SARAH AND MARIA LAWRENCE
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 wives...now 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, virtuous...man [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.”
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.
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.