On June 27, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, who was the Assistant President and the Patriarch of the Church, were martyred in Carthage, Illinois. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles approved an announcement of the martyrdom to be included at the end of the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was almost ready to be published. The announcement drew from the eyewitness accounts of Elders John Taylor and Willard Richards, members of the Quorum of the Twelve. It is now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 135.
Note: This lesson includes several historical accounts that can be read by students. You might consider making copies of these accounts and distributing them to students at the beginning of class.
Suggestions for Teaching
The martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith is announced
Begin class by asking students if they remember where they were when they learned about the death of a President of the Church or a loved one.
Invite students to imagine they are members of the Church living in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1844, and they receive the news recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 135:1. Invite a student to read this verse aloud.
How might you have felt after hearing about this tragedy?
Explain that many of the Saints were overwhelmed with grief when they learned of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Encourage students to reflect on their own feelings about and testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith as they learn about the final days of his life.
Inform students that Joseph Smith and the Saints lived in relative peace in Illinois for about three years. However, by 1842 they again began to experience opposition. Dissenters within the Church and opponents outside the Church combined their efforts against the Prophet and the Church. Some citizens of Illinois began to fear and despise the political influence of the Saints. Others grew envious of the economic growth of Nauvoo and were critical of the power of Nauvoo’s city government and militia. Some began to dislike the Saints because of misunderstandings about unique Mormon doctrines and practices, such as plural marriage, some of which had been misrepresented by apostate members of the Church. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 263–66, 270–71.)
Invite a student to read the following paragraph:
By June 1844, animosity against the Church had greatly intensified. Some citizens in Illinois were discussing driving the Saints from the state, while others were plotting to kill the Prophet. Some of those who were conspiring against the Prophet and the Church were former members of the Church who had apostatized. On June 7, 1844, William Law, who had served as second counselor in the First Presidency, and other apostates printed the first issue of a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. In an attempt to inflame the public against the Prophet and the Church, these men used this newspaper to slander Joseph Smith and other Church leaders. Joseph Smith and the majority of the Nauvoo city council recognized that the inflammatory newspaper would lead to mob violence against the city. They declared it a public nuisance and ordered that the Nauvoo Expositor press be destroyed.
Explain that the contents of the Nauvoo Expositor, along with the destruction of the press, caused anti-Mormon hostility to escalate. The owners of the press brought legal charges against Joseph Smith and other city leaders, accusing them of inciting a riot. Joseph Smith was cleared of the charges, but his release only further angered his enemies. As reports began circulating that mobs were gathering to attack the city of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith, as mayor, declared Nauvoo to be under martial law (temporary military rule). With the direction of Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois, Joseph ordered the Nauvoo Legion to defend the city.
Invite a student to read the following two paragraphs:
The excitement in the area grew so intense that Governor Ford went to Carthage, the center of government for the region, to neutralize the volatile situation. He wrote to Joseph Smith, saying that only a trial of the Prophet and other leaders before a non-Mormon jury in Carthage would satisfy the people. Governor Ford also promised them complete protection and a fair trial if they came voluntarily. Joseph replied that his life would be in danger on the journey and that he would not come.
As Joseph Smith counseled with his brethren about what to do next, he felt that if he and Hyrum left Nauvoo and traveled to the West, the Saints in Nauvoo would not be harmed. Acting on this counsel, Joseph and Hyrum crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa. However, some Church members in Nauvoo doubted the Prophet’s plan. A few came to him and accused him of cowardice, saying he was abandoning the Saints and leaving them to face persecution alone. The Prophet replied, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself” (in History of the Church, 6:549). After counseling together, Joseph and Hyrum returned to Nauvoo. Early in the morning on June 24, 1844, they left for Carthage.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 135:4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the prophecy Joseph Smith made near Carthage.
What did Joseph say would happen to him?
What do you think it might have been like for the Prophet to leave his family, knowing he would not be coming back to them?
Why do you think Joseph was “calm as a summer’s morning” when he knew he was going “like a lamb to the slaughter”?
Explain that the Prophet knew his death would preserve the lives of the Saints.
As Hyrum Smith prepared to go to Carthage Jail, he read Ether 12:36–38 in the Book of Mormon and then turned down the page. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 135:5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and notice what Hyrum read and marked before leaving for Carthage Jail.
Why do you think these verses from the book of Ether might have been meaningful for Hyrum to read at that time?
What do you think the phrase “all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood” (D&C 135:5) means?
Ask students to consider how Joseph and Hyrum might have felt knowing they had fulfilled their callings and duties from God to the best of their abilities.
What can we learn from Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s examples that could help us fulfill the callings we receive from God?
Invite a student to read the following summary of events that took place on June 25–27, 1844:
On June 25, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith and other leaders posted bail at Carthage and were freed until a formal trial could be held to address the charge of inciting a riot (referring to the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor). However, that evening Joseph and Hyrum were committed to Carthage Jail on a charge of treason, which Joseph and his lawyers protested was illegal because that charge had not been mentioned at their earlier bail hearing. No bail could be posted for treason, so they had to stay in Carthage—and remain in danger.
On June 26, 1844, Joseph met with Governor Ford in the jail. Governor Ford was contemplating going to Nauvoo, and Joseph asked to go along, feeling he was not safe in Carthage. Governor Ford promised that if he left Carthage he would take Joseph and Hyrum with him. That evening, the Prophet bore testimony to the guards of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the gospel.
On the morning of June 27, 1844, Joseph wrote in a letter to Emma: “I am very much resigned to my lot, knowing I am justified, and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends” (in History of the Church, 6:605). Later that day, despite knowing of plans by local citizens to storm the jail and kill the prisoners, Governor Ford left Carthage to speak to the citizens of Nauvoo. He broke his promise and did not take Joseph and Hyrum with him. Before leaving, Governor Ford placed the Carthage Greys—the most visibly hostile of the militias gathered in Carthage—in charge of guarding the jail and disbanded the other militias.
Inform students that on the hot and humid afternoon of June 27, apostles John Taylor and Willard Richards were with Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage Jail. A spirit of foreboding came upon the Prophet and those who were with him as they sat in the jailer’s bedroom on the second floor of the jail. Hyrum Smith asked John Taylor to sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” (see Hymns, no. 29). If this hymn is available in your hymnbook, consider inviting students to sing a few verses. As they sing, invite them to think about what this hymn might have meant to Joseph and Hyrum Smith at this time.
Invite three students to take turns reading the following summaries of the martyrdom. Ask the class to try to visualize these events as though they were with the Prophet in Carthage Jail.
Shortly after 5:00 p.m. on June 27, 1844, a mob of approximately 150–200 men, with faces painted to hide their identities, surrounded the jail. The guards provided little resistance as several members of the mob rushed up the stairs to the room where the Prophet and his friends were located.
Joseph and the others pushed against the door to prevent the mob from forcing it open. Someone in the mob fired a shot through the upper panel of the door, striking Hyrum on the left side of his nose. He fell backwards, exclaiming, “I am a dead man!” (in History of the Church, 6:617). John Taylor said, “I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, ‘Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!’” (in History of the Church, 7:102).
Earlier in the day a visitor had given Joseph a revolver. Acting in defense of everyone in the room, Joseph sprang to the door and reached around the doorframe to shoot the pistol into the hall. Only three of the six chambers fired, wounding several members of the mob. The mob then forced their guns through the half-closed door, and John Taylor tried to beat the barrels of their guns back with a walking stick.
As the conflict at the doorway increased, John Taylor tried to escape the room through a window. As he attempted to leap out of the window, he was shot in the thigh from the doorway and was also shot by someone outside. He fell to the floor, and while attempting to get under the bed next to the window, he was severely wounded by three more shots. Meanwhile, as guns came through the doorway, Willard Richards began striking them with a cane.
Joseph Smith then decided to try to escape through the same window, likely to preserve his life and, some believed, to save the lives of Willard Richards and John Taylor. As Willard Richards continued to deflect the mob at the door, the Prophet leaped to the open window. As he did so, he was struck by bullets from both inside and outside the jail. He fell out of the window, exclaiming, “O Lord, my God!” and landed on the ground below. The members of the mob who were inside the jail rushed outside to assure themselves that Joseph was dead. Although there were no members of the Church on their way to Carthage, someone yelled, “The Mormons are coming!” and the entire mob fled. (See History of the Church, 6:618, 620–21; see also Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 283.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 135:2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and notice the description of the fates of John Taylor and Willard Richards. Inform students that Willard Richards only had his left ear grazed by a bullet, which fulfilled a prophecy Joseph had made more than a year before that “the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment” (in History of the Church, 6:619).
What do you think the phrase “to seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon” means? (It may help to explain that in this context, to seal is to permanently establish something, such as a testimony.)
What is a martyr? (A person who suffers death as a witness to the truth of his or her beliefs or cause. Explain that the term martyr comes from a Greek word for witness [see Bible Dictionary, “Martyr”].)
Ask students to scan Doctrine and Covenants 135:7, looking for what the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith is a witness of.
Through their deaths as martyrs, what did Joseph and Hyrum Smith seal their witness of? (Students may use other words, but they should identify the following truth: Joseph and Hyrum Smith sealed their witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel with their lives. You may want to write this truth on the board.)
How can your knowledge of Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s testimonies and their willingness to die for the truth influence your testimony?
After sufficient time, invite students who are willing to share their responses to do so. Conclude by sharing your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Commentary and Background Information
Departing for Carthage
Emma Smith recalled her feelings when her husband Joseph crossed the Mississippi River to return to Nauvoo: “I felt the worst I ever did in my life,” she said, “and from that time I looked for him to be killed” (in Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History, Oct. 1916, 454). When Joseph was leaving his home to travel to Carthage early in the morning on Monday, June 24, 1844, he turned to Emma and said, “Emma, can you train my sons to walk in their father’s footsteps?” Emma answered, “Oh, Joseph, you are coming back.” Joseph repeated the question twice more, and Emma gave the same answer each time. (In “Edwin Rushton, Related by his Son,” in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet , 171.) At the time of the martyrdom, Emma was four months pregnant. She and Joseph also had four other living children: Julia (13), who was adopted, Joseph III (11), Frederick (8), and Alexander (6).
Outside the Mansion House, Joseph then addressed the crowd that had gathered in the early morning. While doing so, Joseph’s sons pulled on his clothing and cried, “Father, O Father don’t go to Carthage. They will kill you.” His mother asked if he could promise that he would return. (Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith,” manuscript, Jan. 20, 1855, Church History Library, Salt Lake City). Not answering her directly, Joseph said to the assembled Saints, “If I do not go there [to Carthage], the result will be the destruction of this city and its inhabitants; and I cannot think of my dear brothers and sisters and their children suffering the scenes of Missouri again in Nauvoo; no, it is better for your brother, Joseph, to die for his brothers and sisters, for I am willing to die for them. My work is finished” (in Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother, Hyrum!” trans., Ronald D. Dennis, in Ronald D. Dennis, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother Hyrum,” BYU Studies, vol. 24, no. 1 [Winter 1984], 85; see also Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 277).
“After embracing his little children who were clinging to his clothes and after bidding a tender farewell to his wife whom he loved greatly, also in tears, and after giving the last comfort to his aged, saintly mother, he addressed the entire crowd with great effect, exhorting them to be faithful in the way and with the religion which he had taught them” (in Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother, Hyrum!” 85–86).
As Joseph rode out of Nauvoo with those accompanying him, he paused at the temple site, “looked on the sacred edifice, then on the city, and remarked, ‘This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them’” (History of the Church, 6:554; see also Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 277).
Supplemental Teaching Ideas
Images of Carthage Jail
To help students visualize the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, you may want to show them pictures of Carthage Jail. Pictures of the interior and exterior of the jail, including the room in which Joseph and his companions were held, can be found on LDS.org using the search term “Carthage Jail.”
Doctrine and Covenants 135:1. Video presentation—“Testimony of the Book of Mormon”
After students identify the truth that Joseph and Hyrum Smith sealed their witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel with their lives, you may want to show the Mormon Messages video “Testimony of the Book of Mormon” (through time code 3:41), available on LDS.org.
Doctrine and Covenants 135. Video presentation—“Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration”
After discussing the death of the Prophet in Carthage Jail, you might consider showing a depiction of the events at Carthage Jail from the video “Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration” (through time code 2:37), available on disc two of Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Visual Resource DVDs and LDS.org.
Doctrine and Covenants 135. Video presentation—Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration
The feature film Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration (2005), about 62 minutes, portrays events from the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This film is available on disc three of Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Visual Resource DVDs and on LDS.org.
You might consider using a day of class to show students this film. (If your class periods are less than one hour, you will need to selectively choose portions of the film to show. For example, you might start the movie at time code 6:30 and watch through the end.)
Before showing the film, invite students to consider how the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith has influenced their lives. You might encourage them to record their thoughts and impressions regarding this question in their scripture study journals or class notebooks while they watch the film.