When my father joined the church in Chicago in 1966, he was confident he was the first and only Mormon in his family. Much later, while doing family history research, he discovered his great grandmother was born in Tooele, Utah; and her mother was a wife of William Henry Harrison Sagers.
Sagers (going by William early on, switching to Harrison at some point, and maybe preferring Henry late in life) was from Gennesee Co., NY, and probably joined the church in Erie County in January 1833. He served several missions, including to New Orleans and Jamaica. He was part of Zion’s Camp and was called to the high Council of Adam-ondi-Ahman. By 1835 he was married and had a son.
In November 1843, in Nauvoo, Sagers was brought before the High Council, on the charge of seduction. Joseph Smith described it:
In the evening the High Council sat on the case of Harrison Sagers, charged with seduction, and having stated that I had taught it was right. Charge not sustained. I was present with several of the Twelve, and gave an address tending to do away with every evil, and exhorting them to practice virtue and holiness before the Lord; told them that the Church had not received any permission from me to commit fornication, adultery, or any corrupt action; but my every word and action has been to the contrary. If a man commit adultery, he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved by any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom. I did think that the many examples that have been made manifest, such as John C. Bennett’s and others, were sufficient to show the fallacy of such a course of conduct. I condemned such actions in toto, and warned the people present against committing such evils; for it will surely bring a curse upon any person who commits such deeds.
Context matters here. JSJ’s first documented plural marriage happened in 1841, and George D. Smith asserts that by the end of 1843, 56 polygomous marriages had been performed, involving 17 men. A letter to the editor of the anti-Mormon Warsaw Signal about the trial said,
‘I heard considerable talk of the doctrine of Spiritual Wives, which doctrine, I find has been, and is now being taught to a great extent in that place…. I was happy to learn that there was to be a trial of one of their Priests, not for teaching said doctrine, but for teaching it too publicly.’
Sagers was charged again, in 1844, ‘for teaching spiritual wife doctrine and neglecting his family.’ It was turned over to the high council and this appeared in the infamous Nauvoo Expositor in June 1844:
One Cent Reward.
WHEREAS my husband, the Rt. Rev. W. H. Harrison Sagers, Esq., has left my bed and board without cause or provocation, this is to notify the public not to harbor or trust him on my account, as I will pay no debts of his contracting. More anon.
LUCINDA SAGERS. June 7, 1844.
In his study of early polygamists, Gary James Bergera includes this in a footnote, explaining why he does not count Sagers in his as a pre-martyrdom polygamist:
Sagers was linked sexually to his sister-in-law, Phebe Madison, in late 1843, but she married civilly shortly before he was tried for adultery and forgiven. While Joseph Smith subsequently explained plural marriage to Sagers and others, there is no evidence that Sagers contracted an officially sanctioned plural marriage prior to Smith’s death.
In 1846, Sagers received his endowment and married three women: Sarah Lurena Bailey, Olive Amanda Wheaton and Harriet Emeline Barney. He probably lived in St. Louis during this time, and in 1850, he went west in the Edgar Hunter Company with three wives, but two were new: Harriet Emeline Barney Sagers (aged 19), Lucy Marilla Wheaton Sagers (29) and Ruth Adelia Wheaton Sagers (17).
Arriving in Utah, the family settled in Tooele and the children came, about one a year. Sagers married Francis Adams in 1852, but it ended in divorce with no children.
In 1856, Harriet (the ‘oldest’ of the wives at the time) married Brigham Young, after, one assumes, she was divorced from Sagers. Young had Sagers’ children sealed to him. Sagers married Marion Smith in 1858 and had several more children by her. The next record of him is that he died in 1887 in Blackfoot, Idaho.
I admit that I have became obsessed by Sagers. He seemed to challenge so much of what I thought about polygamy, which was, admittedly, not much. The idea that polygamist families were stable and static does not seem to be supported by the reading I’ve done. The amount of divorce and remarriage in this period really surprised me. So did the practice of marrying siblings in a polygamous family. George Smith says it was common, but I didn’t expect it at all.
Sagers also seemed to have a relationship with the church I find odd but not bad. Here’s a guy that publicly exposes the prophet for teaching polygamy when it was meant to be kept secret and in theory perverts a sacred doctrine for his own gain — on one hand he wasn’t punished, and on the other he remains faithful enough to be endowed and head west. There seems to be a measure of fairness and forgiveness in the face of a challenge to authority along with real devotion. How he dealt with Harriet and Brigham I can’t imagine.
I was also frustrated by how little I could find out about the Wheaton sisters. They seem to have been early members, but I couldn’t find any mention of them, except as spouses.
Our family myth is that Sager’s wife Lucy Wheaton, my g-g-g-grandmother, was a polygamy runaway. We have no proof of that except that she appears to have died in New York, but I think it has insulated my father’s sensibilities about polygamy. If one is to have polygamists in the family, his reasoning probably goes, it’s better to have eventually repentant polygamists.
Other observations and conclusions are welcome.
A disclaimer: it’s really hard to get access to church history sources out here in the outer reaches. There are doubtlessly flaws here which I’m happy to have pointed out.
All other information comes from familysearch dot org.
 HC 6:81
 Smith, George D. ‘Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-46: A Preliminary Demographic Report.’ Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Vol. 34, no. 1&2, Spring/Summer 2001. p. 123-158.
 Warsaw Signal, March 20, 1844, 2. From ‘Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, Vision Articles — The Harrison Sagers Case.’ Restoration Bookstore. Online resource.
 HC 6:333
 ‘1844 Nauvoo Expositor newspaper: pages 3-4.’ Solomon Spaldingdotcom. Online resource.
 Bergera, Gary James. ‘Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44.’ Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Vol. 38, no. 3, Fall 2005. p. 1-74.
 ‘Early Latter-day Saints Database: William Henry Harrison Sagers.’ Early Latter-day Saints. Online resource.
 ‘Pioneer Company Search Results (Edward Hunter Company).’ Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847–1868. Online resource.