A few years ago I presented a paper at the 2006 FAIR Conference entitled Zina and Her Men concerning the tangled (and much misunderstood) marital relationships of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young. In preparing for the limited presentation time available in the conference format, I was not able to present much of the information that I had gathered relative to Zina and her relations with Joseph.
When considering the relationship of Zina and Joseph, it is natural in today’s voyeuristic society to ask a blunt question: Was Joseph Smith sexually active with Zina as one of his plural wives?
Critics and historians over the years have come to differing opinions, all of which have been considered in my studies, and some of those considerations are found in the FAIR presentation. There is one piece of evidence sometimes cited as irrefutable proof of sexual relations between Zina and Joseph—an 1869 affidavit by Zina. Reference to this evidence first appears in Four Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier. The authors note the following:
Zina does not record if she and Joseph consummated their union, although Zina later signed an affidavit that she was Smith’s wife in “very deed.” 1
The reference provided by the authors is “Joseph F. Smith, Affidavit Books, 4 vols., 1:5, 4:5, LDS Church Archives.”2 With such a reference, it is easy enough to check the source. Doing so does reveal an affidavit by Zina relative to the reality of her marriage to Joseph Smith. The following is the full text of the affidavit at Volume 1, page 5 of the cited source:
Territory of Utah
County of Salt Lake
Be it remembered that on this first day of May A.D. eighteen sixty nine before me Elias Smith Probate Judge for said county personally appeared, Zina Diantha Huntington Young who was by me sworn in due form of law, and upon her oath saith, that on the twenty-seventh day of October A.D. 1841, at the City of Nauvoo, County of Hancock, State of Illinois, she was married or sealed to Joseph Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, by Dimick B. Huntington, a High Priest in said Church, according to the laws of the same, regulating marriage; in the presence of Fanny Maria Huntington
[signed] Zina D.H. Young
Subscribed and Sworn to by
the said Zina D.H. Young, the
day and year first above written
[signed] E. Smith
An examination of the affidavit in Volume 4, page 5, shows that it is textually the same, although written in a different hand. They are the same affidavit. Both are signed by Zina and the judge. The only difference, besides minor punctuation, is that the second copy (4:5) refers to “Fanny Mariah Huntington” instead of “Fanny Maria Huntington.”
Minor transcription differences aside, the obvious problem with the affidavit is that it doesn’t say what the authors of Four Zinas say that it says; there is nothing about Zina being Joseph’s wife in “very deed.” While it could be that the authors simply cited the wrong affidavit, a search of the LDS Archives turned up no other affidavits from Zina.
A more likely explanation is that the authors of Four Zinas confused an affidavit by Melissa Lott Willes, another plural wife of Joseph’s, with Zina’s affidavit. According to author Todd Compton, Melissa did, in her affidavit, say that she was Joseph’s wife “in very deed.”4 It is interesting to note that in a review of Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness, one reviewer noted that one deficiency in the book was that it didn’t “quote Zina Huntington’s affidavit that she was Smith’s wife in ‘very deed.’”5 It would obviously seem out of place to quote an affidavit that doesn’t exist.6
The bottom line is that there is no evidence that Zina made a definitive statement concerning the consummation of her marriage to Joseph Smith. My experience with this evidence also illustrates the danger in relying upon second-hand information when coming to any conclusions.
1 Martha Sonntag Bradley and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward, Four Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2000), 114-115.
2 Ibid., 137, note 53.
3 Affidavit of Zina D.H. Young, Affidavits on Celestial Marriage, May 1, 1869, Vol. 1:5 and 4:5, LDS Church Archives (MS 3423).
4 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 12. Compton provides as his source the following on page 637: Affidavit of Melissa Willes, August 3, 1893, quoted in Raymond Bailey, “Emma Hale, Wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” master’s thesis (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1952), 98-100. In looking up the source provided by Compton, it appears that the original Willes affidavit is no longer extant. The information typed in the thesis on the referenced pages is cited as “The above copy is from a letter received by the writer [Raymond Bailey] from Myrtle Willes Bailey, December 11, 1949. Myrtle Willes Bailey is a granddaughter of Malissa Willes.” It is unknown whether Raymond Bailey was related to Myrtle Willes Bailey. The affidavit is dated 1893 and is given largely in a question and answer format, where “Joseph Smith Jr.” (actually Joseph Smith III) is doing the questioning and Willes the response. The question posed was “Q. Was (sic) you a wife in very deed?” and the answer was “A. Yes.” Willes and Smith were married nine months before Smith’s death, and she provided the affidavit when she was sixty-nine years old.
5 Katherine Daynes, Pacific Historical Review 68 (August 1999), 467.
6 It is unknown upon what the reviewer was relying for such a statement. Compton’s book appeared in 1997, the review appeared in 1999, and Four Zinas appeared in 2000. It is possible that the reviewer was relying upon a pre-publication copy of the incorrect Four Zinas as a basis for the criticism.