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by Donna Morley

Many Mormons today have no idea how widespread polygamy was. For instance, Mormon singer Donny Osmond believes that "only a relatively small number of church members did so [practice polygamy] prior to the late 1800s when the Church decreed the practice unacceptable." [Donny Osmond, Life is Just What You Make It, NY: Hyperion, 1999, p. 13]

However, plural marriage [polygamy] was an accepted practice. Mormons can read about it in their scripture Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 132:51-62). In these portions of Mormon scripture, we can see that First Prophet and President Joseph Smith, Jr., was given the blessing of polygamy by Jesus Christ himself.

Joseph Smith took heed to the words of Jesus and got for himself 11 wives between the ages of 14-20 when he married him. Nine other wives were between 21 to 30 years old. Eight of his wives were between the ages of 31 to 40. Two wives were between 41-50, and three wives were between 51 to 60 yers of age. [Donna Morley, A Christian Woman's Guide to Understanding Mormonism, Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2003, p. 75]

One year before Joseph Smith, Jr's murder he said:


...God gave me this revelation and commandment on celestial and plural marriage and the same God commanded me to obey it. He said to me that unless I accepted it and introduced it, and practiced it, I, together with my people, would be damned and cut off from this time hence forth....But we have got to observe it. It is an eternal principle and was given by way of commandment and not by way of instruction." [Ibid., p. 74]

Second Prophet and President Brigham Young (namesake for the Mormon school, Brigham Young University), had his share of wives as well. For this reason, he too defended the polygamy doctrine saying,


...the whole question, therefore, narrows itself to this in the 'Mormon' mind. Polygamy was revealed by God, or the entire fabric of their faith is false. To ask them to give up such an item of belief is to ask them to relinquish the whole, to acknowledge their Priesthood a lie, their ordinances a deception, and all they have toiled for, lived for, bled for, prayed for, or hoped for, a miserable failure and a waste of life. [Ibid., p. 74.]

To our Mormon friends who think that this information is "anti-Mormon" material, please rethink this whole idea. We at Faith & Reason Forum do not want to be attacking in any way, shape or form. Rather, we want to share truth with you, and today, it's the truth that your Mormon prophets did indeed practice polygamy.

We bring to you today, the testimony of Ann Eliza Young, a woman who grew up a Mormon, and in a polygamous househood. She is our witness to the pains that polygamy brought to her as a child, and then as the 19th wife of Brigham Young.

Brigham Young was much older than Ann Eliza, and although he had had eighteen other wives before Ann Eliza (and would have more after her), it was considered a high honor to be married to the second prophet of the church.

The marriage would not last. After five years of marriage she decided to pack her bags, gather her children, and leave her husband. She took him to court, filing for divorce, and in the process was excommunicated from the Mormon church. A few years later, Ann Eliza wrote her story, which we now have at our disposal. She was the first Mormon woman to protest what Joseph Smith claimed to be "an eternal principle."

Let's now take a look at this first hand account.

Wife Number 19

by Ann Eliza Young

chapters 1-10

Chapter 1


An Important Question.- Born in Mormonism. - Telling my own Story. - Joseph Smith's Mission. - He preaches a New Dispensation. My Parents Introduced to the Reader. -The Days before Polygamy. - My Mother's Childhood. - Learning under Difficulties - First Thoughts of Mormonism. - Received into the Church. - Persecution for the Faith.- Forsaking all for the New Religion. - First Acquaintance with the Apostle Brigham. - His Ambitious Intrigues. - His Poverty. - His Mission-work. - Deceptive Appearances.- My Mothers Marriage. - A Brief Dream of Happiness. - That Sweet Word "Home." - The Prophet Smith turns Banker. - The "Kirtland Safety Society Bank." - The Prophet and Sidney Rigdon Flee. - A Moment of Hesitation. - Another "Zion" Appointed. - Losing All for the Church. - Privation and Distress. - Sidney Rigdon and his "Declaration of Independence." - He Excites an Immense Sensation. - Mobs Assemble and Fights Ensure. - Lively Times among the Saints. - The Outrages of the Danites

During the somewhat public career which I have led since my apostasy from the Mormon Church, I have often been asked why I ever became a Mormon. Indeed. I have scarcely entered a town this question has not been put by some one, almost on the instant of my arrival. It is the first query of the newspaper reporter, and the anxious inquiry of the clergymen, who with one accord, without regard to creed or sect, have bidden me welcome into the light of Christian faith, from out the dark bondage of fanaticism and bigotry; and I have often answered it at the hospitable table of some entertainer, who has kindly given me shelter during a lecture engagement. Curiosity, interest, desire to gratify a wondering public by some personal items concerning me, are the different motives which prompt the question; but surprise is almost without exception betrayed when I tell them that I was born in the faith. Sometimes I think that the people of the outside world consider it impossible that a person can be born in Mormonism; they regard every Mormon as a deluded proselyte to a false faith.

It is with a desire to impress upon the world what Mormonism really is to show the pitiable condition of its women, held in a system of bondage that is more cruel than African slavery ever was, since it claims to hold body and soul alike; to arouse compassion for its children and youth, born and growing up in an atmosphere of social impurity; and, above all, to awaken an interest in the hearts of the American people that shall at length deepen into indignation, - that I venture to undertake the task of writing this book. I have consecrated myself to the work, not merely for my own sake, but for the sake of all the, unhappy women of Utah, who, unlike myself, are either too powerless or too timid to break the fetters which bind them.

I intend to give a truthful picture of Mormon life; to veil nothing which should be revealed, even though the recital should be painful to me at times, coming so close, as it necessarily must, to my inmost life, awakening memories which I would fain permit to remain slumbering, and opening old wounds which I had fondly hoped were healed. Neither shall I intentionally tinge any occurrence with the slightest coloring of romance; the real is so vivid and so strange that I need have no recourse to the imaginary.

All the events which I shall relate will be some of my own personal experiences or the experience of those so closely connected with me that they have fallen directly under my observation, and for whose truth I can vouch without hesitation. To tell the story as it ought to be told, I must begin at the very beginning of my life; for I have always been so closely connected with these people that I could not easily take up the narrative at any intermediate point.

I was born at Nauvoo, Illinois, on the 13th of September, 1844, and was the youngest child and only surviving daughter of a family of five children.

My father and mother were most devout Mormons. and were among the very earliest of Joseph Smith's converts. They have, indeed, been closely identified with the Church of the Latter-Day Saints almost from its first establishment. They have followed it in all its wanderings, have been identified with its every movement, and their fortunes have risen or fallen as the Church has been prosperous or distressed. They were enthusiastic adherents of Joseph Smith, and devoted personal friends of Brigham Young, until he, by his own treacherous acts, betrayed their friendship, and himself broke every link that had united them to him, even that of religious sympathy, which among this people is the most difficult to sunder.

My father, Chauncey G. Webb, was born in 1812, In Hanover, Chatauqua County, N. Y. He first heard the Mormon doctrine preached in 1833, only a very short time after Joseph Smith had given the Book of Mormon to the world, and had announced himself as another Messiah, chosen by "the Lord" to restore true religion to the world, to whom also had been revealed all the glories of "the kingdom" that should yet be established on the earth, and over which he was to be, by command from the Lord, both temporal and spiritual ruler.

They - the old folks - embraced the new faith immediately, and prepared for removal to Kirtland, Ohio, which was to be the nucleus of the new church, the "Zion" given by revelation to Joseph Smith as the gathering-place of the Saints. They were naturally anxious to gather all their children into the fold, and they urged my father, with tearful, prayerful entreaties, to accompany them to the city of refuge prepared for the faithful followers of the Lord and His prophet Smith.

Like many young people, he had at that time but little sympathy with religion. He had given but very little thought to the peculiar beliefs of the different churches. This world held so much of interest to him, that he had considered but very little the mysteries of the future, and the world to come. Of a practical, and even to some extent sceptical turn of mind, he was inclined to take things as they came to him, and was not easily influenced by the marvellous or supernatural. If left to himself, he might, probably, never have embraced Mormonism; but he yielded to the entreaties of his parents, and joined the Mormon Church more as an expression of filial regard than of deep religious conviction. The Saints were at that time an humble, spiritual-minded, God-fearing, law-abiding people, holding their new belief with sincerity and enthusiasm, and proving their position, to their own satisfaction at least, from the Bible. They had not then developed the spirit of intolerance which has since characterized them, and though they were touched with religious fanaticism, they were honest in their very bigotry. The Mormon Church, in its earliest days, cannot be fairly judged by the Mormon Church of the present time, which retains none of its early simplicity, and which seems to have lost sight entirely of the fundamental principles on which it was built. My father, although not entering fully into the spirit of his new religion at that early period of his saintly experience, yet found nothing of the insincerity which he claimed to have met in other beliefs; and having embraced the new faith, he was prepared to hold to it, and to cast his lot with it. So he went with his parents to Kirtland, in 1834, where he found the first romance of his life in the person of Eliza Churchill, my mother, then a young girl of seventeen, just blossoming into fairest womanhood.

Never was there a greater mental or spiritual contrast between two persons. My mother was a religious enthusiast, almost a mystic. She believed implicitly in personal revelation, and never dou