“Lesson 23 Class Preparation Material: The Prophetic Mission and the Martyrdom of Joseph Smith,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)
“Lesson 23 Class Preparation Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material
“Joseph and Hyrum are dead. [John] Taylor wounded. … I am well.” These words are a portion of a message Willard Richards sent to Emma Smith and other Saints in Nauvoo just hours after Joseph and Hyrum Smith were brutally killed at Carthage Jail on the evening of June 27, 1844 (Willard Richards letter, Carthage Jail, June 27, 1844, Church History Library, Salt Lake City). Imagine the thoughts and feelings Emma and the Saints might have had while they read these words.
The Saints’ growing political and economic influence was viewed as a threat by neighboring communities. By the summer of 1844, opposition to Joseph Smith and the Church had greatly intensified. Some who had left the Church conspired to inflame public opinion against the Prophet. Some Illinois citizens discussed driving the Saints from the state, while others plotted to kill the Prophet.
On June 10, 1844, Joseph Smith, who was the mayor of Nauvoo, and the Nauvoo city council ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the press on which it was printed. The Nauvoo Expositor was an anti-Mormon newspaper that slandered the Prophet and other Saints and called for the repeal of the Nauvoo Charter. City officials feared that this publication would lead to mob action. As a result of the action by the mayor and city council, Illinois authorities brought an unfounded charge of riot against the Prophet, his brother Hyrum, and other Nauvoo city officials. The governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford, ordered the men to stand trial in Carthage, Illinois, the county seat, and promised them protection. Joseph knew that if he went to Carthage, his life would be in great danger from the mobs who were threatening him. …
… On June 24, Joseph and Hyrum Smith bade farewell to their families and rode with other Nauvoo city officials toward Carthage. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 529–30)
Complete one or both of the following activities:
Watch the video “Ministry of Joseph Smith: Sealed His Testimony with His Blood” (1:14).
Study the rest of section 1.
As the Prophet traveled with others to Carthage, he prophesied of his martyrdom.
Joseph and Hyrum “voluntarily surrender[ed] themselves to county officials in Carthage the next day. After the brothers had been released on bail for the initial charge, they were falsely charged with treason against the state of Illinois, arrested, and imprisoned in Carthage Jail to await a hearing. Elders John Taylor and Willard Richards, the only members of the Twelve who were not then serving missions, voluntarily joined them” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 530).
Complete one or both of the following activities:
Watch the video “Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration,” which depicts the scene of Joseph and Hyrum’s death, from time codes 0:00 to 3:20.
Read the following narrative from Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days:
Time passed slowly in the Carthage jail that afternoon. In the summer heat, the men left their coats off and opened the windows to let in a breeze. Outside, eight men … guarded the jail while the rest of the militia camped nearby. Another guard sat just on the other side of the door.
Stephen Markham, Dan Jones, and others were running errands for Joseph. Of the men who had stayed there the night before, only Willard Richards and John Taylor were still with Joseph and Hyrum. Earlier in the day, visitors had smuggled two guns to the prisoners—a six-shooter revolver and a single-shot pistol—in case of an attack. Stephen had also left behind a sturdy walking stick he called the “rascal beater.”
To ease the mood and pass the time, John sang a British hymn. …
[Shortly after John Taylor sang the hymn for the second time] the prisoners heard a rustling at the door and the crack of three or four gunshots. Willard glanced out the open window and saw a hundred men below, their faces blackened with mud and gunpowder, storming the entry to the jail. Joseph grabbed one of the pistols while Hyrum seized the other. … All four men pressed themselves against the door as the mob rushed up the stairs and tried to force their way inside.
Gunfire sounded in the stairwell as the mob shot at the door. … [A] ball splintered through the wood. It struck Hyrum in the face and he turned, stumbling away from the door. Another ball struck him in the lower back. …
“Brother Hyrum!” Joseph cried. Gripping his six-shooter, he opened the door a few inches and fired once. More musket balls flew into the room, and Joseph fired haphazardly at the mob while John [Taylor] used a cane to beat down the gun barrels and bayonets thrust through the doorway.
After Joseph’s revolver misfired two or three times, John ran to the window and tried to climb the deep windowsill. A musket ball flew across the room and struck him in the leg, tipping him off balance. His body went numb and he crashed against the window sill, smashing his pocket watch at sixteen minutes past five o’clock.
“I am shot!” he cried.
John dragged himself across the floor and rolled under the bed as the mob fired again and again. A ball ripped into his hip, tearing away a chunk of flesh. Two more balls struck his wrist and the bone just above his knee.
Across the room, Joseph and Willard strained to put all their weight against the door as Willard knocked away the musket barrels and bayonets in front of him. Suddenly, Joseph dropped his revolver to the floor and darted for the window. As he straddled the windowsill, two balls struck his back. Another ball hurtled through the window and pierced him below the heart.
“O Lord, my God,” he cried. His body lurched forward and he pitched headfirst out the window.
Willard rushed across the room and stuck his head outside as lead balls whistled past him. Below he saw the mob swarming around Joseph’s bleeding body. …
Joseph Smith, the prophet and seer of the Lord, was dead. (Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 , 548–552; see also Doctrine and Covenants 135:1–2)
Under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a written announcement of the martyrdom was prepared based on the eyewitness accounts of Elder John Taylor and Elder Willard Richards. This announcement is now recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 135.