"Mormon polygamy began in Nauvoo, Illinois, a river town located at a bend in the Mississippi about fifty miles upstream from Mark Twain's Hannibal, Missouri. After church founder Joseph Smith married some thirty-eight women, he introduced this "celestial" form of marriage to his innermost circle of followers. By early 1846, nearly 200 men had adopted the polygamous lifestyle, with an average of nearly four women per man—717 wives in all. After leaving Nauvoo, these husbands would eventually marry another 417 women, giving them an average of six wives apiece. In Utah they were the polygamy pioneers who provided a model for thousands of others who entered into plural marriages in the nineteenth century. Their story is colorful, wrapped in images of people in the next life piloting celestial worlds. Plural marriage was not initiated all at once, nor was it introduced through a smooth progression of events but rather in fits and starts, through defenses and denials, hubris and mea culpas. The story, as told here, emphasizes the human drama, interspersed with underlying historiographical issues of uncovering what has been hidden—of explaining behavior that was once allowed and then denied as circumstances changed."
"The nineteenth-century caricature of Mormon elders kidnapping women and spiriting them away to frontier seraglios was born of the cartoonists' prolific imaginations. Even so, there was more truth to this cliché than one might like to believe. For instance, Brigham Young was a missionary when he met Augusta Cobb in Boston in 1843. A married woman with seven children, she agreed to leave her husband and two oldest children and move to Nauvoo to live with Young. Her traveling companion, eighteen-year-old Harriet Cook, was "sealed" to Brigham in the same ceremony in what was in essence a time-saving double marriage.
"This same pattern is also apparent in the example of Bishop Edwin Woolley, who in 1843, as a missionary in Connecticut, met Louisa Rising and convinced her to marry him. She did so without first divorcing her legal husband. Other men courted potential plural wives on their missions: William Clayton, Heber Kimball, and Parley Pratt, all of whose stories are related in this volume as part of the curious saga of the initiation of plural marriage.
"This is not to say that Mormon missionaries were insincere. Still, it has to be acknowledged that they were as enthusiastic about their marital arrangements as they were about their gospel message. In both areas, they were zealously committed to creating a new heaven and earth, with themselves at the center. Had they paid closer attention, history might have highlighted the risks of such social experiments. In fact, they had no time for contemplation in such a quickly changing world—where visions of utopia became realities.
"The pursuit of history is, in fact, a luxury indulged in by those who live in a stable world and come along later to pick up the scattered pieces of evidence. In the case of plural marriage in Nauvoo, historians are fortunate enough to have a wealth of evidence. It can no longer be said that the events were equivocal, that questions remain about the general contours of what happened and who the participants were. In fact, many of the most intimate details are now sufficiently well known that readers can judge for themselves what happened and why. The author retraces the steps of the prophet through antebellum Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois when the first rumors and disclosures regarding his relationships with other women became a concern to when the new marriage practice was introduced as a fully integrated, theologically justified way of ordering a religious society."