Francis "Fanny" Ward Alger Custer was born 30 September 1817 in Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States to Samuel Alger (1786-1874) and Clarrissa Hancock (1790-1870) and died 29 November 1889 Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, United States of unspecified causes. She married Joseph Smith (1805-1844) 1835 in Kirtland, Geauga County, Ohio. She married Solomon Franklin Custer (1817-1885) 16 November 1836 in Dublin, Wayne County, Indiana.
Francis "Fanny" Ward Alger Custer was an early plural wife of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844), his first and only plural wife prior to the Saints settling in Nauvoo, has received much scrutiny.
Various genealogists have listed her birthday as either 20 Sept 1816 or 20 Sept 1817. 1817 is what is used in her obituary (see below).
Plural Marriage: Joseph Smith
Born on September 20, 1817, as one of ten children to Samuel Alger and Clarissa Hancock Alger, Fanny worked as a domestic in the Smith household in Kirtland, Ohio. Mary Elizabeth Lightner, a plural wife of the Prophet, recalled Joseph’s words relating how an angel appeared to him in 1834 commanding him to restore the practice of polygamy: “The angel came to me three times between the years of 1834 and 1842 and said I was to obey that principle.” This directive may have prompted Joseph to enter a plural marriage sometime thereafter.
This relationship caused much friction between Emma, Joseph, Fanny and Oliver Cowdery (1806-1850), who was second elder in the church and asked to help mediate the relationship disputes. Eventually Emma forced Fanny out of the house.
The evidence is inconclusive regarding the question of whether the Joseph Smith–Fanny Alger plural union included conjugal relations or if their union was more than a spiritual ceremony.
Eliza R Snow, another plural wife of Joseph, a prominent defender of the prophet and contemporary witness of events, includes Fanny's name on her short list of plural wives of Joseph.
Family Marriage: Solomon Custer
After leaving the Smith household, Alger then lived with relatives in Mayfield, Ohio until she moved with her relatives to Indiana. On November 16, 1836 she married Solomon Franklin Custer (1817-1885), who was not a member of the church, in Dublin, Indiana (Wayne County, Indiana) "at the old tavern stand, that used to occupy the site of the late Benjamin Cruil's residence in the east part of town" With Solomon she had nine children. When later asked about her relationship with Joseph Smith after his death, she is reported to have said: "That is all a matter of my own, and I have nothing to communicate." (for quote see, Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 327)
Author Todd Compton comments: “One can only speculate on Fanny’s motives for marrying a non-Mormon, after a courtship that could have only been a matter of weeks. Perhaps she felt that Smith had abandoned her after Emma ejected her from the household. It is also possible that she simply fell in love with Solomon, who, unlike Smith, was her own age—nineteen.” 16
Fanny stayed in Wayne County and raised a large family. She apparently joined the Universalist Church in 1874 and remained a member until her death in 1889.
|Offspring of Solomon Franklin Custer and Francis Ward Alger (1817-1889)|
|Orrison Smith Custer (1838-)|
|Mary Clarissa Custer (1840-1857)|
|Lewis Alger Custer (1843-187)|
|Saphronia Alice Custer (1848-1875)|
|Benjamin Franklin Custer (1849-1923)|
|Lafayette Paul Custer (1854-1930)|
South Lawn Gravestone
Gravestone Location: South Lawn Cemetery, Wayne County, Indiana
The following obituary was found in the Adolphus Barnes Family Bible (also known as the Stephen Barnes Family Bible). Spelling and punctuation are uncorrected.
"Fanny W. Custer, wife of the late Solomon Custer, was born in northern Ohio, near Cleveland, on September 30, 1817, and passed from this life at her son's home in Indianapolis, on the evening of November 29th, at the age of 72 years, 1 month, and 29 days.
"Aunt Fanny, as all her long time friends and acquaintances of Dublin called her, was one of the earliest settlers of this locality, having come to Dublin, then a scattering hamlet with a hut here and there, that spoke of the advance of civilization, when this part of the country was looked upon as but the borders of the great wilderness to the westward -when the forests that abounded on every side were as nature formed them, and through whose inaccessable depths roamed the Indian, and the bear; and which were, at that time being gradually, but surely, pressed toward the setting sun, by that toward tide of civilization, that has at last covered the vast territory lying between the two oceans, lakes and gulf. The deceased was untied [united] in holy wedlock to Solomon Franklin Custer, in this place, at the old tavern stand, that used to occupy the site of the late Benjamin Cruil's residence in the east part of town, on Nov. 16th, 1838. As the result of this union, she had born to her nine children, two of whom survive her. With the exception of a very short period at two different times, aunt Fannie had made "Dublin her home, since first coming to the settlement; then just forming, away back in the 20's. She was generally beloved by all who knew her, and was noted for her benevolence of spirit and generous-heartedness; being known as one who would share her last crust with whosoever should need it.
She [Fanny Alger] joined the Universalist church on the evening of the 10th of October, 1874, and until her last, held to that belief. She passed away peacefully and resignedly, with an abiding faith in the justice and love of an All Powerful and Supreme Being, and with joy in the full belief that she would meet with dear ones gone before.
Having fulfilled the duties of life, with a conscientious regard for the welfare and happiness of those who were compelled to lean on her in her middle and early life, she passed away, fully trusting that the welcome applaudit summons, “well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord,” would greet her on the other side. Funeral services were held at the Universalist church in Dublin [Indiana], on Sabbath morning, Dec. 1, 1889, Rev. P.S. Cook and C.T. Swain, officiating” 17