Letter to Thomas Carlin, 24 June 1842

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

June 24th. 1842
Governor of the State of ,
Dr. Sir,
It becomes my duty to lay before you some facts relative to the conduct of our Major, General ; which have been proven beyond the possibility of dispute, and which he himself has admitted to be true, in my presence.
It is evident that his general character is that of an adulterer of the worst kind, and although he has a wife and Children living, circumstances which have transpired in , have proven to a demonstration that he cares not whose character is disgraced whose honor is destroyed nor who suffers so that his lustful appetite may be gratified and further he cares not how many, nor how abominable the falsehood he has to make use of to accomplish his wicked purposes, even should it be that he brings disgrace upon a whole community.
Some time ago, it having been reported to me that some of the most aggravating cases of adultery had been committed upon some previously respectable females in our , I took proper measures to ascertain the truth of the report, and was soon enabled to bring sufficient witnesses before proper Authority to establish the following facts, More than twelve months ago went to a Lady in the and began to teach her that promiscuous intercourse between the sexes was lawful and no harm in it, and requested the privilege of gratifying his passions but she refused in the strongest terms saying that it was very wrong to do so, and it would bring a disgrace on the Finding this argument ineffectual he told her that men in higher standing in the church than himself not only sanctioned but practised the same deeds, and in order to finish the controversy said and affirmed that I both taught and acted in [p. 233] the same manner, but publicly proclaimed against it in consequence of the prejudace of the people and fear of trouble in my own house. By this means he accomplished his designs, he seduced a respectable female with lying and subjected her to public infamy and disgrace.
Not contented with what he had already done he made the attempt on others and by using the same language seduced them also.
about the early part of July 1841 I received a letter from Pa In it was contained information setting forth that said had a wife and two or three children then living. This I re[a]d to him and he acknowledged it was true
A very short time after this he attempted to destroy himself by taking poison but being discovered before it had taken sufficient affect, and proper antidotes administered he again recovered.
The impression made on the minds of the public by this event was; that he was so ashamed of his base conduct that he took this coursse to escape the censures of a justly indignant community. It might have been supposed that after this he would have broke off his adulterous proceedings but to the contrary the public consternation had scarcly ceased before he was again deeply involved in the same wicked proceedings, and continued untill a knowledge of the fact reached my ears. I immediately charged him with the whole circumstance and he candidly acknowledged the truth of the whole.
The foregoing facts were established on oath before an of the .— the affidavits are now in my possession.
In order that the truth might be fully established I asked to testify before an wether I had given him any cause for such aggravating conduct He testified that I never taught to him that illicit intercourses with females was under any circumstances justifiable neither did he ever hear me teach any thing but the strictest principles of righteousness and virtue. This affidavit is also in my possession.
I have also a similar affidavit taken before the city council and signed by the members of the council.
after these things transpired, and finding that I should resist all such wicked conduct, and knowing that he could no longer maintain himself as a respectable citizen he has seen fit to leave , and that very abruptly
I have been credibly informed that he is colleaguing with some of our former cruel persecuters the missourians and that he is threatening destruction upon us; and under these circumstances I consider it my duty to give you information on the subject that a knowledge of his [p. 234] proceedings may be before you, in due season
It can be proven by hundreds of witnesses that he is one of the basest of liars that his whole routine of proceedings whilst amongst us has been of the basest kind.
He also stated here that he had resigned his commission as Major General to the weither this be true or not I have no knowledge, I wish to be informed on the subject that we may know how to act in relasion to the .
A. short time ago I was told by a friend of mine (not a member of the ) that some of the missourians were conspiring to come up to and Kidnap me, and not doubting but that it might be true I consulted with upon the most proper course to be pursued, we concluded to write to you on the subject, and I requested him to do so. I understand he has wrote to you but I know not in what manner, and I should be very much pleased if you would write to me on reciept of this giving me the contents of his communication.
I have also heard that yourself has entertained of late very unfavourable feelings towards us as a People, and espicially so with reguard to myself and that you have said I ought to be shot &c. If this be true I should be pleased to know from your self the reason of such hostile feelings, for I know of no cause which can possibly exist that might produce such feelings in your breast,
It is rumoured and strong evidence exists that and and have posted Bills in calling upon the people to hold meetings and have themselves in readiness at a moments warning to assemble and come here and mob us out of the place and try to Kidnap me we know not as to the truth of this report but we have conversed with some transient persons who had the report from a Gentleman who lately came from there and had seen those hand Bills posted in
In case of a mob coming upon us I wish to be informed by the what will be the best course for us to pursue, and how he wishes us to act in reguard to this matter
Joseph Smith Leu. General
Nauvoo. Legion. [p. 235]


  1. 1

    Bennett married Mary Barker in 1826. The couple had a daughter, Mary, who was born in 1827 or 1828, and a son, Joseph, who was born in December 1828 but died shortly after birth. In his 23 June letter to church members, JS stated that Bennett had “two or three children,” but the letter did not identify the children by name. (Smith, Saintly Scoundrel, 5–6; Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842.)  

    Smith, Andrew F. The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

  2. 2

    The Nauvoo high council held a series of meetings in May 1842 to investigate charges of adultery and fornication brought against several church members, including Bennett. (Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 20, 24, 25, 27, and 28 May 1842; Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, May 1842, CHL.)  

    Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 1839–1845. CHL. LR 3102 22.

    Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, May 1842. CHL.

  3. 3

    By this time, JS had apparently been sealed to several women in Nauvoo. Bennett may have had some knowledge of these sealings and may have been referring to plural marriage in his accusations against JS. JS’s practice of plural marriage, however—which included a proposal, a religious ceremony, and at least one witness—did not resemble Bennett’s claims about JS’s conduct. (See, for example, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Affidavit, Minersville, Utah Territory, 23 Mar. 1877, Collected Material concerning Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage, CHL; and Presendia Lathrop Huntington Kimball, Affidavit, Salt Lake Co., Utah Territory, 1 May 1869, in Joseph F. Smith, Affidavits about Celestial Marriage, 1:7.)  

    Collected Material concerning Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage, ca. 1870–1912. CHL.

    Smith, Joseph F. Affidavits about Celestial Marriage, 1869–1915. CHL. MS 3423.

  4. 4

    The woman referred to here was probably Catherine Fuller Warren, who testified before the Nauvoo high council that she became acquainted with Bennett around May 1841 and that he seduced her. (Catherine Fuller Warren, Testimony, Nauvoo, IL, 25 May 1842, Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, CHL.)  

    Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, May 1842. CHL.

  5. 5

    Catherine Fuller Warren testified that Bennett also had improper relations with Melissa Schindle, Matilda Nyman, and Margaret Nyman. (Catherine Fuller Warren, Testimony, Nauvoo, IL, 25 May 1842, Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, CHL.)  

    Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases, May 1842. CHL.

  6. 6

    This letter was from Hyrum Smith and William Law, who had obtained their information from “a respectable gentleman from the neighborhood where Bennett’s wife and children resided.” The letter is apparently not extant. (See Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842.)  

  7. 7

    According to Willard Richards, the women involved with Bennett “subscribed and swor[e]” to their conduct “before an alderman of the City.” ([Nauvoo Masonic Lodge], Nauvoo, IL, to Abraham Jonas, [Columbus, IL], 21 June 1842, Letters pertaining to Freemasonry in Nauvoo, CHL.)  

    Letters pertaining to Freemasonry in Nauvoo, 1842. CHL.

  8. 8

    This affidavit, dated 17 May 1842, is reproduced in Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842; see also JS, Journal, 19 May 1842.  

  9. 9

    This affidavit, dated 19 May 1842, is reproduced in Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842.  

  10. 10

    Bennett left Nauvoo for Springfield, Illinois, on 21 June 1842. ([Nauvoo Masonic Lodge], Nauvoo, IL, to Abraham Jonas, [Columbus, IL], 21 June 1842, Letters pertaining to Freemasonry in Nauvoo, CHL.)  

    Letters pertaining to Freemasonry in Nauvoo, 1842. CHL.

  11. 11

    Three days after JS composed this letter, Bennett wrote a letter stating that because JS was “indicted for murder, treason, burglary, and arson, in Missouri,” Bennett would gladly “deliver him up to justice, or die in the attempt.” (John C. Bennett, Nauvoo, IL, 27 June 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 8 July 1842, [2].)  

    Sangamo Journal. Springfield, IL. 1831–1847.

  12. 12

    Carlin answered JS that he had not received a resignation of Bennett’s Nauvoo Legion commission. (Letter from Thomas Carlin, 30 June 1842.)  

  13. 13

    According to Bennett, JS had asked him earlier “to write to Gov. Carlin for his protection, which I agreed to do, and accordingly did, asking the Governor whether he would be protected from any illegal act of violence,— to which the Governor replied that ALL citizens should receive equal protection, but that he knew of no privileged man or order of men, and that the dignity of the State should be preserved according to the strict letter of the constitution and the laws.” Bennett refused to show Carlin’s reply to JS, “as open hostilities had commenced between us.” Writing to JS on 30 June 1842, Carlin gave a report similar to Bennett’s account of the exchange between him and Carlin. (John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 2 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 15 July 1842, [2], emphasis in original; Letter from Thomas Carlin, 30 June 1842.)  

    Sangamo Journal. Springfield, IL. 1831–1847.

  14. 14

    In his reply to JS, Carlin denied having any “hostile or revengeful feelings, towards any man, or set of men on earth,” but he admitted that at times he “may have used strong expressions” to refer to JS, especially after he was told that JS had prophesied that Carlin would “die in a ditch.” (Letter from Thomas Carlin, 30 June 1842.)  

  15. 15

    The Kilbournes were brothers living in Montrose, Iowa Territory. They had previously accused church members, including JS, of theft and land fraud. David Kilbourne was the postmaster of Montrose, had platted the town in 1837, and operated a store with his brother, Edward. In May 1842, David wrote a letter to Missouri governor Thomas Reynolds urging JS’s arrest for the attempted assassination of Lilburn W. Boggs. On 15 July 1842, however, Edward Kilbourne denied that he had conspired with Bennett to bring a mob against JS. According to Edward, he had only seen Bennett twice between fall 1841 and July 1842. Although he had spoken with Bennett on one of those occasions, Edward said “there was no mention made of mobs.” (David Kilbourne and Edward Kilbourne, “Latter-Day-ism, No. 1,” Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot [Burlington], 30 Sept. 1841, [1]; David Kilbourne and Edward Kilbourne, “Latter-Day-ism, No. 2,” Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot, 7 Oct. 1841, [2]; David Kilbourne and Edward Kilbourne, “Latter-Day-ism, No. 3,” Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot, 14 Oct. 1841, [3]; Baugh, “Remembering the Mormons in Lee County, Iowa,” 177–178; “The Mason-Remey and the Kilbourne Collections,” 310–311; David Kilbourne, Letter, Keokuk, IA, 22 Sept. 1853, microfilm 960,050, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; David Kilbourne, Montrose, Iowa Territory, to Thomas Reynolds, Jefferson City, MO, 14 May 1842, Records of Governor Thomas Reynolds, 1840–1844, MSA; Account of Meeting, 15 July 1842.)  

    Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot. Burlington, IA. 1839–1851.

    Baugh, Alexander L. “Remembering the Mormons in Lee County, Iowa: Marking the Past in Montrose and Keokuk.” Mormon Historical Studies 4 (Fall 2003): 175–184.

    Editorial Department, “The Mason-Remey and the Kilbourne Collections,” Annals of Iowa 15 (Apr. 1926): 307–813.

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

    Records of Governor Thomas Reynolds, 1840–1844. MSA.