Brigham Young: Racist Prophet of the Mormons – Part 2

It is not clear why Brigham Young followed the racist pro-slavery views of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery from 1836 instead of the more liberal-minded abolitionist views of Joseph Smith from 1842 to 1844.  However, confronting the reality of mixed-race marriages and sex between black men and white women appears to have pushed Young further in the direction of racist beliefs and practices:


One of the most significant, and simultaneously most obscure marriages in LDS history took place on September 18, 1846.  On that day, 21 year-old Enoch Lovejoy Lewis married 19 year-old Mary Matilda Webster in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[4]  At first glance, this couple and their marriage seem rather unremarkable.  Both were members of the LDS Church in the Lowell MA branch.  The young bride, Mary Matilda, was from Chester, MA – a tiny rural village in the southwestern area of that state.  Her parents did not marry until almost two years after her birth, so Mary was either illegitimate or one of her parents had a previous, unknown marriage that produced her. The importance and uniqueness of this marriage lies in the fact that Mary Matilda’s groom, Enoch Lovejoy Lewis, was the son of a black father and a mixed-race mother.  And Matilda, the name she went by, was white.  Three years after Massachusetts repealed its ban of allowing white people to marry either those of African or Native American descent, this inter-racial marriage of a white Mormon woman and a black Mormon man ignited a firestorm in the LDS Church, and its effects are still being felt to this day.

[Excerpted from a web article:]

“I would confine them to their own species”

LDS Historical Rhetoric & Praxis Regarding Marriage Between Whites and Blacks

Connell O’Donovan   March 28, 2009

viewed 8/25/13


This marriage between a black Mormon man and a white Mormon woman appears to have provided part of the motivation for Brigham Young to formulate and promote racist beliefs and practices for the Mormon church:


On February 24, 1843, the Massachusettsstate legislature voted to repeal the old law.  Just three and a half years later, Enoch and Matilda faced each other and under God pledged their marital vows in an extraordinary act of newly gained social and political freedom.  Matilda, by the way, was two months pregnant at the time of her marriage to Enoch and some six months later, she gave birth to Enoch Lovejoy Lewis Jr.  Unfortunately for them, the president of the eastern states mission, a man named William I. Appleby, was proselytizing in the Boston-Lowell area at the time of little Enoch’s birth.

A month after Enoch Jr. was born, Appleby visited the Lowell Branch on May 19, 1847.  He was shocked to discover that not only had a black man been ordained to priesthood (Enoch’s father, Walker Lewis) but also that Enoch had married a white LDS woman.  Two weeks later, Appleby wrote a letter to Brigham Young, informing him of this situation and wanting to know if the church indeed approved of blacks holding priesthood and marrying white women:

At Lowell…I found a coloured brother by name of ‘Lewis’ a barber, an Elder in the Church, ordained some years ago by William Smith.  This Lewis I was informed has also a son who is married to a white girl and both members of the Church there.  Now dear Br. I wish to know if this is the order of God or tolerated in this Church  ie to ordain Negroes to the Priesthood and allow amalgamation [inter-racial marriage].  If it is I desire to Know, as I have Yet got to learn it.[9]

Almost a month later, Appleby decided to investigate further and went to the Enoch Lewis home to witness their relationship:

In looking for a Br. in the Church, I called at a House, a coloured man resided there, I set myself down for a few moments presently in came quite a good looking White Woman, about 22 years old I should think, with blushing cheeks, and was introduced to me as the negro’s wife, an infant in a cradle near bore evidence of the fact. Oh! Woman, thought I, where is thy shame, (for indeed I felt ashamed and not only ashamed, but disgusted, when I was informed they were both members of a Church!) [Where is] Respect for thy family, thyself, for thy offspring and above all the law of God?[10]

9. William I. Appleby to Brigham Young, May 19, 1847, LDS Archives, copy in my possession.

10. Autobiography and Journal of William Appleby, June 16, 1847, LDS Archives, photocopy in my possession.

[Excerpted from a web article:]

“I would confine them to their own species”


In a December 1847 meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve, Brigham Young put forward some racist views that would influence Mormon belief and practice for more than a century:


…Pres. Appleby wrote a report to Brigham Young about his discovery of Enoch Lewis’s marriage to Matilda Webster.  He mailed this report to Brigham Young with an address at Council Bluff,Iowa, where it was then forwarded to Winter Quarters,Nebraska, and there remained.  Young, of course, was just settling in Utah at the time, so the acting Mormon president did not receive the letter for some six months.  Ironically, Appleby’s letter, Brigham Young, and William I. Appleby himself, all converged at Winter Quarters at the beginning of December 1847.  Brigham Young returned to Winter Quarters from theSaltLakeValley, when Elder William I. Appleby arrived there on December 2 from his mission presiding over the eastern states.  Young read Appleby’s letter regarding the marriage of Enoch and Matilda Lewis and then immediately met with Appleby in person to ensure the accuracy of the details of the inter-racial marriage of Enoch and Mary Matilda Lewis.

…Young called a meeting of the members of the Twelve who were present in Winter Quarters, and had Appleby appear to personally give an account. Here are Thomas Bullock’s minutes of that meeting:

bro Appleby relates…

Wm. Smith ordained a black man Elder at Lowell & he has married a white girl & they have a child

Prest. Young    If they were far away from the Gentiles they wod. [would] all on [sic – ot? ought?] to be killed – when they mingle seed it is death to all.

If a black man & white woman come to you & demand baptism can you deny them?  the law is their seed shall not be amalgamated

Mulattoes r like mules they cant have children, but if they will be Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God Heaven’s sake they may have a place in the Temple

B. Y.    The Lamanites r purely of the house of Israel & it is a curse that is to be removed when the fulness of the Gospel comes –

O. H.  Has taught that if girls marry the half breeds they r throwing themselves away & becoming as one of them

B. Y.  It is wrong for them to do so.

B. Y.  The Pottawatamies will not own a man who has the negro blood in him – that is the reason why the Indians disown the negro prophet [Warner McCary]. 

It is here in this meeting that the Mormon theology prohibiting marriages between blacks and whites was born. Although the minutes are extremely sparse, they are densely compacted with theological themes that will be carried on into the following decades.

[Excerpted from a web article:]

“I would confine them to their own species”


Young indicated that death was an appropriate punishment for the mixed-race couple, though it is not clear whether the sin meriting death was getting married or having sex and producing a child together.  The pronouncement that “the law is their seed shall not be amalgamated” and the racist belief that “Mulattoes r like mules they cant have children” suggests that Young believed the greatest wrong to be having sex and producing a mixed-race child.

Brigham Young re-affirmed this belief that sex between whites and blacks was a terrible sin deserving of death on at least two other occasions:


Blood Atonement Is Necessary

In 1847, with the Enoch and Matilda Lewis case, Young first introduced the idea that black-white marriage merited capital punishment, promising that if the Lewis’s lived “far away from the Gentiles” they would be killed.

When Enoch’s father, Walker Lewis, was wintering in Salt Lake Cityin 1851 and 1852, Brigham Young pointedly had the legislature pass a law forbidding not marriage between blacks and whites but all sexual relations between the two races.  In getting the all-LDS territorial legislature to pass this statute in February 1852, Young told them that it was such a serious crime against God that the only way to atone for it was through capital punishment:

And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground.  It would also take the life of his Children.[20]

Eleven years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Brigham Young again affirmed blood atonement for black-white marriage on March 8, 1863:

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race?  If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.[21]

In 1897 George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency, said in a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve:

he had understood President Taylor to say that a man who had the priesthood who would marry a woman of the accursed seed that if the law of the Lord were administered upon him, he would be killed, and his offspring, for the reason that the Lord had determined that the seed of Cain should not receive the priesthood in the flesh; and this was the penalty put upon Cain, because if he had received the priesthood the seed of the murderer would get ahead of the seed of Abel who was murdered.[22]

20. Wilford Woodruff Journal, undated entry between January 4, 1852 and February 8, 1852, pp. 97-99.

21. Journal of Discourses, (Liverpool: F. D. and S.W. Richards, 1854), Vol. 1, p. 110. [I believe the volume number is a typo. The quote if from Volume 10, p. 110].

22. “Excerpts From The Weekly Council Meetings Of The Quorum Of the Twelve Apostles, Dealing With The Rights of Negroes In the Church, 1849–1940,” George Albert Smith Papers,UniversityofUtahLibrary.

[Excerpted from a web article:]

“I would confine them to their own species”


To be continued…