Indian Polygamy Revelation


The following excerpt is from H. Michael Marquardt's book, The Joseph Smith Revelations Text and Commentary, p. 374-376:

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    In July 1831 after the arrival of Joseph Smith, Jr., and others in Jackson County, Missouri, plans were made to preach to the Native Americans. Smith received a directive on intermarriage with the Indians. At a later date William W. Phelps wrote, evidently from memory, what he claimed was part or the substance of this revelation:

    Part — of a revelation by Joseph Smith Jun. given over the boundary, west of Jackson Co. Missouri, on Sunday morning, July 17, 1831, when Seven Elders, viz: Joseph Smith Jun. Oliver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps, Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, Ziba Peterson and Joshua Lewis united their hearts in prayer, in a private place, to inquire of the Lord who should preach the first sermon to the remnants of the Lamanites and Nephites, and the people of that Section, that should assemble that day in the Indian country, to hear the gospel, and the revelations according to the Book of Mormon.

    Among the company, there being neither pen, ink or paper, Joseph [Smith, Jr.] remarked that the Lord could preserve his words as he had ever done, till the time appointed, and proceeded:

    Verily, verily, saith the Lord your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ, the light and the life of the world, ye can not discerne [discern] with your natural eyes, the design and the purpose of your Lord and your God, in bringing you thus far into the wilderness for a trial of your faith, and to be especial witnesses, to bear testimony of this land, upon which the zion of God shall be built up in the last days, when it is redeemed.

    Verily, inasmuch as ye are united in calling upon my name to know my will concerning who shall preach to the inhabitants that shall assemble this day to learn what new doctrine you have to teach them, you have done wisely, for so did the prophets anciently, even Enoch, and Abraham, and others: and therefore, it is my will that my servant Oliver Cowdery should open the meeting with prayer; that my servant W. W. Phelps should preach the discourse; and that my servants Joseph Coe and Ziba Peterson should bear testimony as they shall be moved by the Holy Spirit. This will be pleasing in the sight of your Lord.

    Verily I say unto you, ye are laying the foundation of a great work for the salvation of as many as will believe and repent, and obey the ordinances of the gospel, and continue faithful to the end: For, as I live, saith the Lord, so shall they live.

    Verily I say unto you that the wisdom of man in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood. but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.

    Gird up your loins and be prepared for the mighty work of the Lord to prepare the world for my second coming to meet the tribes of Israel according to the predictions of all the holy prophets since the beginning; For the final desolation, and decrees upon Babylon: For, as the everlasting gospel is carried from this land, in love for peace, to gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, for Zion,— even so shall rebellion follow after speedily, with hatred for war until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all the kingdoms and nations that strive to govern themselves by the laws and precepts, and force and powers of men under the curse of sin, in all the world.

    Verily I say unto you, that the day of vexation and vengeance is nigh at the doors of this nation, when wicked, ungodly and daring men will rise up in wrath and might, and go forth in anger, like as the dust is driven by [a] terrible wind; and they will be the means of the destruction of the government, and cause the death and misery of man[y] souls, but the faithful among my people shall be preserved in holy places, during all these tribulations.

    Be patient, therefore, possessing your souls in peace and love, and keep the faith that is now delivered unto you for the gathering of scattered Israel, and lo, I am with you, though ye cannot see me, till I come: even so. Amen.

    Reported by W.W.P. [William W. Phelps]

    About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph [Smith, Jr.] privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the "natives"—as we were all married men? He replied instantly "In th[e] same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Katurah [Keturah]; and Jacob took Rachel Bilhah and Zilpah: by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation."10

    While the text of this revelation was not written in July 1831, intermarriage with the Indians was discussed. Four months later Ezra Booth wrote:

In addition to this, and to co-operate with it, it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the Natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent. 11

    Phelps included a copy of this revelation in a letter to LDS church president Brigham Young. Commenting on the letter to Young, David J. Whittaker wrote:

Several things are apparent: (1) While the Book of Mormon strongly teaches that God removes the curse of the dark skin, this document implies that intermarriage can; (2) Some scholars think that this revelation was the initial impetus for plural marriage, as some of the missionaries had wives in Ohio; and (3) This document seems to have begun the Mormon practice of marrying native Americans. Some of the contents of the document better fit an 1861 context and it is possible that Phelps added his own understanding thirty years later. Ezra Booth confirms early talk about marrying Indians, but the reasons for doing so probably did not include polygamy or even changing skin color, but rather facilitating entrance into the reservation for missionary work ... 12


10. Manuscript in LDS archives; versification omitted. See also Phelps to Brigham Young, 12 Aug. 1861, LDS archives. The wording "until the consumption hath made a full end of all the kingdoms and nations" and "death and misery of man[y] souls" is similar to LDS D&C 87:1, 6. The mention of "the destruction of the government" may indicate when Phelps recorded the revelationnear the start of the American Civil War which commenced on 12 April 1861. For expectation of the end time during this period, see James B. Allen, Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 304-308.

11. Booth to Rev. Ira Eddy, 6 Dec. 1831, Ohio Star 2 (8 Dec. 1831): 1.

12. David J. Whittaker, "Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical and Biographical Introduction," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (Winter 1985): 35. See also Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 12-13.



The following excerpt is from Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Mormonism—Shadow or Reality?, p. 230A-230D:

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SUPPRESSED 1831 REVELATION REVEALED. As we indicated on page 203 of this book, for many years Mormon leaders have claimed that Joseph Smith gave a revelation concerning polygamy in 1831. Joseph Fielding Smith, who was LDS Church Historian and later became the tenth President of the Church, made this statement in a letter written to J.W.A. Bailey in 1935:

"The exact date I cannot give you when this principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith, but I do know that there was a revelation given in July 1831, in the presence of Oliver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps and others in Missouri, in which the Lord made this principle known through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Whether the revelation as it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants [w]as first given July 12, 1843, or earlier, I care not. It is a fact, nevertheless, that this principle was revealed at an earlier date (Letter dated September 5, 1935, typed copy).

    In 1943 Joseph Fielding Smith told Fawn Brodie about this revelation, but he would not allow her to see it: "Joseph F. Smith, Jr., the present historian of the Utah Church, asserted to me in 1943 that a revelation foreshadowing polygamy had been written in 1831, but that it had never been published. In conformity with the church policy, however, he would not permit the manuscript, which he acknowledged to be in possession of the church library, to be examined" (No Man Knows My History, 1971, p. 184, footnote).

    Michael Marquardt, a student of Mormon history who became very disturbed with the church's policy of suppressing important records, became interested in this revelation. He found that some Mormon scholars had copies of the revelation, but had to promise not to make any additional copies. Finally, however, Mr. Marquardt learned what appears to be the real reason why the revelation was suppressed: it commanded the Mormons to marry the Indians to make them a "white" and "delightsome" people!

    Now, to a Christian who is familiar with the teachings of the Bible, the color of a man's skin makes no difference. In Mormon theology, however, a dark skin is a sign of God's displeasure. As we have already shown in the undated material for the chapter on the Book of Mormon, this teaching comes directly from Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon. Speaking of the Indians, it says: "And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression..." (Alma 3:6). This same teaching is found in 1 Nephi 12:23 and 2 Nephi 5:21. Until the latter part of 1981, when the Book of Mormon was altered, it was taught that the Indians who were converted would become "a white and delightsome people" (2 Nephi 30:6). The new Book of Mormon, of course, says that they will become "a pure and delightsome people."

    We have previously quoted the Mormon leader Spencer W. Kimball as saying that Indian converts "are fast becoming a white and delightsome people." (Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-23) Now, while President Kimball seems to have felt that the Indians were to be made white strictly by the power of God, Michael Marquardt learned that Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation says they are to be made "white" through intermarriage with the Mormons. Because of this fact Mormon leaders seemed to feel that it was necessary to suppress this revelation. Only the most trusted men, such as Dr. Hyrum Andrus, were allowed a copy of it. It was only after a great deal of research that Mr. Marquardt was able to obtain a typed copy of it. We printed this revelation in its entirety in Mormonism Like Watergate? (pp. 7-8). The important part of the revelation reads as follows:

"Verily, I say unto you, that the wisdom of man, in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood, but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles."

    After the contents of the revelation are given, the following appears:

    "Reported by W.W.P. "

    About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph, privately, how we,' that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the 'natives' as we were all married men? He replied, instantly 'In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation."

    According to what Mr. Marquardt could learn, the original revelation is preserved in a vault in the LDS Church Historical Department. The paper on which it is written has the appearance of being very old. There is also a second copy of the revelation in the Church Historical Department. This appears in a letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young. The letter is dated August 12, 1861. Dr. Hyrum Andrus, of Brigham Young University, actually quoted part of this revelation as it appears in the letter, but he was very careful to suppress the fact that the wives to be taken were Lamanites:

    "The Prophet understood the principle of plural marriage as early as 1831. William W. Phelps stated that on Sunday morning, July 17, 1831, he and others were with Joseph Smith over the border west of Jackson County, Missouri, when the latter-day Seer received a revelation, the substance of which said in part: 'Verily I say unto you, that the wisdom of man in his fallen state knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my Holy Priesthood, but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness.' According to Elder Phelps, the revelation then indicated that in due time the brethren would be required to take plural wives." (Doctrines of the Kingdom, by Hyrum L. Andrus, Salt Lake City, 1973, p. 450)

    In 1976 we were able to examine a microfilm of the original revelation, but we found it difficult to determine when it was actually recorded. From Phelps' letter to Brigham Young we know that the revelation had to have been recorded by 1861. As we understand it, the first document—containing only the revelation and Phelps' comment—appears to be older than the letter dated August 12, 1861. It is possible that the revelation could have been recorded any time between 1831 and 1861.

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Photograph of the important part of W.W. Phelps' copy of the 1831 Revelation which commanded Mormons to marry Indians so that their posterity would become "white." The original is in the LDS Historical Department.

    Lawrence Foster feels that "The present copy of the revelation, in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps who was present on the occasion, dates from the 1850s or 1860s;..." (Religion and Sexuality, New York, 1981, p. 134) On page 299 of the same book, Foster gives this information:

    "The most readily available source for copies of the two manuscript versions of this revelation is Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism Like Watergate? pp. 7-8. According to scholars in the LDS Church Historical Department, the two extant manuscript copies are in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps, and both date from some time in the Utah period.... It is impossible to date the first copy, but the paper is definitely not of an 1830s vintage. The paper used for the first version is of the same rule and size as that used for the 1861 letter, though considerably more worn and discolored. The original copy is marred by numerous corrections and changes." (Ibid., page 299, n. 29)

    Regardless of when the revelation was actually written on paper, we have found definite historical proof that such a revelation was given in 1831. The proof is derived from a letter written by Ezra Booth and published in the Ohio Star only five months after the revelation was given! In this letter, Ezra Booth stated:

    "In addition to this, and to co-operate with it, it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the Natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent. It has been made known to one, who has left his wife in the state of N.Y. that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at liberty to take him a wife from among the Lamanites. It was easily perceived that this permission, was perfectly suited to his desires. I have frequently heard him state, that the Lord had made it known to him, that he is as free from his wife as from any other woman; and the only crime that I have ever heard alleged against her is, she is violently opposed to Mormonism." (Ohio Star, December 8, 1831)

    This letter furnishes irrefutable proof that Joseph Smith gave the revelation commanding the Mormons to marry the Lamanite women. On March 6, 1885, S.F. Whitney, Newel K. Whitney's brother, made an affidavit which furnishes additional evidence that there was a revelation on this subject:

    "Martin Harris...claimed he had a revelation when he first came to Kirtland for him to go to Missouri, and obtain an Lamanite sqaw for a wife to aid them in propagating Mormonism. Martin told me soon after Joseph, the prophet, left Kirtland, that, two years before, he had told him that as his wife had left him he needed a woman as other men." (Naked Truths About Mormonism, Oakland, California, January, 1888, p. 3).

    It is interesting to note that Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, was one of "seven Elders" present when the 1831 revelation was given.

    Like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young taught that the Indians would "become 'a white and delightsome people' " (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 143). While Brigham Young never released the 1831 revelation, there is evidence that he was familiar with its teaching that the Indians should be made white through intermarriage. In a book published in 1852, William Hall commented:

"About the time of the breaking up of the camp at Sugar Creek, the people were called together and several speeches delivered to them by Brigham Young, and others. The speech of Young was in substance as follows:

" '... We are now going to the Lamanites, to whom we intend to be messengers of instruction.... We will show them that in consequence of their transgressions a curse has been inflicted upon them—in the darkness of their skins. We will have intermarriages with them, they marrying our young women, and we taking their young squaws to wife. By these means it is the will of the Lord that the curse of their color shall be removed and they restored to their pristine beauty...' " (The Abominations of Mormonism Exposed, Cincinnati, 1852, pp. 58-59)

    Juanita Brooks gives the following information concerning the marriage of Mormons to Indians at the Salmon River Mission:

    "Very early, some of the Mormon leaders recommended that the missionaries marry Indian women as a means of cementing the friendship between the races....

    "The Elders who were sent to the Salmon River Mission were given similar instructions by Brigham Young and his party, who visited them in May, 1857. At least three different missionaries tell of them, all under the date of Sunday, May 10, 1857. Milton G. Hammond says simply, 'The president and members of the Twelve all spoke. Pres. Young spoke of Elders Marrying natives.'...

    "As a result of these teachings, at least three of the brethren married Indian women.... As to the Indian women whom they had taken as wives the 'L.D.S. Journal History' of April 9, 1858, records: 'Two squaws who had married the brethren refused to come, fearing the soldiers would kill all the Mormons.' " (Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 12, pp. 28-30)

    T.B.H. Stenhouse provides further information concerning the Salmon River Mission:

"Before any of the married brethren could make love to a maiden with the view of making her a second, third, or tenth wife, he was expected to go and obtain Brigham's permission.... He sent at one time a mission to Fort Limhi, Salmon River.... When Brigham and Heber afterwards visited the missionaries to see how they were succeeding, Heber, in his quaint way, told them that he did not see how the modern predictions could well be fulfilled about the Indians becoming 'a white and delightsome people' without extending polygamy to the natives. The approach of the United States army, in 1857, contributed to break up that mission, but not before Heber's hint had been clearly understood, and the prophecy half fulfilled! Heber was very practical, and believed that the people should never ask 'the Lord' to do for them what they could do themselves, and, as all 'Israel' had long prayed that the Indians might speedily become a 'white and delightsome people,' he thought it was the duty of the missionaries to assist 'the Lord' in fulfilling his promises. This was not the first time that a Mormon prophet attempted to aid in bringing to pass the prophecies of 'the Lord.' More than one missionary appears to have thoroughly understood him!" (The Rocky Mountain Saints, 1873, pp. 657-59)

    In 1857 John Hyde, Jr., made the following comments: "...Brigham now teaches that 'the way God has revealed for the purification of the Indians, and making them 'a white and delightsome people,' as Joseph prophesied, is by us taking the Indian squaws for wives!!' Accordingly several of these tawny beauties have been already 'sealed' to some of the Mormon authorities." (Mormonism: Its Leaders And Designs, pp. 109-110)

    William Hall claimed that "Brigham Young was married to two young squaws,...near Council Bluffs." So far we have been unable to find any additional documentation for his statement. If Hall's statement is correct, Brigham Young must have left these Indian women behind, because we do not find them mentioned as Young's wives in Utah. According to John D. Lee, on May 12, 1849, Brigham Young said that he did not want to take the Indians "in his arms until the curse is removed":

"Pres. B.Y. Said that he did not aprehend any danger from the Indians. Neither did he feel, as Some of the Brethren do, he does not want to live amoung them & take them in his arms until the curse is removed from of[f] them.... But we will take their children & school them & teach them to be clenly & to love morality & then raise up seed amoung them & in this way they will be brought back into the presance & knowledge of God..." (A Mormon Chronicle, The Diaries of John D. Lee, Vol. 1, p. 108)

    It would appear, then, that Brigham Young would not follow Joseph Smith's revelation to take "wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just." Even though the revelation said that "their females are more virtuous than the gentiles," Brigham Young built up his "kingdom" with women who were already "white" and "delightsome." If Brigham Young did not follow the 1831 revelation to marry the Lamanites, we must remember that he was only following Joseph Smith's example, for Smith also married "white" women. Even though Brigham Young suppressed Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation and chose "white" women in preference to the Lamanites, he did at least encourage others to marry them "that the curse of their color shall be removed and they restored to their pristine beauty."

    For more information concerning marriage to Indians by the early Mormons see our publication Mormonism Like Watergate? pages 9-12.

    Since Brigham Young's time the church has tended to frown upon interracial marriage with the Indians, even though there is no written rule against the practice. Apostle Mark E. Petersen has been especially vocal against interracial marriage. Apostle Petersen and other Mormon leaders who are opposed to intermarriage are probably very disturbed now that the 1831 revelation has come to light. The fact that they have suppressed this revelation could well mean that they do not really believe that it came from God. They have been involved in a cover-up to protect the image of Joseph Smith. Even after our publication of the revelation in 1974, the Mormon leaders continued to suppress it as much as they could. Robert N. Hullinger made these comments in his book: "Jerald and Sandra Tanner,...printed W.W. Phelps' version of a little-known 1831 revelation...Dr. Leonard Arrington, Church Historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, confirmed the existence of the Phelps copy. In a telephone conversation on June 13, 1975, he stated that the revelation may be released for scholarly study sometime in the future, but not yet." (Mormon Answer to Skepticism, Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon, 1980, p. 149, n. 24)

    Three years after our publication of the revelation, the Mormon scholar Donna Hill, finally published the important part about the Indians (see Joseph Smith — The First Mormon, New York, 1977, p. 340). Finally, in 1979, Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington and his assistant Davis Bitton came to grips with the reality of the 1831 revelation:

"A recently discovered document is a copy of a purported revelation of 1831 that instructed seven missionaries in Missouri as follows: 'For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.' " (The Mormon Experience, page 195)


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