Liberty Jail

“Liberty Jail,” Friend, Sept. 1997, 48

Liberty Jail

From the Prophet Joseph Smith’s Own Account

All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7).

In 1838 the Saints in Missouri were ordered to leave the state or be killed. In October of that year, while meeting with the state militia (army) to resolve some problems, many Church leaders, including the Prophet Joseph Smith, were arrested for crimes they had not committed.

Towards evening I was waited upon by Colonel Hinkle, who stated that the officers of the militia desired to have an interview with me and some others. … I immediately complied. … Instead of being treated with … respect … , we were taken as prisoners of war, and treated with the utmost contempt.

Myself and fellow prisoners were taken to [Far West]. … I found my wife and children in tears, who feared we had been shot. … I was then obliged to take my departure. … My [wife] wept, my children clung to me, until they were thrust from me by the swords of the guards.

The prisoners were taken first to Independence, Missouri, then to Richmond, Missouri, where they were jailed while awaiting trial.

[We] were brought … for trial, charged with … high treason … , murder, burglary, arson [setting fires], robbery, and larceny [a kind of stealing]. …

Those of us who had been sentenced thereto, were [moved] to Liberty jail. …

After we were cast into prison, we heard nothing but threatenings, that, if any judge or jury, or court of any kind, should clear any of us, we should never get out of the state alive. …

Those who have not been enclosed in the walls of prison without cause … , can have but little idea how sweet the voice of a friend is; … and when the heart is sufficiently contrite, then the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers,

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. …

“If thou art called to pass through tribulation; …

“If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations … and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; … and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

“… Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 121:7; D&C 122:5–9.)

In April 1839, after being in prison for about five months, the prisoners at Liberty jail were transferred to Boone County, Missouri, for another trial. They escaped with the assistance of the sheriff and the guards and fled to Illinois to join the other Saints who had been driven from Missouri.

(See History of the Church, vol. 3, pages 188–189, 193, 209, 215, 242–243, 293.)

Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett