“Lesson 19: Experiences in Liberty Jail and Far West,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 19,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
Experiences in Liberty Jail and Far West
Introduction and Timeline
On December 1, 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin were transferred to the Clay County jail, later known as Liberty Jail, in Liberty, Missouri. While the Prophet and his associates suffered in jail, the Saints were forced to leave the state of Missouri as a result of Governor Boggs’s extermination order. On April 16, 1839, while the prisoners were being transferred to another location, they were allowed to escape, and they rejoined the Saints and their families in Illinois. Two days after the Prophet’s escape, Brigham Young and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began traveling to Far West, Missouri, to obey the Lord’s command to lay the cornerstone for a temple (see D&C 115:11–12).
December 1, 1838
Joseph Smith and five others were transferred to Liberty Jail.
The Saints evacuated from Missouri.
April 16, 1839
Joseph Smith and his companions were allowed to escape.
April 26, 1839
Apostles and other Church members laid the southeast cornerstone for the Far West temple.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapter 33
Suggestions for Teaching
The Prophet Joseph Smith and five other brethren suffer in Liberty Jail
Display the accompanying image of Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, and write the following question on the board: “O God, where art thou?” (D&C 121:1).
Based on your reading of chapter 33 of Saints: Volume 1, what circumstances led the Prophet Joseph Smith to ask this question? (If necessary, remind students that Joseph Smith and five other brethren had been separated from their families and imprisoned in inhumane conditions while other Saints had been robbed of their property, driven from their homes, abused, and in some cases killed.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how Elder Holland described Joseph Smith’s question.
“That is a painful, personal cry—a cry from the heart, a spiritual loneliness we may all have occasion to feel at some time in our lives” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lessons from Liberty Jail” [Brigham Young University fireside, Sept. 7, 2008], 5, speeches.byu.edu).
Invite students to think about times when they or someone they know has experienced pain, spiritual loneliness, or other afflictions. Ask students to look for truths during today’s lesson that can help them when they and those they love experience afflictions.
Remind students that Joseph Smith and several other brethren were taken prisoner by the Missouri militia in Far West on October 31, 1838. The militia marched the men from Far West to Independence and then to Richmond, Missouri. In Richmond, Joseph Smith and the other brethren were brought before Judge Austin A. King, who offered to free those who would “renounce [their] religion and forsake the Prophet” (Justin R. Bray, “Within the Walls of Liberty Jail,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 257, or history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Each of them refused the offer. During the preliminary hearing, Judge King decided to hold Joseph Smith and the other brethren, several of them Church leaders, as prisoners while they awaited trial on charges of treason. On December 1, 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Caleb Baldwin, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, and Alexander McRae were taken to the jail in Liberty, Missouri. (See Bray, “Within the Walls of Liberty Jail,” 256–63, or history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.)
Display the accompanying photograph of Liberty Jail, taken about forty years after the Prophet was imprisoned there. Explain that this is close to how the jail would have appeared when Joseph Smith and five other brethren were imprisoned there.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland regarding Liberty Jail:
“The jail, one of the few and certainly one of the more forbidding of such structures in that region, was considered escape proof, and it probably was. It had two stories. The top or main floor was accessible to the outside world only by a single small, heavy door. In the middle of that floor was a trapdoor through which prisoners were then lowered into the lower floor or dungeon. The outside walls of the prison were of rough-hewn limestone two feet thick, with inside walls of 12-inch oak logs. These two walls were separated by a 12-inch space filled with loose rock. Combined, these walls made a formidable, virtually impenetrable barrier four feet thick” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lessons from Liberty Jail” [Brigham Young University fireside, Sept. 7, 2008], 2, speeches.byu.edu).
Display the accompanying image, and explain that it is a photograph of a reconstruction of the interior of Liberty Jail, including the dungeon area where the prisoners were kept.
Divide students into groups of two or three, and give them copies of the accompanying handout, “Conditions in Liberty Jail.” Invite them to read the handout and discuss in their groups their responses to the question on the handout.
After students have had sufficient time to review the handout, display the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“Most of us, most of the time, speak of the facility at Liberty as a ‘jail’ or a ‘prison’—and certainly it was that. But Elder Brigham H. Roberts, in recording the history of the Church, spoke of the facility as a temple, or, more accurately, a ‘prison-temple’ [see B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, chapter 38 heading, 1:521]” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lessons from Liberty Jail” [Brigham Young University fireside, Sept. 7, 2008], 3, speeches.byu.edu).
Considering everything Joseph Smith and the other prisoners experienced in Liberty Jail, in what ways do you think the jail could be likened to a temple? (The jail was a place where the Prophet Joseph Smith drew close to the Lord and received revelation.)
Explain that the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated two letters to the Saints in March 1839 that contained some of the revelations he received. Portions of these letters are included in Doctrine and Covenants 121–23.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–9 aloud, and invite another student to read Doctrine and Covenants 122:7–9 aloud. Ask the class to look for what the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith about adversity.
What principles can we identify from the Lord’s promises to Joseph Smith regarding his afflictions? (Students may identify several principles, including the following: If we endure our afflictions well, all that we suffer will give us experience and be for our good. Write this principle on the board.)
What do you think it means to endure our afflictions well?
Display the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and invite a student to read it aloud. Ask the class to listen for what Elder Holland taught about how our afflictions can give us experience and be for our good if we endure them well.
“You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in any situation you are in. Indeed, let me say that even a little stronger: You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.
“… Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace. …
“… When suffering, we may in fact be nearer to God than we’ve ever been in our entire lives. That knowledge can turn every such situation into a would-be temple” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lessons from Liberty Jail” [Brigham Young University fireside, Sept. 7, 2008], 3–4, 6, speeches.byu.edu).
What stands out to you in this statement by Elder Holland?
How does choosing to be humble, faithful, and believing help prepare our hearts to receive revelation from the Lord regardless of our circumstances?
When have you felt that a particular affliction has given you helpful experience and been for your good? (Remind students not to share anything that is too sacred or personal. You may also want to share an experience.)
Ask students to think about an affliction they may be experiencing. After sufficient time, invite them to write a plan describing what they will do to endure that affliction well.
Explain that in April 1839, while being escorted to Boone County, Missouri, Joseph Smith and his companions were allowed to escape. They made their way to Quincy, Illinois, where they rejoined their families.
Apostles travel back to Far West and fulfill the Lord’s commandment
Ask students to locate chapter 33 of Saints: Volume 1. Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from page 386, starting with the paragraph that begins “While Joseph wrestled …” and concluding with the paragraph on page 387 that begins “He wanted the apostles in Quincy …”
If you had to decide whether or not to return to Far West, what do you think you would choose to do? Why?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98). Ask the class to listen for how the Apostles responded to the Lord’s command.
“The Twelve Apostles were called by revelation to go to Far West … to lay the foundation of the cornerstone of the Temple. … The Missourians had sworn by all the Gods of eternity that if every other revelation given through Joseph Smith were fulfilled, that should not be. … The general feeling in the Church, so far as I know, was that, under the circumstances it was impossible to accomplish the work; and the Lord would accept the will for the deed. … When President Young asked the question of the Twelve, ‘Brethren, what will you do about this?’ The reply was: ‘The Lord has spoken and it is for us to obey.’ We felt that the Lord God had given … the commandment and we had faith to go forward and accomplish it, feeling that it was His business whether we lived or died in its accomplishment” (Wilford Woodruff, “Discourse,” Deseret News, Dec. 22, 1869, 543).
What principles can we learn from the example of these Apostles? (Students may identify several principles, including the following: We can choose to obey the Lord’s commandments regardless of the circumstances. As we place our trust in the Lord, we can accomplish what He has commanded.)
Explain that early in the morning on the appointed day of April 26, 1839, Brigham Young and four other Apostles, accompanied by other Church members, walked to the temple site in Far West. Alpheus Cutler, who was to be the master workman of the temple, rolled a large stone to the southeast corner of the temple lot. The small group sang hymns and prayed. In addition, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith were ordained as Apostles to fill vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve. As the small group of Saints prepared to depart Far West, Theodore Turley stopped at the home of his old friend, Isaac Russell, who had apostatized from the Church and remained in Far West. Isaac was astounded that Theodore was in Far West with members of the Twelve and that the Lord’s prophecy given through Joseph Smith had been fulfilled (see Manuscript History of the Church, vol. C-1, addenda, 26 April 1839, second of two entries, p. 14).
Conclude by testifying of the truths you have discussed in this lesson, and encourage students to act on those truths.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapters 34–35 of Saints: Volume 1.