Fanny Alger was Joseph Smith's first polygamous wife. She is controversial for many reasons. One is that the official church doctrine in D&C 101 (the Statement on Marriage) stated that marriage was between one man and one woman. She is also controversial because many (like Oliver Cowdery and Emma Smith) saw his union with her as an affair.
This is a video summary of Fanny.
Fanny Alger was born on September 20, 1816 in Massachusetts. She was fourth of eleven children. Fanny’s uncle was Levi Hancock who was a prominent Mormon and a friend of Joseph Smith.
Fanny Alger’s life is mostly undocumented.
Benjamin Johnson, a friend of Joseph Smith said of Fanny, she was “varry nice & comly,” a young woman to whom “every one seemed partial for the ameability of her character”
Pattern of living in the same home
According to Ann Eliza Webb Young: “Mrs. Smith had an adopted daughter, a very pretty, pleasing young girl, about seventeen years old. She was extremely fond of her, no own mother could be more devoted and their affection for each other was a constant object of remark, so absorbing and genuine did it seem.”
Fanny was living with the Smith’s as a hired girl or live-in maid, this begins the pattern of Joseph Smith seeking spiritual wives from young women that he at one point lived with.
Marriage to Joseph Smith
According to the Joseph Smith papers website, JS was likely married to Fanny Alger in Kirtland sometime in the mid-1830s. According to Todd Compton, they were married in 1833.
Pattern of Male-Intermediary
As became a pattern of Joseph’s, he did not approach Fanny himself. Instead he asked Levi Hancock (Fanny’s uncle) to approach Fanny’s father who would then ask Fanny.
“Samuel, the Prophet Joseph loves your daughter Fanny and wishes her for a wife. What say you?” Uncle Sam says, “Go and talk to the old woman [Levi’s sister and Fanny’s mother] about it. Twill be as she says.” Father goes to his sister and said, “Clarissy, Brother Joseph the Prophet of the most high God loves Fanny and wishes her for a wife. What say you?” Said she, “Go and talk to Fanny. It will be all right with me.” Father goes to Fanny and said, “Fanny, Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you and wishes you for a wife. Will you be his wife?” “I will Levi,” said she. Father takes Fanny to Joseph and said, “Brother Joseph I have been successful in my mission.” Father gave her to Joseph, repeating the ceremony as Joseph repeated to him.
Pattern of the Exchange of Women
Todd Compton reports that Smith offered Clarissa Reed to Levi Hancock in exchange for Fanny Alger. Levi considered this assignment a “mission” and brought Fanny to Joseph, and was then “given” Clarissa.
What I don’t understand is that history tells us that Levi Hancock was married to Clarissa Reed on March 20, 1831. This would either put Fanny’s marriage to Joseph sometime in 1831 OR this exchange with Levi happened with another of Levi’s polygamous wives (he had five of them).
Todd Compton, p. 41
Caught by Oliver & Emma
In a letter written January 21, 1838, Oliver Cowdery wrote:
I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true. A dirty, nasty, filthy
scrape [“affair” overwritten] of his and Fanny Alger’s was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deviated from the truth on the matter.
In another place, it was recorded that, “[O]ne night she [Emma Smith] missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story too was verily true” (William McLellin).
Wilhelm Wyl reportedly quoted Chancy Webb, who said: Joseph’s dissolute life began already in the first times of the church, in Kirtland. He was sealed there secretly to Fanny Alger. Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house.
Did Fanny’s marriage to Joseph Smith include a physical relationship?
Oliver’s reaction to Joseph’s relationship to Fanny indicates that this relationship involved sexual relations.
William McLellin’s story of Emma discovering them in a barn would indicate that Joseph and Fanny had sexual relations. McLellin also retold the story again in 1875.
In his 1885 quotation, Wilhelm Wyl’s story of Emma throwing Fanny out because she was unable “to conceal the consequences of her celestial relationship” indicates that the relationship involved sex.
In 1903, Benjamin F. Johnson retold the story of Oliver finding Joseph and Fanny, “they were spied upon and found together.”
When her brother once questioned her concerning her relationship with Joseph, Fanny replied, “That is all a matter of my own. And I have nothing to communicate.”
Fanny marries again
“Dublin November 16, 1836 This day married by me Levi Eastridge a Justice of the Peace for Wayne County and State of Indiana Mr. Solomon Custer and Miss Fanny Alger both of this town.” They had nine children together.
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