Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: Helen Mar Kimball blessing and the dating of her marriage to Joseph Smith
 


From the Archives: Helen Mar Kimball blessing and the dating of her marriage to Joseph Smith

By: J. Stapley - April 02, 2014

The marriage of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith is certainly one of the most controversial polygamous relationships in LDS Church history. [n1] Relying upon the work of Andrew Jenson, the marriage has generally been dated to sometime in the month of May 1843. [n2] I recently read a blessing given to Helen Mar Kimball by her father Heber C. Kimball, dated May 28, 1843, available at the LDS Church History Library.

Given the degree to which both Heber and Vilate Kimball were involved in the marriage, it seems credible to me that the details relating to marriage in the blessing suggest that Helen was unmarried when the blessing was given.

The following is my first-pass transcription:

[Digital image of holograph,* Heber C. Kimball family collection, MS 23826, fd. 2, image 1-2]
A Fathers blessing upon the head of Hellen Mar Kimball who was born in Mendon, Munro County New York August 22nd 1828
By Heber C. Kimball an Apostle May 28th 1843
——————–“——————–
Hellen my daughter I lay my hands upon thy head in the name of Jesus Christ and according to the authority which God has given unto me I say unto thee thou shalt be blest with immortal glory and enthroned with glory in the presence of the Lord where thou shalt be crowned with all the blessings of intelligence and see as thou art seen and know as thou art known. Thou shalt be blessed with the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thy posterity shall become numerous and great in the earth. Thou art of the ^same^ seed ^with thy brother^ of Joseph [†] and thou shalt be blessed and crowned with his blessings. Thou shalt be honored of God and by man thy wisdom shall be great and thine understanding reach to heaven and no power shall stay these blessings from thee. Be humble, and listen with care to thy father and mother and all thy superiors. Let thine eye be placed upon the things of God. Seek not riches nor the honors of this earth but those which are above. Let thy treasure be laid up in heaven. When thou shalt be enthroned in the presence of God, deposit it there. For thou shalt be blest with a companion and he shall be a man of God. Listen with care to his council for he shall be thy head, inasmuch as thou wilt do this thou shalt be honored of God, and shall be inspired with the blessings of God. Thou shall understand things in heaven and on the earth, kingdoms, and all things by which the earth is governed. Let thy mind diligent in study and no one shall excel thee. Be upright, be pure; and whatsoever covenant thou shalt enter into let it be in view of eternity, that thou mayest look upon thy father and mother and thou wilt then see their [anxiety?] which they have had for thee [p. 2] Be true to all men, to the poor as well as to the rich and especially be charitable to all men. I seal these blessings upon thee and no one shall take them away they shall be thine in time and in eternity. I seal thee up unto eternal life and thou shalt come forth in the resurrection and shalt have power to waft thyself from kingdom to kingdom where they increase forever. I seal these blessing upon thee in the name of Jesus Christ and by the authority of the Holy Priesthood even so Amen._

* The handwriting of the document isn’t familiar to me. But really, I can only pick out a few regulars, like Thomas Bullock, so it isn’t really saying much.

† The interlinear additions and strikeouts appear to be in a different hand and pen. Note that assignments to a particular tribe isn’t really a common thing at this point in patriarchal blessings, though this is a blessing by a father qua patriarch (see John Taylor, “Patriarchal,” Times and Seasons 6 (1 June 1845): 921). I’ve seen Patriarchal blessings as late as the early twentieth century that include no delineation of tribe.

________________________

In particular the blessing mentions the anxiety of Helen’s parents over her and that she was to “be blest with a companion and he shall be a man of God. Listen with care to his council for he shall be thy head, inasmuch as thou wilt do this thou shalt be honored of God, and shall be inspired with the blessings of God.” Helen’s own accounts indicate how terribly difficult the proposition of marriage to Joseph Smith was for the family. If Jenson was correct that the marriage occurred in May 1843, then I submit that this blessing may have been the last blessing of a father over his young daughter before a marriage. Whether such minutia is important will be a function of one’s interest I imagine.
________________________

  1. J. Spencer Fluhman, “’A Subject That Can Bear Investigation’: Anguish, Faith, and Joseph Smith’s Youngest Plural Wife” Mormon Historical Studies 11 (Spring 2010): 41-51.
  2. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 2: History (Draper, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 268-269, 335; Todd Compton, In Sacred Lonliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 748.


13 Comments

  1. The description in the CHL catalog indicates the blessing was recorded by William Clayton. See https://eadview.lds.org/findingaid/MS%2023826/

    Connell

    Comment by Connell O'Donovan — April 3, 2014 @ 12:12 am

  2. An intriguing find Sir Stapley! Out of curiosity, do we know where JS was on this date?

    Comment by Tod R. — April 3, 2014 @ 12:16 am

  3. Cool. Your read of this sounds reasonable. Sort of a prenuptial blessing that uses a lot of the standard tropes from patriarchal blessings in early Mormonism.

    Comment by smb — April 3, 2014 @ 1:32 am

  4. Fascinating. Thanks for this.

    Comment by jdinger — April 3, 2014 @ 6:59 am

  5. Really intriguing, J.

    To me, “for thou shalt be blest with a companion and he shall be a man of God” sounds more suggestive of a future possibility than someone right there. Why would he not say “thou art blessed with a companion and he is a man of God”?

    Comment by JJohnson — April 3, 2014 @ 10:00 am

  6. “Thou art of the ^same^ seed ^with thy brother^”

    Do you have any idea what this means? Did HCK bless a son, before he blessed Helen? Was this blessing part of a family blessing meeting? If so, it might suggest that this blessing wasn’t necessarily a pre-marriage blessing.

    Helen’s brother William was two years older and would have likely been blessed first in a family blessing meeting.

    Comment by Blueagleranch — April 3, 2014 @ 10:14 am

  7. JS was in town, and Clayton’s journal mentions being at HCK’s house and blessing children (including Clayton’s son William Heber). Thanks for pointing that out, Connell. JS’s journal for the May 28 indicates that after the temple quorum met, James Adams and JS both were married on that day. I’m not an expert in this area, so I don’t know if someone else besides Helen has been associated with this entry.

    I should also plug the CHL’s continuing efforts to give researchers better access. I went looking for this blessing as Quinn points to it as an example of a father’s blessing in lieu of a patriarchal blessing. No mention of content. His citation is simply: “Heber C. Kimball’s patriarchal blessing to his daughter Helen in 1843 is not in the church patriarchal blessing record books, but is presently located in W. Whitney Smith Papers, LDS Historical Department.” There are no such papers that I could find in the catalog. However, with a few keyword searches, not only did this collection come up, but a link to the digital images. Five years ago, finding this would have required a trip to SLC and who knows how much digging. Major props to the Church Historical Dept!

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 3, 2014 @ 10:17 am

  8. JJohnson, I don’t know. All polygamy related items during this period are highly ambiguous. But I readily concede that this is outside of my area of expertise and may not be directly related. That JS journal entry is very intriguing, though.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 3, 2014 @ 10:22 am

  9. Interesting, J. To me, this line seems even more indicative that Helen was not yet married at the time of the blessing:

    “and whatsoever covenant thou shalt enter into let it be in view of eternity, that thou mayest look upon thy father and mother and thou wilt then see their [anxiety?] which they have had for thee.”

    Comment by Hunter — April 3, 2014 @ 10:29 am

  10. Since I’m currently reading through the digitized C.C. Rich and A.M. Lyman collections, I’ll echo what J. said in the second paragraph of comment seven. This is a wonderful advance, and may the library’s digitized holdings continue to expand. : )

    Comment by Amy T — April 3, 2014 @ 11:47 am

  11. Absolutely fascinating, J.! Great find.

    Like JJohnson, I thought this line sounded sort of generic, like something a father might say in even a baby blessing, and not necessarily with a specific marriage contemplated in the immediate future:

    “For thou shalt be blest with a companion and he shall be a man of God.”

    I wonder whether perhaps that kind of wording had already become somewhat formulaic.

    Pre-interlieations we have “Thou art of the seed of Joseph and thou shalt be blessed and crowned with his blessings.” Given that this immediately follows “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” I take it this is a reference to Joseph the patriarch, son of Jacob = Israel. [I’m attuned to this because my PB says I’m of Joseph without delineation from one of his sons.] The revised version, “Thou are of the same seed with thy brother…” is interesting. For that to be her literal familial brother, that would probably make the most sense if Heber had just finished giving a father’s blessing to him before doing Helen. Here’s a very speculative thought: perhaps “thy brother” here could mean Joseph Smith. Because that Joseph was descended from Joseph of Egypt was of course a thing, and the interlineation may suggest that it was done later after the marriage was performed. (Referring to Joseph of Egypt as her “brother” seems not quite right to me.)

    Comment by Kevin Barney — April 3, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  12. Kevin, that is really interesting. The “companion” language is common in late Nauvoo, so that doesn’t surprise me. Unfortunately, blessing text for infants or older children are extremely rare before JS’s death, so it is difficult to say. And I agree that it is ambiguous. But if Jenson is right that the marriage was at least in this ballpark, then the blessing has to be given with that in mind, at least partially. I would guess that the “anxiety” bit is directly related to that. Perhaps one reading is that she hadn’t made up her mind at this point, and then after the blessing decided to go forward with it and she went with her father to the temple quorum meeting. I’m shooting from the hip here, admittedly.

    And I agree that the last bit about Joseph is a possibility. I wondered about that as well. I’m undecided at this point how plausible it might be.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 3, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

  13. Nice work, J.

    Comment by Ryan T. — April 3, 2014 @ 7:25 pm