Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mormon Polygamy-an example from my Family History

The people pictured above are William Wallace White, and his wives in chronological order. The women are (from Left to Right) Martha May Pancoast, Louisa Morris, and Eveline Mercy Tuckett.

William is my 2x great-grandfather, ascending from my paternal grandmother's line. Louisa Morris is the woman from which my line descends.

The practice of plural marriage—the marriage of one man to two or more women—was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s. Thereafter, for more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-Day Saints. William and his family are counted among these.

William and Martha May Pancoast were married in 1870, and had one daughter-Lenna May. At this point in time, they had not encountered the Mormon religion.  In 1876, when Lenna May was still a little girl, Martha died. Martha's family took the little girl in and raised her, as William worked and moved westward. Surviving records indicate he sent money and letters to Lenna May through the years.

William W. White was baptized a member of the LDS Church in 1879. Within a year's time, he met and married Louisa Morris in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were sealed in the Endowment House.

In Mormonism, marriages performed in temples are considered eternally covenanted.  In the years before the Salt Lake Temple was completed, eternal (or Celestial) ordinances were performed in the smaller Endowment House, which had been specifically built to serve this purpose while several temples were under construction. The eternal promises and ordinances performed within the walls of the temple would carry a family beyond the earthly "til death do us part". Hierarchical structures-both familial and ecclesiastical would be continued in the hereafter based upon these sealings, if all remained faithful and righteous.

In addition to the doctrine of Eternal marriage, the practice of plural marriage had been part of Mormonism from the very early days in Kirtland and Nauvoo. Entering into a plural marriage was believed to be a step in the direction of reaching the highest level of heavenly glory after the Resurrection.

The 1880s were a time of conflict between the LDS church and the US Government. Laws were passed in 1879, criminalizing the practice of plural marriage. If the Utah Territory was to be included in the body of the United States, the Mormons would be required to abandon this doctrine. At the time of William and Louisa's marriage, Brigham Young was in the last years of his life, and in October of 1880, John Taylor became the President of the LDS church. John Taylor was adamant in his resolve to continue polygamy. Shortly after being sustained as Prophet, Taylor said "One sure thing is that we will not surrender polygamy." Even more dramatic rhetoric ensued between the LDS church and the US government in the years following.

It was in this climate that William and Louisa lived for a time in Salt Lake City. By 1884, they had 2 children-Charles and Lola. William and Louisa were both educated people, Louisa being the more sober and serious of the couple. William was fond of music and theater, and writing poems. Louisa wrote articles on occasion for the Mormon women's publication, The Exponent. Both held positions of leadership within their congregations.

In about 1883 or 1884, the Whites were introduced to Eveline Mercy Tuckett.

Eveline had only recently been reunited with family in Utah. She had lived in Virginia City from infancy, raised by an aunt and uncle-active in society and theater. Until the financial crash of the silver market, Virginia City was a thriving metropolis. Eveline had married there, and was the mother of a young daughter. Her marriage ended by divorce, and at the same time, she was told the truth about her parentage. Cornered by her divorce,the illness of her uncle, and sudden destitution, Eveline and her daughter came to Salt Lake to live. In the process of reuniting with her Utah family, she joined the Mormon church.

In June of 1884, Eveline Mercy Tuckett was sealed to William Wallace White, thereby entering William, Louisa, and Eveline into plural marriage. Louisa's brother was recorded as a witness to the ceremony.

One reaction to the government efforts to end polygamy, was that polygamous families were sent to various places in the regions surrounding the Utah Territory. One such place was Mancos, Colorado; and the Whites were called to go there. Mancos was a frontier area---homes would need to be built, land tilled, fences built, and irrigation engineered. It was rugged work in a dry climate.

This is where my family history gets fuzzy on the details. Actually, fuzzy is the wrong word for it--in our family narrative, Eveline and this marriage were NEVER mentioned.  It was not until another family researcher discovered a record of the temple ordinance, that Louisa and William's grandchildren learned of this event. It was certainly a shock for them to consider that part of the history had been edited. It took some adjustment, and the discovery of more documentation to fully accept this.

It was not only the descendants of William and Louisa who were surprised by this revelation. I have been able to correspond with some descendants of Eveline's daughter, Mercy. While they knew of the marriage between Eveline and William, they had not ever been told it was a plural marriage.

The time in Mancos was not a happy time for Eveline. One factor contributing to this was the frontier nature of their existence there. So far, we have not found any journals details feelings or circumstances within the family unit, but it was common for polygamous households to crack under the many pressures of that commitment--especially for people who were not financially well-off.

Congregational records provide a scant framework establishing that the Whites made a solid effort to fulfill this tenet of their faith. In 1890, a religious leader would write in his journal that he had counseled with William and Eveline on the matter. It was not to be, however, and in 1893, the union between Eveline and William was dissolved. Eveline remarried some years later and lived the rest of her life as a faithful, monogamous Mormon.

In 1890, the LDS church would publicly announce via Manifesto, the end of the practice of plural marriage. The practice would continue in secrecy--not unlike the secrecy that had been deemed necessary during other periods during which the practice existed--until 1904.

In 1900, William must have made a trip to Salt Lake City, as it was recorded that he facilitated (by proxy) the baptism of Martha May Pancoast, and had her sealed to him as an eternal wife. This means that the marriages between William, Martha, and Louisa are eternal. Because Eveline's sealing was dissolved-something only the First Presidency of the LDS church can authorize-she is not considered part of that eternal family, but is the eternal spouse of her third and final husband James Holder.

This post is fairly reductive in many ways, but it is intended mostly as a kind of primer on the history and background before I dive deep into the stories of these people and places. Research, as always, is continuing. I want to do these people and events justice.

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