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.