Mitt Romney�s Polygamous Heritage
by Todd M. Compton
This is a work in progress: constructive suggestions for improvement will be welcomed.
As a Mormon and a political junkie, I�ve watched Mitt Romney�s career with interest. His religious and polygamist family background has surfaced occasionally in the media, and interestingly, he himself brought it up as he testified at a Senate hearing in support of the FMA, a proposed federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as monogamous, male-female, and banning other forms of marriage, which could be defined as nonstandard.
Curious to find out what Romney�s polygamist heritage actually was, I did a quick internet search and found that there was some confusion on the subject. I even ran across some serious factual mistakes (such as the idea that Miles Romney, Mitt�s great-great-grandfather, had twelve wives). So I thought it would be useful to lay out the basic facts of Mitt Romney�s polygamous background and make it available on my website.
The following is a mere sketch, not based on primary documentation, for the most part. However, the sources I cite will help researchers follow up on the subject, if they want to pursue it further. Also, the following is not an attempt to create a whole genealogical tree for Mitt Romney. I will focus on forbears who were involved with LDS plural marriage.
For background on Mormon polygamy, see my short essay on Mormon
polygamy at the Signature Books website, with the bibliography cited there: http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/essays/mormonpolygamy.htm.
Following is an even shorter overview. In
Finally, in 1890 President Wilford Woodruff released �The
Manifesto,� in which the LDS church publicly discontinued polygamy. This paved
the way for
Giving up polygamy was not easy for the Saints, and church
leaders (including the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) secretly
authorized further plural marriages until the first decade of the twentieth
century. Mitt Romney�s ancestors were especially prominent in this
�Post-Manifesto� era of Mormon polygamy, as many post-Manifesto plural
marriages were solemnized in
News of post-Manifesto plural marriages inevitably leaked out, and when Reed Smoot was voted into the Senate in 1904, he was not allowed to sit without hearings examining the LDS church�s commitment to stopping polygamy entirely. These hearings were a considerable embarrassment to church leaders. Under great pressure, Joseph F. Smith released what is known as the �Second Manifesto� in 1904.
Gradually, the LDS church became entirely monogamous, and
today excommunicates known polygamists. Presently, a few groups which
splintered off from the LDS church, called �Fundamentalists,� practice polygamy
Willard Mitt Romney
is the son of George Wilcken Romney and Lenore LaFount. George W. Romney was
born in Colonia Dubl�n,
George W. Romney was not a polygamist, but he was born in the
Mormon colonies in
To the best of my knowledge, Mitt Romney�s LaFount forebears did not practice polygamy.
Gaskell Romney was not a polygamist, but he was a son in a polygamist family. Born on 22 September 1871 in St. George, Washington, Utah to Miles Park Romney and Hannah Hood Hill (first wife in a family of five wives), he, with his parents and family, moved to the Mexican colonies in 1884. He married Anna Amelia Pratt on 20 February 1895.
Gaskell, Anna and family moved back to the
Anna Amelia Pratt was also raised in a polygamous family.
She was born on 6 May 1876, in
When we arrive at Mitt Romney�s great-grandparents, we
come to two prominent polygamists and church leaders in the Mormon colonies,
Miles Park Romney and Helaman Pratt. These remarkable men allow us to see where
Mitt Romney and George Wilcken Romney�s talent for leadership came from. Miles
Park, Helaman and their wives were heroic pioneers in difficult circumstances
Miles Park Romney
was born on 18 August 1843 in the Mormon city of
A family history of Miles Park�s daughter, Martha Diana Romney Brown (a plural wife of Orson Pratt Brown, another leader in the colonies), tells how Miles Park entered polygamy:
After Elder Miles P. Romney returned from his mission in
Nothing short of a firm belief in the divine origin of the Revelation of plural marriage could have induced Miles to take a second wife, and certain it is that Hannah (Hannah Hood Hill) the first wife of Miles, would never have permitted such a heart-breaking thing to come into her life had it not been for the testimony she had of the divinity of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
It was common for church members to take plural wives when
instructed to do so by their ecclesiastical superiors. If the prophet asked you
to take a plural wife, it would be hard for a devout Mormon to disobey. This
quote shows how the
The Martha Diana Romney Brown history tells the epic story
In 1885, Miles, along with his 4th wife Annie Maria Woodbury and
her three children, left for
The family had expected to travel with the Skousen family, but when it came time to begin the journey, Hannah learned to her great disappointment, that the Skousen's were not ready to leave and so it became necessary for her to go the entire distance alone. When arriving in Nutrioso [in Apache County, eastern Arizona] she was advised not to make the trip alone as Geromino, the Apache chief, and his band were on the warpath and they would be in danger of losing their lives. Hannah replied that she would put her trust in her Heavenly Father and she felt certain that He would protect them on their journey.
At Nutrioso, Will, Mattie's brother, obtained employment and stayed, leaving Hannah and her children to complete the journey alone. The night after they left they were caught in a heavy snowstorm, which terminated in a blizzard that chilled them to the marrow. Quilts were wrapped around the younger children to keep them warm. Hannah and the older boys walked to keep from freezing. When the family arose from their beds in the morning they found icicles clinging to the water barrel a foot long but the freezing weather, Hannah declared, did not discourage her.
Apache Hill was so steep that it became necessary to fasten trees to the back of the wagons to keep them from running over the horses.� The descent was made without accident.� At one point in the journey they saw three dead horses lying by the roadside and learned that the Indians had killed them and their riders a few days before.� The Romney boys, Miles Romney and Gaskell Romney, removed the shoes from the feet of the dead horses and nailed them to the hoofs of their own animals that had become tender from traveling.
It was a happy family when the journey ended. Their husband and father, Miles P. Romney, met them. The shelter Miles had prepared for them was a stockade building made of adobe, mud roof and dirt floor. Hannah said, "I was thankful for it, as my dear children and I would be with their father and we could live in peace with no marshals to molest us or separate us again." 
Miles Park died in Colonia Dubl�n,
Only one of Miles Park�s sons practiced polygamy: Miles Archibald Romney, born two years before Gaskell in 1869. After marrying Frances Turley in 1889 (12 children), he married three sisters, Lily Burrell in 1898 (1 child), Elizabeth Burrell in 1902 (11 children), and Emily Burrell in 1909 (6 children). These were post-Manifesto plural marriages; the last was a post-Second Manifesto plural marriage.
was born in
Helaman, a polygamist, had three wives and twenty children. He first married Emeline Victoria Billingsly on 25 July 1868, with whom he had eight children. Like Miles Park Romney, Helaman became a polygamist when directed to do so by Brigham Young. �On April 20, 1874, Helaman, on the advice of Brigham Young, married Dora Johanna Dorothy Wilcken [Anna Johanna Doratha Wilcken] as his second wife.� They would have nine children.
Helaman married Bertha Christine Wilcken Stewart (Dora�s younger sister) on 14 July 1898; they had three children. This was a post-Manifesto polygamous marriage. Bertha, who had previously married and divorced a J. Z. Stewart, wrote of the marriage to Helaman in a memoir:
Helaman Pratt and I were married on Mexican soil by one having authority to marry. Now began a great contrast between this marriage and that other one [to J. Z. Stewart]. I have been recognized, respected, loved, and esteemed as much as any wife could desire without infringing upon the rights of others. Among the many fine qualities of Helaman Pratt, was justice. He loved and honored every member of his family and treated them all as nearly alike as was humanly possible. I lived with my sister, Dora from choice. I was offered a home alone, but I preferred to live with my sister's family. I had my own room and my own responsibilities, especially as I taught in Dublan, a number of years after I was married. The family, and myself as a member, lived very happily together. Dora's children, who were much older than my three boys, loved them tenderly. Dora had lost her little son Charles just previous to my coming and the whole family welcomed my boys, who I think, somewhat took away the poignant grief at his loss.
Though there were a good number of relationships and marriages in the history of Mormon polygamy that did not work out, this is an example of a polygamous marriage that did.
Helaman died in
A passage from H. Grant Ivins�s �Polygamy in
It was never understood by the Mormons in
Those living in
That the practice carried on in
As previously stated, my father always assured members of his
family that he never performed a marriage without the full authorization of the
President of the Church. One incident, known to all members of our family,
illustrates this fact. One evening a man and a woman appeared at our home
saying that they had come from
Ivins mentions Edward Christian Eyring as a prominent
leader in the colonies. He was the brother of Emily Henrietta Eyring Snow, Miles Park Romney�s last plural wife.
Edward, in turned, married the sisters Caroline Cottam Romney (in 1893) and
Emma Romney (in 1903, post-Manifesto), two daughters of Miles Park Romney and
Catherine Cottam. One of Edward�s sons, Henry Eyring became a distinguished
and Henry�s son, Henry B. Eyring, is now a member of the Quorum of Twelve
Apostles of the
Miles Romney, a skilled carpenter, was born on 13 July
A few internet sources I have found state that Miles
Romney had twelve wives; this is not correct, as far as I have been able to
determine. He was not a polygamist. This incorrect information is apparently derived
Elizabeth Gaskell Romney was born on January 8 1809 in
Hannah Hood Hill Romney, first wife of Miles Park Romney,
was the daughter of Archibald Newell Hill, born 20 Aug 1816 in Johnstone, Abbey
Archibald died on 2 Jan 1900 in
Parley Parker Pratt,
father of Helaman Pratt, was born on 12 April 1807, in
Parley�s wives were Thankful Halsey (1827, one child; Thankful died before polygamy was introduced into Mormonism), Mary Ann Frost (1837, four children, eventual divorce), Elizabeth Brotherton (1843, no children), Mary Wood (September 9, 1844, 4 children), Hannahette Snively (November 2, 1844, 3 children), Belinda Marden (November 20, 1844, 5 children), Sarah Huston (October 15, 1845, 4 children), Phoebe Soper (February 8, 1846, 3 children), Ann Agatha Walker (April 28, 1847, 5 children), Martha Monks (1847, 1 child, divorce), Kezia Downs (Hill) (1851, no children), Eleanor McComb (MacLean) (14 November 1855, no children).
Pratt died on 13 May 1857, killed by Hector McLean, the former, non-Mormon, husband of his last wife.
Mary Wood was born at
Anna Johanna Doratha (�Dora�) Wilcken, wife of Helaman
Pratt, was the daughter of Carl Heinrich (�Charles Henry�) Wilcken, born on 5
October 1831 in Echorst,
Carl instead decided to go look for a brother who had gone
On October 7, however, Carl Heinrich deserted from the
His military prowess was called upon for Mormon battles
with Indians in the
Carl Heinrich was himself a
polygamist. He married Eliza Christina Carolina Reiche on 10 August 1853 in
Eliza Christina Carolina Reiche Wilcken was born in
It�s one of the ironies of history that Mormons, who spent the better part of the nineteenth century crusading for a non-standard marriage practice, sometimes even attacking monogamy as inherently bad, have in the twentieth century become thorough monogamists (for all practical purposes), and have joined a crusade seeking to ban non-standard marriage practices on a federal level.
Mitt Romney was placed in the vortex of the debate on standard
and non-standard marriage when, though a conservative Republican, he was
elected governor of a mostly Democratic state,
Romney did all he could to combat this ruling. Partially
in response to the ruling of the
Latter-day Saint Orrin Hatch, one of
. . . the hearing's star witness,
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, cited
"There was a long time ago a state that considered the practice of polygamy [legal] and as I recall the federal government correctly stepped in and said, 'That is not something the state should decide,' " Romney told the committee. "We have a federal view on marriage; this should not be left to an individual state."
Later in the hearing, responding to Democratic skepticism that
marriage faces an imminent threat demanding prompt constitutional countermeasures,
Romney again drew a parallel with polygamy, saying if
When Romney said those words, �the federal government correctly stepped in and said, 'That is not something the state should decide,�� the sound you heard was all of Romney�s polygamous ancestors simultaneously rolling over in their graves.
Joseph Smith started polygamy�a non-standard marriage
practice, by the definition of the FMA�in 1833 in
Polygyny�where one man marries multiple women�is non-standard in a monogamous culture. Even more non-standard were eleven of Smith�s marriages, in which he married women who were simultaneously married to �first husbands.� Thus, the women were married to two men at the same time, though one marriage was legally binding and the other marriage was religious. From one point of view it would be possible to call this kind of marriage polyandry (one woman married to multiple husbands), though one could also argue that each form of marriage did not recognize the other. Religious, eternal marriage did not recognize the religious validity of the civil marriage; and civil law did not recognize the validity of the plural marriage. Nevertheless, it is striking that the women in this category of Smith�s plural wives all continued living with their �first husbands.� The woman had two simultaneous relationships.
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-bigamy Act on
1 July 1862, which made polygamy illegal in
Subsequent federal laws, such as the Edmunds and Edmunds-Tucker Acts in 1882 and 1887, merely increased the penalties for polygamy, and made it easier to prosecute.
Mormons continued to openly practice polygamy until 1890. Their rationale for this was clear: the law of God took precedence over the law of man.
Soon after the Reynolds decision, Wilford Woodruff addressed a congregation in the tabernacle. After reiterating that polygamy was necessary for salvation, he asked, �Now, which shall we obey, God or Congress?� The congregation answered, �We will obey God.�
In 1880, John Taylor, while acting as
president and prophet of the church, said, �Polygamy is a divine institution.
It has been handed down direct from God. The
In his last public sermon, on 1 February 1885, John Taylor
said, "I would like to obey and place myself in subjection to every law of
man. What then? Am I to disobey the law of God? Has any man a right to control
my conscience, or your conscience? . . . No man has a right to do it."
Rudger Clawson, the first Mormon polygamist to be tried under the Edmunds Act, when he was sentenced, said, �I very much regret that the laws of my country should come in conflict with the laws of God, but whenever they do I shall invariably choose the latter.� He also stated that the Morrill Act of 1862 was unconstitutional. Rudger subsequently became a folk hero among the Mormons, and was called to be an apostle. Historians of post-Manifesto polygamy have concluded that he took a plural wife on 3 August 1904.
In other words, nineteenth-century Mormons believed that the federal government was profoundly wrong in its attempt to legislate against non-standard marriage practices, if the marriage practices were part of a religion. The church newspaper, the Deseret Evening News, even called the Edmunds-Tucker Act �the Infamy� or �the Edmunds-Tucker Subjugation Infamy� or the �Anti-Mormon Bill.� There was none of Orrin Hatch�s and Mitt Romney�s argument that the federal government was justified in leglislating against polygamy�Mormons considered the federal government�s laws as simple religious persecution.
Here are a few questions I would ask Mitt Romney if I ever had a chance to talk with him.
Granted that Romney accepts Joseph Smith as a prophet, does Romney believe that Smith was wrong to practice non-standard marriage when it was against the law in Nauvoo, given that Smith asserted that he received a direct command from God to practice it?
In other words, should Smith have disobeyed a direct revelation from God (D&C 132, still accepted by Latter-day Saints as scripture)?
If Romney accepts that Joseph Smith was right to obey that revelation, then he accepts the principle that the law of God takes precedence over civil law. And he accepts that non-standard marriage can be legitimately practiced for ethical, religious reasons, and that the state is wrong to criminalize such non-standard marriage practices.
This is the same principle that Mormons, and Romney�s own
ancestors, followed during their time in
Would Romney say that his own ancestors were wrong to practice polygamy?
Just as in the case of Joseph Smith in
If Mitt Romney accepts that Joseph Smith and the Mormons who followed him were right to practice polygamy, because the law of God took precedence over the law of man, he is accepting the principle that nonstandard marriage practices can be valid if they are practiced in a religious framework. Clearly, he is a believer in the Mormon religion, but he obviously would accept that other believers and religions are also valid and worthy of respect. Would he accept a nonstandard marriage if the participants were sincerely religious and the marriage was solemnized within the framework of a church congregation (such as a Unitarian or Presbyterian congregation)? In all fairness, one would expect that if he argued that Mormons could be right to practice non-standard marriage for religious reasons, other religions should have the same right.
 Those interested in Romney�s total genealogy should access the LDS database site, familysearch.org (which has mistakes, caveat lector) or �The Ancestors of Mitt Romney,� by William Addams Reitwiesner, at http://www.wargs.com/political/romney.html.
 For background on this fascinating period of history, in which polygamy went underground again, see especially B. Carmon Hardy�s book, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1992). See also Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890�1930 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1986) and D. Michael Quinn, �L.D.S. Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904,� Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (Spring 1995): 9-104. This volume of Dialogue is available online, see http://www.dialoguejournal.com/search/. A talk by D. Michael Quinn on post-Manifesto polygamy can be found at Perry Porter�s �LDS Church History� website, at http://www.ldshistory.net/pc/postman.htm.
Hardy, Solemn Covenant,
173-78. The difference was that in
 Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 143, 260.
Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity:
the Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill:
For the foundation of the Mormon colonies in
 Clark R. Mollenhoff, George Romney: Mormon in Politics (New York: Meredith Press, 1968), 25; Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 295.
There is a book, Thomas Romney, Life Story of Miles Park Romney (Independence
, MO.: Zions, 1948), which I have not yet seen.� There is a biography of Miles Park in Nelle
Spilsbury Hatch and B. Carmon Hardy, comp., Stalwarts
South of the Border ([
There is an autobiography of Hannah Hood Hill Romney that I have not yet seen.
For an excerpt, see "Three Pioneer Women Speak: Hannah Hood Hill
Romney," in Kate Carter, ed., Our
Pioneer Heritage, 20 vols. (SLC: D.U.P., 1958-),
5:262-84. See also Leonard Arrington papers at Utah State University Library
 Hansen, Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife. See p. 213 for her marriage date.
 Hardy, Solemn Covenant, list after p. 393, #163.
 See the Orson Pratt Brown website, http://www.orsonprattbrown.com/martha-romney.html.
 See the Orson Pratt Brown website, http://www.orsonprattbrown.com/martha-romney.html.
 See a superb website devoted to Helaman Pratt�s family history, http://helaman.pratt-family.org/, which includes many documents relating to him and his wives. There is a diary by Helaman available, dated 1877-1886, LDS Church Archives, which I haven not seen. See also Mary Pratt Parrish, �Helaman Pratt,� in Hatch and Hardy, Stalwarts South of the Border, 543-52.
 Parrish, �Helamn Pratt,� 544.
 Hardy, Solemn Covenant, list after p. 393, #152.
 �Bertha Wilcken Pratt,� an autobiography, accessed at http://helaman.pratt-family.org/histories/hist-bertha.htm.
See above on this idea. President Woodruff stated clearly that the Manifesto
applied everywhere, throughout the world, yet he also authorized plural
H. Grant Ivins, �Polygamy in
 See his biography from the National Academy of Sciences, Walter Kauzmann, �Henry Eyring,� at� http://newton.nap.edu/html/biomems/heyring.html.
 Mollenhoff, George Romney: Mormon in Politics, 19-20; also Leona Brown Olsen, �Miles Romney,� at the Orson Pratt Brown website, http://www.orsonprattbrown.com/Romney/miles-romney1806-1877.html. This last unfortunately perpetuates the 12 wife misinformation.
 See see "Three Pioneer Women Speak: Hannah Hood Hill Romney," in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage, 5:262.
 For general introductions to Parley online, see Donna T. Smart, �Parley Parker Pratt,� at http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/p/PRATT,PARLEY.html and Larry Porter, �Parley Parker Pratt,� at http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/people/parley_p_pratt.html. He wrote a remarkable Autobiography (1874, posthumous). See also http://jared.pratt-family.org/parley_family_histories/just_parley/parley_history.html; D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (SLC: Signature Books, 1994), 571.
 See �Parley P Pratt His Twelve Wives,� in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage 17:205-52. Parley�s first wife died before Mormons began practicing polygamy.
 For his death, see Steven Pratt, �Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,� BYU Studies 15 (Winter 1975): 225-56.
 For further on Mary, see Leah P. Call and Amy P. Romney, �The Fourth Wife,� in �Parley P Pratt His Twelve Wives,� 17:213-15; and http://jared.pratt-family.org/parley_family_histories/just_parley/parley_historylist.html.
See William C. Seifrit, �Charles Henry Wilcken, an
 Seifrit, �Charles Henry Wilcken,� 308-9.
 Ancestral File also has him married to Mary McCormich (Cormic) and Mary Jorgensen, but because these marriages are not dated, and repeat the name Mary, I think they can be discounted.
�HATCH DROPS PLANS FOR OWN AMENDMENT, SUPPORTS FMA,� The Salt
 See the prologue to my In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (SLC: Signature Books, 1997). Conservative scholar Richard Bushman accepts thirty-two of these women as plural wives of Joseph Smith during his lifetime, see his Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 437. He rejects Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris, the wife of anti-Masonic martyr William Morgan, as a wife of Joseph.
 Again, Richard Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling, 437, does not accept one of these marriages, that of Lucinda Pendleton. However, he does accept ten �polyandrous� marriages.
 Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 45, citing Wilford Woodruff journal, 9 January, 1870, in Scott G. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 1833-1898 :Typescript (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983-), 6:518-19, see also 46. Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, (SLC: Signature Books, 1986), 112-114.
 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 114, citing the Salt Lake Tribune, 6 January 1880.
 Journal of Discourses 26:152.
 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 120.
 Hardy, Solemn Covenant, list after p. 393, #51.
�Passed! The Edmunds-Tucker
Subjugation Infamy,� Dereret Evening News,
17 Febr. 1887, p. 3, see discussion in
 See Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 437-38.