Presendia Huntington

Presendia was Joseph Smith's fifth plural wife.

#5 Presendia

This is a video summary of Presendia.


Presendia was Zina’s older sister. She was born on September 7, 1810 in New York. She was the 4th of ten children. 

Unfortunately, Presendia left no diaries behind and all that is left from her is a short autobiographical sketch and a few letters.

Like Zina, she was already married when Joseph took her as a plural wife. 


Marriage to Norman Buell

Presendia was married to Norman on January 6, 1827 when she was sixteen years old. Norman was twenty-two. 

Norman was a manufacturer and Presendia was raised in a farming environment. Emmeline B. Wells wrote that “she [Presendia] was inclined to be unhappy on account of it though in a worldly point of view they were well off.”

In a letter dated January 22, 1829 Presendia’s mother wrote to her own mother: 

“Our oldest daughter was married one year since her husband and two brothers and sister has experienced religion this fall   a great revival where they live … She has again been brought to enjoy religion.”

Presendia had her first son (at age 19) on December 12, 1829. They named him George. 

Soon afterward, Norman sold his machinery and business and purchased a hundred acres of land in Jefferson County, New York. There he built a house and a barn and cleared seventy acres of land. 

Presendia, now in her natural element, wove wool and flax, made feather beds from her flock of geese, and she milked her own cows.


Tragedy Strikes (Trigger Warning)

While on the farm Presendia gave birth to a second son, Silas, who was born on Christmas day in 1831 (she was 21). For two years, Presendia lived with her husband and two sons in peace and happiness as a mother and farmwife. 

However, on November 13, 1833, when Silas was just two years old, Presendia was “boiling down cider in a very large brass kettle” and put it in an adjoining room where, unknown to her, Silas wandered in and accidently fell into the kettle. One imagines the boys screams and Presendia frantically pulling him out of the boiling cider, then desperately trying to treat her wounded, disfigured child. She tended him for thirteen hours as he suffered excruciating pain but then died. For the first time she experienced the agonizing grief of losing a child. “No one but a mother can realize the sorrow of an accidental death,” she later wrote [From Todd Compton’s book In Sacred Loneliness, p. 116].

After the death of Silas, Presendia’s health declined and she underwent a difficult and painful pregnancy. As the birth of her third child drew closer, in the beginning of March 1834, she became very ill and Norman took her to see a doctor. She was too sick to return home so she remained with Dr. Bagg. Presendia came very near death and she bore her third son, Thomas Dymick, on March 8, 1834. Presendia survived childbirth, but unfortunately Thomas did not. 

Even before the age of 25, Presendia had lost two of her three children. 

Presendia was nursed back to health, but the memories and experiences in her farm house had taken a toll on her, Norman sold the farm and “rented a woolen factory in Lorain [New York], resuming his favorite employment.


Joining the Mormon Church

It appears that while in Lorain, New York, different ministers in the area tried to recruit Presendia and Norman, “But,” Emmeline Wells stated, “Mr. and Mrs. Buell believed they were all wrong, and stood aloof from all.”

In the summer of 1835, however, Presendia’s mother came and visited her with a copy of the Book of Mormon. Presendia was taught about the Word of Wisdom and “felt that it was true and thought I would keep the Word of Wisdom and obtain the blessings promised.”

In the fall of that year, two elders proclaimed the new gospel in Presendia’s childhood school house and she and Norman were ready to be baptized. 

At this time “western fever” was running high with everyone and Norman was eager to go out west, but Presendia was eager to go to Kirtland. So, the family sold their property, spent the winter in Sackett’s Harbour, took a schooner across the great lakes to Ohio and finally made it to Kirtland on May 1st. Presendia was baptized on June 6 and Norman was baptized there days later.

On September 8, 1836, Presendia had another child, Chauncy D.

He died in less than a month, on October 1.

In 1838, Presendia, Norman, and their son George (now ten) traveled to Missouri with the Saints. They arrived in Far West on March 13. 

On April 24th, Presendia gave birth to her first daughter, Adaline Elizabeth, who only lived four hours.


Norman leaves the church

While in Missouri, Norman became disaffected from the church. It is not know precisely how or why this happened.

In an interview with Presendia, Emmeline Wells recorded: “Mr. Buell, having apostatized from the Church, was possessed of a very opposite spirit to that of his wife, who was strong in faith and fervent in spirit. Sister Presendia prayed earnestly to the Lord for her companion, that he might return to the faith, but his mind had grown very dark and it was useless to reason with, or entreat him to see the error and doubt which had misled and confused him.”

Presendia’s brother Oliver recalled that, “During all this time Norman Buell was in Clay County saying god Lord and kind devil, for a time [referring to Norman’s hesitation in leaving the Church] “But the time finally came that he must choose a side, so he chose the Master that would give him the most money then, and in whose hands he thought he would be the safest. He even got to the pitch that he would not let his wife say a word in favor of her brethren, and would say all manner of evil of them himself.”

Oliver implied that Norman left for fear of mob persecution, for financial security, and because he had specific complaints against the church leaders. Wells wrote that Norman would have persuaded Presendia to leave if he could, but she remained steadfast.

Presendia herself wrote that Norman “left the church in Missouri in 1839. The Lord gave me strength to stand alone and keep the faith amid heavy persecution.” Despite the now mixed-faith marriage, they continued to live together.


Possible Reasons Norman Left the Saints

  • The Kirtland Safety Society failed in 1837
  • The Danite Organization (a secret organization)
  • The Consecration Policy (in which the Church had its members deed their land over to the church and the church would then lease the land back to them as “stewards”)
  • Prominent Church leaders were apostatizing from the church
    • Oliver Cowdery was excommunicated on April 12, 1838 (Fanny Alger)
    • David Whitmer resigned in the spring of 1838
    • John Whitmer
    • W. W. Phelps
    • Lyman Johnson
  • Their friend, Mr. Carey, had been killed in the fall of 1838 by an anti-Mormon mob while returning from the mill.


Pattern of Male Intermediary

Joseph approached Presendia’s brother Dimick Huntington and asked that he ask for Presendia’s hand in secret polygamy. Dimick then approached Presendia and Presendia agreed. 

Joseph offered Dimick any reward he wanted for helping him obtain Presendia. Dimick’s request was “that where you and your fathers family are, there I and my fathers family may be also.”

Often people will cite Joseph’s sealings to women as a linkage to Joseph and his male friends. However, Joseph sealing himself to men WAS practiced, which leaves little reason for him to have to marry their women for that link to be formed.


What Became of Presendia?

After Joseph’s death, Presendia left Norman without his consent or knowledge, taking their son George with her. She said she “felt I would rather suffer and die with the Saints, than live in Babylon as I had lived before.”

She ended up marrying Heber C. Kimball. Together they had two children. Their oldest daughter drowned in City Creek at sixteen months old. 

She once joked to Kimball that as his plural wife she had moved at least twenty times and was ready to be done.

In a brief sketch of her life, written April 16th, 1881, 

when Presendia was 70 years old she penned the following:

“My testimony is I have never doubted the truth of the Gospel nor any portion as revealed from God by Joseph Smith. I have been in plural marriage 40 years / considered it one of the purest principals ever revealed to man. I have never spoken one word against the principles of the Gospel but have tried to honor & sustain the cause to the best of my ability. These are my true feelings in the fear of God.”

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