“Lesson 21: Joseph Smith Practices Plural Marriage in Nauvoo, and British Converts Gather with the Saints in America,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 21,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
Beginning in 1840, British Saints left their homes to gather with the Saints in America. In April 1841, in obedience to the Lord’s commands, the Prophet Joseph Smith resumed the practice of plural marriage by being sealed to Louisa Beaman in Nauvoo. (In the mid-1830s, Joseph Smith had married a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio.) On October 24, 1841, Orson Hyde dedicated the Holy Land for the gathering of the children of Abraham.
- June 6, 1840
The first group of British converts departed from England to join the Saints in America.
- April 5, 1841
Joseph Smith was sealed to Louisa Beaman.
- April 20, 1841
Brigham Young and six other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles departed from their missions in the British Isles to return to Nauvoo, Illinois.
- October 24, 1841
Orson Hyde dedicated the Holy Land.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapter 36
Note: Lesson 24 also has material on the practice of plural marriage.
Explain that possibly as early as 1831, when the Prophet Joseph Smith was working on the inspired translation of the Old Testament, he had asked Heavenly Father why some ancient prophets and Israelite kings practiced plural marriage (see D&C 132:1; see also Genesis 16:2; 25:6; 29:28; Exodus 21:10; 1 Samuel 25:43). Under this practice, one man is married to more than one living wife.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 132:34–38 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith concerning the principle of plural marriage. (Before the verses are read, you may need to explain that Abraham was first married to Sarah and that Hagar was Sarah’s servant.)
What did the Lord reveal to the Prophet Joseph Smith about the principle of plural marriage? (The Lord commanded men and women anciently to practice the principle of plural marriage. If needed, explain that the word concubine in the Old Testament refers to a woman who is legally married to a man but has a lower social status than a wife. Concubines were not part of the practice of plural marriage in our dispensation.)
Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith also knew that the scriptures recorded times when the practice of plural marriage was not acceptable to the Lord. For example, some Nephites tried to excuse their sexual transgressions by referring to the scriptural accounts of David and Solomon, who took many wives (see Jacob 2:23–24; see also D&C 132:38–39). The prophet Jacob condemned these Nephites for their unauthorized practice of plural marriage.
Invite a student to read Jacob 2:27–30 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jacob declared about the Lord’s standard of marriage.
According to these verses, how would you summarize the Lord’s standard of marriage? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard unless He commands otherwise. [See also D&C 49:15–16.])
According to verse 30, what is one reason the Lord has at times instituted plural marriage? (The Lord has instituted plural marriage at times to provide further opportunities for His people to raise up righteous children unto Him.)
Explain that sometime after the Lord revealed the principle of plural marriage to Joseph Smith, He commanded the Prophet to live this principle as part of the latter-day restoration of “all things” (D&C 132:40, 45; see also Acts 3:19–21; D&C 132:46–50). Individuals close to Joseph Smith reported that he had told them an angel of God appeared to him as many as three times between 1834 and 1842, commanding him to live the principle of plural marriage (see “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
What would have made this commandment difficult to follow?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Sister Eliza R. Snow (1804–87), who was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and later served as the second General President of the Relief Society. Ask the class to listen for what Eliza reported about a conversation between the Prophet Joseph Smith and her brother Lorenzo Snow.
“The Prophet Joseph unbosomed his heart [to Lorenzo Snow], and described the trying mental ordeal he experienced in overcoming the repugnance of his feelings, the natural result of the force of education and social custom, relative to the introduction of plural marriage. He knew the voice of God—he knew the commandment of the Almighty to him was to go forward—to set the example, and establish … plural marriage. He knew that he had not only his own prejudices and prepossessions to combat and to overcome, but those of the whole Christian world stared him in the face; but God, who is above all, had given the commandment, and He must be obeyed. Yet the Prophet hesitated and deferred from time to time, until an angel of God stood by him with a drawn sword, and told him that, unless he moved forward and established plural marriage, his Priesthood would be taken from him and he should be destroyed! This testimony he not only bore to my brother, but also to others—a testimony that cannot be gainsayed [contradicted]” (Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow , 69–70).
According to Eliza R. Snow, what made it difficult for the Prophet to obey the commandment to practice plural marriage?
Based on Eliza’s statement, why was the Prophet willing to obey the command to practice plural marriage?
Invite a student to read the following paragraph aloud:
“Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger. After the marriage with Alger ended in separation, Joseph seems to have set the subject of plural marriage aside until after the Church moved to Nauvoo, Illinois” (“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
Based on your reading of chapter 36 of Saints: Volume 1, how did the Prophet Joseph Smith introduce the principle of plural marriage to Saints in Nauvoo? (Joseph Smith taught the principle of plural marriage privately to certain individuals in the fall of 1840. Eventually, he proposed to a woman named Louisa Beaman. Louisa accepted the proposal and was sealed to Joseph Smith in April 1841.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following account by Lucy Walker. Ask the class to listen for Lucy’s description of how she received a testimony of the principle of plural marriage before being sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“When the Prophet Joseph Smith first mentioned the principle of plural marriage to me I felt indignant and so expressed myself to him, because my feelings and education were averse to [against] anything of that nature. But he assured me that this doctrine had been revealed to him of the Lord, and that I was entitled to receive a testimony of its divine origin for myself” (Lucy Walker Kimball, affidavit, December 17, 1902, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
“Oh, how earnestly I prayed for these words to be fulfilled. It was near dawn after another sleepless night. While on my knees in fervent supplication, my room became filled with a holy influence. To me it was in comparison like the brilliant sunshine bursting through the darkest cloud.
“The words of the Prophet were indeed fulfilled. My soul was filled with a calm sweet peace that I never knew. Supreme happiness took possession of my whole being and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of … [plural marriage]” (Lucy Walker Kimball, biographical sketch, undated, 11, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; spelling and punctuation standardized).
How might Lucy Walker’s experience help someone today increase his or her faith that Joseph Smith and the early Saints acted according to God’s commandments with regard to the practice of plural marriage?
Display the accompanying image. Explain that in response to a call issued by the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles traveled to the Holy Land and dedicated it on October 24, 1841, for the return of Abraham’s descendants. The entire journey took him over two and a half years to accomplish.
Based on your reading of chapter 36 of Saints: Volume 1, what did Orson Hyde pray for as he dedicated the Holy Land? (He prayed for the fulfillment of prophecies that the Lord would give Abraham’s descendants the Holy Land as an everlasting inheritance and would remember their seed forever [see Orson Hyde, “Interesting News from Alexandria and Jerusalem,” Millennial Star, Jan. 1842, 133–34].)
Display the accompanying map. Explain that while Orson Hyde was beginning his journey to the Holy Land, other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were fulfilling missions in the British Isles. As the Apostles labored in different regions, they found many people prepared to receive the restored gospel. For example, in and around Herefordshire, England, nearly 1,800 people were baptized within a year. As a result of this remarkable mission, Church membership in the British Isles increased from nearly 1,500 in January 1840 to 5,814 by April 1841, when most of the Apostles departed the British Isles for Nauvoo, Illinois.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by the First Presidency in 1840. Ask the class to listen for the guidance the First Presidency gave to Church members at this time.
“The work which has to be accomplished in the last days is one of vast importance, and will call into action the energy, skill, talent, and ability of the Saints, so that it may roll forth with that glory and majesty described by the prophets: and will consequently require the concentration of the Saints, to accomplish works of such magnitude and grandeur.
“The work of the gathering spoken of in the scriptures, will be necessary to bring about the glories of the last dispensation. …
“To those who feel thus interested, and can assist in this great work, we say let them come to this place [Nauvoo]” (“To the Saints Scattered Abroad,” Times and Seasons, Oct. 1840, 178–79, josephsmithpapers.org).
Based on this statement, what truth can we learn about why the Lord gathers His people? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: The Lord gathers His people and calls them to use their talents and energy to build His kingdom.)
How does the gathering of Saints who have different gifts and abilities help the Lord build His kingdom?
Display the accompanying image, and explain that that it is an example of the type of ship Church members used in the mid- to late 1800s to travel from Europe to America in response to the First Presidency’s instruction for the Saints to gather together. In June 1840, John Moon led the first group of converts from the British Isles to gather with the Saints in Nauvoo.
What kinds of challenges would have accompanied the choice to gather with the Saints in America?
Invite two students to read aloud the following accounts by Robert Crookston and Priscilla Staines, both of whom were British Latter-day Saints. Ask the class to listen for reasons the British converts were willing to gather with the Saints in America.
“We had to sell everything at a great sacrifice. But we wanted to come to Zion and be taught by the Prophet of God. We had the spirit of gathering so strongly that Babylon had no claim on us” (Robert Crookston, autobiography, circa 1900, 5, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
“I left the home of my birth to gather to Nauvoo. I was alone. It was a dreary winter day on which I went to Liverpool. The company with which I was to sail were all strangers to me. When I arrived at Liverpool and saw the ocean that would soon roll between me and all I loved, my heart almost failed me. But I had laid my idols all upon the altar. There was no turning back. I remembered the words of the Saviour: ‘He that leaveth not father and mother, brother and sister, for my sake, is not worthy of me,’ and I believed his promise to those who forsook all for his sake; so I thus alone set out for the reward of everlasting life, trusting in God” (Priscilla Staines, in Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom , 288; punctuation standardized).
What stands out to you in these accounts?
Remind students that the Lord has instructed us in recent years through His prophets to gather with the Saints in the country in which we live (see Russell M. Nelson, “The Gathering of Scattered Israel,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 81).
How can we help build the Lord’s kingdom by gathering with His Saints wherever we live? (As we meet together, we can strengthen, inspire, and help one another to accomplish the Lord’s work.)
Testify of the importance of using our talents and energy to build the kingdom of God in this final dispensation. Invite students to think about what talents or gifts they have been blessed with. Ask them to think about what they will do to use those talents and gifts to help build the kingdom of God where they live.
Encourage students to prepare for the next class by reading chapter 37 of Saints: Volume 1.