Persecution had “become a second nature” to the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 127:2
). Since the First Vision in 1820, the adversary opposed this great prophet of the Restoration. And although the Prophet’s five years in Nauvoo were years of great revelations and growth of the Church, they were also years of continued persecution.In 1843 and 1844, the Prophet taught and prepared the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to lead the Church. He felt impressed that his time was short. Meanwhile, some who left the Church could not leave the Church alone. In early June 1844, some former Church members and enemies of the work printed a newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, that published lies about the Prophet and other Church leaders. This added fuel to a fire that was already burning among anti-Mormons in the area who were king for ways to remove the Saints from western Illinois.
In response to theNauvoo Expositor,
the Prophet Joseph Smith—acting in his role as mayor of Nauvoo—and the Nauvoo city council ordered that theNauvoo Expositor
press be destroyed and all copies of the paper burned. The owners took their situation to a judge in Nauvoo and got an order against the Prophet and the city council. They were declared innocent of any wrongdoing. The Prophet’s enemies were not satisfied with the decision, since the judge was a member of the Church. So the Prophet and others submitted themselves to another judge who was not a member. They were again acquitted.This time a newspaper in nearby Warsaw, Illinois, called Mormons “infernal devils” and suggested that the only way to permanently solve the problem was by “powder and ball” (Church History in the Fulness of Times,
275). In this intense and dangerous time, the Prophet Joseph Smith called upon the governor of Illinois, Governor Thomas Ford, for help and understanding. Meanwhile, the enemies of the Prophet had also called upon the governor to help them against the Mormons. The governor med to side with those opposing the Prophet. As a result, the Prophet determined that all they really wanted was him and his brother Hyrum. He quickly put together a plan to leave town and began to scout out a westward migration for the Saints—a migration he knew, by revelation, would eventually occur. He believed that if he were gone, the persecution would calm down. Some Church members disagreed with the Prophet’s plan, saying that he was abandoning them to face the persecution alone. The Prophet replied, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself” (History of the Church,
6:549), and returned to Nauvoo.The Prophet Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and members of the Nauvoo city council were later taken into Carthage as voluntary captives on the charge of riot. On June 25 “a preliminary hearing was held before Robert F. Smith, a justice of the peace who was also captain of the Carthage Greys and active in the anti-Mormon party. Each member of the Nauvoo city council was released on five hundred dollar bonds and ordered to appear at the next term of the circuit court. Most of the accused men then left for Nauvoo, but Joseph and Hyrum remained for an interview with Governor Ford. That evening a constable appeared with a mittimus (a commitment to prison) signed by Judge Smith to hold Joseph and Hyrum in jail until they could be tried for treason, a capital offense. Joseph and his lawyers protested that the mittimus was illegal, since there had been no mention of that charge at their hearing. Their complaints were taken to the governor, but he said he could not interrupt a civil officer in the discharge of his duty” (Church History in the Fulness of Times,
278). He did, however, promise that if he went to Nauvoo he would take the Prophet and Hyrum Smith with him.
On Thursday, June 27, 1844, the Prophet sent Dan Jones—who, with Elders John Taylor and Willard Richards, had also spent the night in the Carthage Jail—to tell Governor Ford about plans he overheard to storm the jail and kill the Smith brothers. Governor Ford assured Dan Jones that the Prophet was not in danger. Brother Jones was not allowed to return to the jail and headed back toward Nauvoo instead. Governor Ford also went to Nauvoo—but he did not take the Prophet with him.That afternoon, a spirit of heaviness overcame the Prophet Joseph Smith. He asked John Taylor to sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” (Hymns,
no. 29). Hyrum Smith asked Elder Taylor to sing it again, but the feelings of gloom had come over him as well and he felt he couldn’t, but he sang it again anyway.The men had been allowed to stay in an upstairs bedroom in the jail, but the jailer came in and suggested that they move to the cell. He believed they would be safer there. The Prophet Joseph Smith asked Willard Richards if he would join them if they had to move into the cell. Elder Richards told the Prophet that he would die in his place if they attempted to take the Prophet’s life. The Prophet said, “But you cannot.” “I will,” Elder Richards replied. (Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church,
Elder John Taylor recorded: “I was sitting at one of the front windows of the jail, when I saw a number of men, with painted faces, coming around the corner of the jail, and aiming towards the stairs. The other brethren had n the same, for, as I went to the door, I found Brother Hyrum Smith and Dr. Richards already leaning against it They both pressed against the door with their shoulders to prevent its being opened, as the lock and latch were comparatively useless” (Gospel Kingdom,
359). President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “Shortly after five o’clock there was a rustling at the outer door of the jail, a cry of surrender to the guards, the discharge of firearms, and then followed the rush of the maddened, and hatred-drunken disorganized mobbers of the militia upon the jail” (Church History and Modern Revelation,
2:401). A shot came through the door and hit Hyrum Smith in the face. From outside, a second shot hit him in the back and he fell to the floor saying, “I am a dead man.” The Prophet droppeddown. “Oh, my poor, dear brother Hyrum.” He grabbed a six-shot pepperbox pistol, and attempted a feeble defense. John Taylor looked for an escape through the window but was shot in the process. He was wounded, but saved from death by one of the balls hitting the watch that was in his vest pocket and forever imprinting the time of the martyrdom—16 minutes and 26 seconds past 5:00 P.M. on Thursday, June 27, 1844.The Prophet Joseph Smith had also started for the window. On his way, he was hit by two shots from behind him and one shot from outside, striking him in the front. He paused on the windowsill before falling to the yard below (D&C 135:1
).Suddenly, from outside, a call was heard, “The Mormons are coming!” They were not, but the idea scared the mob into a quick retreat. When Governor Ford heard what had occurred, he took steps to that the city of Carthage was protected. The Saints, however, made no plans for revenge. Their Prophet was dead and they were overcome with grief. To certify that no revenge was to occur, when Brother Willard Richards spoke in a public meeting in Nauvoo, he pleaded with the people not to retaliate. The bodies of the martyred prophets were returned to Nauvoo on June 28, 1844. Thousands who lived there filed through the Mansion House to view the bodies and mourn their loss.Apostle John Taylor felt that it was important to write an official record of what occurred, as a testimony to the world—he being an eyewitness. As you readDoctrine and Covenants 135
, think about the effect the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith has had on your life and on the lives of millions of others throughout the world.
Doctrine and Covenants 135:5—“Their Testament Is in Force”
Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet and Hyrum Smith, wrote the following about the deaths of her sons: “After the corpses were washed and dressed in their burial clothes, we were allowed to them. I had for a long time braced every nerve, roused every energy of my soul and called upon God to strengthen me, but when I entered the room and saw my murdered sons extended both at once before my eyes and heard the sobs and groans of my family and the cries of ‘Father! Husband! Brothers!’ from the lips of their wives, children, brothers and sisters, it was too much; I sank back, crying to the Lord in the agony of my soul, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family?’ A voice replied, ‘I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest.’ … How my mind flew through every scene of sorrow and distress which we had passed, together, in which they had shown the innocence and sympathy which filled their guileless hearts. As I looked upon their peaceful, smiling countenances, I med almost to hear them say, ‘Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendency is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph’” (History of Joseph Smith,324–25).