On June 27, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, who was the Assistant President and the Patriarch of the Church, were murdered 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.
Read Doctrine and Covenants 135:1. Imagine you are a member of the Church living in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1844, and think about how you might have felt when you received this tragic news.
Many of the Saints were overwhelmed with grief when they learned of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Reflect on your own feelings and testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith as you learn about the final days of his life.
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 outside opponents combined their efforts against the Prophet and the Church. Some citizens of Illinois began fearing and despising 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 started disliking 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 [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 263–66, 270–71.)
By June 1844, animosity against the Church had greatly intensified. Some citizens in Illinois were discussing forcing the Saints from the state, while others were plotting to kill Joseph Smith. 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. Attempting 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 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.
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 by Latter-day Saint and non–Latter-day Saint judges, but this only further angered his enemies. As reports began circulating that mobs were gathering to attack the city of Nauvoo, as mayor, Joseph Smith declared Nauvoo to be under martial law (temporary military rule), and with the direction of Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois, Joseph ordered the Nauvoo Legion to defend the city.
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 he would not come.
During this difficult time and after counseling together, the Prophet felt that if he and Hyrum left Nauvoo and traveled to the West, the Saints in Nauvoo would not be harmed. Acting on this inspiration, 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 the 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.
Read Doctrine and Covenants 135:4, looking for the prophecy Joseph Smith made near Carthage.
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
What do you think it might have been like for Joseph Smith to leave his family, knowing he would not be coming back to them?
Why do you think the Prophet was “calm as a summer’s morning” when he knew he was going “like a lamb to the slaughter”?
The Prophet knew his death would preserve the lives of the Saints.
Read Doctrine and Covenants 135:5, and notice what Hyrum read and marked before leaving for Carthage.
Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: Why do you think these verses from the book of Ether (Ether 12:36–38) might have been especially meaningful for Hyrum to read at that time?
On June 25, 1844, Joseph, Hyrum, and other leaders posted bail until a formal trial could be held to address the charge of inciting a riot. However, that evening Joseph and Hyrum were committed to Carthage Jail on the charge of treason, which Joseph and his lawyers protested was illegal because that charge had not been mentioned at their earlier bail hearing and no bail could be posted for treason, requiring them to stay in Carthage and 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 his wife, 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 being warned of plans 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.
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 overcame the Prophet and those who were with him as they sat in the jailer’s bedroom on the second floor of the jail. The Prophet asked John Taylor to sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” (see Hymns, no. 29). If you have access to this hymn (or if you can access lds.org/music/text/hymns/a-poor-wayfaring-man-of-grief), listen to, sing, or read the words and think about why they would have significance for the Prophet at that moment in his life.
Try to visualize the following events as though you were with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail:
Shortly after 5:00 p.m. on June 27, 1844, a mob of approximately 150–200 men, with their faces painted to hide their identities, surrounded the jail. The guards provided little resistance as several mobbers rushed up the stairs to the room where the Prophet, his brother Hyrum, 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 later wrote, “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 B. H. Roberts, The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo , 443).
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 three of the mobbers. The mob then forced their guns through the half-closed door, and John Taylor continued 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, was severely wounded by three more shots. Meanwhile, Willard Richards began striking the guns that came through the doorway with his cane.
Joseph Smith then decided to try to escape through a window, a decision Willard Richards believed was made to save his and John Taylor’s lives. As Willard Richards continued to deflect the mob at the door, the Prophet went to the open window and exclaimed: “O Lord, my God!” (in History of the Church, 6:618). As he did so bullets from both inside the jail and from the ground below hit the Prophet, who fell from the window, landing on the ground below. The mobbers in the jail rushed outside to assure themselves that Joseph was dead. Although there were no members of the Church nearby, 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.)
Read Doctrine and Covenants 135:3. In your scripture study journal, record any thoughts or feelings you have after reading this account of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
Read Doctrine and Covenants 135:2, and notice the description of John Taylor’s and Willard Richards’s fates.
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).
Note the phrase “to seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon” in Doctrine and Covenants 135:1. In this context, the phrase “to seal” is to permanently establish something, such as a testimony. Consider writing this explanation in your scriptures. You might also want to note the word martyrdom in verse 1. A martyr is a person who suffers death as a witness to the truth of his or her beliefs or cause. The word martyr comes “from a Greek word meaning ‘witness’” (Bible Dictionary, “Martyr”).
Read Doctrine and Covenants 135:7, looking for what the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith is a witness of.
Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: How can knowing that Joseph and Hyrum Smith sealed their witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel with their lives influence your testimony of the restored gospel?
Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture journal:
I have studied Doctrine and Covenants 135 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like share with my teacher: