My Polygamist Heritage

Why am I writing about my polygamist heritage? Two things really. The recent raid on the FLDS polygamist group in Texas has brought polygamy back into the news and into general public discussion. Secondly, as the Texas polygamy news story broke, I had just finished reading, “In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith” by Todd Compton.

First let me say that I believe that what the Texas authorities did in taking all the children in the community away from their parents was wrong. If there was a complaint about abuse by an individual, then something should have been done to protect that person’s family until things could be sorted out. This is not the first time the US government has put polygamist families through their legal justice system. I am a happy monogamist, and will encourage my children to be monogamists, but in this day and age, if consenting, informed adults want to enter into polygamist relationships, then the government should not interfere. If teenagers are being encourage or coerced to enter into polygamist marriages, then the adults involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent under applicable laws (as Warren Jeffs the leader of the FLDS was for example).

My great grandmother Katherine Love Paxman was the fourth wife of William Paxman. At the time she married, Katherine was 24 years old and her husband was almost 50 years old (interestingly, William’s eldest son by his first wife, was 29 at the time he married Katherine). William was a leader in the Mormon church, and in accordance with church doctrine at the time, was encouraged to marry more than one wife. Unfortunately at the time he married my great grand mother, the United States government was beginning to actively prosecute and jail polygamist husbands.

At least partly as a result of the pressure by the US legal system, the church sent William on a mission to New Zealand in order to move him out of the reach of the US government. Only one wife could go with him on his mission, and my grandmother turned out to be the lucky wife, and made the trip to New Zealand with him (I’m not sure why, but it may have been an economic issue, as great grandma didn’t have any children to take with her at the time, unlike her sister wives).

Nine years, and five children later (1897), William died suddenly while eating dinner, just two days after falling off one of his other wife’s roof while fixing it. At the time Katherine was living at her mother’s home, and after his death, to make ends meet, she took a job as secretary at the town hall in Nephi, Utah.

In a sense I am grateful for polygamy. I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for my Great Grandfather William Paxman, and his fourth wife, Great Grandma Katherine Paxman. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, but quite selfishly I’m glad to be here.

P.S. In Sacred Loneliness is lengthy book that provides quite detailed biographical sketches of the lives of Joseph Smiths 30+ wives, right from their births and family back grounds, to their death’s. Todd Compton is an academic, and his prose isn’t captivating for the most part, but some of the stories of the women in his book are truly incredible. Many of the stories taken directly from their personal histories. A great example of one of those incredible stories is of Zina Huntington Jacobs. Joseph Smith approached her about a polygamist marriage in Nauvoo, and she rebuffed him, and within weeks married Zina, who had been courting her at the time. Six months after her marriage to Henry Jacobs, Joseph approached her again and told her that an angel had appeared to him with a drawn sword and told him that if he did not marry her, that he would be killed and that her family would not go to Heaven. She acquiesced, and was married to Joseph as his fifth wife. The marriage was done in secret. So secret in fact that Joseph’s first wife Emma was not told of the marriage.


  1. Your great-grandmother sounds similar to mine. My great-grandmother, Anne Stafford Snow, was second wife to Erastus Beaman Snow, son of Erastus Snow. She met her future husband in England when she was 12 and went to Utah at age 13 with a group of converts and became a household servant to Artemesia Snow, Erastus Sr’s first wife, in St. George. When Artemesia died in 1882, Anne Stafford moved in with her future husband’s family and married him in 1885 at age 17. Then to avoid prosecution, Erastus Jr., her husband, was called on a mission to Mexico and Anne Stafford went with him, just like your great-grandmother who went to New Zealand with her husband. The reason for this was that the plural wife could be forced to testify against the husband, so it was necessary to get her out of the country. It was very hard on his first wife who was left behind, while the husband went off on his mission with his 17-year old bride. One reason why I am an atheist now. But I have deep sympathy for the FLDS because attacking polygs is attacking my flesh and blood.

  2. Thank you so much for giving me an insight into my family’s (distant)links with polygamy! William Paxman was a cousin twice removed of my gt gt grandfather Frederick Girling. (Frederick’s grandmother Eliza Paxman was first cousin to William’s father James Paxman). I have only recently discovered my Paxman connections, and the American branch of the family, and to discover the Mormon link is amazing and incredible, as I have Mormon step-children from my first husband’s first marriage – no, I’m not polygamous either! They will be highly amused that a distant relation of mine was not only a Mormon, but a polygamist too!

    • If you’re going to have a family history, you might as well have an interesting history! It seems like the mormon church is trying to forget about polygamy, even though they keep the revelation that got the ball rolling on the books. Thanks for the comments!

  3. Thank you for the information you posted about Wm Paxman and Katherine Love Paxman. I am just now doing some research on the Love family line. My husband is a descendant of Andrew Love and Sarah Maria Humphreys Love, Katherine’s parents. I would like to know if there is more information about the Paxmans during their time in New Zealand…any records, pictures, etc? I would really appreciate your help. Thanks again!

    • My brother ( and his wife Susan just started a mission in New Zealand. He wanted information about William Paxman, who buried a two-year-old daughter Sarah Jane in Matutuke (or Manutuke) Cemetery when he and his wife (K. L.) were on a mission in New Zealand in 1887. Ward and Susan are serving in that village. Incidentally, my brother and I are interested in William Paxman because our family lived several years in the Paxman home in Nephi and wondered if this was the same William Paxman.

  4. Vivian,

    My mother has a copy of Katherine’s journal from the trip. I’m not sure what else she has, but you can contact her directly to find out: Katie Allred McCue,



  5. So I don’t know anything about family history, but I was looking up my ancestors on, trying to find which one of my great-grandparents was the polygamist (that i’d heard about growing up) and i ended up here to read about my great-grandfather, William Paxman. I’m from his third wife, Emily Abel. I was just googling to see if I could find a picture and it came up w/ your blog post. Thanks for sharing. I had no idea he’d gone to New Zealand. I think I better go ask my mom for more stories . . .

  6. I was helping my son Canon Anderson do a school report on ‘first ancestors to move to Utah’ and we chose William Paxman after talking to my mom about the 4 or 5 options we had to choose between. You can imagine my delight when one of the sources of information we found online as I helped my son research this report was written by my same age cousin Rich McCue…technology is a great thing sometimes 😉

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