Elizabeth Davis Durfee

Elizabeth was Joseph Smith's eleventh plural wife.

Background

Elizabeth was born on March 11, 1791. She was the sixth of seven children. She married when she was twenty to a man named Gilbert Goldsmith in 1811. Together they joined the Methodist church. Eight months after they were married, they had twins. One of them did not survive. A month following, Gilbert’s boat capsized during a storm and he was drowned. 

In 1818 or 1819, Elizabeth married a man named Joseph Blanchette Brackenbury. He was an immigrant from England. Together they had two sons, Charles and Joseph, before moving to Ohio. While in Ohio they had another son Benjamin, who died at birth and then the following year they had another Benjamin. There last child was born in 1829, and his name was John Wesley. 

Because Ohio was Mormon territory, they were drawn to the religion and were baptized on April 10, 1831. Sometime after the October General Conference, Joseph Brackenbury was called on a mission to New York. While he was away he was taken sick. According to the History of the Church, he was poisoned by non-Mormons who boasted that “Mormon elders had not faith enough to stand poison.” He died on January 7, 1832 and Elizabeth became a widow for the second time.

In March of 1834, Elizabeth married a man named Jabez Durfee. Jabez had had five children with his first wife (who had died) and he and Elizabeth combined their families. 

 

Elizabeth marries Joseph Smith

“Not all wives are created equally.”  - Lindsay Hansen Park

Elizabeth acted as an intermediary in Joseph Smith’s marriage to the Partridge sisters (which we will discuss later). Elizabeth’s role appears to have been more of a “Mother in Israel” than a typical plural wife. This means that Elizabeth, as an older woman, helped to convince younger women about the holiness and the rightness of polygamy. Her marriage to Joseph likely took place early June 1842. She was 51 at the time. Just as with all of Joseph’s polyandrous wives, Elizabeth continued to live with her legal husband.

 

Healed by Emma

At one point Elizabeth became very ill and was administered to by Emma Smith and her counselors. “She said she never realized more benefit thro’ any administration -that she was heal’d, and thought the sisters had more faith than the brethren.”

Elizabeth was well known and respected among the Relief Society and was given a number of responsibilities among which was to investigate the names of the women who had been opposed to in their joining the society.

 

Eliza R. Snow once described in a poem how Elizabeth had healed Emma. 

“Sir, for your consolation permit me to tell

That your Emma is better -she soon will be well

Mrs. Durfee stands by her, night & day like a friend,

And is prompt every call -every wish to attend.”

 

Emma Smith's Confession

Zina Huntington remembered a conversation between Elizabeth and Emma in which Elizabeth asked the prophet’s wife if she felt that Joseph was a prophet.

Yes, Emma answered, but I wish to God I did not know it.

 

The Holy Order

Elizabeth received her endowment and was initiated into “The Holy Order” on October 1, 1843 without her husband.

She was there with Emma when Joseph’s body arrived in Nauvoo.

In January 1845, Elizabeth (now 54) separated from Jabez and married a man named Cornelius Peter Lott (age 48). Cornelius stood proxy for Joseph and she was sealed to the prophet for “eternity” and then sealed to Cornelius for “time.” Her husband was also sealed to three additional women that day (his first wife whom he married in 1823, a woman who was 68 and the other just 15). The following month he married another 15 year old.

 

Leaving the Saints

Interestingly, after the Saints had moved to Winter Quarters, Elizabeth left them and her husband and returned to Illinois. According to Todd Compton, “Elizabeth renewed her friendship with Emma Smith.”

Elizabeth eventually moved to California with one of her sons and was later met by missionaries sent by Joseph Smith III. Elizabeth moved near Independence and joined the RLDS church on November 14, 1869. (During this time Joseph Smith III was trying to prove that his father never practiced polygamy.)

 

Death and Overview

In 1876, at the age of 85, Elizabeth was “killed by the cars” or in other words she was hit by a train. 

She had five husbands,

Spent her last 30 years unwed,

Lived  in at least seven states,

Joined possibly four churches,

Plural wife of Joseph, 

dear friends with Emma Smith,

Later joined the RLDS Church

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