Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Right to remain silent: Harriet's other side

I was searching for a little more information about the Teeples branch of the family after I wrote about Harriet Betsy Cook Teeples. When I Googled her husband, William Randolph Teeples, much to my surprise I found some information about him posted by a different side of the family. The information was pretty much the same as what I already had from Harriet's detailed autobiography...except that this branch of the family were descended from one of William's other wives. Come to find out, he actually had three. And our Grandma Harriet never breathed a word about it! I also knew that Harriet's father, Phineas Wolcott Cook, had several wives, and she never bothered to mention that, either.

At first you might think this may mean she was very uncomfortable living plural marriage, (maybe she was, I don't know,) but in actuality she had probably schooled herself not to speak of it in order to protect her family from the law. I know that her father spent a lot of time in hiding, as an outlaw for living plural marriage (as did President John Taylor), even had a special cabin where he hid near Logan, Utah that is supposedly still standing. Maybe Harriet was just worried that someone would use her words as proof against someone she loved.

I've been honing my research skills and was studying a textbook that included some tips about errors in the Federal Census records. One example was that often the Utah Censuses from back in the day were inaccurate because the subjects were concerned that they would be prosecuted if the government could prove, through their census responses, that they were breaking the law of the land by living polygamy--the higher law that God gave them for a period of time (discontinued in 1890) to establish "a righteous race" to prepare for the Second Coming. Often, if a second wife was living in the same household as the first, they would call them Aunt or Daughter or something else on the form where it asked for "relationship to head of household". And I'm sure they squirmed at having to do that! I know I was so careful filling out our census form, with as much as I have poured over other censuses from my ancestors' time. Now I'm curious to go back and see if any of my polygamous ancestors had to hide from the law on their census form, and what kind of answers they put!

I'm certainly glad that I'm not asked to live that particular law, but the more I learn about how things really were back then, the easier it sits in my mind. I know that only some members were asked to practice it, and even then they could refuse if they wanted. From accounts that I've read, though, they were asked to pray about it first and would usually receive a spiritual confirmation that they would be doing the right thing and would be blessed immeasurably for taking on this particular challenge. For example, one of my friends who studied women's history in college has mentioned how advanced the women's rights and opportunities were in the state of Utah compared to the rest of the nation, mostly because they had other women to share the load. I think that even more than establishing families, the importance of the early Saints living this law was to test their mettle and try their obedience, like Abraham sacrificing his only son. I'm glad that I'm not asked to, but I hope I would have had the courage and selflessness to do the will of the Lord, no matter how impossible it seemed.

So, Grandma Harriet, I wonder what you thought, and I wish you could have told us, but I'm glad that you were good enough to do what needed to be done.

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