“The Seventh Trouble,” chapter 39 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 39: “The Seventh Trouble”
On August 11, 1842, a sliver of moon reflected in the dark current as Joseph and his friend Erastus Derby silently paddled a skiff down the Mississippi. Ahead, they could see the outline of two wooded islands in the stretch of river between Nauvoo and Montrose. Steering between the islands, the men caught sight of another boat beached along a bank and paddled toward it.1
The day before, Joseph and Porter had slipped out of Nauvoo to avoid arrest, worried they would not get a fair trial. Porter had gone east to leave the state while Joseph had gone west, crossing the river to his uncle John’s house in Iowa Territory, beyond the jurisdiction of the Illinois sheriff and his men. He had been hiding there all day, but he had grown anxious to see family and friends.
When Joseph and Erastus landed their skiff on the island, Emma, Hyrum, and some of Joseph’s close friends greeted them. Taking Emma’s hand, Joseph listened as the group sat in the boat and spoke quietly about the situation in Nauvoo.2
The danger was greater than Joseph had expected. His friends had heard that the governor of Iowa had issued an arrest warrant for him and Porter as well, meaning it was no longer safe for Joseph to hide at his uncle’s house. They now expected sheriffs on both sides of the river to be searching for him.
Still, Joseph’s friends believed the arrest attempts were illegal, a shameless scheme by his enemies in Missouri to capture the prophet. For now, the best thing for Joseph to do was to hide out at a friend’s farm back on the Illinois side of the river and wait until things calmed down.3
As Joseph left the island, his heart overflowed with gratitude. Others had abandoned and betrayed him time and time again in the face of adversity. But these friends had come to help him in the dark of night, choosing to stand beside him and the truths he cherished.
“They are my brethren,” he thought, “and I shall live.”
Yet he felt the most gratitude for Emma. “Again she is here,” he thought, “even in the seventh trouble, undaunted, firm and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma!”4
Emma communicated regularly with Joseph over the following days and weeks. When they could not meet in person, they exchanged letters. When she could evade the lawmen who watched her every action, she joined him at a safe house and strategized about their next move. Often she relayed Joseph’s messages to and from the Saints, choosing which people he should trust and dodging those who meant him harm.5
With sheriffs threatening to search every house in Illinois if necessary, Joseph knew the Saints worried that he would soon be captured and taken back to Missouri. Some of his friends urged him to escape to the pine forests north of Illinois, where Saints were harvesting timber for the temple.6
Joseph hated the idea of running away, preferring to stay in Illinois and see the crisis to the end. But he was willing to go if that was what Emma wanted to do. “My safety is with you,” he wrote. “If you and the children go not with me, I don’t go.”
Part of him yearned to take his family somewhere else, if only for a short time. “I am tired of the mean, low, and unhallowed vulgarity of some portions of the society in which we live,” he told Emma, “and I think if I could have a respite of about six months with my family, it would be a savor of life unto life.”7
Emma responded to his letter later that day. “I am ready to go with you if you are obliged to leave,” she wrote, “but still I feel good confidence that you can be protected without leaving this country. There are more ways than one to take care of you.”8
The next evening, she wrote a letter to Illinois governor Thomas Carlin assuring him of Joseph’s innocence. Joseph was not in Missouri when the assassination attempt took place, she reasoned, and he was innocent of the charges against him. She believed that Joseph would never get a fair trial in Missouri and would likely be murdered instead.
“I beg you to spare my innocent children the heartrending sorrow of again seeing their father unjustly dragged to prison, or to death,” she pleaded.9
The governor responded to Emma a short time later. His letter was polite and carefully worded, insisting that his actions against Joseph were motivated strictly by a sense of duty. He expressed hope that Joseph would submit to the law, and he gave no indication that he was willing to change his mind on the matter.10
Undeterred, Emma wrote a second letter, this time explaining why arresting her husband was illegal.
“What good can accrue to this state or the United States, or any part of this state or the United States, or to yourself, or any other individual,” she asked the governor, “to continue this persecution upon this people, or upon Mr. Smith?”
She sent the letter and waited for a reply.11
Meanwhile, most Saints in Nauvoo were unaware that Joseph was hiding only a few miles away. Some of them believed he had returned to Washington, DC. Others thought he had gone to Europe. As they watched the sheriff and his officers prowl the streets of Nauvoo, searching for clues to Joseph’s whereabouts, the Saints grew anxious about his safety.12 Yet they trusted that the Lord would protect His prophet, and they went on with day-to-day life.
Like other British immigrants, Mary Davis was still adjusting to her new home in Nauvoo. Since arriving in the city, she had married Peter Maughan, the young widower she had met in Kirtland, becoming stepmother to his children. Together they rented the home of Orson Hyde, who was still on his mission to Jerusalem, and struggled to find suitable work to support their family.13
Nauvoo provided plenty of jobs for farm laborers and builders but fewer opportunities for skilled laborers like Peter, who had lived and worked in the busy mining and manufacturing centers of England. Local entrepreneurs were trying to establish mills, factories, and foundries in Nauvoo, but these businesses were only getting started and could not employ all the skilled laborers pouring in from England.14
Lacking steady work, Mary and Peter had survived their first winter by selling some of their possessions to buy food and firewood. When Joseph learned about Peter’s work as a miner in England, he had hired him to extract a vein of coal discovered on land he owned south of Nauvoo. The coal proved to be of superior quality, and Peter retrieved three wagonloads for Joseph before exhausting the vein.15
Some poor immigrant families left Nauvoo to find better-paying work in neighboring towns and cities, but Mary and Peter chose to stay in the city and make do with what they had. They laid out wooden planks on the unfinished floor of the Hyde house and put down feather mattresses for beds. They used a chest for a table and stored their dishes out in the open because they had no cupboards.16
Summertime heat in Nauvoo could be stifling, but when temperatures cooled in the afternoons and evenings, families like the Maughans set their chores aside and strolled together through the city. The streets were often full of people chatting about politics, local news, and the gospel. Sometimes the Saints held lectures, attended plays, or listened to the newly formed Nauvoo Brass Band fill the air with the popular music of the day. Groups of children were never far away, shooting marbles, jumping rope, and playing other outdoor games until the sun dipped behind the Mississippi and stars flickered in the darkening sky.17
By the end of August, the letters John Bennett had published earlier that summer were being reprinted in newspapers across the country, damaging the church’s reputation and making it harder for missionaries to share the message of the restored gospel. In response, church leaders called hundreds of elders on missions to combat the negative press.
On August 29, the elders met in the grove near the temple site to receive instruction. During Hyrum’s address, a stir passed through the congregation when Joseph climbed onto the stand and took a seat. Many of the elders had not seen him since he went into hiding earlier that month.
Illinois authorities were still hunting Joseph, but they had recently left the area, allowing Joseph to relax his guard somewhat. For a little more than a week, he had been living quietly at home with his family and meeting privately with the Twelve and other church leaders.18
Two days after the conference with the elders, Joseph felt safe enough to attend a Relief Society meeting. He spoke to the women about his recent trials and the accusations made against him. “Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charged with doing,” he said. “The wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature, like other men. No man lives without fault.”
He thanked Emma and the other women for defending him and petitioning the governor in his behalf. “The Female Relief Society has taken the most active part in my welfare against my enemies,” he said. “If these measures had not been taken, more serious consequences would have resulted.”19
That weekend, he and Emma hosted former apostle John Boynton. Although John had been a dissenter—and had even threatened Joseph’s brother with a sword in the Kirtland temple—he had put his differences with Joseph behind him. As the family ate their noonday meal, an Illinois sheriff and two armed officers barged into the house with new orders to arrest the prophet. John distracted the men, giving Joseph time to duck out the back door, cut through the cornstalks in his garden, and take cover in his store.
At the house, Emma demanded to see the sheriff’s search warrant. He told her he did not have one and pushed past her with his men. They rummaged from room to room, searching behind every door and curtain, but found nothing.
That night, after the lawmen had left town, Joseph moved into the home of his friends Edward and Ann Hunter.20 “I have thought it expedient and wisdom in me to leave the place for a short season, for my own safety and the safety of this people,” Joseph wrote the Saints a few days later. He did not wish to dwell on his trials, though, and he shared a new revelation with them about baptism for the dead.
“Verily thus saith the Lord,” read the revelation, “let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease.” The Lord instructed the Saints to keep a record of the proxy baptisms they performed and to provide witnesses for them, so that the redemption of the dead might be recorded on earth and in heaven.21
A few days later, Joseph sent the Saints additional instructions about the ordinance. “The earth will be smitten with a curse, unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children,” he wrote, paraphrasing Malachi. He explained that generations past and present were to work together to redeem the dead and bring about the fullness of times, when the Lord would reveal all the keys, powers, and glories He held in reserve for the Saints, including things He had never revealed before.
Joseph’s joy in God’s mercy toward the living and dead could not be contained. Even in hiding, unjustly hunted by his enemies, he exulted in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
“What do we hear in the gospel?” he asked the Saints. “A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth!” He wrote jubilantly of the Book of Mormon, of angels restoring the priesthood and its keys, and of God revealing His plan line upon line and precept upon precept.
“Shall we not go on in so great a cause?” he asked. “Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel.” All creation testified of Jesus Christ, and His victory over sin and death was certain.
“How glorious is the voice we hear from heaven!” Joseph rejoiced.22
In the fall of 1842, Governor Carlin responded to Emma’s second letter, expressing admiration for her devotion to her husband but ultimately refusing to help her.23 Around the same time, John Bennett published a book-length exposé of Joseph and the Saints. He also started giving lectures on what he called “The Secret Wife System at Nauvoo,” tantalizing audiences with wild rumors he had heard—and plenty he had made up himself—about Joseph’s plural marriages.24
With John’s aggressive campaign in full swing, and Governor Carlin refusing to intervene, Joseph felt more and more cornered. He knew he could not give himself up and stand trial as long as his enemies in Missouri wanted him dead. But neither could he stay in hiding for the rest of his life. How long could he evade arrest before the state turned on his family and the Saints for protecting him?25
In December, after Joseph had been in hiding for three months, Governor Carlin’s term ended. Although the new governor, Thomas Ford, refused to interfere directly in Joseph’s case, he expressed sympathy for the prophet’s plight and confidence that the courts would rule in his favor.26
Joseph did not know if he could trust the new governor, but he had no better option. The day after Christmas 1842, he surrendered himself to Wilson Law, a general in the Nauvoo Legion and William Law’s brother. They then made their way to Springfield, the state capital, for a hearing to determine whether the Missouri governor’s demand for Joseph’s arrest was legal and whether he would be sent back to Missouri to stand trial.27
Joseph’s arrival in Springfield caused an uproar. Curious spectators crowded the courtroom across the street from the new capitol building, pressing together and craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the man who called himself a prophet of God.
“Which is Joe Smith?” someone asked. “Is it that big man?”
“What a sharp nose!” said someone else. “He is too smiling for a prophet!”28
Judge Nathaniel Pope, one of the most respected men in Illinois, presided over the courtroom. Joseph sat with his lawyer, Justin Butterfield, at the front of the courtroom. Nearby, Willard Richards, acting as Joseph’s secretary, hunched over an open notebook, taking down a record of the proceedings. Several other Saints crowded into the room.29
In Judge Pope’s mind, Joseph’s case was not about whether the prophet was an accomplice in the Boggs shooting, but whether he had been in Missouri when the crime occurred and then fled the state. Josiah Lamborn, Illinois’s young district attorney, focused his opening statements on Joseph’s alleged prophecy about Boggs’s demise. He reasoned that if Joseph had prophesied Boggs’s shooting, then he ought to be held accountable and tried in Missouri.30
When Mr. Lamborn finished his statement, Joseph’s lawyer argued that Governor Boggs’s accusations and the charges against Joseph were faulty, since Joseph had not been in Missouri when the shooting took place. “There is not a particle of testimony that Joseph has fled from Missouri,” Mr. Butterfield reasoned. “He is not subject to be transported till it is proven that he is a fugitive. They must prove he had fled!”
He then presented the court with witness testimonies confirming Joseph’s innocence. “I do not think the defendant ought under any circumstances to be delivered up to Missouri,” he concluded.31
The next morning, January 5, 1843, the courtroom buzzed with anticipation as Joseph and his lawyers returned to hear the judge’s ruling. The Saints waited anxiously, knowing that if Judge Pope decided against Joseph, the prophet could easily be in the hands of his enemies by nightfall.
Judge Pope arrived shortly after nine o’clock. Taking his seat, he thanked the attorneys and began to voice his decision. He had much to say on the case, and as he spoke, Willard Richards hurried to write down every word.
As the defense attorney had argued the day before, the judge concluded that Joseph had been summoned to stand trial in Missouri illegally. “Smith must be discharged,” he declared, seeing no reason to detain Joseph any longer.
Joseph rose from his chair and bowed to the court. After five months of hiding, he was finally free.32