April 12 1838
[High council presided over by Joseph Smith. Council called to consider the case of Oliver Cowdery who had written a long letter of protest to Edward Partridge regarding the Church's involvement in civic matters and particularly the matter of Cowdery's property in Far West. The council heard charges against Cowdery and deliberated on his standing. Cowdery was excommunicated. For the account see FWR. Joseph Smith's remarks occupy only a small part of the record, but indicate his attitude regarding Cowdery and their history in the restoration. The remarks made by Joseph are in regard to the insinuation made by Cowdery to several brethren that Joseph was guilty of adultery. To set the context, we include testimony which drew forth Joseph's remarks.]
. . . George W. Harris testifies that one evening last fall [see November 7, 1837 FWR.] O. Cowdery was at his house together with Joseph Smith jr, and Thomas B. Marsh, when a conversation took place between Joseph Smith jr & O. Cowdery, when he seemed to insinuate that Joseph Smith jr was guilty of adultery, but when the question was put, if he (Joseph) had ever acknowledged to him that he was guilty of such a thing; when he [Oliver] answered No. . .
. . . David W. Patten testifies, that he went to Oliver Cowdery to enquire of him if a certain story was true respecting J. Smith's committing adultery with a certain girl 1 , when he turned on his heel and insinuated as though he [Joseph] was guilty; he then went on and gave a history of some circumstances respecting the adultery scrape stating that no doubt it was true. Also said that Joseph told him, he had confessed to Emma, . . .
. . . Thomas B. Marsh testifies that while in Kirtland last summer, David W. Patten asked Oliver Cowdery if he Joseph Smith jr had confessed to his wife that he was guilty of adultery with a certain girl, when Oliver Cowdery cocked up his eye very knowingly and hesitated to answer the question, saying he did not know as he was bound to answer the question yet conveyed the idea that it was true. Last fall after Oliver came to this place he heard a conversation take place between Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery when J. Smith asked him if he [Joseph] had ever confessed to him that he was guilty of adultery, when after a considerable winking &c. he said No. Joseph then asked him if he ever told him that he confessed to any body, when he answered No.
Joseph Smith jr testifies that Oliver Cowdery had been his bosom friend, therefore he intrusted him with many things. 2 He then gave a history respecting the girl business. 3
1. The girl is usually identified as Fanny Alger, a servant girl in Joseph Smith's home at the time. For some perspective on household servants of the 19th century, see Faye Dudden, Serving Women: Household Service in Nineteehth Century America, (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1983) and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, (New York: Knopf, 1990) and Peter Benes, ed., Women's Work in New England, 1620-1920 (Boston: Boston Univ., 2003). Early Church leaders told of Joseph teaching in 1831 that polygamy was a doctrine revealed to him but that the time to practice it had not come yet, but would. Mosiah Hancock related that his father Levi, had been told by Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio that polygamy was to be practiced by the Church but that the Church was not yet prepared to accept it. Benjamin Johnson, whose sisters were plural wives of Joseph Smith in Illinois, related that Fanny Alger was probably the first plural wife of Joseph Smith. It seems that the relationship was started without the knowledge of Emma Smith, who may have learned of it after Joseph and Fanny were caught. Johnson stated that "I was afterwards told by Warren Parrish, that he himself and Oliver Cowdery did know that Joseph had Fanny Alger as wife, for they were spied upon and found together." William E. McLellan wrote to Joseph Smith, III of this incident claiming that Joseph was caught by Emma herself. [JD 13:193; Johnson to George F. Gibbs, typescript HBLL, BYU, pp. 8, 10; Oliver Cowdery to Warren Cowdery, January 21, 1838; Andrew Jensen, Historical Record VI, 233; Mosiah Hancock, Deseret News Daily, 17/77 (Feb. 21, 1884), 4; JD 7:115; Charles Walker journal vol. 8, pp. 118, 444; George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor, September 15, 1881, 206; George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor, December 1, 1885, 360; JD 20:29; Oliver Olney, Absurdities of Mormonism Portrayed, 5; T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints, 193; Edward Brotherton, Mormonism Its Rise and Progress (affadavit of Fanny Brewer); Lydia Knight's History in The First Book of Noble Women's Lives, (SLC: Juvenile Instructor, 1883) 31. William W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, September 9, 1835 (LDS Archives); William E. McLellan to Joseph Smith, III, July 1872 (RLDS Archives).] A somewhat dated but invaluable resumé of Joseph and polygamy is Daniel W. Backman, "A study of the Mormon practice of plural marriage before the death of Joseph Smith," MA Thesis, Purdue University, 1975. Todd Compton's, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997) gives biographical information regarding Joseph Smith's plural wives. (Unfortunately, it indulges in unjustified, and sometimes bogus, speculations and generalizations regarding Smith's motivations and the nature of his marriages.)
2. Later, Church leaders related various stories to the effect that Oliver Cowdery was aware that Joseph had received a revelation regarding polygamy.
3. It is unfortunate that the recorder did not give a full account of Joseph's remarks. As has been often noted in this study, this is a frequent frustration for the student of Joseph Smith's life and times.