The Girls of Polygamy — A Spotlight on the Young Women Married Much Too Young

It’s that dreaded P-word, polygamy. A word that many genealogists groan at and those of particular persuasions try to pretend it didn’t happen. But it did. Polygamy (in the United States) was practiced by early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) from 1852 to 1890 when it was officially discontinued by the leaders of the Mormon Church. Even though there was a strict edict to stop this practice, many members (including high ranking leaders) still practiced in secret. Some even left the country and moved to Mexico and Canada where polygamist Mormon communities were created, and in some aspects still exist today.

Academia Juárez, part of the Mormon community from Colonia Dublán
Academia Juárez, part of the Mormon community from Colonia Dublán —

During this time of multiple marriages, men married as many women as were ‘given’ to them or that they were commanded to marry. In many cases, this would include mothers and daughters, sisters, and various members of the same families all married to the same man. What isn’t talked about as much when we talk about multiple wives and dozens of children are the ages of these women, no, girls when they married much older men. The following research is just a snippet from the larger picture of polygamy.

Diantha Hanchett

  • Name: Diantha Hanchett
  • Age When Married: 17
  • Husband: Elias Gardner
  • Husband’s Age: 39
  • Age Difference: 22

Diantha Hanchett was born to parents Martin Elan and Sarah Hanchett in 1830 and shortly thereafter, her family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, not knowing then that they would be wedding their daughter off to a polygamist one day. At the age of 15, Diantha was baptized into the Mormon Church, and before her 18th birthday had been married off to Elias Gardner, a man who was twenty-two years her senior.

At the time of her marriage to Elias, in 1847, Diantha joined a family and a man who already had one other wife, with four other wives to join the family soon afterward. At the age of 19, Diantha gave birth to her first child, a daughter by the name of Betsy Ann, with six more children to come in quick succession.

 

Elias and Ellen Elizabeth Gardner
Elias and Ellen Elizabeth Gardner
  • Name: Ellen Elizabeth Abbott
  • Age When Married: 14
  • Husband: Elias Gardner
  • Husband’s Age: 43
  • Age Difference: 29

Ellen Elizabeth Abbott was the fourth wife of Elias Gardner and the sister an daughter of two of his other wives (Ruth and Emily). At the age of 13, we can find Ellen on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census living with her mother Ruth and sister Emily after their father Joshua Chandler Abbott had left the family to go fight in the military. Just a year later, in February of 1852, at the age of 14, Ellen Elizabeth was married off to Elias Gardner, who was 43 years old — this was a 29-year difference.

Just a few months after their marriage, in August of 1852, Elias left his new bride in the care of his other wives Betsey and Diantha, while he left on a religious (Mormon) mission for two years in Great Britain. During this time, Ellen Elizabeth lived with the family and their children, not yet having any of her own until 1857, when her first son, Elias Gardner, Jr. was born — Ellen Elizabeth was twenty years old. Within those years, Elias also took two other wives, Ann and Ruth; the former whom he met on his mission to Great Britain and latter of which was her very own mother. Over the years, Elias and Ellen Elizabeth had ten children (including Elias Jr.).

When Ellen was only 53 years old, her husband died in 1891, at the age of 82, leaving her behind with 10 children ranging from Martha Jane who was only 10 years old to Elias Jr., who was 33 years old. She never married again.

 

Emily Ann Gravestone

  • Name: Emily Ann Abbott
  • Age When Married: 18
  • Husbands Name: Elias Gardner
  • Husband Age When Married: 59
  • Years Between the Two: 41

Emily Ann Abbott was the 5th wife of Elias Gardner and the sister and daughter of two of his wives. When they married in July of 1867 (on the same day he was married to another woman), she was only eighteen years old, compared to his fifty-nine — a forty-one-year difference. According to a family life sketch of Emily:

Emily Ann, the daughter of Ruth and sister to Ellen, had been living in Elias’ home all the while she was growing up.  She did not have good health, and so Ruth and Ellen encouraged her to marry Elias.  They felt that if she were to marry Elias, they would be better able to care for her in her poor health.  Having thus been persuaded, Elias agreed.

And even though Emily Ann had grown up in the Gardner household, both her sister and mother convincer her to marry their husband ‘for her health’. Despite such ‘health’ problems, Emily Ann and Elias had four children:

In 1880, at the age of 31, after 13 years of marriage to Elias Gardner. When Emily Ann died, she left her four children (ages 2 [Harriet], 6 [Franklin]m 9 [Emily], and 11 [Lois Anne] to her husband Elias who was 72-years old at the time.

 

Zelpha Cornwell Thompson Jackson

  • Name: Zelpha Cornwell
  • Age When Married: 13
  • Husbands Name: Edmund Hobert Thompson Sr.
  • Husband Age When Married: 54
  • Years Between the Two: 41

Zelpha Cornwell was born in 1870, and little did she know, at the time of her birth that her first husband was already forty-years-old. Only a mere thirteen years later Zelpha was married off to Edmund Hobert Thompson Sr. who was forty-one years her senior and already had one other wife. She bore her first child to her husband at age 16 and in quick succession, the other two children came — one at 18 years of age and one at 20.

  • Infant Thompson – Son (1887 – 1887)
  • George Andrew (1889 – 1947)
  • Mary Frances (1890 – 1976)

By the time she was twenty-one, she had been married for eight years and lost not only her firstborn child but her husband, who had previously abandoned her with her children while he ran to Mexico so he wouldn’t get prosecuted for polygamy*.

*After his death, Zelpha remarried a man by the name of Joseph Jackson.


 

These aren’t the only stories of the girls of polygamy, but they are some that deserve to be heard. Which stories in your family would you like to share? Comment below. Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory

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