Mormon History

Fascination With Polygamy - 1828

The Telescope January 26, 1828


JACOB COCHRAN. -- This strange man, who a few years since, threw a part of New-England in commotion with fanaticism, and who in the midst of his supernatural power and light, found a check to his holy zeal, as he called it, by a few years contemplation in the State Prison at Charlestown, is still a wonder in the land of the living, with a few fanatics at his heels.

The subscriber, a few days since, paid a visit to his "Ark," as they call it, in Hollis, Me., and by the appearance of some of the family and the number of small children that I saw, I should suppose that they do have all things in common, as they profess to, to a greater extent than the shakers do; for their population increases without begging children from others; and I could not ascertain that any of the company were married, save Jacob and his wife, and he has a spiritual companion in addition to his natural one, who has added (I was informed) one if not more, natural child to the family since their spiritual union; and I fancy this is about the only way that their family will increase in the future, as they are not so fortunate with respect to worldly possessions as the shakers are; therefore food and houses will not at present tempt many to join them.

Two of the fraternity are State Prison convicts, and are lately from New-York, with a wife as it is supposed she is,

I should suppose the family consistyed of six or seven men with their spiritual wives, besides Jacob and his spiritual and natural wives.

I entered the building and inquired for Jacob -- he soon made his appearance, with three or four aids-de-camp, or talking disciples -- the women took their seats in a back room to listen to our conversation.

At length, as I would not admit Jacob to be infallible, and the apostle of God, to whom all his enemies must soon submit with a vengeance; he pronounced me to be a poor deluded servent of the devil. AT that moment his female disciples exclaiemd aloud -- Glory to God -- Glory to God, &c. to that degree that the whole house echoed. Jacob attempted to convince me that all professors save himself and company were hypocrites and deceivers, and said that they had all combined to bar the love of God out of his soul; but Glory to God, they cannot do it, for I now feel the love of God in my fingers -- stretching out his hands. I observed that he was mistaken, for I was a professor and I knew that I had not combined to bar the love of God out of his soul -- for I deswired that he and all mankind might enjoy it; and I knew that I enkoyed it myself -- upon which he pronounced me a liar, in saying that I enjoyed the love of God. I then told him my opinion of him, viz. that he was a poor deceived creature, if not a great imposter, and that he must repent of his abomination or never know the true love of God shed abroad in his heart; upon which he pronounced a curse upon me in a pontifical style; and his echoing women again said amen, with a loud acclamation of Glory to God, &c. or rather, broke out in mocking God and disgracing themselves.

He then told me he had got through with me, and wished me to leave his house as soon as convenient.

He then said to his disciples, "Come, let us go to our work;" and they all left the room in a moment, and followed this monster in human shape, as he appearewd to me; and I soon left the building, with a new proof, that there is a way that seemeth good to man, but the end thereof is death; and that ambitious, sinful men are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, when under the influence of strong self-will and false zeal, which is fanaticism indeed -- and with a new stimulus to watch and pary, lest I enter into temptation.


Note 1: The issue of the Maine Saco Palldium from which this account was taken has not yet been located, but it was likely published in that paper's columns about the beginning of 1828. Jacob Cochran's "Ark" commune was then located in the hamlet of Hollis, in northeastern York Co., Maine, near the banks of the Saco River (and not in nearby Hollis, Hillsboro Co., New Hampshire, as some reports suggest). This religious commune is mentioned, in passing, by the editor of the St. Louis Western Examiner in his issue of Nov. 1, 1834, where he summarizes Cochran's "prophetic" ministrations, along with those of Joseph Smith, Jr., Matthias, etc.

Note 2: There is no record of Joseph Smith, Jr. having ever met or communicated with the cult leader, Rev. Jacob Cochran. However, some elements of the two men's respective religious careers run in parallel. See Gideon T. Ridlon's 1895 accounts regarding the appearance and development of Cochranism and Mormonism in Maine's Saco Valley. At the end of 1819 Cochran was sentenced to a four year term in the Maine State Prison, from which he was evidently released in 1823, if not before. Cochran seems to have left behind some detached "spiritual wives" and other polygamy-minded followers along the Saco River, when, in about 1826, he established the "Ark" at Hollis, and ended his more public "ministry." Cochran reportedly moved his commune to New York, in 1829, again leaving some of his followers stranded in New England.

Note 3: It is likely that a curious Joseph Smith sent his brother, Elder Samuel H. Smith, on an 1832 mission to New England, in order to convert and "gather in" the Cochranite remnant of Maine, Boston, etc. According to an account published in the Oct. 25, 1903 issue of the New York Times: "The imprisonment of Jacob Cochrane [sic] checked the spread of his dogma, but as the time of his release drew near his diciples grew rampant and received a new command to take "spiritual wives"... There were a few divorces, some marriages, and several elopements of spiritual partners, and finally emigration to Salt Lake City. Cochrane returned to his legal wife, broken in health and spirit, a "back number." One of Brigham Young's first "plurals," Augusta Adams Cobb (1802-1886) was a former Cochranite, or was influenced by the teachings of that sect, prior to her 1843 elopement with Brigham. Other prominent early Mormons who were possibly influenced by Cochranism include Mary Bailey (1808-1841) who married Elder Samuel H. Smith, and (even more likely) Agnes Moultin (1811-1876) who married Samuel's brother, Elder Don Carlos Smith.

Note 4: In their 2000 book, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, authors Richard and Pamela Price attempt to show that "plural marriage" and "spiritual wifery" came into Mormonism by way of ex-Cochranite converts to the Latter Day Saint faith. At the end of their chapter 2 these writers provide a quote, stating: "Sometime about 1829 the clan removed from this place and left the State [of Maine], and their resting place is not sufficiently well known to state it. At length death overtook him.... After his death his wife, and such as still survived of his attachees came back to Saco, from New York State." -- To this bit of historical information, the Prices add their own comments: "Latter Day Saint missionaries arrived in southern Maine in 1832, only three years after Jacob Cochran moved from Maine to New York State. The Church missionaries visited the Cochranite communities, stayed in their homes, taught them the gospel, baptized some, and urged them to gather to Zion. As a result, many of his followers joined the Church and moved to Kirtland and Nauvoo. Some took their polygamous beliefs with them. They and their influence caused the "church of Christ ... (to be) reproached with the crime of ... polygamy" (see Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 Edition, 101:4." The Prices seem to believe that the early Mormon leaders' exposure to "Cochranite polygamy" only came after the 1832 missionary tour of elders Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde through Maine's Saco Valley. They do not question what impulse sent those missionaries to that remote region in the first place. However, the close correspondence between the structure of the Rev. Jacob Cochran's "Ark" commune, at Hollis, and the Rev. Sidney Rigdon's "Morley Farm" commune, at Kirtland, suggests that Cochranite influences may have touched Ohio's Rigdonites even before they converted to Mormonism at the end of 1830. Sidney Rigdon was obviously interested in the sort of religious communal living exhibted by the Rappites and Shakers -- it is not too far-fetched to postulated that his interest in this sort of communitarianism might have also extended to his examination of the Owenites, Cochranites, etc. Given his contact with the Cleveland Shakers, Rev. Rigdon might have easily become intrigued with news reports of any self-styled, latter day "apostle" whose followers had "all things in common, as they profess to, to a greater extent than the shakers."

(Webmaster note: Mormon Harry Reid would have made a great 19th century anti-Mormon)

Bill Number: S. 3313 (IS)
Bill Title: Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008 (Introduced in Senate)
Sponsor: Sen Reid, Harry   View all legislation sponsored by this member.
Introduced: 2008/07/23
Latest Major Action: 2008/07/23 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Notes: There are no notes for this Bill

S 3313 IS


2d Session

S. 3313

To establish a Federal Polygamy Task Force, to authorize assistance for victims of polygamy, and for other purposes.


July 23, 2008

Mr. REID introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


To establish a Federal Polygamy Task Force, to authorize assistance for victims of polygamy, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Victims of Polygamy Assistance Act of 2008'.


Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Despite the fact that polygamy has been illegal in the United States for over 100 years, the practice of polygamy involving underage marriages is growing. Sizable polygamist communities exist in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, and are expanding into other States.

(2) Polygamist communities are typically controlled by organizations that engage in widespread and systematic violations of State laws and the laws of the United States in order to enrich their leaders and maintain control over their members.

(3) The crimes perpetrated by these organizations include child abuse, domestic violence, welfare fraud, tax evasion, public corruption, witness tampering, and transporting victims across State lines.

(4) Due to the systematic and sophisticated nature of these crimes, State and local law enforcement agencies would benefit from the assistance of the Federal Government as they investigate and prosecute these organizations and their leaders for violations of State law. In addition, violations of Federal law associated with polygamy should be investigated and prosecuted directly by Federal authorities.

(5) The work of State and Federal law enforcement agencies to combat crimes by polygamist organizations would benefit from enhanced collaboration and information-sharing among such agencies.

(6) The establishment of a task force within the Department of Justice to coordinate Federal efforts and collaborate with State agencies would aid in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activities of polygamist organizations in both Federal and State courts.

(7) Polygamist organizations isolate, control, manipulate, and threaten victims with retribution should they ever abandon the organization. Individuals who choose to testify against polygamist organizations in Federal or State court have unique needs, including social services and witness protection support, that warrant Federal assistance.


(a) Establishment- There is established within the Department of Justice a Federal Polygamy Task Force, which shall consist of the Deputy Attorney General, the United States attorneys from affected Federal judicial districts, representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and any officer of the Federal Government whom the Deputy Attorney General considers necessary to strengthen Federal law enforcement activities and provide State and local law enforcement officials the assistance they need to address the illegal activity of one or more polygamist organizations.

(b) Purposes- The Federal Polygamy Task Force established under subsection (a) shall--

(1) formulate effective responses to the unique set of crimes committed by polygamist organizations;

(2) establish partnerships with State and local law enforcement agencies to share relevant information and strengthen State and Federal efforts to combat crimes perpetrated by polygamist organizations;

(3) assist States by providing strategies and support for the protection of witnesses;

(4) track the criminal behavior of polygamist organizations that cross State and international borders; and

(5) ensure that local officials charged with protecting the public are not corrupted because of financial, family, or membership ties to a polygamist organization.


The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (42 U.S.C. 10601 et seq.) is amended by inserting after section 1404E the following:


`(a) In General- The Director may make grants as provided in section 1404(c)(1)(A) to State, tribal, and local prosecutors' offices, law enforcement agencies, courts, jails, and correctional institutions, and to qualified public and private entities, to develop, establish, and maintain programs for the enforcement of rights and provision of social services (including witness protection, housing, education, vocational training, mental health services, child care, and medical treatment) for an individual who is exploited or otherwise victimized by practitioners of polygamy.

`(b) Authorization of Appropriations- In addition to funds made available under section 1402(d), there are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section--

`(1) $2,000,000 for fiscal year 2009; and

`(2) $2,500,000 for each of the fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

`(c) False Claims Act- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, amounts collected pursuant to sections 3729 through 3731 of title 31, United States Code (commonly known as the `False Claims Act'), may be used for grants under this section, subject to appropriation.'.


Section 506(a) of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3756(a)) is amended--

(1) in paragraph (1), by striking `and' at the end;

(2) in paragraph (2), by striking the period at the end and inserting `; and'; and

(3) by adding at the end the following:

`(3) $2,000,000, to be granted by the Attorney General to States and units of local government to investigate and prosecute polygamist organizations that violate Federal, State, or local laws.'.