122 – Bennett Meltdown pt 2 Sarah Pratt
On this episode, we dive into the continued chaos incited by Bennett’s violent departure from the church and his expose. Bennett gives voice to the voiceless and Jo slays the character of Sarah Pratt for allegations she made against his character. Nobody would escape the meltdown; the casualties are beginning to pile up.
Sarah Pratt the Shaping of an Apostate by Van Wagoner
Is Sarah Pratt Reliable?
Sarah Pratt on FairMormon
Bennett Saintly Scoundrel
Bennett Sangamo Journal Expose
Rise and Fall of Infamous Bennett
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
The meltdown had begun, it was a firesale in Nauvoo to preserve what little bits of reputation that could be salvaged from the wreckage. The revelations quickly coming to light across the country threatened Joseph Smith and the Church. How could they possibly stop the remainder of Bennett’s exposes coming to the public eye?
They couldn’t. All that Jo and the rest of the Mormon elite could do was act out of self-preservation.
The next issue of the Sangamo Journal after the initial printing reveals some interesting developments since Bennett’s first letter had gone public the week before. The movements within Nauvoo are quite fascinating as well. Bennett wasn’t alone in his dissent, he was just the most public and most willing to openly oppose Jo and the Nauvoo theocracy. Sidney Rigdon, largely due to Jo locking his daughter Nancy in a room and forcefully propositioning her, along with Rigdon’s son-in-law George W. Robinson, Francis Higbee, all of these prominent figures in Nauvoo Mormonism were showing signs that they were fed up with it. The most notable of these prominent figures was Orson Pratt. Let’s spend some time talking about Orson and his partner, Sarah Pratt, today. What happened with her? What caused her to become reviled in Mormon history as an angry apostate?
Let’s begin by examining the majority of Jo’s wives up to this point. With only a few exceptions, most of Jo’s wives were already married to other men in elite ranks. Fanny Alger was an exception to this, as was Eliza Snow, but Lucinda Harris, Louisa Beaman, Zina Huntington, Presendia Huntington, Agnes Coolbrith, Sylvia Sessions, Mary Rollins, Patty Sessions, Marinda Nancy Johnson, all of these women taken into marriage prior to summer 1842 were all other men’s wives. This had a few benefits in keeping the marriages secret.
When Jo married other men’s wives, they’d still continue to live with their first husbands and Jo wouldn’t be responsible for supporting them, financially or emotionally as an equal partner. Also, inevitably resulting pregnancies were concealed. Plus, Jo could try and keep the relationships secret from the women’s husbands, or he could get the husbands in on it with promises of eternal exaltation, access to the kingdom on high, and great mansions with progeny without number in the world to come. That was a pretty solid sales pitch for anybody who believed Jo was the one true prophet and actually could grant those promises.
When Jo started marrying single women, that created an interesting set of ramifications for everybody involved. How would they be financially supported when their husband could never be spoken of to anyone? What if they wanted to go on a date, or go to a public dance where they would inevitably be courted, but they were already reserved by the prophet as one of his wives, what could these women do? What reason could they give for turning down a date? Beyond that, an unmarried woman in a very tight-knit insular group getting pregnant out of wedlock, well, that had a whole mess of ramifications that are too complex for us to tease apart here. All of these complications play a role in our discussion today.
What was the situation with Sarah Pratt, what happened with her and her marriage to Orson Pratt? Let’s begin with a brief biographical sketch. You’ll find a link to the Joseph Smith Papers biography of Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt in the show notes.
Sarah was born on February 5, 1817 to Cyrus Bates and Lydia Harrington Bates. She’d been present along with her husband, Orson Pratt, for most events of Church history since Orson Brain-Powered Pratt baptized her in June 1835.
Orson Pratt was a member of Zion’s Camp and his participation resulted in induction to the Quorum of Apostles when it was organized in 1835. Orson Pratt, and anybody attached to him like Sarah, would enjoy elevated status in the Church from that time forward.
Orson and Sarah met while Orson had been proselytizing. He wrote this of their introduction:
“Went to Brother Bates, found them all well. I was very much enjoyed to see them as I had been absent about 1 yr., and more especially as I had previously formed an acquaintance with their daughter with whom I had held a correspondence by letter and with whom I shortly expected to enter into the sacred bonds of matrimony.”
I can’t find those letters anywhere unfortunately. Regardless, they were married a month after that journal entry. As is often the case with women in Mormon history, we’re forced to track the movements of a person through their prominent significant other. This is from Richard Van Wagoner’s article on Sarah Pratt, titled the Shaping of an Apostate. You’ll find a link in the show notes:
“After a three-day honeymoon, Orson resumed his missionary duties, leaving Sarah with her family. He returned to Henderson several times before October, when he and Sarah moved to a dollar-a-month apartment in Kirtland, Ohio.
Orson began trading in stoves and ironwear, but a general downturn in the national economy coupled with Kirtland’s spiraling land speculation and the fiscal mismanagement of the Kirtland Safety Society destroyed the economic foundation of the Mormon utopia. The couple had a few financial resources when Sarah gave birth on 11 July 1837 to Orson Pratt Jr., the first of her twelve children. In mid-August, when she and the baby were able to travel, the young family moved back to the Bates homestead in New York where Orson worked as a laborer for two months.”
After that, the couple briefly moved to New York City as Orson Brain-powered Pratt fulfilled various mission duties. Remember from so many moons ago, we gave Orson Pratt the nickname because he was renowned for his science lectures and invented the tachometer with a clever set of cogs on the wagon wheel during the exodus to the Mexico Territory. Orson and Sarah began their journey to the Missouri settlement of Far West at the behest of Jo’s July revelation requiring all Mormons to move to the new sanctuary. However, due to holdups in traveling and Sarah’s second pregnancy, they didn’t make it before Missouri exploded and the Mormons were chased out while the leadership was thrown in jails. The Pratts made their way from St. Louis to Quincy, Illinois after spring 1839 began thawing the ground and the Mississippi river. They had 3-month-old Lydia Pratt in their arms for the journey. But that was only the beginning of their troubles.
“By mid-May 1839, they were living in a small log cabin with the Wilford Woodruff family at abandoned Fort Des Moines in Montrose, Iowa. Two months later they moved across the Mississippi to live in a fourteen-by-sixteen-foot “shanty” that Heber C. Kimball had nearly completed in Nauvoo.
The brackish waters of the undrained river bottom lands surrounding Nauvoo produced epidemics of cholera, typhoid, and malaria. Sarah’s eight-month-old baby, Lydia, the first of six of her twelve children who would not attain adulthood, died 18 August 1839 and was buried across the Mississippi at Montrose. Eleven days later, grief-stricken Sarah bade Europe-bound Orson goodbye, an act she would perform many times as he fulfilled his missionary callings.”
It was during this time of destitution that Orson Pratt began his journey to Europe to accompany the other 8 men of the Quorum of Apostles to establish the European stakes of the Church. Sarah was left behind.
Van Wagoner quotes Sarah directly in her 1884 reminiscence of this time.
“There was little money then in circulation and people were obliged to be content to earn what would merely keep soul and body together.”
He goes on to note when Jo and Sarah began close proximity, this is when they likely would have become familiar enough for Jo to have propositioned her to become one of his wives.
“Joseph Smith had been hiring Sarah for his own family’s sewing needs; and in the fall of 1840, he brought John C. Bennett, a newcomer to Mormonism, to Sarah’s house, saying Bennett “wanted some sewing done and that [Sarah] should do it for [him]”. Sarah said that she “assented and Bennett gave me a great deal of work to do”…
Bennett would play a major role in the controversy that would follow Sarah Pratt all her life.”
Sarah Pratt was among the few women who found their voice to publicly opposed the advances of Jo and other Mormon elites. Miss Nancy Rigdon was another notable obstructionist to Jo’s advances and, of course, Martha Brotherton was the most public opposition to Bloody Brigham’s advances.
Sarah Pratt is yet one more woman in Mormon history who’s been thrown under the bus because of standing up to sexual predators. Mormon history is rife with these women throughout its entire history, but these women stand out as examples in Nauvoo who stood up for their beliefs and sexual autonomy, not giving in to the powerful men in the Mormon hierarchy. And we’ll learn by the end of today’s episode that they suffered horrible consequences for opposing the sexual advances of Mormon elites. Sarah Pratt, in particular, is one who has been sound resoundingly derided in Mormon history and it’s incredibly frustrating to read how her name was weaponized by people with so much to lose if rumors became facts.
Bennett collected her statement and published it in his History of the Saints, which was the compilation of all his expose letters in the Sangamo Journal. Patrons of the show are hearing it all first-hand with my commentary, patreon.com/nakedmormonism folks. Here’s Bennett’s sketch of Sarah Pratt along with some of her own words as a testimony with a brief intro.
“Amours and Attempted Seductions
Mrs. Sarah M. Pratt
This lady is the wife of Orson “Brain-Power” Pratt, A.M., Professor of Mathematics in the University of the City of Nauvoo, and is one of the most elegant, graceful, amiable, and accomplished women in the place. Mr. S. Francis, editor of the Sangamo Journal, in speaking of her, says, “It will be recollected that Mrs. Schindle, in her affidavit detailing the attempt of Smith upon her, said, ‘He then told her that she must never tell of his propositions to her, for he had all influence in that place, and if she told, he would ruin her character, and she would be under the necessity of leaving.’ This same scheme has been carried out in reference to Mrs. Pratt. She ‘told’ on the Imposter, and was marked by him for destruction. In a public speech in Nauvoo, on the 14th July, Joe spoke of this lady—a woman whose reputation had been as fair as virtue could make it until she came in contact with him—in a manner only befitting the lowest and most degraded vagabond in existence.” Yes, her reputation was unsullied, and her character as pure as the virgin snow; nor was even the Mormon Don Juan able to blight this blooming flower.—This noble and lovely woman was marked out by Joe as a victim. Her husband was sent to Europe to convert the heathen, under a solemn promise that his family should be honorably provided for by the Church; but, as Mrs. Pratt was a beautiful and charming woman, Joe’s real object was to convert her in another way—from virtue, unsophisticated virtue, to vice, soul-damning vice,--from the path of innocence and peace, to the polluted way of the libertine,--from the pure teachings of heaven’s high King, to the loathsome caresses of the beast and the false prophet; but the fowler’s snare was broken, and the intended victim saved.”
Bennett then goes on to describe the alleged coercive measures Jo employed. Should these be true, well…. It paints a picture of Joseph Smith as a degraded and immoral profligate. Just understand that this is not the only account of allegations like this concerning Joseph Smith. To the contrary, allegations of his sexual misdeeds must be ignored to sell the narrative that he was a conscientious objector to polygamy and only begrudgingly assented at the behest of an angel with a drawn sword.
“Mrs. Pratt is a highly-educated lady, and had always been used to living well; but no sooner had her husband crossed the ocean, than Joe ordered the Bishops to restrict her in her allowance, and reduce her to a state of absolute want and suffering, in order to make her a more easy prey. The mandate was obeyed, and, in drear[y] winter, without fuel or food, she found herself in a miserable hovel, with her darling child, exposed to storm and tempest, and dependent upon the tender mercies of a cold and unfeeling fraternity to supply her actual wants!!! The sufferings and privations through which she passed are indescribable; the blackest fiends of hell would shudder at the thought of such inhuman treatment; but, alas! She drank the bitter cup, and sipped the dregs.”
According to Bennett… and any statement that begins with that phrase has a mess of conflicts… regardless of such conflicts, according to Bennett, after Jo supposedly had promised Orson Pratt that Sarah would be taken care of during his Europe mission, he provided briefly for her upon Orson’s departure, then began deliberately starving her. That’s a step too far and casts the entire account into question because most the Mormons were wanting for resources at this time and Jo wasn’t known for keeping promises. Sarah probably slipped through the cracks just like thousands of other starving Mormons. The result, however, was the same. Sarah found herself in a situation at the age of 25 where her husband was in a foreign country. She had only her own New York education and the skillful vocation as seamstress to provide for herself and her toddler. The Nauvoo Legion and the Mormons’ abrupt removal from Missouri necessitated a lot of manufacturing and mercantile work. Her status in Nauvoo was the wife of an apostle, but most of the Mormons were still quite poor in 1842. That, and Orson was in Europe preaching the gospel. That didn’t do their family economy any favors. Sarah must have been a skilled and intelligent woman out of necessity and she made ends meet when funds from the church inevitably dried up. The Relief Society was for the relief of the Mormons’ poverty. It remains unknown exactly when the events about to be described transpired. Sometime before Orson Brain-power Pratt returned in June 1841, according to Wreck-it Bennett, Jo decided to approach Sarah. Here’s how the events took place according to Bennett as an incredibly biased first-person account. From History of the Saints beginning on 228:
“Joe Smith told me, confidentially, during the absence of her husband, that he intended to make Mrs. Pratt one of his spiritual wives, one of the Cloistered Saints, for the Lord had given her to him as a special favor for his faithfulness and zeal; and, as I had influence with her, he desired me to assist him in the consummation of his hellish purposes; but I refused compliance, and told him that she had been much neglected and abused by the Church, in order to cloister her, so far without success, and that, if the Lord had given her to him, he must attend to it himself, for I should never offer her an indignity.”
Yes, Bennett, such a stand-up guy in telling Jo to pound sand when told of Jo’s intentions with Sarah. This is actually a common theme underlying many Mormon infiltration exposes. The person writing the expose is careful to exonerate themselves from any guilt in anything they reveal, even to the detriment of the reliability of the expose itself. Such may be the case with Bennett. He had influence with her? Was he simply a good friend because Sarah was one of the many needed seamstresses for the Nauvoo Legion? Or, was there something more to it? Jo would leverage Sarah and Bennett’s friendship, whatever it was, in order to assassinate Sarah’s character once Bennett’s expose went public.
According to Bennett, Jo made it very clear how he would deal with Sarah if she refused.
“’Well,’ said he, ‘I shall approach her, for there is no harm in it if she submits to be cloistered, and if her husband should never find it out; and if she should expose me, as she did Bishop Knight, I will blast her character; so there is no material risk for so desirable a person.’”
Then something happened that supposedly happened with Nancy Rigdon, Bennett warned Sarah ahead of time of Jo’s wicked designs, tell her that “she must prepare to repulse him, in so infamous an assault [on her virtue].”
According to Bennett, the big day came for Jo and he wanted to take Sarah Pratt to wife. They took a carriage to her home where it was just Sarah and little Orson Jr. Here’s what transpired, once again, this is all according to Wreck-it Bennett, so take it with an entire mine worth of salt.
“Accordingly, in a few days, Joe proposed to me a visit to Ramus, which I accepted, and we started from his house, in an open carriage,… rode into the prairie a few miles, and returned to the house of Captain John T. Barnett, in Nauvoo, about dusk, where we put up the horse, with Barnett’s permission. Joe pretended we were looking for thieves. After perambulating for an hour or two, we proceeded to the residence of Mrs. Pratt, and found her at home, and alone, with the exception of her little boy, who was then asleep in bed. We were hospitably received, and our situation rendered as comfortable and agreeable as the tenement would admit of.”
The big moment had arrived. Jo said it himself, if she refuses, what is the harm in it? He’ll just blast her character, and he’s the prophet, so he holds a bit more sway than a poor woman living outside the boundaries of Nauvoo with no income beyond seamstress work, a common 19th-century euphemism for sex work.
From the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work vol 2 circa 2006 written by clinical sociologist and behavioral scientist Melissa Ditmore:
“Seamstress was a euphemism for “prostitute” in census records and other documents of the 19th century in the United States. Historical documentation showing several “seamstresses” sharing common living quarters may generally be assumed to represent a brothel. Whether this occupation was reported by prostitutes or supplied by census enumerators and other officials remains speculative, although potential reasons for both are easily understood. Legitimate uses of the term should not be confused with the codified use. Other historical and modern euphemisms exist, including laundresses and actresses.”
Hey, Seattle was built almost exclusively by taxing seamstresses, it’s the world’s oldest profession and an important piece to American and world history we can never forget to include the impact of. Maybe Sarah had provided all the sewing work Jo required of her and she was given to Bennett to be his personal seamstress.
Just consider Sarah’s place in society at this time. She was a woman living in destitution and barely providing for herself and her toddler, Orson Jr. Her husband was absent and she made her living as a seamstress… Regardless of whether or not she engaged in sex-work, it was easy to brand the testimony of a seamstress as unreliable in the court of public opinion, ESPECIALLY when that branding was orchestrated by the prophet of Mormonism, Mayor of Nauvoo, and Lieutenant-General of the Nauvoo Legion, all funneled into one demagogue of a deplorable human being. Do you think people took Sarah’s word over Jo’s? Would somebody trust the word of a publicly smeared prostitute against the word of God? How many women did Jo put in similar situations? What kind of documentary evidence would we expect to find of this? These encounters wouldn’t be documented whatsoever if not for people like Bennett. Bennett gave these women credible voice. Historians would never have evidence for conduct like this in Nauvoo Mormonism without people who actually published letters written by women in Nauvoo with a credible government official name. You can already see the systemic power dynamic putting Sarah at a disadvantage. As soon as Sarah was marked by Jo, there was no way out of what would happen. She could refuse his advances and draw the ire of the almighty Jo, or she could go along with it as dozens, or possibly hundreds, of women did and keep her mouth shut. No doubt there are some people who engaged in polygamy 100% willingly while completely informed and consenting, but we need to understand the coercive forces at play here. The content and context of Jo’s proposition to Sarah is quite revealing of exactly what I’m talking about here.
“After considerable desultory conversation, Joe asked her if she would keep a secret for him; to which she assented. “Do you pledge me your honor,’ said he, ‘that you will never tell without my permission?’ She replied in the affirmative. He then continued, ‘Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives. I have the blessings of Jacob granted me, as God granted holy men of old; and as I have long looked upon you with favor, and an earnest desire of connubial bliss, I hope you will not repulse or deny me.’”
According to Bennett, she knew this was coming, he’d apparently warned her, but now it was out there and nobody in the room could go back. Also consider, Pratt was probably living off some provisions in the Bishop’s storehouse to supplement her meager income from seamstress work. If she refused the prophet’s advances, could she expect those provisions to keep coming in? A lot of coercion is playing into this interaction in ways we can’t imagine.
Here’s her reply, making her sound more like the conventional definition of seamstress instead of the euphemistic definition:
“And is that the great secret that I am not to utter? Am I called upon to break the marriage covenant, and prove recreant to my lawful husband? I never will. My sex shall not be disgraced, nor my honor sullied. I care not for the blessings of Jacob, and I believe in no such revelations, neither will I consent, under any circumstances whatever. I have one good husband, and that is enough for me.”
And that was the end of the transaction. Jo and Bennett left, likely after a bit more stubborn persuasion was lost, Bennett spent the night at Barnett’s while Jo spent the night with Louisa Beeman and probably got his rocks off there. Like I said, sure, there may have been some willing participants, but this shows Jo in a light that doesn’t have any holy veneer whatsoever.
Apparently Bennett followed up with Sarah Pratt after the encounter.
“Next day we returned to Nauvoo. I then called upon Mrs. Pratt, and asked her if her opinion of Joseph, the Prophet, was the same as heretofore. She replied, ‘No; he is a bad man, beyond a doubt—wicked, sensual, devilish; but it will not do for me to express myself openly, or my life might atone for it. It becomes me to move in this matter with much circumspection; I must be as wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove; for I see plainly that Joseph is determined to transgress the laws, change the ordinance, and break the everlasting covenant of our heavenly Father, and to set at open defiance every principle of true godliness and moral rectitude. I exceedingly fear and tremble for the weak and uneducated of my sex; for an unprincipled libertine, sensualist, and debauchee, of such unbounded prophetic influence, in a community like this, may utterly ruin hundreds of pious, unsuspecting females, under the potent dictum of a ‘Thus saith the Lord;’ and all the proof they would require would be his simple ipse dixit. O, what total depravity!! What ignorance and impudence in a land of Bibles, where Christians ought to dwell, and worship the Great Ruler of the Universe in the beauty of holiness! Surely God will not suffer it long!... I had a better opinion of human nature; but, alas! I was deceived. The scaled, however, have fallen from my eyes, and ‘whereas I was once blind, NOW I SEE.’ I am in great trouble on another account. My husband is a good and pious man, and a true believer in Mormonism, devotedly attached to Joseph as the spiritual leader of the Church. He believes him to be a pure man, and a Prophet of the Lord. Now, if I should tell him the true story of my sufferings, privations, and insults, and Joseph should circumvent or meet it within his infallible rebuff of a ‘Verily, Thus Saith The Lord,’ I fear that Orson would believe him in preference to me, unless his faith can be shaken. How shall I extricate myself from this fearful dilemma?”
I did cut a little bit of that out for the sake of brevity and holding off discussing another subject attached to Bennett that may come up in the future with trying to find Book of Mormon plates. But the crux of Sarah Pratt’s complaints is that Jo put her in a situation that she can’t seem to find a way out of. She was marked and she could agree and stay silent, or oppose and have her character slain in the public forum. She was coerced into the situation and her husband, likely the only person who could defend her against the prophet, was in another country. She could refuse and remain silent about it, but it was only a matter of time before that silence was broken… by John C. Wreck-it Bennett. He threw her name out there, likely without her knowledge or prior consent, and used it as a weapon against the tyrant Joe Smith.
According to Bennett, Sarah petitioned him for advice as a close friend, and Bennett’s reply is:
“Be quiet, Sarah, under these circumstances, until some event transpires by which Orson can have ocular and auricular demonstration of the palpable imposture of the whole scheme of Mormonism, and of the infidelity and brutality of the Mormon Mountebank… and such an event must soon be consummated, unless there should be a manifest change in the Mormons Administration.”
Bennett goes on to claim:
“Joe afterwards tried to convince Mrs. Pratt of the propriety of his spiritual wife doctrine, and she at last told him peremptorily, “Joseph, if you ever attempt any thing of the kind with me again, I will make a full disclosure to Mr. Pratt on his return home. Depend upon it, I will certainly do it.” Joe replied, “Sister Pratt, I hope you will not expose me, for if I suffer, all must suffer; so do not expose me. Will you promise me that you will not do it?” “If”, said she, “you will never insult me again, I will not expose you, unless strong circumstances should require it.” “If you should tell,” said he, “I will ruin your reputation; remember that; and as you have repulsed me, it becomes sin, unless sacrifice is offered.”
Then it goes on to detail a lamb being literally slaughtered in sacrifice so the destroying angel passes over the Pratt home. Sarah Pratt wouldn’t become food for the Mississippi catfish even though she refused the advances of the prophet.
“Mrs. Pratt, in a conversation with Mrs. Goddard, observed, “Sister Goddard, Joseph is a corrupt man; I know it, for he made an attempt upon me, in the name of the Lord. I now detest the man.”
But Jo apparently wasn’t done with Sarah. She was marked, and Jo wasn’t one to give up on his personal goals.
“Time passed on without further molestation, until one day, after Mr. Pratt’s return from Europe, Joe called at her new house, and… grossly insulted her again, by stealthily approaching her and kissing her. (Oh how funny, boys will be boys, won’t they…) This highly offended her, and she told her husband, Colonel Orson Pratt, who was highly incensed, and gave Joe a SEVERE REBUKE. Joe observed, “I did not desire to kiss her; Bennett made me do it!” Joe couldn’t come to the “extreme unction” over that intelligent lady; she was far above his polluted breath, his ribaldry, low vituperation, calumny, and detraction. He lied to her in the name of Israel’s God. Let the base blasphemer remember that, and weep!... If Joe Smith is not destined for the Devil, all I can say is, that the duties of a devil have not been clearly understood.”
Bennett made me do it. Does his rascality know no bounds? Here we can see Sarah Pratt and her sexuality being weaponized by high-ranking men in the church who clearly didn’t care about her reputation or personal well-being.
Bennett’s expose revealed what had been going on with Sarah Pratt in a way that was shocking to a lot of people. It was also reported that Bennett’s friendship with Sarah was more than just friendship, which threw her character further into question. Sarah Pratt was now the talk of Nauvoo and rumors are absolutely merciless.
As a result of this information coming to light and the newly-circulating rumors, Joseph Smith’s journal entry for July 15, 1842 reveals how some of this conflict was impacting other prominent figures in Nauvoo leadership.
“15 July 1842 • Friday
Friday 15th. This A.M. early a report was in circulation that O. P. [Orson Pratt] was missing. A. letter of his writing was found directed to his wife stating to the effect that he was going away;282 Soon as this was known Joseph summoned the principal men of the city and workmen on the Temple to meet at the Temple Grove where he ordered them to proceed immediately throughout the city in search of him lest he should have laid voilent [violent] hands on himself.”
The next day’s issue off the Warsaw signal revealed that it was generally understood in Nauvoo that Orson Pratt was in a mental state that he was a danger to himself.
“We understand by the Stage Driver from Nauvoo last evening, that O. Pratt had suddenly disappeared from the city. He left a paper containing his reasons for leaving -- which were, the treatment his wife had received from Jo. Smith, and some other matter concerning the policy of the Church. It was supposed in Nauvoo, that he had committed suicide, and about 500 persons were out on the search for him.”
The initial search didn’t turn him up. He eventually wandered back into town the next day, he just needed a small respite to let things blow over. However, Orson Brain-power Pratt’s unknown whereabouts didn’t stop Jo from using the opportunity to further vilify Bennett, obviously never acknowledging his own role in causing this meltdown. After the day of searching, the brethren gathered in the grove near the Temple that was nearing a full floor in its construction process. This is the substance of the sermon Jo gave, literally while Orson Pratt was assumed dead by his own hand because the splash damage caused by clandestine spiritual wifery.
“After considerable search had been made but to no effect a meeting was called at the Grove where Joseph stated before the public a general outline of J[ohn] C. Bennetts conduct and especially with regard to Sis P [Sarah Bates Pratt] Met again in the P.M. when Hyrum [Smith] & H[eber] C. Kimball spake on the same subject after which Joseph arose and said that he would state to those present some things which he had heard respecting Edward & D[avid] Kilbourn being conspiring with J. C. Bennett in endeavoring to bring [p. 127] a Mob upon us, and as Mr E. Kilbourn was then present he would have the privilege of either admitting or denying it. Question by E. Kilbourn “Who did Bennett tell that I and my brother were conspiring to bring a mob upon you” Answer by Joseph “He told me and he told [blank] Allred and Orson Pratts wife & others”. Q by E Kilboun “Where did he say we were going to bring a mob from”. Ans. by Joseph. “From Galena”. Mr. Kilbourn then arose and said, “I was conversing with my brother this morning and he said he had never seen Bennett since he had us before him last year for conspiracy. I have only seen him twice since last fall, I saw <him> once then. I was going to Galena about 2 weeks ago. The Boat I was on stopped at the upper Landing place and I came ashore a little while. The first person I saw was Bennett; we entered into conversation, but there was no mention made of mobs. I have not seen him since. I always regarded Bennett the same as I regard you (Joseph) and thought you were pretty well matched. If any one says that I have conspired to bring a Mob upon you it is false”. The meeting was then peaceably dismissed. O. P. returned at night. He was seen about 2 miles this side Warsaw; set on a log. He says he has concluded to do right.”
The rumors of conspiracy at the hand of Bennett in league with a number of other Nauvoo elites infected the minds of the initiated elite. Was Bennett working with others to bring a mob into town and put down the Mormon problem? Who was working with Bennett? Would Bennett align with Missouri officials and affect an arrest of Jo and other elites, extradite them to Missouri, and force them to answer on the old Missouri charges resulting in all of their deaths? A lot of unknowns floated about Nauvoo.
Jo continued to conduct business as business necessitated. He went about the next few days dealing with buying and selling property, looking at land to hew timber for more construction projects being added to the waiting list.
Then, on July 22, 1842, Orson Pratt briefly got access to Jo on the pulpit, a confrontation ensued.
“At the stand conflicting with O. P. [Orson Pratt] and correcting the public mind with regard to reports put in circulation by [John C.] Bennett & others. In the P.M. a petition was prepared and singed [signed] by the citizens praying the Governor not to issue a writ for the Prest”
This is what led to the confrontation, from the HoC 5:68. It was a vote swearing to the good character of Joseph Smith, to which Orson Pratt voted in the negative. Here it is:
“Resolved, that having heard that John C. Bennett was circulating many base falsehoods respecting a number of the citizens of Nauvoo, and especially against our worthy and respected Mayor, Joseph Smith, we do hereby manifest to the world that so far as we are acquainted with Joseph Smith, we know him to be a good, moral, virtuous, peaceable and patriotic man, and a firm supporter of law, justice, and equal rights; that he at all times upholds and keeps inviolate the constitution of this State, and of the United States, which resolution was adopted by the numerous assembly.
The next section was cut from the B.H. Roberts HoC, but Vogel has painstakingly reconstructed the HoC from the original documents, which reveals details of the conflict between Orson Brain-Power Pratt and Jo concerning this resolution.
“Two or three, voted in the negative.
Elder Orson Pratt then rose and spoke at some length in explanation of his negative vote. Pres. Joseph Smith spoke in reply—
Question to Elder Pratt, “Have you personally a knowledge of any immoral act in me toward the female sex, or in any other way? Answer by Elder O. Pratt, “Personally, toward the female sex, I have not.”
Elder O. Pratt responded at some length. Elder B. Young then spoke in reply, and was followed by Elders Wm. Law, H.C. Kimball, and Pres. H. Smith. Several others spoke bearing testimony of the iniquity of those who had calumniated Pres. J. Smith’s character.
Meeting adjourned for one hour.
(this not removed from B.H. Roberts) The assembly came together in the afternoon, and about 800 signed the foregoing petition presented by the city council to Governor Carlin.
The way this was initially recorded can’t be trusted, and Roberts proceeded to remove it anyway from the History of the Church when he compiled it in the early 1900s. Transparency vs. whitewashing or hiding history happens in degrees, people, it’s not binary.
And the petition was drafted, indeed, pleading Governor Carlin to not issue a writ of arrest to Jo. Before getting to that, I just wanted to briefly mention something that slipped my gaze back in late June of 1842. From Vogel HoC 5:45
“My clerk, Willard Richards, being about to leave me for a season, committed the business of my office to Elder William Clayton, who had been engaged with him for a few weeks past.”
William Clayton’s appointment to Jo’s personal clerk will figure heavily into the rest of Jo’s life and ministry for the 2 years that remained. That was just a brief point to mention, my apologies for that important point in Mormon history slipping my notice.
The petition was drafted, and a number of men signed their own affidavits concerning the conduct of John C. Wreck-it Bennett. The primary petition to Governor Carlin reads in part:
“Concerning those statements made by [Bennett] against Joseph Smith, we know that they are false. Joseph Smith has our entire confidence; we know that he has violated no law, nor has he in anywise promoted sedition or rebellion; nor has he sought the injury of any citizen of this or any other place. We are perfectly assured that he is as loyal, patriotic and virtuous a man as there is in the State of Illinois, and we appeal to your excellency if, in three years acquaintance with him, you have seen anything to the contrary?”
Of course, Lilburn Boggs was still recovering and Governor Carlin had a writ of extradition sitting on his desk from Boggs to arrest Jo and Pistol-Packin’ Porter Rockwell. Carlin had right to be afraid that the Mormons might rise up against his rule as had happened in Missouri with Governor Boggs in 1838. How would that look to his political career? Would he even survive for reelection should the Mormons rise up that year, or would they assassinate him as they apparently had Governor Boggs? A lot of scary questions weighed on Governor Carlin’s mind at this time. The end of the petition, signed by 800 Nauvoo Mormons, said the following:
“Having heard a report that your excellency had called upon several companies of militia to prepare themselves and be in readiness, in case of emergency, we would further ask of your excellency, that if the State or country should be in danger, that the Nauvoo Legion may have the privilege of showing their loyalty in the defense thereof.”
It’s a lot harder to raise up a militia to fight the Mormons and arrest Jo Smith when half that militia is the Nauvoo Legion beholden to Joseph Smith above any secular rule of law. The petition concludes with this:
“We have the fullest confidence in the honor, justice and integrity of your excellency, and feel confidence that we have only to present our case before you to insure protection, believing that the cries of so many peaceable and patriotic citizens will not be disregarded by your excellency.
We therefore ask you, as the chief magistrate of this State, to grant us our requests, and we, as in duty bound, will ever pray.”
Signed by 800 citizens, and the entire Nauvoo Mormon elite, except for Orson Pratt.
The Mormons didn’t just send that single petition to Governor Carlin, it included affidavits from Daniel H. Wells, Hyrum Smith, George Miller, Elias and Francis Higbee, William Law, and a substantial article published in the Times and Seasons about John C. Bennett which sought solely to assassinate his credibility. It was whacking a wildfire with a single blanket, none of these affidavits actually stopped the Bennett meltdown from melting down, it was purely damage control. Each affidavit sought to refute each of Bennett’s claims, but the collective weight of Bennett’s expose and the unstoppable force of all the rumors which had been slowly infecting Nauvoo was too much for these affidavits to abate. They were all published in the Times and Seasons.
The Hyrum Smith affidavit is possibly the most fascinating of the bunch. I’ve read the substance of it before on the show, but never within the context of the Bennett meltdown. This is where Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith claimed that Bennett had medicine to produce an abortion should pregnancy result from the practice of spiritual wifery, because of course that was a common result! It also claimed Bennett had told a woman he wanted to acquire as a spiritual wife that he’d be happy to poison her husband if she consented in order to put him out of the way. According to Hyrum Smith, Bennett attempted to poison the man, but he wouldn’t take the “medicine” which would result in his death, so Bennett was therefore unsuccessful.
Years later, Sarah Pratt corroborated the substantive portion of Hyrum Smith’s abortion claim when interviewed by Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal in his expose of 1886.
“Mrs. P.: ‘You hear often that Joseph had no polygamous offspring. The reason for this is very simple. Abortion was practiced on a large scale in Nauvoo. Dr. John C. Bennett, the evil genius of Joseph, brought this abomination into a scientific system. He showed to my husband and me the instruments with which he sued to ‘operate for Joseph.’ There was a house in Nauvoo, ‘right across the flat,’ about a mile and a half from the town, a kind of hospital. They sent the women there, when they showed signs of celestial consequences. Abortion was practiced regularly in this house.’
Mrs. H. ‘Many little bodies of new-born children floated down the Mississippi.’”
That Mrs. H. is Lucinda Morgan Harris, the widow of William Morgan who was likely killed in 1826 for publishing his expose of Masonry. Jo had apparently taken her to wife while in Nauvoo. When Sarah Pratt confronted Lucinda Harris about Jo’s spiritual wife system, Lucinda said, “How foolish you are! I don’t see anything so horrible in it. Why, I am his mistress since four years!”
Sarah Pratt continued in Nauvoo as a pariah. The Wasp joined the Times and Seasons in publishing affidavits supposedly disproving the claims of Bennett. Eventually, Stephen and Zuriah Goddard, friends of the Pratts, were coerced into signing an affidavit published in the Wasp directed to Orson Pratt that linked Bennett and Sarah Pratt’s relationship as being more than just friends.
“One night they took their charis out of doors and remained there we supposed until 12 o’clock or after; at another time they went over to the house where you now live and came back after dark, or about that time. We went over several times late in the evening while she lived in the house of Dr. Foster, and were most sure to find Dr. Bennett and your wife together, as it were, man and wife.”
Sarah confronted the Goddards about this statement, which is also found in Wymetal’s 1886 expose.
“In his endeavors to ruin my character Joseph went so far as to publish an extra-sheet containing affidavits against my reputation. When this sheet was brought to me I discovered to my astonishment the names of two people on it, man and wife, with whom I had boarded for a certain time… I went to their house; the man left the house hurriedly when he saw me coming. I found the wife and said to her rather excitedly: ‘What does it all mean?’ She began to sob. ‘It is not my fault’ said she. ‘Hyrum Smith came to our house, with the affidavits all written out, and forced us to sign them. ‘Joseph and the Church must be saved,’ said he. We saw that resistance was useless, they would have ruined us; so we signed the papers.’”
When I look at Sarah Pratt I don’t see an angry apostate. I see a woman who stood up to a patriarchal system and was caught up in the cogs of the mighty protectionist machine and spit out with her character and reputation forever tarnished. Read what FairMormon has to say about her, the character assassination has been effective even 130 years after her death.
“When the Bennett imbroglio blew up a year later, Joseph may have been reluctant to publicly try Sarah—if he had proposed a plural marriage to her, the revelations that a hostile adulteress could make would be disastrous.”
Adulteress? Really? The rest of the article is consistently unkind to Sarah Pratt’s allegations and completely washes away the allegations of Bennett’s abortion. MormonPolygamyDocuments.org, Brian Hales brain dump website says this about Sarah Pratt after reprinting her statement about the abortion house.
“Sarah claimed many things about Joseph Smith throughout her lifetime, but this is probably one of her most over-the-top statements. She made other allegations that contradict more reliable historical data. For example, when asked about the statement, “Joseph had eighty wives at the time of his death,” Sarah Pratt replied: “He had many more, my dear sir; at least he had seduced many more, and those with whom he had lived without their being sealed to him, were sealed to him after his death.” Currently there is no evidence for “eighty wives” or “many more” than eighty as Pratt alleged.”
This entire article is precisely indicative of why so many people are quickly frustrated with Brian Hales scholarship. It’s presentist to claim that there’s no evidence for Jo having more than eighty wives because the lines between celestially sealed wife, vs spiritual wife, vs mistress in 1842 weren’t clear. It’s only later scholarship that has postulated the documentable 33 something wives of Joseph Smith, but when these relationships were happening, so few were actually documented as having been sealed to Jo, and all of his one-night stands simply can never be substantiated with documentation because they were never initially recorded. Look, a powerful and wealthy guy of Jo’s temperament has relations with a lot of women and actively seeks to cover them up. What documentation would historians expect to find to prove that these relationships happened to any degree? Oh, Joseph Smith begrudgingly practiced celestial marriage only after being threatened by an angel with a drawn sword, he never wanted to be married to 33 women, it was purely out of religious obligation. Sure, the documentation exists to support those conclusions, but those documents are viewed through a presentist lens to exonerate the holy and pious prophet of any wrongdoing or accusations of adultery.
The facts of the matter are that Jo slept with a lot of women, multiple independent credible records exist claiming that Bennett performed abortions to conceal the inevitable result, and documentation never existed in the first place concerning the scope and reach of all his sexual escapades. Jo tried to apply a holy veneer to his nefarious conduct at the time and historians ever since have been toeing the party line. The real-world impact of his concerted efforts to conceal his adulterous practices is revealed when we consider Sarah Pratt and her public character when she opposed Jo and ventured to speak out in opposition and reveal what was going on. The statements she made weren’t done proactively, they were done because her name was weaponized by people who didn’t care about her or her wellbeing and she was forced to make public statements to clarify what happened. She made the statements and the assassination of her character is all that remains in the collective memory of Mormon history.
To illustrate that point, consider the way the rest of Hales’ article concerning Bennett, Pratt, and abortions flippantly dismisses her multiple statements. It concludes with postulating an inaccurate date of 1843 instead of 1842 for Bennett’s signed statement that Jo never taught Bennett about plural marriage, but you’ll recall that statement was explicitly made under duress, according to Bennett’s expose. Then it goes on to say this:
“Of less importance to critics, but of great significance to Nauvoo polygamists is that Joseph taught that plural marriage was to ‘multiply and replenish the earth’ (cites D&C 132 from one year after the Bennett meltdown for that justification). Abortion produces the opposite result. The duplicity, if it had ever occurred, not only would have created confusion amongst his morally-conservative followers but also would have branded him a hypocrite. No such allegations are found in the historical record.”
Yes! because any documentation was suppressed at the time and NEVER would have survived the century and a half of archivists even if such documents were ever made in the first place.
“While Bennett may well have performed abortions on women that he and his ‘spiritual wifery’ followers may have impregnated, extrapolating that he also performed abortions of Joseph Smith’s plural wives is not supported by the historical record. (EXCEPT FOR THE LACK OF DESCENDANTS!!!) It also does not answer the question: ‘Where are the children from all of Joseph’s plural wives if intimate relations occurred commonly in those relationships?’”
That’s the end of the article. That’s it! Yes, where are the children from all of Jo’s plural wives?! That’s a wonderful question! You see, anything that Bennett was branded with inevitably splash damages Jo. Because polygamy is so often only viewed through the lens of doctrinal justification and the male practices of propositioning specific women at specific times, Hales and plenty of historians have completely disregarded the slain characters lying in the bloody wake of clandestine polygamy. Sarah Pratt was unwillingly victimized by the machine that labeled her an enemy of the religion. She was an apostate as soon as she refused Jo’s advances. It was only downhill from there.
Why won’t women speak out about sexual misconduct when it happens? I just don’t get it! This! THIS IS WHY! Whether or not Sarah had any sexual relations, consensual or otherwise, with Jo or Bennett simply doesn’t matter because she was already judged in the court of public opinion. She was a martyr to transparency with the prophet’s sexual indiscretions. She made credible allegations when petitioned by Bennett grinding his axe. She suffered for it for the rest of her life and her entire legacy has been tarnished with the label of anti-Mormon, all because she was a victim of Jo’s relentless sex drive.
And look, this is a case where the coverup becomes worse than the crime. Let’s grant that she and Jo had consensual relations at some point in 1841, just for the sake of argument. They were violating adultery laws which often carried punishment of castration or imprisonment, but those were notoriously unregulated in the day because you’d have a lot of politicians and business men with no balls, especially after they visited Nauvoo, so let’s just be real about that. Where the real issue comes into play, and there’s no law against it, was the secrecy and violation of trust, and the poor decisions made to preserve that secrecy. Jo attempted to seduce Sarah after he’d sent her husband 4,000 miles away on a mission to a foreign country. Presumably, most of these relationships were without the knowledge or consent of Emma, and this relationship sure smacks of Orson Pratt not knowing about it. Too many secrets, too many lies to keep those secrets. Then, when the extent of Jo’s improprieties was revealed, he sicked the attack dogs on everybody speaking out about it. He’d spent so much time at the pulpit lying about his relationships and the order of god-approved marriage that he couldn’t just go back on everything, right? It was a sunk-cost fallacy. He’d lied to thousands of people for over a decade now, he couldn’t possibly come clean with his new and everlasting order of marriage without suffering a major loss of followers and a major blow to his public reputation.
That’s the point here. Jo was an impulsively dishonest human being. He lied about everything and that started long before he ever claimed to have gold plates given him by an angel. There is nothing in this man’s legacy worth veneration. He built cities, gathered masses of followers, and his religion settled the west, what an ambitious and inspiring legacy… But it’s all built on a lie! It’s all a lie. Joseph Smith is deserving of many things, but veneration and reverence are not befitting this human being, not when we consider the damage left in his wake, not when we look at the lives he ruined like Sarah Pratt.
What Jo was deserving of, is what happened next.
“Monday [August] 8 —This forenoon I was arrested by the Deputy Sheriff of Adams county and two assistants, on a warrant issued by Governor Carlin, founded on a requisition from Governor Reynolds of Missouri, upon the affidavit of Ex-Governor Boggs, complaining of the said Smith as “being an accessory before the fact, to an assault with intent to kill, made by one O. P. Rockwell on Lilburn W. Boggs,” on the night of the sixth of May, A.D. 1842. Brother Rockwell was arrested at the same time as principal.”
Governor Carlin had finally made good on the arrest warrant called for by Governor Reynolds on the sworn affidavit by Lilburn Boggs. An extradition writ was soon to follow. Jo and Pistol Packin’ Port were headed to Missouri to answer for the attempted assassination of a public figure during his State Senatorial campaign, and you can bet they plan on convicting on those old Missouri charges of arson, robbery, and high treason. Porter Rockwell had probably taken on some new responsibilities since Bennett’s departure as Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, he was one of the primary leaders of the Danites, the underground military arm of Mormonism, in some respects a leader of the Daughters of Zion. He was Jo’s fixer and had incredibly high status in Nauvoo. Jo was the head of everything else in the city. They were two of the most powerful men in Nauvoo Mormonism, and now, they’re headed for the gallows.
Alright everybody, I’m going to give you a quick forecast of what the next several weeks hold for the show. I’m recording this week’s episode 2 weeks in advance. When last week’s episode aired I was in Missouri for the John Whitmer Historical Association conference. I’m hoping I was able to conduct an interesting interview or two with historians to share with all of you. When you’re listening to this, I’m currently in Germany! Annie and I have been planning a month-long trip to Europe for over a year now and the time has finally come. We’ll be spending our first two weeks in Germany, then week number three is Manchester U.K. for the QED conference.
QED is basically THE premiere atheism/skepticism/science education conference in the world. I’ll be giving a brief presentation at skepticamp on October 12th about the European mission of the Quorum of Apostles and the impact it had on American history in addition to the first-ever Mormon panel discussion at QED with panelists Greg Rattey and Cara Santa Maria, chaired by Andy Wilson of InKredulous podcast and organizer of the event. If you happen to be going to QED I’d love to meet you there and chat it up at the hotel bar. Then the final week will be in Ireland for a conference Annie will be attending where I get to relax and tour around distilleries and old bars in Dublin and Galway. It’s a busy month coming up and we’ve been stoked about it for quite a while now, but I’m not leaving all of you high and dry because there ain’t no rest for the wicked. I have episodes stockpiled for the month of October and they’ll be releasing on the regular schedule. I’ve also built up a backlog of Patron only episodes reading through Bennett’s history of the Saints that’ll be releasing every Monday on patreon.com/nakedmormonism. Don’t say I don’t work hard for you guys, lots of 16-hour days for the past few weeks.
So, with all this travel coming up, next week’s episode and the week after that will be a two-part interview I did with a Mormon history researcher where we cover polygamy before and after the Bennett Meltdown. Johnny brought a lot of research with him and I hope you’ll enjoy those episodes as much as I enjoyed conducting the interview because it puts a lot of the crucial higher-level trends together in a cohesive timeline. The week after that I’m going to try and air an interview that I hope I conducted while at the John Whitmer conference. There are a few people I’d like to nail down whose work I’ve been consuming in hopes they’ll talk to me about it, but we’ll have to see. Then the week after that, which is October 25th, I’m planning on putting together a travel log to release on this regular feed along with a little bit about how awesome QED was. That’s for the regular feed, but there are perks if you’re signed up on patreon.com/nakedmormonism! Everybody who supports the show will be getting a number of travel logs for the whole month of October about some of the cool history sites we’re visiting and I’ll share the history I’ve learned that I know nothing about right now. In Germany alone, we’ll be in Dresden for WWII history, Munster for Munster rebellion history, and Wittenberg for Protestant Revolution history, among many other amazing places. This is my first trip to Europe and we’re making the best of it. I desire all to receive those travel logs, but only those worthy few who pay their tithes to be a member of the NaMo club. You know how these things work, people, it’s nothing new, I just won’t ask about your masturbation habits or damn you to outer darkness for speaking out against Ground Gnomes LLC.
Then, we’ll pick back up on November 1st where we left off with Jo and Port in custody of the Adams County Sheriff amidst the fallout from the Bennett Meltdown. What happens next?! Guess you’ll have to wait a month to find out, unless you’re listening to this in the backlog then you can just jump ahead and I’ll tell you all about how awesome the trip to Europe was.
Alright, I guess that’s about it. Thank you everybody for listening. I’m signing off for a month. I’ll have access to wifi most nights, but I don’t plan on doing social media stuffs, because, why? A vacation with social media isn’t a vacation, how can my mind be in Europe with my body when it’s tethered? I’ll be back on the clock starting with QED October 12. So, I’ll leave the keys to the kingdom in the trustworthy hands of our social media genius, Julie Briscoe and part with a huge thanks to her for keeping it lively over there. Of course, follow her on twitter at theRealEmmaHale, you’d be surprised the conversations that unfold among Emma, Porter Rockwell, Brigham Young, and the disembodied head of John C. Bennett.
Thanks so much to all of you for tuning in.
I hope to talk at you next time, here on the Naked Mormonism Podcast.
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