By his own account Brigham Young was aghast when he heard of the Mormon doctrine of multiple wives. “It was the first time in my life that I desired the grave.” However, he got over his initial apprehensions. By the time of his death he had wedded 55 women. Of these brides, 21 had never been married before; 16 were widows; six were divorced; and six had living husbands, with the remaining wives having marital histories that are unknown to us. Some of the marriages were apparently non-conjugal, and some of the marriages were temporary in nature. He had 54 children, 46 of whom survived into adulthood, a fairly high percentage for nineteenth century America.
The exact number of the descendants of Brigham Young has never been calculated, but apparently there are well over 5,000. There is a Brigham Young Family Association which holds family reunions, which must be a sight to behold.
Young had been a skilled head of his church, carving the Mormon Zion out of the wilderness in Utah, and placing the Mormon on the path of growth and prosperity. However, the church was never going to be tolerated by non-Mormon Americans as long as the institution of plural marriage existed, which was simply anathema to almost all non-Mormons. It was left to the fourth president of the church, Wilford Woodruff, himself a pluralist, to issue the famous Manifesto of 1890. A small number of plural marriages were celebrated by the church after the Manifesto, but most Mormons readily turned their back on an institution that was manifestly more trouble to them than it was worth, especially since most Mormons had been content with one spouse. With the Manifesto the Mormons achieved their long-term goal of statehood for Utah, and the beginning of their entry into the American mainstream. The text of the Manifesto: (more…)