[August 23, 1843. Wednesday.] … President Joseph told me that he had difficulty with E[ mma] yesterday. She rode up to Woodworths with him and called while he came to the Temple. When he returned she was demanding the gold watch of F[ lora]. He reproved her for her evil treatment. On their return home she abused him much and also when he got home. He had to use harsh measures to put a stop to her abuse but finally succeeded …
George D. Smith. An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Kindle Locations 3928-3930). Signature Books. Kindle Edition.
While we will never know for sure, were the "harsh measures" physical abuse? We can say for certain he used mental abuse on some of these women...He threaten Emma mentally in section 132.
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
Verse 63 speaks to virgins given to men like Smith, that if the "espoused" another man it was adultery, and would be destroyed
63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.
This is clearly a form of mental abuse, we know from testimony from a few of his wives, Joseph would explain the new law to his potential brides.
The more I read from those that knew Joseph first hand, and those that even married this man, the more apparent it is that he was a very abusive person, and I can't see any reason why he was not physically abusive.
The gold watch in question was one that Joseph gave to a young wife, Flora Ann Woodworth. He had apparently married her earlier in the Spring, when she was just 16.