Guest Post: Not all men loved polygamy
The life and marriages of the second Zina, Zina Diantha Huntington, suggests a byproduct of polygamy that I hadn’t much considered, and that is: Polygamy strengthened the hierarchy that existed between men of the church. Although the leaders of the early church enjoyed immense social status and renown, the practice of polygamy served to reinforce, and to even strengthen, their position and place in the church. I know that drawing a general conclusion from one specific case is fraught with peril, and I am interested in doing some more research to see if this was an isolated case or if other men were similarly impacted by polygamy. I found this portion of the book so interesting that I am going to mainly rely on Bradley and Woodward’s work and simply convey the story to you.
At age 18 or 19, shortly after her mother’s death, Zina Diantha Huntington was secretly approached by Joseph Smith with the invitation to become one of his plural wives. Although she was circumspect in her recording of the events, we know that Joseph approached her at least three times, pressing for an answer, but she would not submit. At the same time, she was courted by Henry Jacobs, a family friend and active member of the church. In 1841, Zina married Henry. Although he had consented to marry the couple, Joseph Smith did not appear at the ceremony and Zina reported that he later explained to her, “he couldn’t give one man [a woman] who had been given him by the Lord. The Lord had made it known to him that she [Zina] was to be his Celestial wife” (p. 112).
Soon after her marriage to Henry, she became pregnant and was happy in her new marriage. However, in the months before Henry and Zina’s son was born, she continued to be tormented by the idea that she had gone against the Lord’s will by refusing to follow the counsel of Joseph. Six months after her marriage to Henry, Joseph sent a message to Zina by way of her brother Dimick. “Joseph said, Tell Zina I have put it off and put it off until an angel with a drawn sword has stood before me and told me if I did not establish that principle [plurality of wives] and live it, I would lose my position and my life and the Church could progress no further” (p. 113). However, by the time they married, Joseph had married at least three other women besides Emma. I’m not sure of the exact timing of these other plural marriages, but this statement seems to imply that he hadn’t yet established plural marriage at the time he was pressuring Zina to marry him. I was troubled by this and other instances where men of great authority and power used their positions to persuade women to enter into plural marriage. How hard would it be to refuse Joseph with the thought that by so doing would stymie the pursuit of Zion and would cause Joseph to lose his place as prophet?
Zina did not keep Joseph’s request from Henry, although it is unclear when and how he found out. Both Henry and Zina were convinced of Joseph’s prophetic mission, and considered this request a test of faith. Zina records she obtained a testimony for herself that God had required plural marriage to be reestablished. She then states, “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life for I never anticipated to be looked upon as an honorable women by those I dearly loved” (p. 114). Her testimony of polygamy seemed to be largely based in her belief in the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith and her sense of the importance of obeying prophetic counsel. She remained an ardent supporter of plural marriage throughout her life.
Because polygamy was as yet secretly practiced in the church, Zina continued to live with Henry and several months after her marriage to Joseph, their son Zebulon was born. Henry served at least eight missions between 1839 and 1845 and remained devoted to Zina and the church, in spite of the sealing to Joseph.
Perhaps at Joseph’s death, Zina thought that she could simply revert back to her marriage with Henry. Indeed, after Joseph’s death and Henry’s return from a mission, Zina and Henry conceived another son who was born in early 1846, Theirs had been a civil union, and there was no dispute that it was a legitimate and legal marriage. However, in Nauvoo, one way in which civil marriages were dissolved was by an eternal marriage that overrode previous marriages without the necessity of divorce. Thus, by this logic, Joseph’s marriage to Zina took precedence over Henry’s. There are several instances where both Joseph and Brigham Young took plural wives who were married to other men, evidently based on these beliefs. Before his death, Joseph requested that the Quorum of the Twelve marry and care for his widows and after his death, his many plural wives remarried Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, or others, but for time only. Thus, they served to act as proxies for Joseph Smith, to protect his eternal wives for him.
Brigham Young later elaborated on some of the intricacies on marriage and divorce. He described that a woman could not be freed from a temple sealing “while her husband remains faithful and magnifies his priesthood before God, and he is not disposed to put her away….However, if a woman can find a man holding the keys of the priesthood with higher power and authority than her husband, and he is disposed to take her he can do so, otherwise she has got to remain where she is. In either of these ways of separation, you can discover, there is no need for a bill of divorcement.” Perhaps it is by this logic that Brigham and Joseph feel they can trample upon the agency of Zina and Henry (as he was a man with lesser authority and position) and deny them the opportunity to turn their civil marriage into an eternal one once the ordinances were available to them. This logic (as well as portions of D&C 132) suggests that righteous men are rewarded with a multitude of wives in this life and the life to come.
Once polygamy was openly practiced, Zina could not continue to live as a wife to two men. She was married to Brigham Young while pregnant with Henry’s child, and in the same ceremony, she received ratification of her earlier marriage to Joseph Smith for eternity. At this point, her civil marriage to Henry was considered cancelled. It is unclear if Henry and Zina initially fully understood the implications of this new marriage. Zina was leaving the bounds of a cozy and personal domestic life with her husband of 7 years and 2 children to enter Brigham’s “quorum of wives”, with the relationships she would build with her sister-wives to provide her the emotional fulfillment she lacked in the formal and distant relationship she had with Brigham. Henry was forced to give up the love of his heart, despite his faithfulness to God and his servants.
Although Henry went on to marry other wives, his heart remained with Zina. Shortly after her marriage to Brigham, Henry wrote to Zina while on a mission to England. “Zina I have not forgotten you my love is as ever the same and hope it will continue to grow stronger to all Eternity worlds without End when familyes are joined together and become one consolidated in truth…kiss my Little ones and tell them about there father” (p. 154).
Although Henry continued to profess his belief in Mormonism and was considered a Mormon in good standing, he was disfellowshipped by the Third Quorum of the Seventy in early 1851. The reasons for this disciplinary action are unclear, but stories among Henry’s descendents suggest that he was disfellowshipped because Brigham disapproved of his continued communication with Zina.
I include here a large section of the last known letter from Henry to Zina, sent a year and nine months after his disfellowshipping. I find it tragic and heart rending and it is clear that he is in a great deal of emotional distress over the dissolution of his marriage to Zina.
“O how happy I should be if only I could see you and the little Children bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh I mean all I would like to see the little babe…I am unhappy there is now [no] peace for poor me my pleasure is you my Comfort has vanished the glory of day has flead like the fog before a pleasant morning my youthful days are yet in my mind yes never to be bloted out I have had a good Dream about you and the little ones I have imagin myself at home with you and the Little Boys upon my kneese a singing and playing with them what a comfort what a Joy to think uppon those days that are gone by O heaven bless me even poor me shall I ever see them again.
I think of you very often Zina ar you happy do you enjoy your life as pleasant as you did with me when I was at home with you and that children when we could say our prayers together and speak together in toungs and Bless each other in the name of the Lord O I think of those happy days that ar past when I sleep the sleep of death then I will not for get you and my little lambs I love my children. O Zina will I ever get you again answer the question please If you at Liberty to answer the question write me soon as you get this my troubles her ar great greatere than I can bar [bear]…I have heard that I was Cut off from the Church for what was I [cut off] Oh how I do feel about it never did I do eny thing worthy of being cut off always have I defended this cause it Belongs to God the Father…kiss all the Children for me I would send something to them but it may be like the rest of my letters never get ther I have not forgotten my promis to my dear children” (p. 198).
In the 5 year period following Zina’s marriage to Brigham, she apparently wrote Henry only once. It is unclear whether she, on her own, decided that this would be the best course of action or if she was obeying instructions from Brigham Young. According to Jacobs family tradition, in the mid-1850’s, Brigham noticed the toll that Henry’s letters were taking on Zina and he subsequently forbade her to communicate with him at all, and for two decades there was no communication between Henry and Zina, with minimal contact between Henry and his sons.
How does this story end? Henry married three more times, but each wife divorced him. He settled in northern California, making a living with chicken farming. In 1877, he welcomed a visit from his eldest son, who recorded “he burst into tears as he threw his arms around my neck and thanked God he has seen me again in the flesh.” Suffering from kidney disease, his two sons moved him back to Utah and according to Jacobs family tradition, Zina let Henry stay in her house where a hired nurse cared for him until his death in 1886. There are no accounts from Zina about this event, and it is unclear if she also lived in the house and what communication existed between them.
I haven’t fulled processed my feelings about this polygamy story. In general, though, I find it tragic and depressing. It is clear that Zina chose to marry Joseph Smith, and then felt she must marry Brigham Young as well, and there is no historical account of any regrets from her. She publicly and actively defends polygamy, and throughout her life, she elaborates on the blessings that come to those who practice it. Henry Jacobs, though, seems more the innocent bystander in this whole account and I have thought about him often since learning his story. I wondered why Joseph Smith, with Emma by his side, as well as other plural wives, needed Zina as well. Should Zina have consented to Joseph when he first approached her, thus leaving Henry to find another path and giving him reprieve from all the sorrow that came to because of Zina? It is likely that had she never married Joseph Smith, her public life would have been very different. As a woman tied to the highest ranks of Mormon leadership, she had the opportunity to lead the Relief Society as its general president. She was actively involved in a women’s health initiative in Utah. And she participated in a great deal of Utah’s early economic development, including heading up the silk cooperative. But, perhaps these achievements came at the expense of an emotionally fulfilling and happy domestic life. I have found no satisfying conclusions.