Ep 118 – Snow on the Roxc
On this episode, we dive into Eliza Roxcy Snow! She was smart, she was sassy, and she didn’t care what society said, she was going to do what she wanted to do. It’s finally time to introduce you to my historical crush…
Biography of Lorenzo Snow by Eliza Snow
Biography of Eliza Snow
Eliza Snow poetry lexicon
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Intro annie poem
The Red Man of the West
published in Ohio Star, 31 March 1830
The Great Spirit, ’tis said, to our forefathers gave
All the lands ’twixt the eastern and western big wave,
And the Indian was happy, he’d nothing to fear,
As he rang’d o’er the mountains in chase of the deer:
And he felt like a prince as he steer’d the canoe, 5
Or explor’d the lone wild, with his hatchet and bow,
Quench’d his thirst at the streamlet, or simply he fed,
The heav’ns were his curtains, the hillock his bed.
Say then was he homeless? No, no his heart beat
For the dear ones he lov’d in the wig wam retreat. 10
But a wreck of the white man came over the wave,
In the chains of the tyrant he’d learn’d to enslave:
Emerging from bondage, and pale with distress,
He fled from oppression, he came to oppress!
Yes, such was the white man, invested with power, 15
When almost devour’d he’d turn and devour;
He seiz’d our possessions, and fat’ning with pride,
He thirsted for glory, but freedom he cried.
Our fathers were brave, they contended awhile,
Then left the invader the coveted soil; 20
The spoiler pursu’d them, our fathers went on,
And their children are now at the low setting sun;
The white man, yet prouder, would grasp all the shore,
He smuggled, and purchas’d, and coveted more.
The pamper’d blue eagle is stretching its crest 25
Beside the great waters that circle the west;
Behind the west wood, where the Indian retires,
The white man is building his opposite fires,
To fell the last forest, and burn up the wild
Which nature design’d for her wandering child! 30
Chas’d into environs, and no where to fly,
Too weak to contend, and unwilling to die,
Oh where will a place for the Indian be found?
Shall he take to the skies? or retreat under ground?
Do any of you listen to My Book of Mormon podcast? If you’ve been following along since Marie took over for David Michael you’ll know she has a bit of a crush on Oliver Cowdery. Understandably so though, he was a fascinating guy in Mormon history. Although he’s fallen out of vogue in our timeline, remaining in Richmond, Missouri as a lawyer since he was excommunicated in the great D-Day purging in Spring of 1838, he’s still alive and doin his Ollie thing. This episode isn’t about Ollie or Marie or MyBoM. I asked if you listen because I recently told Marie a little bit about somebody in Mormon history who’s near and dear to my heart and I want to tell all of you about her today. Today is my historical crush, I hope you all don’t mind indulging me a bit.
I’ll be relying heavily on her own words today out of her biography of her brother, Lorenzo Snow, which she published in Utah in 1884, 3 years before her death at age 83. The language in that biography says our and we a lot. We can track her movements through this biography of her brother and she’s nice enough to even insert little bits and pieces about herself throughout. I’m going to do my best to bring Eliza Snow to life in your mind today, using her own words to do so. History is nothing if we can’t see and feel the experiences of the real people who lived through the events we cover.
Eliza Roxcy Snow was born January 21, 1804 to Oliver and Rosetta Pettibone Snow. Eliza grew up in a charmed and relatively well-educated household where religious dogma was almost entirely absent in the Snow household.
“Our father was a native of Massachusetts, our mother of Connecticut, and were descendants of the genuine Puritan stock—those who fled from religious persecution in the "old world," and landed on Plymouth Rock, of historic celebrity.
Early in the settlement of that portion of country now known as the Middle States, our parents, with their family, consisting of two daughters, Leonora, Abigail, and Eliza Roxcy, (the writer of this history,) left the home of their youth, and moved to what was at that period considered the extreme West, or, as it was sometimes styled, "the jumping off place," and settled in Mantua, Portage County, Ohio, making the eleventh family in the township. There two daughters and three sons were added to the family, to wit: Amanda Percy, Melissa, Lorenzo, Lucius Augustus, and Samuel Pearce.
Many times, and with intense interest, have their children listened to recitals of the hardships our parents encountered, and the privations they endured in that new and heavily timbered country, so very forbidding when compared with the beautiful prairie landscapes of the West. But as true and worthy representatives of our noble ancestors, our parents were proof against discouragement, surmounted every difficulty, and through the blessing of God on their efforts, created for themselves and their children an enviable home.
In their religious faith our parents were by profession Baptists, but not of the rigid, iron-bedstead order; their house was a resort for the good and intelligent of all denominations, and their hospitality was proverbial. Thus, as their children grew up they had ample opportunities for forming acquaintances with the erudite of all religious persuasions.”
Eliza Snow was absolutely brilliant. We’ve featured some of her poems on this show but the few that have been read here only barely scratch the surface of her sharp brilliance. She’d been educated beyond many of her contemporaries and began publishing as early as 1825 or 26 at the age of 20 or 21. She’d been educated in a local Presbyterian academy but also learned all the typical homemaking skills as were frequently passed from mothers to daughters. Beyond that, her first job was working in her dad’s office. Oliver Snow was a Justice of the Peace and Eliza helped with paperwork and earned a little bit of money to sock away into savings. That money came in handy pretty soon, which we’ll get to.
Whatever the less-significant circumstances of her upbringing, Eliza cultivated a snarky and mischievous wit. Her poems truly are brilliant. They strike autobiographical tendencies in some respects, other are social commentary, and some are a bit too esoteric for my amateur brain to even begin deciphering. She published over 500 poems throughout her life, who knows how many she actually wrote.
Eliza was a bit counter to the conventions of her day. Her brother, Lorenzo, began rising through military distinctions in his schooling. Eliza apparently was a bit jealous of her brother’s accomplishments, or possibly of being granted the ability to work up military ranks and gain the social status which accompanied said ranks. Apparently, Eliza didn’t like her brother being a member of the military for what the inherent dangers such a career path inevitably includes. However, her language seems to also exhibit some jealousy for military distinction.
“Although religiously trained from infancy, up to this time my brother had devoted little or no attention to the subject of religion, at least not sufficiently to decide in preference of any particular sect.
In the progress of his development, his ambition strongly led in the direction of military distinction, so much so, that, watching with a sisterly, jealous eye, the steps one by one, by which he gained promotion in the military road to honor, I feared lest in the course of human events his path might lead to the battle field, and his earthly career prematurely close on a gory bed. I frequently plead, entreated, and at times exhausted my stock of persuasion, but without effect.”
Regardless of apprehensions or jealousies, Eliza made Lorenzo’s military uniform for him. She was quite a well-known seamstress throughout her lifetime, often adorning the most extravagant clothing to grace the presence of the destitute Mormons in Utah, likely all of it was of her own make. She had a sense for flair and a unique eye for fashion to clothe her reportedly slender and temptuous physique.
The Snow family joined Campbellite Baptism in Ohio around 1828 when they moved to Mantua, Ohio, which is about 30 miles south of Kirtland. Sidney Rigdon was one of the most prominent preachers of Campbellism in the area and they likely attended a number of his sermons as he traveled the area preaching at any church that would grant him audience. A quick sidenote on that, Rigdon had 2 years prior to this broken off from Alexander Campbell who’d been his mentor for upwards of a decade by that point. Rigdon was a little too firebrand with the communalism and stuff for Campbell to be cool with. Rigdon was running his own version of Christianity for a few years here before he teamed up with Jo to turn Mormonism into what it eventually became. Needless to say, Jo and Emma moved to Kirtland soon after this and the Rigdonites converted. Eliza Snow first met the self-proclaimed prophet in 1831 when the earliest group of Mormons arrived. Eliza closely examined Joseph Smith, possibly interpreting what she saw through the lens of the relatively new pseudo-science of phrenology.
“In the winter of 1830 and ‘31, Joseph Smith called at my father’s and as he sat warming himself, I scrutinized his face as closely as I could without attracting his attention, and decided that his was an honest face. My adopted motto, “prove all things and hold fast that which is good,” prompted me to investigate, as incredulous as I was; and the most impressive testimonies I had ever heard were given by two of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, at the first meeting of the believers in Joseph Smith’s mission, which I attended.
On the 5th of April, 1835, I was baptized by a “Mormon” elder, and in the evening of that day, I realized the baptism of the Spirit as sensibly as I did that of the water in the stream. I had retired to bed, and as I was reflecting on the wonderful events transpiring around me, I felt an indescribable, tangible sensation, if I may so call it, commencing at my head and enveloping my person and passing off at my feet, producing inexpressible happiness. Immediately following, I saw a beautiful candle with an unusual long, bright blaze directly over my feet. I sought to know the interpretation, and received the following, “The lamp of intelligence shall be lighted over your path.” I was satisfied.”
Amazing, isn’t it? Eliza first meets Jo at a prayer meeting of some kind, probably partook of the Lord’s supper, then had incredible and indescribably feelings come over her, starting at her head and enveloping her entire body, then she notices a candle looks kinda funny, almost like hallucinating or something.
After this transcendental experience, she joined the Mormonite sect. All that money she’d saved up from having her poems published, helping her dad in the Justice of the Peace office and any other odd jobs of seamstress work or whatever she could get income from, that money came in handy.
“Soon after my arrival, I sent for the "Building Committee of the Kirtland Temple," and, on my asking them if they would like a little money, they replied that they had a payment to make soon, and did not know where the means was coming from. I do not recollect how much I gave them; however, it was sufficient to cover the present liability of the committee, who felt greatly relieved, and proposed to send me their note of hand for the amount. I told them that I did not want a note—they were welcome to the money: however, they sent the note, and some time after wished me to accept a house and lot—thus redeeming their note. The lot was a very valuable one—situated near the Temple, with fruit trees—an excellent spring of water, and a house that accommodated two families. It was truly an enviable situation, and, although I was teaching the Prophet's family school, and had my home with them, my eldest sister, a widow with two children, wanted a home in Kirtland, and I rented one part of the house while she occupied the other. In all this, the hand of God was too plainly visible to be mistaken, as will be manifest in the following events.”
That’s when she moved in with Joseph and Emma Smith into their Kirtland home. This is likely when her and Joseph’s relationship developed to a point where Joseph would eventually feel comfortable asking her to become one of his wives. During her stay with the Smiths, in spring 1836 Eliza taught a “Select school for young ladies,” in addition to teaching the very young Smith child, Joseph III who was just about to reach kindergarten age at this time.
Eliza Snow describes her relationship with Joseph and I’m reading this from Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness:
“... [Eliza] had ample opportunity to mark his [JS’s] ‘daily walk and conversation,’ as a prophet of God; and the more I became acquainted with him, the more I appreciated him as such. His lips ever flowed with instruction and kindness; and, although very forgiving, indulgent, and affectionate in his temperament, when his God-like intuition suggested that the welfare of his brethren, or the interests of the kingdom of God demanded it, no fear of censure--no love of approbation could prevent his severe and cutting rebuke.
Though his expansive mind grasped the great plan of salvation and solved the mistic problem of man’s destiny--though he had in his possession keys that unlocked the past and the future with its succession of eternities, in his devotions he was humble as a little child.”
Eliza continued faithful membership in the church through the challenging year of 1838 in Missouri. Through all of it, she and Emma cultivated a very close sense of sisterhood.
Eliza remained a stalwart member of the church from that time forward. She spent many of her days in close company with the highest-ranking Mormon elites. She recounts what she witnessed during the Kirtland Temple dedication ceremony.
“I will relate one more remarkable circumstance which transpired in that interesting season—a circumstance which was not confined to either section of the Temple, but was witnessed by the many who were congregated on that day; and certainly all now living who were present on that occasion will remember. It is a testimony of answer to prayer that never can be forgotten. Father Smith presided over the meeting in the northwest section of the Temple, and after the meeting was opened by singing, he [opened his] mouth in prayer, and in course of supplication he very earnestly prayed that the Spirit of God might be poured out as on the day of Pentecost—that it might come "as a rushing mighty wind." Some time after, in the midst of the exercises of the forenoon, it did come; and whether Father Smith had forgotten what he had prayed for, or whether in the fervency of his heart, when praying he did not realize what he prayed for, I never ascertained; but when the sound came and filled the house, with an expression of great astonishment he raised his eyes, exclaiming, "What! Is the house on fire?" But presently he comprehended the cause of his alarm, and was filled with unspeakable joy.”
Since Eliza joined the Church, she was the Forest Gump of Mormon history, she was there for every major occurrence from 1835 on. Here’s another fun entry in her biography of her brother, which really is just as much a biography of her as she witnessed all these events first hand as well. As chaos continued to build in Kirtland, the Warren Parrish incident happened, a hostile takeover of the Sunday services. In reading this I learned a detail I’d never known before concerning what happened here.
“Warren Parrish, who had been a humble, successful preacher of the Gospel, was the ringleader of this apostate party. One Sabbath morning, he, with several of his party, came into the Temple armed with pistols and bowie-knives, and seated themselves together in the Aaronic pulpits, on the east end of the Temple, while Father Smith and others, as usual, occupied those of the Melchisedec Priesthood on the west. Soon after the usual opening services, one of the brethren on the west stand arose, and just after he commenced to speak, one on the east interrupted him. Father Smith, presiding, called to order—he told the apostate brother that he should have all the time he wanted, but he must wait his turn—as the brother on the west took the floor and commenced first to speak, he must not be interrupted. A fearful scene ensued—the apostate speaker becoming so clamorous, that Father Smith called for the police to take that man out of the house, when Parrish, John Boynton, and others, drew their pistols and bowie-knives, and rushed down from the stand into the congregation; J. Boynton saying he would blow out the brains of the first man who dared to lay hands on him. Many in the congregation, especially women and children, were terribly frightened—some tried to escape from the confusion by jumping out of the windows. Amid screams and shrieks, the policemen, in ejecting the belligerents, knocked down a stovepipe, which fell helter-skelter among the people; but, although bowie-knives and pistols were wrested from their owners, and thrown hither and thither to prevent disastrous results, no one was hurt, and after a short, but terrible scene to be enacted in a Temple of God, order was restored, and the services of the day proceeded as usual.
But the next day Father Smith, and sixteen others, were arrested on complaint of the apostate party, charged with riot, and bound over for their appearance in court to answer to the charge. With others, I was subpoenaed as a witness, and I found the court scene as amusing as the Temple scene was appalling. The idea of such a man as Father Smith so patriarchal in appearance so circumspect in deportment and dignified in his manners, being guilty of riot, was at once ludicrous and farcical to all sane-minded persons. And after the four Gentile lawyers (two for each party) had expended their stock of wit, the court dismissed the case with "no cause for action," and Father Smith and his associates came off triumphant.”
I was unaware that a number of church officials including Big Daddy Cheese were called in on complaint by Parrish and Posse the following day. Honestly, if there was one moment we could be a fly on the wall for in Mormon history that would serve as a microcosm for the entirety of Mormon history, this would be it. Parrish and company coming in brandishing pistols an bowie knives, taking over the congregation, a fight ensued, guns thrown from the hands of the would-be usurpers, firing as they hit the ground, men yelling at each other, punching, kicking, a proper bar-room brawl, the cops run in and forcefully remove the trouble-makers, all resulting in complaints of battery and assault being filed against the highest-ranking Mormon elites. Oh to see this scenario play out…
Eliza’s wit is profound to say the least. It comes through a little bit in her writing style in this biography, but truly this is a nice morning jog to her writing abilities, whereas her poetry were the sprints and marathons. I would encourage any of you wanting a deeper look into the mind of Eliza Snow, read this biography, or at least the first six chapters to get into Nauvoo, Eliza is simply amazing. I might actually be falling in love, folks.
After the falling out of the church in Kirtland, the Snow family made their way to Far West, Missouri in April of 1838 and put down roots. It was all for not, they would only remain there about 10 months before the extermination order was carried out and the Mormons were removed from Missouri.
“On leaving Far West, we directed our course to the Missouri River, where we found a camp of our brethren, some of whom were intending to go down the river and return to their homes, somewhere in the southern part of the State. We joined together in constructing a kind of water-craft—it was not a canoe, neither a skiff or raft, and to name it a boat would be preposterous; but, whatever its proper cognomen, its capacity was sufficient to accommodate five men, and, on the seventeenth of October, in the midst of a heavy fall of snow, we launched it, and started on a most perilous passage down the turbid waters of a turbulent river. At that season of the year the stream was very low, and frequently through the day we experienced much difficulty in following the channel. We took turns in rowing, and, as night approached, we began in sober earnest to look out for a suitable landing, but were forced to continue on until it was quite dark, when we were every moment in danger of being upset by "sawyers," for we could hardly discern them in time to shun them. Those "sawyers" were trees or parts of trees—one end firmly embedded in the bottom of the stream, while the other end, by the motion and pressure of the current, was constantly vaccillating up and down, often swiftly and powerfully.
We met with several narrow escapes, and anxiously watched for a place of landing. At length we espied upon the bank a bright light, to which we directed our course, and, much to our relief, were enabled to bring our little bark safely to land, and after securing it, we climbed up the bank, and directly found ourselves in the presence of rough, savage looking fellows, who told us they were hunters and trappers; but their appearance and conversation, and the whisperings of the Spirit, impressed us at once with the feeling that there was more safety on the river, searching our way amid the threatening "sawyers," than in remaining through the night in such forbidding company. Accordingly we again embarked, and pushed into the fluctuating stream. It was very dark, and as we cautiously wended our way, our ears were ever and anon saluted with the fearful sounds of the dashing "sawyers" ahead. It was prudent to keep as close to the bank as possible, in order to avail ourselves of the first opportunity to secure a landing.”
During the expulsion from Missouri, Lorenzo was on a mission and only learned of what had happened by letters sent him from Eliza. Fleeing Far West, the Snow family made it to Quincy, Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi. Sickness abounded, people lived out of wagons and makeshift lean-tos made from driftwood and covered with blankets. People were starving. The Snow family had been relatively well-off in Kirtland and even Missouri, this was a level of destitution Eliza had likely never before experienced.
Thousands of refugee Mormons, no prophet to guide, nowhere to turn, forsaken by a government, hated by their neighbors. The Mormons were in complete survival mode. We can be sure that Eliza used some of her herbcrafting to make medicinal teas to alleviate the symptoms of some of the saints. This was a time in Mormon history where all hands were on deck. Nobody didn’t have their shoulder to the plow.
It was a temporary gauntlet. Eventually things normalized in Nauvoo. Public works projects were being erected all over the peninsula, the swamp was drained, politicians made their way in and out of town pledging support of the refugees, public meeting buildings and houses were being built faster than bricks could be made and lumber cut to supply the projects.
From the records I’ve found, it seems the Snow family stayed largely together during this period, even though the 7 kids were almost all adults at this point. It wasn’t unconventional to have single adult daughters living with her parents until she was given in marriage, so this isn’t actually surprising, just interesting to me. Leonora, Eliza’s only older sibling was married at the time, Eliza remained unmarried at the age of 36 in 1840 when the family located to LaHarpe, Illinois, near Quincy about 30 miles south of Nauvoo.
Chapter nine of Lorenzo’s biography written by Eliza reveals an incredible revelation in light of what was being preached in Nauvoo compared with what Mormon doctrine taught in Kirtland. The “I” in this passage is referring to Lorenzo, not Eliza. Her narrative swaps without notice back and forth from her to Lorenzo, this is a Lorenzo chapter.
“EARLY in the spring of 1840, I was appointed to a mission in England, and I started on or about the twentieth of May. I here record a circumstance which occurred a short time previous—one which has been riveted on my memory, never to be erased, so extraordinary was the manifestation. At the time, I was at the house of Elder H. G. Sherwood; he was endeavoring to explain the parable of our Savior, when speaking of the husbandman who hired servants and sent them forth at different hours of the day to labor in his vineyard.
While attentively listening to his explanation, the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me, and explains Father Smith's dark saying to me at a blessing meeting in the Kirtland Temple, prior to my baptism, as previously mentioned in my first interview with the Patriarch.
As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.
I felt this to be a sacred communication, which I related to no one except my sister Eliza, until I reached England, when in a confidential private conversation with President Brigham Young, in Manchester, I related to him this extraordinary manifestation.”
To be clear, that phrase was coined long before this was printed in 1884, but it’s worth noting its presence claimed to have been from 1840 given by revelation to Lorenzo Snow, which he immediately told only his sister, Eliza, about when the revelation came to him. The more I read from this biography, it truly reveals how close Eliza and Lorenzo were.
While Lorenzo was with the other 8 of the Quorum in England setting up the church over there, Eliza wrote him a poem with a sense of deep yearning to see her brother again who’d been gone for over a year by this point and still wouldn’t be back to Nauvoo for another 27 months after this was drafted.
TO ELDER LORENZO SNOW, LONDON, ENGLAND.
Dearest brother, wherefore leave us?
Why forsake your friends and home?
Of your presence, why bereave us,
And in foreign countries roam?
Must the dearest ties be broken?
Must affection's garland fade?
No, O no! But God has spoken,
And His voice must be obeyed.
You have gone to warn the nations,
In the name of Israel's God;
You are called to bear salvation's
Joyful tidings far abroad.
Now the Gospel proclamation
Must be sounded far and near,
That the best of every nation
May in Zion's courts appear.
In the spirit of devotion
To Messiah's glorious Cause,
You have crossed the pathless ocean,
To proclaim Redemption's laws.
You are now a standard bearer
On a distant mountain top,
And perchance ofttimes a sharer
In privation's bitter cup.
God designs to try and prove you.
If you will His voice obey;
Therefore from your friends who love you,
You are parted far away.
You are called yourself to sever
From the land where kindred dwell;
But it will not be forever—
Time will surely break the spell.
Here warm friends await your greeting—
Noble friends of Abra'm's line:
Here are gentle pulses beating
In soft unison with thine.
Here are daily prayers ascending
For th' appointed hour to come;
When your mission nobly ending,
We shall bid you "Welcome home."
Nauvoo, Jan., 1841. E. R. SNOW.”
When Lorenzo got home to Nauvoo in April of 1843, some incredible changes has transpired in the Church. Eliza was distraught with how to tell her brother about the changes as they’d impacted her and the church in ways we could never understand. Before we get to that passage out of the biography, let’s catch up with what Eliza had gone through prior to this conversation.
First off, as one of the closest friends of the Elect Lady, Emma Hale Smith, Eliza was appointed secretary of the Nauvoo Women’s Relief Society with Emma as president in 1842. Her position as secretary was more than just writing the minutes of the meetings, she also held a significant stake and say in what transpired in the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.
To exhibit how crucial Eliza’s role was, I offer the meeting minutes of the 19 April 1842 Relief society. Eliza gave a blessing to Presendia Buell who had just been initiated into the society by being administered to. A number of women were given the opportunity to speak freely about their past experiences when being administered to by the other sisters.
“Mrs. Buel who resided at a distance— was deprived of the privileges enjoyed by the sisters in Nauvoo, and wished to become a member of this Society; there was not much business to be attended to, therefore we might spend the time in religious exercises before the Lord— spoke of the happiness she felt in the present association of females, and made very appropriate remarks respecting the duties & prospects of the Society— that it was organiz’d after the order of heav’n &c. &c. Councillor [Elizabeth Ann] Whitney also made many interesting remarks and invited all present to speak their sentiments freely—
Mrs. Buel arose and said that she rejoiced in the opportunity— that she considered it a great privilege she felt that the spirit of the Lord was with the Society, and rejoic’d to become a member altho’ residing at a distance and could not attend the meetings. Mrs. [Elizabeth Davis] Durfee bore testimony to the great blessing she received when administered to, after the close of the last meeting, by Prest. E. Smith& Councillors Cleveland and Whitney. she said she never realized more benefit thro’ any administration— that she was heal’d, and thought the sisters had more faith than the brethren.”
Eliza then gave a blessing to Presendia Huntington Buell:
“Miss [Eliza R.] Snow after making observations with regard to the Society— the importance of acting in wisdom & walking humbly before God &c. said she had a blessing for Mrs. Buel, that inasmuch as she had become a member of this Society, as the spirit of a person pervades every member of the body, so shall the Spirit of the Lord which pervades this Society be with her— she shall feel it and rejoice— she shall be blest whereever she is, and the Lord shall open the way and she shall be instrumental in doing much,— thro’ her own exertions by the instrumentality of others, she shall be enabled to contribute much to the fund of the Society— she shall warm up the hearts of those who are cold and dormant, and shall be instrumental in doing much good”
Eliza was a force to be contended with in Nauvoo. She was smart and witty, held prominent social status among the Mormon elites, had the ear of Emma at her beckon call, fraternized with the other women I read off in that minute book passage; Eliza was at the crux of everything happening in Nauvoo. Eliza, Emma, and Jo were all very close to each other. Eliza had lived with the Smiths off and on for most of her years in Mormonism. Eventually, the relationship developed to the point that Jo felt comfortable approaching Eliza with the doctrine of celestial marriage.
“In Nauvoo I first understood that the practice of plurality of wives was to be introduced into the church. The subject was very repugnant to my feelings — so directly was it in opposition to my educated prepossessions, that it seemed as though all the prejudices of my ancestors for generations past congregated around me. But when I reflected that I was living in the Dispensation of the fulness of times, embracing all other Dispensations, surely Plural Marriage must necessarily be included, and I consoled myself with the idea that it was far in the distance, and beyond the period of my mortal existence. It was not long however, after I received the first intimation, before the announcement reached me that the “set time” had come — that God had commanded his servants to establish the order, by taking additional wives — I knew that God … was speaking. … As I increased in knowledge concerning the principle and design of Plural Marriage, I grew in love with it.”
Thus, in June 1842, Jo and Eliza were married in the celestial sense. Eliza became Jo’s 14th wife if we count Fanny Alger and Lucinda Morgan Pendleton. In her later life she became one of the strongest advocates for the practice of, and pillars of support for those affected by, polygamy. This marriage to Jo was secretive.
We’ll continue to keep Eliza in mind as we progress through the remainder of 1842 and get into early 1843. Something happens, nobody truly knows what. We’ll discuss that at a later time. Regardless of the circumstance of what happened in early 1843, Jo and Eliza Snow were married to each other, at which time Eliza began to advocate for the secretive practice of polygamy.
When Lorenzo finally got back to Nauvoo after a long period in Europe, Eliza decided it was time her younger brother learned what had been going on in his absence.
“While my brother was absent on this, his first mission to Europe, changes had taken place with me, one of eternal import, of which I supposed him to be entirely ignorant. The Prophet Joseph had taught me the principle of plural, or Celestial Marriage, and I was married to him for time and eternity. In consequence of the ignorance of most of the Saints, as well as people of the world, on this subject, it was not mentioned only privately between the few whose minds were enlightened on the subject.
Not knowing how my brother would receive it, I did not feel at liberty, and did not wish to assume the responsibility of instructing him in the principle of plural marriage, and either maintained silence, or, to his indirect questioning, gave evasive answers, until I was forced, by his cool and distant manner, to feel that he was growing jealous of my sisterly confidence—that I could not confide in his brotherly integrity. I could not endure this—something must be done. I informed my husband of the situation, and requested him to open the subject to my brother. A favorable opportunity soon presented, and, seated together on the lone bank of the Mississippi river, they had a most interesting conversation. The Prophet afterwards told me that he found that mybrother's mind had been previously enlightened on the subject in question, and was ready to receive whatever the spirit of revelation from God should impart. That Comforter which Jesus said should "lead into all truth," had penetrated his understanding, and while in England had given him an intimation of what at that time was, to many, a secret. This was the result of living near the Lord, and holding communion with Him.”
Our relationship is complicated, but I don’t think Eliza minds. It’s still new and hasn’t yet lost its sheen. Look, I’ve heard from her friends some things about Eliza. I’ve heard she’s into the whole magic and wicca stuff with all the ointment-laden broomhandles and talismans which doesn’t really work with my perspective of cold-hard skepticism so we may have some conflicts there. I’ve heard that she spent most of her Utah years at the right hand of Bloody Brigham, the female counterpart to his iron-fisted dictatorial control, I know she preached to women in Utah Relief Societies that they’re way too entitled while she herself was wearing a silk dress, I’m pretty sure she helped coerce young girls into polygamy unwillingly, and that causes me some deep inner conflict. So, for the time being, I’ll just try not to let those facts take away the luster and excitement in our relationship, just let me have this please. It’s her mind, it’s her lightning-quick wit, her resilience and fortitude to live counter to the dictates of the society in which she lived, it’s her poetry, her social commentary not buying into the religious and patriotic dogma plaguing the simpletons of her era. It’s Eliza Snow’s dynamic character and charisma I find so incredible and attractive. She didn’t care what people said about her, Eliza just did her Eliza thing and nobody could stop her. She was strong-willed and powerful, when she entered the room, people didn’t know what to say, think, or how to talk to her, the entire room’s attention turned to Eliza whenever she chose to walk through the door. To some, she was a Julie Andrews writing Church hymnals, to others she was an Erin Brockovich trying to bring justice to those subjugated by the powers that be. To many others, Eliza Snow was a Cerci Lannister. We’ll get to know her as time progresses.
Alright, I’ll be real for a second. The reason Eliza is such a fascinating and compelling character of Mormon history is because she left so much behind. Very few women who lived as her contemporaries left behind a fraction of what she did. Of all the women I’ve studied in early Mormon history, she stands out so much because she actually has definition. She was one of the few women historians can actually get a grasp on. Every single person living in her time was just as dynamic and unique as her, albeit in different ways, but so few ever left behind a legacy like hers. Those other people are so ill-defined that we’re almost talking about ghosts of a different time. Eliza is alive, vibrant, and exciting in my mind because there’s so much information about her and so much is from her own hand, which makes her even more compelling. Her contemporaries wrote about her, but she wrote much more about herself if we only take her poems into consideration. With everything else she wrote, all the minute books, surviving letter correspondences, biographical sketches, few women in early Mormonism are so well defined in a historical sense as Eliza Snow.
I’ll do my best to interweave the story of Eliza and other prominent female figures into the timeline as we move forward. Maybe, and this may be just wishing into the wind, but maybe one day Naked Mormonism will finally pass the Bechdel test.
Thank Annie for voice
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