Nancy Green II clip

Ep 117 – Miss Nancy Rigdon

On this episode, we get a brief character sketch of Nancy Rigdon, daughter of church leader, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon. Nancy grew up during the formative years of the Church in Kirtland and Missouri. Now, she’s 19-years old, single, and strong-willed to boot. Jo requests Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde to act as an emissary to Nancy Rigdon to set up a meeting, he’s flatly refused by Miss Nancy and rumors explode from the scenario. The plot to assassinate Nancy’s character begins.


Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess by Richard Van Wagoner

Nancy Rigdon biography

A History of Persecution by Sidney Rigdon

Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde

Gazelle – Nancy Green II

Eliza R. Snow poem lexicon

Thinking Atheist guest spot

Show Links:

Twitter @NakedMormonism
Music by Jason Comeau
Show Artwork
Legal Counsel

I want to start with an excerpt from a Roger Launius article titled: Nauvoo in Mormon History: At the Crossroads of Faith and History. My friend and mentor, Joe Geisner sent this over and I can’t seem to find it anywhere in googling so I believe the article is actually unpublished and it reads as a lecture by Launius about the recently published book, Cultures in Conflict. It’s absolutely fascinating as a quick overview of the realm of historical studies concerning Nauvoo Mormonism.

“Robert Bruce Flanders appropriately concluded in 1973 that “Utah began in Nauvoo, as did the ‘dissenting’ sects of Mormonism such as the Reorganized Church in a different way.” He added that “Nauvoo was a volatile mixture of elements—American patriotism, immigrant dreams of the promised land, displaced-person desperation, religious mysticism and fanaticism, free experimentation with new social, ethical, and politico-economic modes, optimism, opportunism, energy—and escalating violence within and without.” Whether those lessons be positive or negative in conclusion matter not, the compelling factor of seeking an order from the experience makes the issue worth exploring.”

That’s precisely why we’re taking such an inordinate amount of time to get through the Nauvoo era of Mormon history. Look at the backlog of episodes, it took us the sum total of 25 history episodes to cover the cultural milieu of the Smith family and other prominent figures within the early church and get through the New York era of Mormonism. Another 15 episodes and we were through the Kirtland era. As my understanding of Mormon history continues to expand, our analysis has slowed to a crawl. It took another 12 episodes to cover just the single year of 1838 in Missouri. Now, we’ve spent nearly 50 episodes on just 3 years of Nauvoo history and that’s only staring at the tip of the iceberg from a distance.

The thing is, I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere with the historical timeline. I’ve received messages from people who keep wondering when we’ll get to this or that controversial subject in Mormon history and my most frequent reply is a few simple words, “all in due time.” History is complex. We’re trying to chart the high points of the journey of thousands of people over 20 years at the moment and it’s no simple task. That’s my way of saying, please sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as it happens. It’s also my way of saying that I’m steadily working on ideas of exactly how to best create an inclusive narrative that isn’t just a podcast about catching up with Jo every week. Everything in Mormon history was moved and shaped by Joseph Smith, but it’s important to focus on individuals other than him in order to understand the broader context in which Mormonism lived.

Today our focus will be on Nancy Rigdon. She was the prized eldest single daughter of church leader, Sidney Rigdon and Phebe Brooks Rigdon, and is reported as being one of the most beautiful young women to grace the church with her presence. She was 8 years old when she was baptized into the church, soon after her mother and father joined. That, of course, came as a result of the first mission troop’s proselytizing campaign when they stopped in Kirtland, Ohio, on their way to the border with the Lamanites in Missouri at the end of 1830. Nancy met the prophet and elect lady, Emma, likely in February or March of 1831 when they first arrived in town during their own private exodus from New York, while the remainder of the New York saints were amidst preparations to make their journey to the Western Reserve area of Ohio.

Nancy was barely nine years old when she first met the power couple of Mormonism, while Joseph Smith had just turned 26. Nancy matured into becoming the dashing young woman she was while Jo was her father’s best friend throughout the Kirtland era of Mormonism. One of her first adult-like investments was purchasing stock in the KSS company around the age of 16 years old. She’d been with her parents for every move from Kirtland, to Hiram, back to Kirtland, then she even moved very briefly out to Salem, MA for a year before the church began its exodus to Missouri, during which she moved to the Church HQ in Far West, Missouri, with her parents.

In the aftermath of the Missouri-Mormon war, Nancy’s father, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon, was incarcerated in Liberty Jail. Phebe, Nancy’s mother, Sidney’s wife, frequently went to the Liberty Jail to care for Sidney while in his fragile state of mind during this tumultuous period of Mormon history. Nancy was not present for Rigdon’s jailbreak, but Phebe was, and helped precipitate the occasion effectively.

From Richard Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon, a Portrait of Religious Excess p. 255

“Returning to confinement with the rest of his brethren, Rigdon waited ten days, until 5 February, for a favorable opportunity to put into effect the escape plan he had masterminded with the assistance of Sheriff Samuel Hadley and jailor Samuel Tillery. A carriage, probably driven by his son-in-law George W. Robinson, was ready to “take me in and carry me of with all speed,” wrote Rigdon. Arrangements had also been made for a guide “who was well acquainted with the country—to pilot me through the country so that I might not go on any of the public roads.” Phebe had come to the jail earlier in the day to accompany her husband out of the state to safety in Illinois.

When darkness fell, the sheriff and jailer brought supper to their charges. After Sidney and Phebe had eaten, Rigdon whispered to the jailor to blow out all the candles but one, and step away from the door with that one. The sheriff then took him by the arm, and a pre-arranged scuffle ensued. During the mock shoving match the sheriff pushed Rigdon out the door onto the street, then shook his hand and bade him farewell, advising him to make his escape with all possible speed. After sprinting a short distance Rigdon heard someone running behind him. Thinking his escape had been discovered he drew his pistol, cocked it, and assumed a defensive posture, determined not to be taken alive. But as his pursuer drew near and spoke, Rigdon recognized it was George W. Robinson. A few moments later another ally, the guide, arrived with horses.

In the rush of adrenaline and confusion of the moment, Rigdon had forgotten his wife in the jail. Robinson returned to get her while Rigdon and his squire left town as fast as their horses could manage. Three miles outside town Robinson and Phebe, riding in an open carriage, caught up with the horsemen. Phebe and her son-in-law then drove to Far West to gather their families while Rigdon and his guide spared no horseflesh racing eastward across Missouri to an anticipated safe haven.

At daybreak Rigdon and his escort arrived at the house of an acquaintance. They slept throughout the day, then rode again under cover of darkness until they reached Tenny’s Grove. To their surprise the Rigdon and Robinson families awated them, having traveled faster, more public byways. A hiding place was secured in the rear of the wagon where Rigdon hid during daylight hours as the conveyance rolled easterly. When the travelers reached the western banks of the Mississippi after dark, Rigdon was so apprehensive about remaining in Missouri overnight that he paid two canoeists to transport him across the mighty river, where, wrote his son Wickliffe, he “was free from his persecutors… and could rest in peace.”

Phebe Rigdon was crucial to the success of his escape, providing a bit of subterfuge for the other jailors to focus on as Sidney feigned his battle with the sheriff. While Sidney made his way to Quincy, Illinois, where all the Mormons were in the middle of their exodus from Missouri, Phebe and George Robinson were responsible for going to Far West and collecting the family and all their stuff. Nancy must have played an important role in loading up her younger siblings and everybody’s possessions. The Rigdons had eleven children at this time and all the logistical encumbrances such demands necessitate.

With the help of Nancy and George W. Robinson, Phebe Rigdon was able to load up the entire Rigdon family and their most precious possessions in the family wagon and begin the 170-mile journey eastward to Quincy. All the while, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon was travelling under the cover of night to avoid detection in the state of Missouri. If he was caught by somebody who knew him by his face, Sidney would likely be shot on the spot for his role in the conflict of the preceding year.

Nancy, Phebe, and the whole Rigdon family made their way to Quincy and eventually briefly put down roots before moving to Commerce. During this time, Sidney was so overwhelmed by coordinating logistics of the Mormon exodus from Missouri and acquiring new land. Phebe and Nancy would have made up the unified partnership in the Rigdon family for keeping all 9 remaining non-adult children in line during this trying time.

Nancy continued to mature in Nauvoo in her late teenagehood, becoming an increasingly desirable prospective wife of some fine Mormon lad in Nauvoo. But, as is even the case today, a beautiful young woman in a prominent social position within a community will eventually become a magnet for all sorts of rumors, regardless of her conduct. Such was the case with Nancy Rigdon.

Bennett’s history of the Saints provides a brief character sketch of Nancy Rigdon beginning on page 241

“Miss Rigdon is the eldest unmarried daughter of Sidney Rigdon, Esq., and is a beautiful girl, of irreproachable fame, great moral excellence, and superior intellectual endowments. She is a young lady of many charms and varied attractions; but she, too, was marked out for the Cloister. Joe could not suffer a pretty woman to escape without a trial.”

Understandably, Nancy Rigdon had grown up as a beautiful young girl under Jo’s predatory gaze since the Rigdons were baptized into the church and the Smith family made their way to Kirtland. Now, in 1842, when she was age 19, something changed which made it seem like the proper time for Jo to test the waters of Nancy’s personal convictions concerning monogamy vs. polygamy.

Jo set up a meeting between him and Nancy, the intent behind the meeting is well understood to historians today. I alluded to this scenario last episode, but let’s really dive in to try and figure out what happened between Nancy and Jo that day.

The details of how this meeting happened are fascinating. First off, it was set up by Jo’s recently acquired plural wife, Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde. We’ll discuss that further in a moment, but she was acting as emissary to Nancy Rigdon to try and soften the blow of Jo’s pending proposition to Nancy. This meeting marked a few turning points in Mormon history which we’ll discuss soon.

From Van Wagoner’s biography of Sidney Rigdon p. 294

“Sidney Rigdon’s family was likewise drawn into the labyrinth of spiritual wifery on 9 April 1842. At the funeral of young Ephraim R. Marks, Nancy Hyde, wife of Apostle Orson Hyde, gave nineteen-year-old Nancy Rigdon a message that Joseph wanted to talk with her at the Hyde residence. Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde, a trusted friend of the Rigdons, was a clandestine facilitator for spiritual wifery, a role she espoused apparently to amend for her husband’s 1838 apostasy. The conditions imposed on Orson Hyde to obtain his former standing, according to one account, were to relinquish his money and his wife to Joseph Smith “as a ransom for his transgression”.”

A brief pause here, that is some powerful coercion by Jo. Orson Hyde had apostatized during the 1838 conflict in Missouri, and to repay Jo for his sins, Jo forced Hyde to give up his money and wife “as a ransom for his transgression”. During this time that Jo took Marinda Nancy Johnson as his plural wife, Orson L’Chydem was literally on a mission for the Church in Jerusalem. Yes, Jo married other men’s wives, and did so while those men were on missions. The detail often lost in that anti-Mormon punchline is that Jo coerced them both to doing what they did for Jo’s benefit as a vengeance and power play because Orson had gone against the will of the prophet during his time of need in Missouri. Further, Marinda Nancy Johnson became one of the famed “Mothers in Israel” as one of Jo’s wives who would help convince women that celestial marriage was true and righteous, creating a positive feedback loop of using current plural marriages to gain new plural marriages. It’s disgusting any way you cut it, and that’s not even the most disturbing part of Marinda Nancy Johnson’s place in Nauvoo Mormonism.

Continuing on in Van Wagoner’s book on Sidney Rigdon:

“On 2 December 1841, while Orson Hyde was absorbed in his historic mission to the Holy Land, Smith revealed a divine directive ordering church printer Ebenezer Robinson to take Nancy Hyde and her children into his home, the first floor suite of the Time and Seasons office on the corner of Vain and Water streets. The revelation concluded: “[L]et my handmaid Nancy Marinda Hyde hearken to the counsel of my servant Joseph in all things whatsoever he shall teach unto her, and it shall be a blessing upon her and upon her children after her, unto her justification, saith the Lord.” An entry four months later in the prophet’s personal diary notes that Nancy was sealed to him in April 1842, one of several relationships contracted with married women during his lifetime.

Evidently Hyde, although sealed to the prophet, was shared with Smith’s scribe, Apostle Willard Richards, whose wife was in Massachusetts. Ebenezer Robinson wrote that in late January 1842, after his family was forced to vacate the printing office, “Willard Richards nailed down the windows, and fired off his revolver in the street after dark, and commenced living with mrs. Nancy Marinda Hyde.” John C. Bennett, former member of the First Presidency, wrote of Richards “Hyde-ing” and “Mrs. Hyde and Dr. Richards” residing at the printing office “on special business”.”

Another brief pause…. Yes, when you were on Jo’s good side like Richards, you get all the possible perks of the job. If you’re husband is on Jo’s bad side, like Marinda Nancy’s was, Jo used you as a commodity to award the people on his good side. Everything in Nauvoo had a price, especially women.

“Sidney Rigdon, later commenting on Hyde’s and Richard’s illicit relationship, exclaimed in an 1845 letter:

‘If R[ichards] should take a notion to H[yde]’s wife in his absence, all that is necessary to be done is to be sealed. No harm done, no adultery committed; only taking a little advantage of rights of priesthood. And after R[ichards] has gone the round of dissipation with H[yde]’s wife, she is afterwards turned over to S[mith] and thus the poor silly woman becomes the actual dupe to two designing men, under the sanctimonious garb of rights of the royal priesthood.’

In April 1842, however, the Rigdon family knew nothing of Apostle Richards’s and Nancy Hyde’s relationship. Thus Nancy Rigdon had no qualms about meeting Joseph Smith at the Hyde residence with Sister Hyde as chaperon. On arriving at the printing office, Willard Richards informed her that Joseph was detained elsewhere and wished her to return the following Thursday. In the meantime she discussed the situation with Francis M. Higbee, forewarned by John C. Bennett that Smith had confided to him a romantic interest in Nancy, cautioned her “not to place too much reliance on revelation,” but did not counsel her against going.”

Another brief pause. Late April of 1842, Wreck-it Bennett and Jo’s relationship was really fracturing. Here we have Bennett advising Nancy Rigdon that Jo is going to propose to her, but didn’t tell her not to go. If we’re looking for some of the causes as to why Bennett and Jo had such a volcanic and immediate breakup, cockblocking explains a lot.

Now to conclude the interaction between Jo and Nancy Rigdon, a meeting set up by Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde:

“The various accounts of Nancy’s second visit to the printing office are convoluted. The general consensus, however, is that upon her arrival Smith greeted her in, ushered her into a private room, then locked the door. (PROTECT LDS CHILDREN PEOPLE!!!) After swearing her to secrecy, wrote George W. Robinson, Smith announced his “affection for her for several years, and wished that she should be his… the Lord was well pleased with this matter… there was no sin in it whatever… but, if she had any scruples of conscious about the matter, he would marry her privately.”

But Nancy, a “buxom and winsome” girl according to one account, was not cooperative. Despite her tender age, she did not hesitate to express herself. The prophet’s seductive behavior shocked her; she rebuffed him in a flurry of anger. Wickliffe Rigdon wrote that Smith, flustered, beckoned Mrs. Hyde into the room to help win Nancy over. Hyde volunteered that she too was surprised upon first hearing of the tenet, but was convinced it was true, and that “great exaltation would come to those who received and embraced it.” Incredulous, the feisty Nancy countered that “if she ever got married she would marry a single man or none at all.” Grabbing her bonnet, she ordered the door opened or she would “raise the neighbors.” She then stormed out of the Hyde-Richards residence.”

I should point out that Nancy became a vitriolic opponent of Mormonism after Jo’s death. She didn’t really continue belief in the Book of Mormon or in Rigdonism, the religion her father organized after Smith’s death, she was a smart and free-spirited woman whose morality stood above her contemporary religious leaders. Her sense of morality wouldn’t be swayed by those wolves in shepherd’s clothing.

It should be noted that it becomes even more salacious when we see Jo’s continued pursuit of Nancy Rigdon. This all culminated in a confrontation between Rigdon and Jo, but prior to said confrontation, Jo continued to accost Nancy. He sent a letter with White-out Willard Richards to give to Nancy, but the wording reveals his self-aggrandizing motives in the purest form. He decided to leverage language used by Sidney Rigdon a week prior during Ephraim Marks’s funeral to make his point to Nancy that there was nothing wrong with polygamy.

“Within a day or two Willard Richards delivered a private letter to Nancy. The prophet, as was his custom, had dictated the personal communication through his scribe. The essence of that message made an intriguing appendage to Sidney Rigdon’s 9 April Ephraim Marks funeral sermon. According to observer Wilford Woodruff, President Rigdon took as his text: “When we see a principle that makes us the most Happy if we will Cultivate that principle & practice it ourselves it will render others Happy.” The prophet, who habitually used language as much to conceal as he did to express, began his letter to Nancy with the cheerful assertion: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence.” After a brief discussion on keeping the commandments, the message cut to the chase:

‘That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another… Everything that God gives us is lawful and right; and it is proper that we should enjoy His gifts and blessings… Blessings offered, but rejected, are no longer blessings… Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.’

Citing God, Smith further declared “no good thing will I withhold from them who … will listen to my voice and to the voice of My Servant whom I have sent; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the laws of my kingdom; for all things shall be made known unto them in mine own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.”

Not only did Jo use Sidney Rigdon’s own words to try and get Nancy to marry him, but those words were taken from a funeral sermon. I don’t know what “low” is, but that’s about as low as it gets for a human being. I mean, that’s just straight-up deplorable.

I want to draw a line of clarification that I’ve drawn before, but it bears repeating to articulate why this is deplorable. I have no problem with 2 or 3, or even a thousand informed consenting adults doing whatever they want in their respective intimate settings. What informed consenting adults do behind closed doors is none of my business and it has absolutely no bearing on who they are as human beings, it simply doesn’t matter. I have no problem with any form of poly relationship as long as those 3 criteria are fulfilled, informed consenting adults. Just be honest and respectful to your partner or partners and don’t violate trust by violating the terms of agreement in a relationship. Also, don’t hold to specific views and preach about them in public when your private life is exactly counter to what you preach, that’s hypocrisy, it’s lying, it’s dishonest and any person whose conduct is exactly what their moral proscriptions are proclaimed in public, they’re a liar and hypocrite, deserving of universal derision. When you have to justify your morality with divinely inspired moral relativism with lines like “that which is wrong under one circumstance often is right under another,” and those circumstances are merely contingent upon who you’re trying to have sex with at the given moment, you’ve lost your moral compass long before arriving at that moment.

Everything in this interaction between Jo and Nancy violates everything I’ve described at some level. Jo publicly preached strict monogamy from the pulpit, while hypocritically practicing polygamy behind closed doors. Those polygamous relationships violated the terms of Jo and Emma’s relationship agreements, which were wholly shaped by the time and place from which they both came. Jo was using his position in the community to coerce Nancy Rigdon into the relationship, but she was too strong-willed to listen to his bovine feces, whereas Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde’s role in Mormon polygamy is a perfect example of what happens when a person doesn’t have the fortitude of will to oppose the proclamations of the prophet who was using his religious and social position to influence people for his own gain. Further, Nancy Rigdon was not openly informed by Jo the extent of what she’d be getting into should she have agreed to the marriage. It took an enemy of Jo’s, Wreck-it Bennett, to inform her of what was going on so she went into the meeting with her mind already fortified against the prophet’s incessant pleadings to take her to wife. Now, Nancy was an adult, but there are multiple examples where Jo violated that third prong of the informed, consenting adults equation repeatedly. Jo was a predator. He was a liar and hypocrite.

Honestly, I’m glad I don’t believe in the Church anymore. I couldn’t reconcile this as a believer. If I was a believer in Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, knowing the circumstances of Nancy Rigdon and Joseph is a truth I can’t bring into reconciliation. I don’t know how anybody who knows these circumstances can hold to the ideology that Joseph Smith was a moral human being, much less a pious prophet of the lord. It simply does not compute. Luckily, I don’t have to bring those concepts into accord with each other. I don’t have to justify his behavior, I simply pity anybody who does and admire the plasticity of their mind to be able to mold into such fantastic gymnastics that seems so bafflingly counter to simply logic. If only they put those mental gymnastic abilities to useful causes.

Another aspect revealed in the Nancy Rigdon issue is just how it further drove a wedge between Jo’s relationships with previously trusted Mormon elites. Not only did Bennett warning Nancy before her meeting reveal that his and Jo’s relationship was quickly waning in strength and trust, but it served to almost completely dissolve his relationship with Hingepin Sidney and Phebe Rigdon. The Rigdons and Smiths had been close friends for over a decade by this point, been through thick and thin together, faced mobs, been driven from state to state, Jo and Sidney had stood on the witness stand in court together, both families had been driven hopelessly in debts together; but Jo’s reach in polygamy was too vast. It was only a matter of time before it affected the Rigdons too.

White-out Willard Richards delivering Jo’s letter to Nancy was an abomination in that day for multiple reasons. For starters, what business could a married man possibly have with a 19-year-old single woman who was being courted by another single man her age? Also, Jo circumvented the social conventions of his day in sending that letter directly to Nancy. Social conventions dictated that when a man wanted to contact a woman for any purpose, he was to go through her father or husband unless extenuating circumstances dictated otherwise. But, for the purposes of courting a man’s daughter, you went through the man because his daughter was his possession until she was given to another in marriage. At this time, Francis Higbee, son of trusted Mormon elite, John Higbee of Mountain Meadows Massacre fame, was courting Nancy Rigdon. After Jo’s proposition, Nancy told her boyfriend about what had happened, which inevitably spread to John C. Wreck-it Bennett, after which the story was picked up into the bloodstream of the Nauvoo rumor mill and the story was passed around the entire community.

To what extent the Rigdons were aware of Jo’s sexual escapades prior to this situation between Nancy and Jo can never be known. They must have known from the earliest days in Kirtland that rumors surrounding Mormonism and polygamy were likely stemming from Jo’s misconduct. D&C 101, the monogamy revelation which was removed in 1876 from the Brighamite D&C, was published in 1835, likely under the direction of Hingepin Rigdon himself to assuage those rumors. But, they had to know that funny business happened with Fanny Alger back in 1836 right before she was quickly whisked away from town. The Rigdons had to know that Jo was a womanizer, from the smallest interactions they witnessed to the overt propositioning of their own daughter, Phebe and Sidney must have known it was only a matter of time before one of their daughters would fall victim to Jo’s insatiable libido.

Eventually, Jo was summoned to the Rigdon home, just a stone’s throw from the Nauvoo Homestead in which the Smiths were living at the time.

“Sidney and Phebe, who had given birth to Ephraim Robinson Marks Rigdon on 9 April, were incensed at the prophet’s insolence. Convention dictated that women be addressed only through their fathers. Rigdon perceived he had been hoodwinked by friend Smith…

George W. Robinson wrote that when Sidney confronted Smith at the Rigdon home, the enraged father demanded an explanation of the prophet’s behavior. Smith “attempted to deny it at first,” Robinson said, “and face [Nancy] 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,” that ultimately “he could not withstand the testimony, he then and there acknowledged that every word of Miss Rigdon’s testimony was true.”

Nancy’s brother, Wickliffe, in recalling the situation provides more context for Nancy’s personality and how she dealt with the accusations from the prophet that she was lying about the ordeal. Wickliffe recalled the scenario as follows:

“Smith came to Rigdon[‘]s house and mentioned the subject and attempted to deny it[.]” Nancy was one of those “excitable women,” he added, and when she heard the prophet’s denials from an adjacent room, she stormed into the parlor and said, “Joseph Smith you are telling that which is not true[.] you did make such a proposition to me and you know it.”

Another later reminiscence described Nancy’s perspective of the situation when they said, “Nancy are you not afraid to call the Lord[‘]s anointed a cursed liar[?]” “No,” the strong-willed girl replied, “I am not for he does lie and he knows it.””

Nancy wasn’t under Jo’s spell as the thousands of other Mormons were. Really though, she grew up watching Jo become the prophet he was in Nauvoo. She was 8 when they first met and her formative years were spent in intimate settings when the prophet and Emma would take dinner with the Rigdons. She saw Jo as a man, a rare perspective in that time and place of American history. Beyond that, the situation between her and Jo reveals so much of the man behind the cardboard cutout prophet. Nancy Rigdon and her refusal of Jo’s proposition, which became incredibly public, is a tough set of facts to get past or try to spin in a positive light that doesn’t reveal Joseph Smith to be the sexual predator he was.

However, the controversial nature of this interaction hasn’t stopped people from trying to spin the situation. It started early. Less than a year after Jo and Hyrum died in the Carthage gunfight, Orson Hyde spoke to a congregation in Liverpool, England when questions were raised concerning what had happened between Nancy and Jo. You can see the rewriting of Jo’s history when his body was still warm underground done in a way to paint Nancy as a feckless whore in need of chastising by the perfect prophet of the Lard.

According to Orson L’Chydem, Jo had asked Hyde’s wife, Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, then plural wife of Jo’s which we’ve discussed already, to set up the meeting between Nancy and Jo, but not for the purposes of propositioning her for a plural marriage, that doctrine was still under wraps in 1845 when this was given. This is what Orson Hyde said concerning the encounter, and I’m reading this from Mormonism—Shadow or Reality p. 222:

“The Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde admitted that his wife had invited Nancy Rigdon to visit Joseph Smith, but he stated that Miss Rigdon was a wicked woman and that Joseph Smith desired the meeting to ‘reprove and reclaim her if possible’

‘Will the best and most blessed people on the earth have spiritual wives, and tolerate adultery?...

During my absence to Palestine, the conduct of his daughter, Nancy, became notorious in this city, according to common rumour, she was regarded generally, little, if any better, than a public prostitute. Joseph Smith knowing the conduct she was guilty of, felt anxious to reprove and reclaim her if possible. He, accordingly, requested my wife to invite her down to her house. He wished to speak with her, and show her the impropriety of being gallanted about by so many different men, many of whom were comparatively strangers to her. Her own parents could look upon it, and think that all was right; being blind to the faults of their daughter. There being so many of this kind of men visiting Mr. Rigdon’s house… that Mr. Smith did not care to go there to see her. Miss Nancy, I presume, considered her dignity highly insulated at the plain and sharp reproofs she received from this servant of God. She ran home and told her father that Mr. Smith wanted her for a spiritual wife, and that he employed my wife to assist him in obtaining her. This was a good time for Miss Nancy and John C. Bennett to wreak vengeance on the victim of their hatred for his severe admonitions… Miss Nancy is made, therefore, to attribute to Joseph Smith and to my wife, language which neither of them ever used. Thus must an innocent and unsuspecting female suffer for putting down a hand to help, as it is verily believed, a poor miserable girl out of the very slough of prostitution…”

Consider the source of this quote, Orson Hyde was a Book of Mormon thumping apostle working under the direction of Brigham Young proselytizing to the British converts as the Mormons in Nauvoo were toiling with who to follow after the death of their supreme worldly leader. Sidney Rigdon had garnered a significant following in blatant contradiction to Bloody Brigham Young’s authority claims. Hingepin Rigdon was viciously opposed to polygamy and the meeting between Jo and Nancy likely rang the death knell for Jo and Rigdon’s relationship, as we’ll soon see. At this same time, Bloody Brigham was practicing polygamy behind closed doors, but with much less public concealment than Jo ever practiced. It was fairly well-known throughout Nauvoo Mormonism that Bloody Brigham and Heber the Creeper Kimball had already taken most of Jo’s wives to their own name for time according to Levitical teachings. So, the source for this version of Jo and Nancy’s meeting was trying to teach legitimacy to celestial marriage under the Brighamite tradition, while at the same time casting aspersions at the strictly monogamous Rigdonite Mormonism which was steadily gathering supporters. I think it’s safe to say that Hyde had a vested interest in the Rigdon’s being painted with a certain picture at this time, his vested interests color his perspective of what he reported as had happened between Jo and Nancy.

The intent that Orson Hyde claimed Jo had in this meeting, that of rebuffing Nancy Rigdon for her supposed lack of chastity or being a prostitute in Nauvoo, was a singular accusation made by Hyde. The historical record provides little to no precedent for establishing any factual basis for Nancy’s rumored promiscuity. Orson Hyde’s accusations here were purely character assassination against Nancy Rigdon. She was the victim of Jo’s sexually predatory practices, yet Orson L’chydem was protecting the name of the almighty prophet and rewriting Jo’s history by painting Nancy as a filthy lying woman of the night. Amazing, bros protecting bros when one of them is a horrible human being. But, they swore oaths with the threat of death if they didn’t support one another whether right or wrong. Nauvoo Mormonism was nothing if not the most formal-looking bros before hoes club.

The narrative of protecting Jo’s claimed innocent character at all costs was crucial to the Nauvoo Mormon narrative. Every point of opposition to the Church or any of its actors was claimed as religious persecution, a crucial piece to understanding Mormon history. To capture this idea, I’m going to read another excerpt from later in the same article by Roger Launius that I read in the beginning of today’s broadcast.

“How then did the misapprehension about religious persecution arise? Because there was ultimately no separation between the government and the church at Nauvoo, non-Mormon opposition to Mormon theocratic behavior was regarded as religious persecution by Joseph Smith and his associates. Indeed, because he was a religious leader, Smith commonly characterized any criticism of him, for whatever reason, by non-Mormons or disaffected Mormons, as religious persecution of a wholly innocent man.

The myth of persecuted innocence was of overwhelming importance in the Mormon experience in Nauvoo, even moreso than earlier. This myth is not so much a fable or falsehood, I hasten to add, as it is a story, a kind of poetry, about events and situations that have great significance for the people involved. Myths are, in fact, essential truths for the members of a cultural group who hold them, enact them, or perceive them. In particular, the myth of innocence, which is ubiquitous in the Mormon documents of Nauvoo period, freveals that the retreat from American religious pluralism to the theocratic separatist community of Nauvoo represented an escape from moral ambiguity, from the fear of making the wrong choices.”

He concludes with this powerful sentence to sum it up for us:

“As a religious city-state under tight control, Nauvoo was a haven where the followers of Joseph Smith had their most important choices—what they could do to serve God—made for them.”

Innocence not only of the prophet, but of the Church as a whole. A collective false narrative of any wrongdoing on the prophet’s part invokes a dire need for ignoring controversial history and preserving the good name of the prophet and the institution at all costs.

The situation between Nancy and Jo is a horrible set of facts to try and justify, but Orson Hyde began to do so immediately and the character assassination plot against Nancy worked.

To further illustrate that point, consider what happened in the wake of this confrontation between Nancy and Jo. Nancy continued to further depart from the Church and her character was further assailed by other protectionist Mormon elites. Later in life she wrote against the Church and became an outspoken enemy of Brighamism. But the immediate impact of this confrontation reached beyond just Nancy and her public character. Hingepin Rigdon confronting Jo explicitly about Jo’s proposition had profound negative impacts on Sidney and Jo’s relationship. Jo now knew he couldn’t trust Hingepin Rigdon with the fullness of the everlasting covenant of marriage, which pushed them further apart for the remaining 2 years of Jo’s life.

As evidence of the conflict, something else important happened in 1842. Remember, Jo controlled the political strings in Nauvoo. 1842 was an important election year for Illinois and the Mormons in Hancock County. They stood to get a new governor and were forced to throw support at any elected official who would “support good order” in the Mormon sense. Also not much discussed was Hingepin Sidney Rigdon’s bid for Illinois state senator. Set to make his way through the electoral ranks in August of 1842, a mere 3 months after this confrontation, his campaign fell flat.

Nancy Rigdon’s role in the fracturing relationship between Mormon leadership, not just Jo and Hingepin Rigdon, but far broader than just them, further complicated everything and stigmatized her public persona after Jo’s death and the resulting schism crisis. The character assassination was swift and disturbingly effective. Even Eliza Snow piled on Nancy, using her sharp poetic prose to destroy Nancy’s public standing by disparaging those who would reveal the ancient mysteries and covenants practiced by the Lord’s anointed prophets throughout time immemorial. It’s a bit long, but it’s Eliza Snow and I simply love this poem. We’ll just allow Eliza to take us out for the night.

96 The Tattler

published in The Wasp, 11 June 1842

It has been said by some, that woman’s soul
Should never hate.
I know the placid wreath
Of gentleness, is beautiful upon
The female brow; and that the pure, white wand
Of innocence, by woman wielded, has 5
A salutary potency, that is
Superior to arbitrary power:
That in her bosom pity’s mellow tones
Are more congenial to the sphere which heav’n
Design’d for her, than hatred’s sterner voice. 10
I know the worth of female rectitude—
It is the fairest gem upon the crest
Of social life; and I would not presume
To step beyond the sacred halo of
Propriety; but yet, one character, 15
I almost dare to hate. And e’en in this
Age of effeminacy: is there who,
Would say—would think that woman should not hate
The Tattler, whose unhallowed business seems
To wake up nonsense and to stir up strife? 20

But after all, I feel my heart relax,
And pity is preponderating in
My breast. I pity every human form
That haplessly is the receptacle
Of that ignoble, most detestable 25
Of every human trait! Whose head is but
A vacuum where thought is totally
Proscribed and sent a wanderer abroad?
Where vanity holds undisputed sway
And sits enthron’d o’er pompous nothingness, 30
Where, if reflection chance to come, she finds
No seat—no resting place—no lamp to shine
Upon her path: but like a traveler
When left in some dark spacious catacomb,
Amid the mould’ring heaps, to stumble o’er 35
Unconscious matter, without path or guide;
Is lost in everlasting hopelessness!

Poor brainless scull! where every idle tale
Without exception, may be introduc’d
And meet a cordial welcome: —not to be 40
Rank’d with the subjects of forgetfulness
And hid with prudent secrecy away;
But to be cloth’d in the imposing garb
Of seeming consequence, and usher’d forth
On the first breeze that is made tremulous 45
By that untam’d, destructive instrument
Of Mischief—that dread bane of social peace
And happiness, the Tattler’s busy tongue.

Wretched propensity! and wretched the
Possessor of this execrable vice! 50
Whose soul, if soul is there at all, must be
Unto nonentity so near allied,
As to require a microscopic pow’r
To swell it into visibility.

But while the person shares my pity; if 55
I should not hate, I surely may despise
The character, the mean propensity: —
’Tis falsehood’s vehicle and slander’s tool
To throw dark shadows over innocence,
And magnify misfortune into fault. 60
It often serpentinely creeps into
The sanctuary of domestic life,
And with the sacred key of confidence,
Draws out the secrets of the drawing room,
And puts them on the winds of heav’n afloat. 65

I hope I never shall commit a crime
Of such enormous magnitude, as would
Draw down on me an unrelenting frown
Of heav’n, that would subject me to endure
The torment of the Tattler’s senseless buzz. 70

I’d rather live in solitude, amid
The deep impervious wilds, and listen to
The silent speech of nature: and regale
My spirit with the music of the breeze.
O that an abler pen than mine would paint 75

This vice in all its innate ugliness,
With its deformities and hatefulness,
And make it look so like its very self;
That thro’ disfellowship it may return
Down to the nether shades from whence it come.


Huge thanks to Richard Van Wagoner for the content of today’s episode. Pick up a copy of Sidney Rigdon a Portrait of Religious Excess if you can, it’s an amazing book. Check the show notes for a link or google any of Richard Van Wagoner’s books, he’s an amazing historian.

The intro song you heard was Nancy Green 2 by Gazelle, you’ll find it linked in the show notes as well.


Corrin’s email, Native perspective, refer to Thinking Atheist episode ___


Forrest Cuch

“I should have an auditorium, and I don’t. This room should be full. People don’t want to face the truth. You can’t have an honest relationship if it’s not based on truth. That’s why we have a superficial relationship here in Utah between the Native People and the Mormon People.”

“It’s painful to be invisible and ignored in your own homeland.”

“Before settlers and disease killed off our people, 10-30,000 Utes”

“If you still remember suffering then you have not healed. When it comes to native people, I dare say that we have not healed. We have not healed because the stories have not been told, neither completely nor accurately.”


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