Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sealings by proxy

This is text of an e-mail I wrote to a correspondent that lays out in brief my thoughts about Elvira and how her interaction with Joseph may have been the catalyst for the sealings of spouses across time.

FWIW, given that you do have attitudes on the subject (versus ladies who somehow have not realized it ever happened), I thought you'd be interested in Elvira Annie Cowles.

Compton has a whole chapter on Elvira in his "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith." She was Relief Society treasurer and the nanny to the Smith household in Nauvoo. Compton chose to ignore the family histories (that she was Joseph's wife and only became Jonathan's wife after Joseph's death) because there was not contemporary documentation and they conflicted with documented fact (that Joseph performed the civil marriage ceremony between Jonathan and Elvira in Dec 1842, six months before she claimed she had been sealed to the prophet (bless Brother Jenkins for compiling these affidavits while they could still be had)).

What I belief happened was that Elvira was the first (and apparently only) early woman to accept the New and Everlasting Covenant who deferred to Emma. So, I believe she accepted the Covenant in her heart, but refused to enter into it with Joseph until after Emma had done so. This would explain all the extant facts as well as the family history. This would also make Jonathan Holmes the first man to be promised reunion with his deceased wife in eternity. Though Jonathan and Elvira never explicitly explained this, there was a later and parallel situation that was documented (between Sarah Ann Whitney and Joseph C. Kingsbury in what Brother Kingsbury called a "pretended marriage" [Compton, p. 351]). If only the walls of the Mansion House could speak. We would then hear of the whispered confidences between Elvira and Eliza Snow, that led to the first poem about the New and Everlasting Covenant:

September 18, 1842

Conjugal, to Jonathan and Elvira

Like two streams, whose gentle forces
Mingling, in one current blend -
Like two waves, whose onward courses
To the ocean's bosom tend -

Like two rays that kiss each other
In the presence of the sun -
Like two drops that run together
And forever are but one,

May your mutual vows be plighted -
May your hearts, no longer twain
And your spirits be united
In an everlasting chain.

Jonathan (assuming I am correct) would be so unified with his beloved Marietta, dead from a mob attack on Nauvoo in Aug 1840 (the same month Joseph revealed the doctrine of baptism for the dead).

Elvira would some day be so unified with the Prophet Joseph (she was sealed to Joseph in life just one week after Emma entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant).

[These relationships were solemnized in the Nauvoo temple in 1846.]

While Joseph lived, the public marriage of Jonathan and Elvira was (I believe) understood by them to be merely the formalization of the levirate promise Jonathan had made Joseph - to care for Elvira after Joseph's death. Elvira (notably fertile, based on later evidence) appears to have honored six months mourning after Joseph's death before consummating the levirate marriage to Jonathan.

As Compton notes, "Elvira's story stands out from those of most of Smith's other wives... Elvira's experiences with polygamy were not traumatic, as far as is known" [p. 557]. Perhaps this is because she alone, of all the outstanding and faithful women who helped birth the New and Everlasting Covenant into the world during the Nauvoo era, obeyed the law of Sarah and deferred to Joseph's first wife.

It is fitting that Elvira's grand-daughters, Eliza Roxie Welling and Rhoda Welling, were the women whose 1901 polygamous marriages to Apostle John Whittaker Taylor (himself a third generation polygamist) were the focus that led to the final 1904 disassociation of plural marriage from the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Three new apostles were called 1906, of whom David O. McKay was the most junior. It's not even clear the men he and his fellows were called to replace were John W. Taylor, Matthias F. Cowley, and Abraham O. Woodruff (in order of seniority: all were post-manifesto polygamists). He probably replaced Marriner W. Merrill (polygamist, died Feb 1906). So it would be a stretch to explicitly state that David O. McKay was called to John Whittaker Taylor's spot. But Elder McKay certainly exemplified the modern era of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Thank you for your response. I hope this information is interesting to you.

Meg Stout
Annandale, VA

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