It was long believed by family members that Mary Clift became a plural wife of Theodore Turley in or before January 1842. They then had a child born on 20 October 1842, Jason.1 Theodore Turley himself recorded the child’s name as “Jason Turley” on his own family records.2 Minutes of the Nauvoo Stake High Council, however, show that in August and September 1842, Mary Clift declared that the father of her unborn child was Gustavus Hills.
As a result of the court and investigation, Gustavus Hills was disfellowshipped by the Nauvoo High Council on 4 September 1842. A paternity agreement was later drawn up between Gustavus Hills and Robert Clift, acting on behalf of his daughter, on 15 September 1842. Gustavus Hills agreed to provide financially for Mary Clift’s child, paying her twenty-five dollars annually for the first three years of the child’s life.3
Nauvoo Stake High Council Minutes (3-4 September 1842)
From pages 424-426 of The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes, edited by John S. Dinger.5 All punctuation and spelling from Dinger’s text.
September 3, 1842; Saturday. [The High] Council met according to adjournment. A Charge was prefered against Gustavius Hills by Elisha Everett[,] one of the teachers of the Church[,] for illicit intercourse with a certain woman by the name of Mary Clift by which she is with child[,] and for teaching the said Mary Clift
that that the heads of the Church practised such conduct & that the time would come when men would have more wives than one &c.
Mary Clift did not appear & upon vote it was adjourned untill 4 o’clock P.M. tomorrow[.] Samuel Bent[,] David Fulmer[,] Elisha Everett[,] & Gustavius Hills were to go to her house at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning and take Alderman Spencer to take her depositions and so that the trial might take place according to adjournment to morrow.
September 4, 1842; Sunday. [The High] Council met according to adjournment. Joshua Smith being absent[,] Elias Higbee was appointed in his place. The case of Gustavius Hills was called. President A[ustin] Cowles spoke by way of address to the council upon the subject. The affidavit of Mary Clift, dated 29th Aug[ust] 1842 as also one of Sept[ember] 4th 1842 were read.63
Esther Smith64 gave evidence that [the] defendant told her it was lawful for people to have illicit intercourse if they only held their peac[e] & that
the time would it was agreeable to the practice of some of the leading men or heads of the Church. It took place the Thursday before the Choir was dismissed in the upper part of Town near the Bluff at 9 o’clock in the evening – She was going home & he offered & went to accompany her and this took place upon the way – She further testified that Mary Clift joined the Choir at Br[other] Joseph Smiths.
[Gustavus Hills] then produced a paper containing questions [he] put to & answers given by Mary Clift this morning after her deposition was taken by alderman Spencer[,] which went, together with aforesaid depositions, to prove his guilt[.] Several
with witnesses were afterwards called upon in his behalf but none gave any evidence that he was inocent.65
The Councillors then spoke according to order[,] who were four in all[,] viz (5) David Fulmer[,] (6) G[eorge] W. Harris[,] (7) Simeon Carter pro tem for T[homas] Grover[,] (8) and A[aron] Johnson. Br[other] Everett & Hills then spoke[,] after which Pres[iden]t Cowles & Rich gave their judgment in which the entire council concurred by vote[,] that is[,] by disfellowshipping Gustavius Hills.
63Mary Clift was born in June 1815 in Gloucestershire, England. In 1844 she would marry Theodore Turley as a plural wife, with the approval of Joseph Smith (see George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “…But We Called It Celestial Marriage” [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008], 348-50). Mary would die in March 1850 in Salt Lake City. But on August 29 and September 4, 1842, Mary said:
Hancock county, State of Illinois. Personally appeared before me Orson Spencer, one of the Alderman of the City and [an] acting justice in afores[ai]d county, Mary Clift, an unmarried woman of said county, and made solemn oath that she was pregnant with a child which, if born alive, may be a bastard and that Gustavus Hills was the father of such child. The Said Gustavus Hills[,] about 4 or 5 weeks since[,] requested deponent to remove to Columbus (Adams county) until after her confinement and he would assist her with support as far as his means would permit; and that such ilicit conduct was practiced by the heads of the Church and that the time would come when men would have more wives than one, and he wished that time would come. Subscribed and sworn to before me this 29th day of August A.D. 1847. Orson Spencer, Alderman of the city of Nauvoo. In presence of Elisha Averett, Proxcy Keller, Sophia Beals (Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church History Library and Archives, Salt Lake City).
Hancock Co[unty] State of Illinois Sept[ember] 4th 1842[.] Deponent saith that in the month of January 1842 near the middle of the month on the way between the House of [REDACTED] Br[other] [REDACTED] said [REDACTED] did hold illicit and carnal connexion with her [REDACTED] and that he had frequently used seducing efforts privious to that time. Said [REDACTED] in a late visit of 4 or 5 weeks since desird further connexion with deponent at that time & hoped they would yet have comfort together. Said [REDACTED] proposed several times to give [REDACTED] some medicine or drugf to carry it off or cause an abortion. Said [REDACTED] told Deponent that he was intimate with another woman in town besides his wife & that the authorities of the Church countenanced and practiced illicit connexion with women & said there was no harm in [such] things provided they kept it secret. [Signature REDACTED] In presence of Elisha Averett[,] Samuel Bent[,] David Fullmer[.] Sworn to & subscribed before me Orson Spencer (“Affidavit of [REDACTED] Sept. 4th 1842,” Nauvoo Stake High Council Court Papers, Selected Collections 1:19; the publisher of Selected Collections blacks out the names in ecclesiastical court transcripts).
64Esther Victoria Smith was born in 1810 in Stockholm, New York. In 1832 she married Amos Botsford Fuller, a young man from her home town who was her same age. They were baptized in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836, and later resided in Nauvoo’s 1st Ward neighborhood. He died in 1853 in Des Moines, Iowa, and she died three years later in Salt Lake City.
65Hills’s questioning of Clift is dated “Hancock [County] State of Illinois Sept[ember] 4th 1842.” He asked her when she stayed overnight at his house, to which she answered, “Near the middle of Jan[uar]y.” She said she accompanied him home on three successive nights from the “singing schools” he taught, where she must have been a student. “The first two nights [she] slept [in bed] with [his] wife [and] the next night with [the] children.”
“Q[uestion][:] Where & when did I talk of pluralty of wives? [Answer][:] At your house after you seduced me.”
“Did I offer you medicine for abortion before you asked for it[?] [Answer][:] You did offer it.”
“Did we have illicit connexion more than once[?] [Answer][:] no.”
“Deponent saith that the night of their connexion … was a cold windy night” (“Nauvoo Stake High Council Court Papers, 1839-1844”).
Paternity Agreement between Gustavus Hills & Robert Clift (15 September 1842)
Newel Kimball Whitney Collection on Mormon Church: Legal and Municipal Records (S1_SS6), L. Tom Perry Special Collections, BYU Harold B. Lee Library. From published transcript here: https://files.lib.byu.edu/transcriptions/vmss76/VMSS76_S1_SS6%20Newel%20Kimball%20Whitney%20Collection%20on%20Mormon%20Church%20-%20Legal%20and%20Municipal%20Records.txt
Know all men by there presents that I Gustavus Hills of the county of Hancock and state of Illinois am held and firmly bound unto Mary Clift of the county and stats aforesaid in the penal sum of Two hundred Dollars, which payment well and truly to be made I bind myself my heirs, and legal representatives firmly by these bonds sealed with my own seal and dated this 15th day of September in the year of our Lord One thousand Eight hundred and forty two.
The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas the said Mary Clift hath made oath that she is pregnent with a child by the said Gustavus Hills, and has agreed with the said Gustavus Hills to submit the matter of the support of the same to referees. Now if the said child shall be born alive the said Gustavus Hills agrees to pay the said Mary Clift Twenty five Dollars annually for Three years, in quarterly payments, in provisions or clothing suited to the condition of the said child, but should the child die, there or should the said Gustavus Hills demand the care and maintenance of said child at any time then the obligation to pay as aforesaid is to cease from the time of such decease or demand and if the said Gustavus Hills shall will and truly comply with the conditions of the above obligation, or should the child die, or its care and [—-] be demanded as aforesaid then this obligation to cease and be void and further at or before the delivery of said child the said Gustavus Hills shall pay five dollars in money or [-]one goods suitable for such an Occasion besides the payments before Mentioned The Obligation being complied with as aforesaid then and in that case the obligation and every thing therein contained is to cease, other wise to remain in full force and effect
Given under my hand and seal this day and year above written In presence of
Gustavus Hills (ss)
Robert Clift (ss)
agent to Mary Clift
The foregoing obligation is an Award of the Arbitrators (chosen by the Parties) whose names are hereunto subscribed
- See, for example, p. 56 of The Theodore Turley Family book (a.k.a. Red Book), published in 1978.
- Family Memorial-Mary Clift.
- Some authors have mistakenly understood the agreement and written that Gustavus Hills paid Mary Clift two hundred dollars. The two hundred dollars mentioned at the beginning of the agreement was the established penalty for violating the agreement, not an initial payout. See, for example, Michael Hicks, Mormonism and Music: A History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 52n34.
- William D. Huntington records, 1839-1884, Nauvoo cemetery record, 1839-1845, image 242 of 252, Jason L. Clift, 26 Oct. 1843, Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=43801da4-6d22-4f24-9fbf-20712836a4f7&crate=0&index=241, accessed March 2021.
- John S. Dinger, ed., The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011), 424-426.