I’ve heard the story of Martha Brotherton before, but I’d never really taken it seriously because I hadn’t read the original account1 and it just sounded like a case of he said/she said. Now that I’ve dug into it, I think this story is worthy of its own post.

Martha recorded her memory of the alleged event a few hours after it took place. She later put together an affidavit that you can find here:

Martha H. Brotherton, Affidavit dated July 13, 1842. History of the Saints by John C. Bennett. (It’s found on page 236 of the book and page 248 on the pdf).

A Little Background

Martha and her family met Brigham Young while he was on a mission in Martha’s native England. The family was baptized and soon obeyed the command to gather with the Saints. They arrived in Nauvoo in 1842.

Soon after arriving, Martha claims to have found herself the object of Brigham’s attention even though she was not of age2. According to her affidavit, only three weeks after their arrival, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball coordinated a secret meeting with Martha.

I’ll narrate it a bit to cut to the chase but you should definitely read the entire account sometime.

Martha’s Account

…we found Young and the Prophet alone. I was introduced to the Prophet by Young. Joseph offered me his seat, and, to my astonishment, the moment I was seated Joseph and Kimball walked out of the room, and left me with Young, who arose, locked the door, closed the window, and drew the curtain.

Martha then said that she received a proposition of marriage from Brigham. (Brigham was 41, married, and had seven children.)

My feelings at that moment were indescribable. God only knows them.

She said that her opinion of her new religion changed in an instant.

‘What’, thought I, ‘are these men, that I thought almost perfection itself, deceivers? And is my fancied happiness but a dream?’

She claims Brigham explained how it would all happen:

‘Joseph will marry us here to-day, and you can go home this evening, and your parents will not know any thing about it.’

Martha said that when she resisted, Brigham left to find Joseph who would support everything he was saying:

He then unlocked the door, and took the key and locked me up alone.

She claimed that when Joseph arrived, he did his best to convince her, pressuring her to marry Brigham then and there, saying,

what are you afraid of, sis? – come, let me do the business for you.’

Martha said that she never would have considered saying yes but she was afraid to say no because…

If I say no, they may do as they think proper…

It seems that she felt threatened, so instead of giving an answer, she strategically asked for time to think and pray on it.

‘Well,’ said Young, ‘I shall leave it with brother Joseph, whether it would be best for you to have time or not.’
‘Well,’ said Joseph, ‘I see no harm in her having time to think, if she will not fall into temptation.’
‘O, sir,’ said I, ‘there is no fear of my falling into temptation.’
‘Well, but,’ said Brigham, ‘you must promise me you will never mention it to any one.’
‘I do promise it,’ said I.
‘Well,’ said Joseph, ‘you must promise me the same.’

Martha claims she promised that she would keep the secret and then stood up to leave. Joseph stopped her and tried a final time to convince her to get hitched on the spot:

Joseph commenced to beg of me again – he said it was the best opportunity they might have for months, for the room was often engaged. I, however, had determined what to do.

What Happened to Martha?

Martha promptly told her family about this event. She and her parents left the Mormon Church, and Nauvoo. Martha married one year later and had 5 children. She died in 1863, when she was only 39. Brigham had Martha sealed to him “by proxy on August 1 , 1870”3.

What Apologists Say

FAIR

FAIR calls Martha’s story “dramatic”, and “unlikely” (source). Here’s their rationale:

  • Rumors of being locked in a room for a full day: FAIR quotes Hyrum Smith who attempts to discredit Martha by citing a rumor going around Nauvoo that Joseph had locked a girl in a room for a full day or several days. The implication is that Martha was the source of that rumor and if so, her entire story must be called into question.
  • Association with John C. Bennett: As far as I can tell Martha’s account was first published in a newspaper called the Native American Bulletin (St. Louis) on July 16, 18424 and addressed to “Gen John C. Bennett”. I suppose their implication is that Mr. Bennett influenced Martha or convinced her to lie.

Brian Hales

Brian Hales calls Martha’s account “antagonistic”5 and “somewhat tainted” but doesn’t explain why (source). I’m guessing it’s for the same reasons provided by FAIR. That said, Hales seems to accept the basic facts of Martha’s account.

My Opinion

These arguments aren’t convincing to me. First of all, while Hyrum6, Joseph7, Brigham8, Heber9, Parley P. Pratt10, et. al11 produced firm denials, complete with name-calling and character assassination12, its clear that they were attempting to paint Martha’s entire story as a fabrication. That’s a problem because today we know that Joseph, Brigham, Parley, Hyrum, Heber, and others did practice polygamy. We know that Joseph made many similar sounding proposals to other women. We also know that these Mormon leaders were, at one time, lying to everyone about these relationships (except a few close associates) in order to keep it secret.

Also, the best evidence in support of Martha’s story is the fact that Brigham had Martha sealed to him in 1870, after she had passed away. I’ve found a few believers who address this glaring issue13. Their interpretations vary from disappointment and sadness, to (shockingly) faith affirming. Neither FAIR nor Brian Hales address this at all.

Martha seems like the more trustworthy source in this case.

Here’s one example of a story that’s very similar to Martha’s. Emily Partridge resisted Joseph’s overtures for more than a year until she was tricked into a secret meeting with Joseph Smith and Heber C. Kimball. She wrote,

When I got there nobody was at home but [the Kimball children] William and Hellen Kimball… I did not wait long before Br. Kimball and Joseph came in.

Emily Partridge

Emily’s record indicates that the children were then sent away. Heber and Joseph pretended to send Emily away as well, in order to avoid suspicion. Emily sensed an uncomfortable situation, so tried to get away.

I started for home as fast as I could so as to get beyond being called back, for I still dreaded the interview. Soon I heard Br. Kimball call, ‘Emily, Emily’ rather low but loud enough for me to hear. I thought at first I would not go back and took no notice of his calling. But he kept calling and was about to overtake me so I stopped and went back with him.

Emily Partridge

Another similarity is that Emily was also encouraged to get hitched on the same day of the secret meeting:

I cannot tell all Joseph said, but he said the Lord had commanded [him] to enter into plural marriage and had given me to him and although I had got badly frightened he knew I would yet have him… Well I was married there and then. Joseph went home his way and I going my way alone. A strange way of getting married wasn’t it?

Emily Partridge

Emily’s account is found in many books but the original is tough to come by. I found this typed copy here.

There are many other accounts of Joseph pleading to keep his words secret. He asked Emily and Eliza Partridge to burn his letters14. He did the same with Sarah Ann Whitney15.

If Martha’s story was completely fabricated, we’d also have to explain why many of the Brotherton family abruptly abandoned the faith that they had so willingly left their country, possessions, friends and family to join.

As such, it’s highly likely that Martha did receive a proposition from Brigham Young. If so, Joseph, Brigham, and Heber were lying16. And if they were lying, they were willing to use deceit in order to destroy the reputation of an innocent girl who stood in the way of their own tainted reputations.

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Footnotes

  1. I have a tendency to doubt any fantastic claim until I’ve had a chance to look into it carefully.
  2. This article indicates that Marta was born on May 24th 1824, which would make her 17 years old. I can’t find good references on that website but that would match up with Martha’s account. Brigham asked her, “‘you are of age, are you not?’ ‘No, sir,’ said I, ‘I shall no be until the 24th of May.’”.
  3. See Stanley S. Ivins, research into LDS sealing records, Ivins Papers, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City. Here’s a link to the repository.
  4. This website has transcribed a copy of the original.
  5. The fact that something is “antagonistic” isn’t evidence that it’s untrue. It would be strange to not be antagonistic toward an already-married 41-year-old who tries to secretly coerce a 17-year-old into marriage without parental permission.
  6. “He [Hyrum Smith] then spoke in contradiction of a report in circulation about Elder Kimball, B. Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alledging that a sister had been shut in a room for several days, and that they had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives…”
    Times and Seasons, April 15, 1842 p. 763/i>
  7. “Pres’t. J. Smith spoke upon the subject of the stories respecting Elder Kimball and others, showing the folly and inconsistency of spending any time in conversing about such stories or hearkening to them, for there is no person that is acquainted with our principles would believe such lies, except Sharp the editor of the ‘Warsaw Signal.’”
    Times and Seasons, April 15, 1842 p. 763.
  8. “I do hereby testify that the affidavit of Miss Martha Brotherton that is going the rounds in the political and religious papers, is a base falsehood, with regard to any private intercourse or unlawful conduct or conversation with me.”
  9. “Personally appeared before me, Ebenezer Robinson, a justice of the peace, for said county, Heber C. Kimball, who being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith that the affidavit of Miss Martha Brotherton, which has been published in sundry newspapers, is false and without foundation in truth, and further this deponant saith not.”
  10. The spirit of apostacy has been quite prevalent of late, principally among those who have emigrated from England to America….
    Among the most conspicuous of these apostates, we would notice a young female who emigrated from Manchester in September last [1841], and who, after conducting herself in a manner unworthy the character of one professing godliness, at length conceived the plan of gaining friendship and extraordinary notoriety with the world, or rather with the enemies of truth, by striking a blow at the character of some of its worthiest champions. She well knew that this would be received as a sweet morsel by her old friends, the Methodists, and other enemies of the Saints. She accordingly selected president J. [Joseph] Smith, and elder B. [Brigham] Young for her victims, and wrote to England that these men had been trying to seduce her, by making her believe that God had given a revelation that men might have two wives; by these disreputable means she thought to overthrow the Saints here, or at least to bring a storm of persecution on them, and prevent others from joining them; but in this thing she was completely deceived by Satan…

    Millennial Star 3 [August 1842]: 73–74
    A little over a year later, Parley was sealed to Martha’s sister, Elizabeth, becoming Parley’s first polygamist wife. (source)
  11. John McIlwrick:
    “I do know that the sister of my wife, Martha Brotherton, is a deliberate liar, and also a wilful inventor of lies; and that she has also to my certain knowledge at sundry times, circulated lies of a base kind, concerning those whom she knew to be innocent of what she alleged against them. She has also stooped to many actions which would be degrading to persons of common decency, such as lying on the top of a young man when he was in bed, and seeking Aristotle’s work from a young seaman’s box”
  12. The Church of Scientology applies the same tactic today. They spend a lot more time trying to destroy the person than they do addressing the issues.
  13. Here’s one from the Millennial Star.
  14. Emily wrote that Joseph “…asked me if I would burn it if he would write me a letter.”. (see previous source)
  15. Joseph’s letter was not burned even though he wrote, “burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts” (See Letter to Newel K., Elizabeth Ann Smith, and Sarah Ann Whitney)
  16. Hyrum, Parley, and others probably didn’t know about the Mormon doctrine of polygamy at the time of the fiasco with Martha.