo Legion. If Jo wanted to arm them with more than just sticks and rocks, Bennett was the perfect friend to have as the quartermaster-general controlled the munitions and arms for the state militia’s armories.
Beyond that, Bennett was something of a polymath, a lover of all fields of knowledge, an ascended master-mason for nearly 15 years, and was well connected to Illinois politicians. Bennett was a powerful asset for Jo to have in his back pocket.
Autumn of 1840 came around and the Mormon leadership wanted to have Commerce turned into a recognized city of the state of Illinois. We covered this is episode 66, God Mode Jo where Bennett and Robert B. Thompson worked under the direction of Joseph Smith to draft the Nauvoo Charter. Bennett took the charter to Springville and got it passed, thus officially forming the city of Nauvoo, establishing various public works projects and organizations, sanctioning legal taxation, and granting a legal militia called the Nauvoo Legion. Bennett was paramount to the success of the Charter being passed and probably pulled a few political favors to get it approved and pushed through so quickly in the final weeks of 1840. January 1841 rolled around, Bennett presented the Nauvoo Charter to the Mormon high council as his and Jo’s own creation, and suddenly Bennett had a special place in Jo’s heart as someone who could be trusted to execute whatever task he was given for the benefit of the Saints.
Because Nauvoo was so destitute and so few homes existed, Bennett moved in with the Smiths and lived with them for over two years. According to Newell and Avery in Mormon Enigma, Emma didn’t like Wreck-it Bennett, but held her tongue.
“The year of Joseph, Sr.’s death, John Cook Bennett arrived in Nauvoo, joined the church, and found a temporary place to live in Emma’s home. About five feet, nine inches tall, a handsome man with graying dark hair and black eyes, he was broad-shouldered, with a trim waist and hips. His face was rather thin, his mouth tight-lipped, and his manner ingratiating and smoothly polite. He had an air about him that annoyed Emma, and young Joseph recalled that she disliked him from the very first. Although Bennett made much of his abilities as a physician when he came to Nauvoo, Emma distrusted him enough to refuse to take his prescribed medicine during and illness. He lost further influence with her when he pulled young Joseph’s tooth with a “turn key” and the boy bled severely before a solution made of saltpeter on leather shaving finally checked the bleeding. Bennett had better luck with the community as a whole when he offered the suffering Mormons quinine for their malaria.
After he had found another place to live, he still took many of his meals at Emma’s house. Young Joseph recalled that his mother would set a loaf of her bread in front of the fire until the end was toasted brown, then cut off a thin slice and replaced the loaf. Thus she prepared Bennett’s supper of toasted bread and milk, “just as he liked it.” He expounded on a new food just coming into bogue, claiming that the “love apple” or tomato, had beneficial medicinal qualities.”
Further describing his personality and how it attracted Jo using contemporary accounts, Newell and Avery continue:
“Bennett seemed to know something about almost everything. This impressed Joseph, who needed an urbane representative for the church. He hoped to have Nauvoo chartered under the state of Illinois. Bennett offered to guide the proposed documents through the legislature and did his job well by developing sympathy for the Mormons through graphic descriptions of the Missouri persecutions. The charters passed without so much as a complete reading, giving the elected officers of the city broad powers…
Triumphant from his session with the Illinois legislature, which passed the charters on December 16, 1840, John C. Bennett returned to Nauvoo in time to be elected the city’s first mayor on February 1 of the new year. Few Saints knew Bennett. That he secured such a high office so rapidly suggest that Joseph trusted him implicitly and had spoken on his behalf.”
To summarize, a person isn’t elected or appointed to the office of quartermaster-general without military training. Although never involved in any war, Bennett passed his military training to the Mormon leadership in organizing the Nauvoo legion with officers with their own companies and helped organize multiple public marches to display the power of the Legion at full steam.
Being a trusted Mormon elite had its an entire benefits package. Bennett enjoyed a small income as Mayor of Nauvoo, possibly even taking a little from the tithing income to supplement his growing wealth, a pleasant bit of fraternity with the other Mormon elites and exemption from the commandments followed by the rank-and-file Mormons who were mindlessly following the prophet as they’d been doing for years by this point, oh, yeah, and polygamy. The Mormon elite enjoyed the benefits of polygamy. By the time Jo and Wreck-it Bennett had their falling out, Jo had relationships with at least 10 women, possibly as many as 14 that are documentable, which says nothing of any trips the prophet may have made to Nauvoo’s brothel, which was owned and run by Wreck-it Bennett.
Bloody Brigham Young had already locked Martha Brotherton up in the upper floor of the Red Brick Store and propositioned her with the help of Jo, she was a whole 17 years old when that happened. For religious leaders of a patriarchal religion, the doctrine of polygamy definitely had its benefits.
I want to deal with a bit of apologetics here. It’s often claimed with a few quotes to substantiate it that the men who were commanded by the lord to practice polygamy overwhelmingly were opposed to it. Brigham Young said when he learned of polygamy that it was the first time he’d desired the grave. Jo had a hard time telling Emma about it because he knew she wouldn’t understand that polygamy was a commandment from God, but Jo HAD to practice it BECAUSE it was a commandment from God, regardless of what Emma and the Mormons thought of it. The Mormon hierarchy were forced to practice polygamy solely because it was a divine commandment from on high, their status and the benefits of having so many secretive partners had absolutely no influence on the revelation coming forward.
Hopefully you can see the error in logic here, it’s putting the cart before the horse. If you view Jo’s hundred + revelations through a naturalistic lens you see just how self-serving they are and the polygamy revelation was no different. So, let’s follow that line of naturalistic logic where it leads us. Of course Emma was opposed to Jo taking 30 plus wives while she was commanded to cleave to her husband and none else. Further, Wreck-it Bennett was unhinged, probably propositioning dozens of women which would blow the cover of the other men who were taking wives and keeping it under wraps enough for that information to be no more than idle rumors.
Once it became public that Bennett was propositioning so many women to have affairs, it required Jo and the other elites to distance themselves so as not to be looped in with the Saintly Scoundrel, as he’s been labeled by Mormon historians since he broke off from the Church. Thus, the term spiritual wifery was used as a derogatory label against Wreck-it Bennett, William Smith, and any other Mormon elite who was exposed, while the term “new and everlasting covenant” was manufactured to label just those celestial polygamous marriages which were sanctioned by Jo. Much of the existing scholarship concerning Wreck-it Bennett and polygamy has drawn a difference between what Jo was doing as divine commandment and what Bennett was doing as just wanting to sleep with as many women as he could. We won’t waste our time with such absurdities here except to understand how Bennett and the fallout following his disaffection was dealt with by Jo and the remaining elites at the time. Jo and Wreck-it Bennett were kindred spirits in more ways than we can imagine.
Jo and Bennett’s relationship had been waning for some time. Whether it was out of disagreements concerning the best way to run the Nauvoo Legion, how Nauvoo city government should have been run, doctrinal differences, Jo’s intemperance while Bennett was a vitriolic teetotaler, we don’t know exactly what the crux of the disagreement was. What historians can be sure of is that Bennett was too open and brazen with his spiritual wifery system which threatened the fragile system of secrecy Jo had been constructing for the past 6 years which was known as celestial marriage. Honestly, considering the women Jo had propositioned leading up to spring of 1842, he’d been cultivating relationships and grooming these women for years. Bennett had been there for about 2 years and was suddenly hitting up women all over town to sleep with him. Bennett was a threat to everything Jo had been working on for over a decade.
Add in to the mix the fact that Bennett was running a brothel in Nauvoo to connect any of the elites or any visiting wealthy men with quick satisfaction of their lusts, Bennett was completely rogue and could no longer be trusted.
But the divide between Jo and Bennett was recent, their relationship prior to this vicious breakup was more than just friendly acquaintances. Articulating Jo and Bennett’s relationship is a letter printed in the History of the Saints 1842 from George W. Robinson, Hingepin Rigdon’s son-in-law to one James Arlington Bennett, no relation to John C. Bennett. It wraps their relationship around the story of Jo propositioning Nancy Rigdon, Hingepin Rigdon’s daughter, the author is a firsthand witness to the events described and wrote this a mere few weeks after it occurred. This is an incredibly reliable document and offers some crucial details.
“Smith and Bennett have always been on very friendly terms, and were together a great deal, and I have no doubt but that Bennett was Smith’s confidant in nearly all things. It appears from General Bennett’s story, that … Smith sent for Miss Rigdon … took her into another room, and locked the door, … She repulsed him, and was about to raise the neighbors if he did not unlock the door … she left … came home and told her father of the transaction; upon which Smith was sent for. He came. She told the tale in the presence of all the family, and to Smith’s face. I was present. Smith attempted to deny it at first, and face her down with the lie; but she told the facts with so much earnestness, and the fact of a letter being present, which he had caused to be written to her, on the same subject, the day after the attempt made on her virtue, breathing the same spirit, and which he had fondly hoped was destroyed,--all came with such force that he could not withstand the testimony; and he then and there acknowledged that every word of Miss Rigdon’s testimony was true. Now for his excuse, which he made for such a base attempt, and for using the name of the Lord in vain, on that occasion. He wished to ascertain whether she was virtuous or not, and took that course to learn the facts!!! I would say, sir, that I have reason to believe General Bennett’s story in the disclosures of Smith’s rascality; although I am not a witness to all of the facts, yet I am to some.”
Prior to spring of 1842, Jo and Bennett were best buds with similar goals in mind. We can’t escape that fact. All the worst qualities which have been ascribed to Bennett after the fact were exhibited at some level at different time by Joseph Smith. Bennett was just a brazen distilled version of all of Jo’s worst qualities, but that makes them more similar than it does different. They were both scoundrels.
To complicate things further, it should be noted that Bennett may have had some dreams of being the head of Nauvoo at some point. At least, he wanted Jo out of the way and probably would allow the chips to fall where they may. As second in command over the Nauvoo legion and mayor of Nauvoo, if some tragedy happened to befall Jo and he was conveniently no longer the leader of the town or religion, Bennett stood in a calculated position to usurp all Jo’s power and authority.
A Nauvoo Legion sham battle demonstration was set to happen on May 7, 1842. The Nauvoo Legion had conducted a number of parades and whatnot, including July 4th celebrations and a major demonstration during the Nauvoo Temple cornerstone laying ceremony, so this was nothing out of the ordinary. During the demonstrations and parades, Jo would be in full Lieutenant-General regalia, decorated with his pistols and military sword, riding his horse at the head of the Legion or standing atop a stage making a grand speech of all sorts. During all these, Wreck-it Bennett, as Major-General, would be at his right hand in his military dress.
Once again from Newell and Avery in Mormon Enigma:
“Joseph wore a blue coat, gold-colored epaulets, high black boots, and a sweeping hat toped with ostrich feathers. He carried an impressive sword. Only John C. Bennett outshone him, resplendent in gold braid, buttons, and tassels. Emma and the wives of ‘other distinguished officers accompanied their companions on parade.’ One woman later wrote of Emma’s fondness for horses and said she ‘could manage them well in riding or driving. Many can recall seeing her mounted on horseback beside her husband in military parade and a grander couple could nowhere be found. She always dressed becomingly, and a riding costume showed off her shapely figure to the best advantage’”.
This military parade was different. Something smelled fishy to Jo and his instincts hadn’t let him down yet. His journal reads as follows at the end of April, 1842, a mere week before the sham battle was set to take place:
“A conspiracy against the peace of my family was made manifest, and it gave me some trouble to counteract the design of certain base individuals, and restore peace. The Lord makes manifest to me many things, which it is not wisdom for me to make public.”
We can rest assured, the conspiracy was orchestrated by Wreck-it Bennett. He had specific instructions for his commanding officer, Lieutenant-General Joseph Smith. At the behest of Bennett, Jo was supposed to stand in a specific place during the sham battle, Jo’s seer senses were tingling. He decided it would be better to be stationed at a place where he would be able to watch his back, but Bennett’s odd request didn’t escape his notice nor recollection in his journal for the day.
“Why did [Bennett] request me to command one of the cohorts, and also to take my position without my staff, during the sham battle on the seventh of May, 1842, where my life might have been forfeited and no man have known who did the deed?” Quoted from B.H. Roberts the Rise and Fall of Nauvoo p. 135
The Bennett nuke had gone off and finally his NaMo nickname truly comes into play as Bennett truly wrecked it all. The fallout wasn’t fully understood in mid-May 1842 when Bennett submitted his resignation from the office of Mayor. The distinction between Bennett’s spiritual wifery and Jo’s celestial marriage hadn’t even been crafted yet as the vast scope of the impact of his adultery was only just starting to be understood.
In June 1842, Jo wrote a letter to Governor Carlin of Missouri detailing some of the early arguments used to distance Bennett and his practices of adultery from the practices of other Mormon elites.
Mormonism Shadow or Reality, HoC 5:42
“Dear Sir:--It becomes my duty to lay before you some facts relative to the conduct of our major-general, John C. Bennett,…
It is evident that his general character is that of an adulterer of the worst kind,…
Some time ago it having been reported to me that some of the most aggravated cases of adultery had been committed upon some previously respectable females in our city,…
More than twenty months ago Bennett went to a lady in the city and began to teach her that promiscuous intercourse between the sexes was lawful and no harm in it, and requested the privilege of gratifying his passions,…
Finding this argument ineffectual, he told her that men in higher standing in the Church than himself not only sanctioned, but practiced the same deeds; and in order to finish the controversy, said and affirmed that I both taught and acted in the same manner, but publicly proclaimed against [it] in consequence of the prejudice of the people, and for fear of trouble in my own house. By this means he accomplished his designs; he seduced a respectable female with lying, and subjected her to public infamy and disgrace.
Not contented with what he had already done, he made the attempt on others, and by using the same language, seduced them also.”
Wreck-it Bennett’s role in Mormonism is complicated to say the least. He was merely an extreme version of what a few of the elites were doing, and completely unapologetic about it. It strikes me that Bennett certainly would have thrived in Brigham’s Utah Mormonism much moreso than he did for his brief stint with Joseph in Nauvoo. He exhibited a number of useful qualities which would have caused Brigham to gravitate towards garnering his favor and rewarding him with all the property and wives as was typical for Utah-Mormon elites who carried out Brigham’s rule. However, his personality created conflicts as he was beholden to none other than himself. He was an opportunist at heart and only seized said opportunities when it would do him well. The Mormon refugees presented a wealth of opportunities and rumors of polygamy had followed them from Kirtland, making their society quite attractive to a character like Bennett. After his baptism, he continued to leverage his charisma and personality to elevate his own status higher and higher until he was second only to Joseph Smith in political and ecclesiastical leadership. But, he was a flash in the pan, and now the whole damn kitchen was on fire.
We’ll continue to cover the damage and fallout of Bennett as well as track him as he publishes against the Church and Joseph Smith, thus becoming the greatest enemy of the Church for the remainder of 1842. Eventually he published his 300+ page expose on the Church, titled History of the Saints, for which historians owe a great debt to Bennett. Without his expose, a number of aspects of the history of Nauvoo polygamy would be shrouded in mystery.
To conclude, I want to try and venture out onto a limb here. I welcome comment from anybody who’s willing to give it, but please bear with me while I opine on Bennett’s role in Mormon polygamy, specifically him providing abortions for the women who were the victims of Nauvoo polygamy.
I can’t empathize with what it was like to be a woman in 19th-century Protestant Victorian America. None of us can. I can’t even empathize with what it’s like to be a woman today, so what I’m about to say isn’t an exercise in trying to empathize with, but merely to intellectually understand the plight of Mormon women in Nauvoo Mormonism. Today, a woman having a child out of wedlock carries a certain stigma with it. Shame, seems like the right word to use, but it’s much deeper and more individualized than that. Consider how much worse it must have been for women having children out of wedlock in 19th-century America, when they couldn’t own a business, vote, sign contracts, hold any personal property or any of the other rights the women’s suffrage movement brought to the world. A woman with a bastard child in 19th-century America had to provide for her child or children and frequently the most lucrative business she could go into that would actually provide for them was prostitution. Sure, she could weave baskets, sew, paint rugs, be a house-servant, but those rarely paid enough to support her, let alone a family with hungry bastard children at home. The men never really had to deal with those constraints. They could sleep around as they saw fit and never suffer the consequences. A man could have dozens of illegitimate children and never have his standard of living affected by it. In days before condoms, birth control usually wasn’t prophylactic, it was responsive after pregnancy was realized, which could be weeks or even a couple months after the sexual encounter occurred.
Now consider the status of women in Nauvoo when rumors floated around that they were having sex with the prophet, do you think they would be believed? Young Clarissa Marvel with no parents or loved ones to support her and no friends to rely on, just starts showing one day and says it’s Joseph’s child, do you think she would be believed? How might those allegations affect her life? Jo was insulated by his social status, he wouldn’t be affected, what would happen to her? What would happen to her illegitimate child? How could she make ends meet? Go work in Bennett’s brothel where life expectancy for women was probably one third the national average and life was filled with degrading encounters, horrible STIs with nothing to dull the symptoms? What were her options?
So, bearing that in mind, what can be said of the morality of Bennett performing abortions for the dozens of affairs that Mormon elite were having? Look the whole situation is fraught with immoral actions perpetrated by the Mormon elite and them never having to suffer consequences for their actions. The women they took into spiritual wifery were coerced into it and they were largely uninformed of what was truly going on. The mothers of Israel who would teach the doctrine of polygamy to the younger women Jo wanted to take were coerced into their positions as well before they coerced the younger women to agree to the adulterous affairs. The power dynamic created by Jo and his elite is a horrifically damaging construct in and of itself and the women who suffered from it had no recourse for what they were put through.
I don’t want to over-generalize here, because there are a few possible willing participants, but I’m speaking to the broader trends of society and the way women having children out of wedlock were treated in that society.
Given all of that context, and some of you may find this disagreeable and I welcome your feedback, wasn’t it the most moral thing for these women to undergo abortions, given what life held for them if they had the child? Granted, they had absolutely no decision-making power in all of it and when the women who were victims of Joseph Smith or any of the other Mormon elite had no real choice in the proposal, the marriage, the intercourse, or in whether or not they kept the child, everything about that whole process is completely broken and immoral. So, with all of that considered, wasn’t them not being damned into a life of destitution and likely sex slavery the best possible option because Mormon and 19th-century American society was so fundamentally broken?
Look, I can never understand what it must have been like, I’m only interested in understanding what happened at an intellectual level and all the nuance and emotion baked into the subject renders it immediately controversial and polarizing. I just haven’t ever seen a paper which allowed for the nuance I just opined with, they’re all written from a viewpoint of Bennett’s polygamy was bad, Jo’s polygamy was good, and the abortions never happened because Jo wasn’t getting married to all these women to have sex with them. The subject requires nuance and a realistic view of the world from whence Mormonism came.
But, what is that world? I think it’s important to recognize what was really going on in Nauvoo Mormonism, because it informs us why the Church is the way it is today. Joseph Smith was a sexual predator. We simply can’t escape that fact. For all his flaws, his predatory practices may truly be the most heinous and evil of all and what has impacted the most people directly since the foundation of the Church.
We see the uprising of people speaking out about the church and its current practices when it comes to how it deals with sexuality. Sam Young of ProtectLDSChildren is on a hunger strike to get bishop’s interviews policies changed and has so far been met with silence. I went to Mormon.org and chatted with some missionaries about worthiness interviews and they were happy to point me to the church’s official statements regarding bishops interviews and Sam Young, and I’m going to continue to open up a new chat window everyday with new missionaries for the foreseeable future because it’s literally the very least I can do to support ProtectLDSChildren from afar, beyond just sharing Sam’s videos.
Look, the entire reason that ProtectLDSChildren exists is because Mormons have sex abuse inflicted on them every single day. Whether covert by shaming sexual desires, or overt where a bishop or leader of some kind actually sexually assaults somebody, there are fundamental issues with the Church that must be addressed and changed. People often deal with it by saying that there may be some in Church leadership positions who are sexual predators, but 99% of bishops are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. That’s not an answer, it’s a deflection. The issue is how the church treats sexuality. So, are there sexual predators in leadership roles in the Church? Joseph Smith was a sexual predator. Make no mistake, Brigham Young locked up Martha Brotherton in a room and a sexual encounter nearly happened. Joseph Smith locked up one of his best friend’s daughters in a room, Nancy Rigdon, and would have assaulted her if she didn’t fend him off and threaten to scream out for help.
From the 2 original prophets of the Mormon religion, sex abuse hasn’t been a problem that a small percentage of the leadership has perpetrated, the 2 founding prophets tried to rape teenagers. This isn’t a problem affecting just a few bishops while 99% of them are good men, it’s a problem stemming from the very roots of Mormonism. The Church and its problems with sex abuse lie at its foundation. The seeds are corrupt, and what we see today is a moderation of its past practices, not some aberration that only comes now because woke liberals are crying about it. Sex abuse, whether that’s as simple as shaming a person’s sexual desires or it’s literal overt assault, is an issue the church has been wrestling with since September 1830. Millions of people have lived and died as members since then and they’ve all grown up with a warped perspective of what human sexuality is, but it’s much deeper than that. Some unknown percentage of Mormons have been directly sexually abused by Mormon leadership figures who’ve used their status in the community to create a situation where the assault could take place. Joseph Smith raped early Mormon women. People are raped today in the church and as we’ve seen repeatedly, the Church has likely paid out billions in settlements to cover up for those abuses.
Salt Lake City isn’t the perfect little heaven on earth as it’s frequently claimed to be by missionaries and propaganda pieces in the Ensign or Deseret News. A darker underbelly lurks behind those closed doors.
Answer listener mail about phone call during patreon edition last episode
Rhiannon Ball email with all the questions
Zelph on the Shelf video
Mr. Atheist “The Political Rise of Joseph Smith feat Naked Mormonism” also for NaMo HE 8/13
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