The Martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith


They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward (D&C 135:6).

The Martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Again warrants had gone out for the arrests of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Members of the Nauvoo city council were also wanted by the law. On the morning of June 24, this group, with a few loyal friends, left Nauvoo to go to Carthage to turn themselves in. As they left the beautiful city that the Saints had built with their own hands, Joseph looked back and said, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens.” *

After the Prophet and his company had gone a few miles, they were met by Captain Dunn and a group of Illinois State Militia. The Captain showed Joseph an order to have the Nauvoo Legion give up all the state weapons in their possession. He took Joseph and those with him went back to Nauvoo to see that the order was carried out.

That evening Joseph and his group left again for Carthage. He expressed his feeling that he would never return alive. “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter,” he said, “but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men.” Hours later, when the group arrived in Carthage, someone in the angry crowd that met them shouted, “He has seen the last of Nauvoo.”

Early the next morning the men from Nauvoo turned themselves in to the constable. They were soon released on bail, and most of them returned home. Joseph and Hyrum remained behind to speak with the governor, and later that evening they were arrested again on a charge of treason and put in the Carthage Jail. Several of their friends, including Willard Richards, John Taylor, Dan Jones, and Stephen Markham, were allowed to stay with them.

The following day a hearing was held, and a trial date was set for June 29. The brothers were to remain in jail at least until then. During the day Governor Ford promised to protect the prisoners, but that night there was trouble. Joseph and Hyrum and the three men who still remained with them—Willard Richards, John Taylor, and Dan Jones—were able to turn away some angry attackers.

Dan Jones was sent the next morning to tell the Governor of the very real danger that existed, but the Governor took some troops and went to Nauvoo as previously planned, leaving behind to guard the Prophet and his brother those troops who were the most hostile to the Mormons. Brother Jones was not allowed back in the jail.

During the day Joseph wrote a last letter to his family. He told them of his love for them and for his friends, he sent his blessing, and he said that he had done “the best that could be done.” He longed to return to Nauvoo to speak to the Saints one last time, but he was not to be given the chance.

In the afternoon, the prisoners asked John Taylor to sing the hymn “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” When he had finished, Joseph asked him to sing it again.

“‘He (Jesus) asked if I for him would die,’” sang Elder Taylor. “‘The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill, But my free spirit cried, “I will!”’”

Just after five o’clock, the angry mob that had gathered outside attacked. The jail was stormed, and shots were fired. Hyrum was the first to die, and Joseph cried out, “Oh, dear Brother Hyrum!” Moments later he, too, was struck, and he fell from the window to the courtyard below. Elder Taylor, though badly wounded, survived, as did Elder Richards. It was they who sent word of the tragedy to the Saints in Nauvoo.

The Lord’s chosen prophet was dead. He who had spoken with the Lord, he who had received the priesthood from heavenly beings, he who had translated the Book of Mormon and reestablished the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth had been struck down. His attackers thought that with his death his work, too, would end. They thought that with the death of its prophet, the Church was also destroyed.

But they were wrong. Joseph had done his work well, and he had sealed his testimony with his blood. Another would be chosen by the Lord to lead the Church, and then another, and then another. Today, 150 years after his death, the Church restored through him, beginning in a little cabin in upper New York state, has more than eight million members. The book he translated is being taken to every corner of the earth, and the priesthood power he was given remains to bless not only the Saints but all the world.

Show References

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    Quotations and other information are from Doctrine and Covenants 135; Hymns, no. 29; Essentials in Church History, pages 303–317; and Church History in the Fulness of Times, pages 273–285.