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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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).
Direct students’ attention to the first sentence of Doctrine and Covenants 135:1, and ask the following question:
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.)
Point out the word martyrdom in verse 1, and ask:
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.)
Invite students to ponder the following question and write their responses in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:
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.