When Joseph Smith visited Canada in August of 1837 he converted to the church, Edward and Margaret Lawrence and their daughters Sarah and Maria.  The Lawrence family subsequently journeyed to Illinois, arriving in 1840.  Sarah and Maria’s father, Edward, passed away soon after their arrival.  In 1842, Sarah and Maria, sixteen and eighteen years-old, began living in Joseph Smith’s home, perhaps as hired help like Emily and Eliza Partridge who were also living at the Smith residence.

In the summer of 1842 rumors circulated in Nauvoo regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy.  Joseph published a statement in his own defense: “We are charged with advocating a plurality of this is as false as the many other ridiculous charges which are brought against us.  No sect has a great reverence for the laws of matrimony...we practice what we preach.”  Several of Joseph’s close associates also published a proclamation that Joseph “is a good, moral, [and bore] testimony of the iniquity of those who had [made false statements about] Pres. J Smith’s character”.  One of those defending Joseph was William Law, Joseph’s counselor in the First Presidency.  William had been a family friend of the Lawrence’s in Canada.  He was unaware of Joseph’s polygamy, or that Joseph had just married his sixteenth wife, Sarah Ann Whitney.  

In the spring of 1843, Joseph married Sarah and Maria.  A friend of Maria’s in Nauvoo recalls, “...[Maria] suffered her doubts, her fears, her uncertainty as to whether she was acting right or wrong, for she had a conscience and wanted to be right”, and also remembers Maria saying: “...if there was any truth in Mormonism she would be saved for...My yoke has not been easy nor my burden light.”

By October 1843, William Law became aware that Joseph was indeed practicing polygamy.  He didn’t agree with the doctrine, or its secret practice, and tried to get Joseph to abandon it.  William, “with his arms around the neck of the Prophet...[and] tears streaming down his face...pleaded with him to withdraw the doctrine of plural marriage.”  Joseph said he couldn’t, and released William from the First Presidency.  Finally in late spring 1844, William resolved to take Joseph’s polygamy public.  As polygamy was against the law, William filed a lawsuit against Joseph for living “in an open state of adultery” with Maria Lawrence.  The following Sunday Joseph commented on William’s suit in his sermon, “Another indictment has been got up against me...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.”  By this time, Joseph had married at least thirty-four women.

William also announced Joseph’s polygamy in the “Nauvoo Expositor”.  Within days, Joseph declared the newspaper a “public nuisance” and ordered the city marshal to “destroy the printing press...and burn all the Expositors.”  Joseph was subsequently arrested and jailed in nearby Carthage, where he was killed on June 27, 1844.   After little more than a year of marriage, Sarah and Maria were widows. 


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