“Lesson 26: The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 26,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
On June 7, 1844, apostate Church members and enemies of Joseph Smith published the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor, an anti-Mormon newspaper that vilified the Prophet and criticized some of the revelations, teachings, and practices that had come through him. Three days later, the Nauvoo city council and Joseph Smith, acting as the mayor of Nauvoo, declared the newspaper a public nuisance and ordered its destruction. After the newspaper press was destroyed, the Prophet’s enemies brought charges against him and members of the city council for inciting a riot. Joseph and his brother Hyrum then fled Nauvoo to avoid arrest. After deciding to surrender themselves, Joseph, Hyrum, and others, traveled to Carthage, Illinois, to stand trial. On June 27, 1844, a mob shot and killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage Jail.
- June 10, 1844
The Nauvoo city council declared the Nauvoo Expositor a public nuisance and ordered its destruction.
- June 12, 1844
Joseph Smith and members of the city council were charged with committing riot during the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press.
- June 23, 1844
Joseph and Hyrum Smith crossed the Mississippi River to avoid arrest.
- June 24, 1844
Joseph Smith and others left Nauvoo for Carthage, Illinois, to stand trial.
- June 27, 1844
Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred at Carthage Jail.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapter 44
Display the accompanying image and statement:
“Joseph and Hyrum are dead. [John] Taylor wounded. … I am well” (Willard Richards letter to Thomas Ford, Emma Smith, and others, June 27, 1844, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
Explain that these words are a portion of a message sent from Willard Richards to Emma Smith and other Saints in Nauvoo hours after Joseph and Hyrum Smith were brutally killed at Carthage Jail in Illinois on June 27, 1844. Willard Richards and John Taylor were eyewitnesses to the martyrdom.
Imagine being among Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s family and friends in Nauvoo. What thoughts and feelings would you have after hearing this tragic news?
Invite students to reflect on their thoughts and testimonies of Joseph Smith as they learn about the final days of the Prophet’s life.
Explain that by the summer of 1844, animosity toward and opposition to Joseph Smith and the Church had increased because of the growing political and economic influence of the Saints, misunderstandings related to the doctrine of exaltation and the practice of plural marriage, and misrepresentations of the Church by apostate Church members.
Write Nauvoo Expositor on the board. Explain that on June 7, 1844, apostate Church members published the first and only issue of this anti-Mormon newspaper with the intent to incite the public against the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Based on your reading of chapter 43 of Saints: Volume 1, what happened to the Nauvoo Expositor and why? (Fearing the newspaper would lead to mob violence against the Saints, the Nauvoo city council declared it a public nuisance and ordered that the press be destroyed.)
What problems did this decision lead to for Joseph Smith and the Saints? (Anti-Mormon hostilities escalated, and legal charges were brought against Joseph Smith and the city council.)
Explain that three days after the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press, the Prophet received a report that an armed mob had gathered at Carthage, Illinois, with the intent of attacking the Saints in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith, as the mayor of Nauvoo, put the city under martial law and called the Nauvoo militia to defend the city and enforce law and order. The Prophet also wrote to Illinois governor Thomas Ford to inform him of the situation. Governor Ford urged Joseph Smith and members of the city council to go to Carthage to answer the legal charges against them, promising to ensure their safety.
Ask students to locate chapter 44 of Saints: Volume 1. Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from page 540, starting with the paragraph that begins “Knowing that Carthage …” and concluding with the paragraph on page 541 that begins “That night, after saying goodbye …” Ask students to look for what the Prophet decided to do.
Why did the Prophet think it was best to leave Nauvoo?
Explain that a few men came from Nauvoo to see Joseph, including Church member Reynolds Cahoon, who carried a letter from Emma encouraging Joseph to come home. Some of the men pled with the Prophet to turn himself in, informing Joseph that “the governor intended to occupy Nauvoo with troops until he and his brother Hyrum gave themselves up” (Saints: Volume 1, 541). Some of them even accused Joseph of cowardice.
Display the following statement that Reynolds Cahoon made to the Prophet, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“You always said if the church would stick to you, you would stick to the church, now trouble comes [and] you are the first to run” (in Wandle Mace, Autobiography, circa 1890, 105, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
If you were in the Prophet’s situation, how would you feel hearing these words?
Invite a student to read the following statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith’s history aloud. Ask the class to listen for Joseph’s reply.
“Joseph replied, ‘if my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself.’
“… Joseph then turned to Hyrum … and said, ‘brother Hyrum, you are the oldest, what shall we do?’ Hyrum said, ‘let us go back and give ourselves up, and see the thing out.’ After studying a few moments Joseph said, ‘if … you go back I shall go with you, but we shall be butchered’” (Manuscript History of the Church, vol. F-1, p. 148, josephsmithpapers.org; punctuation standardized).
Explain that Joseph, Hyrum, and others departed for Carthage on the morning of June 24, 1844. Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Church member Dan Jones, who was with the Prophet as he prepared to travel to Carthage. Ask the class to listen for what Joseph Smith’s words convey about his character.
“I shall never forget that scene when [the Prophet] stood in the middle, and looking around him, then at the city and its inhabitants who were so dear to him, he said, ‘If I do not go [to Carthage], the result will be the destruction of this city and its inhabitants; and I cannot think of my dear brothers and sisters and their children suffering the scenes of Missouri again in Nauvoo; no, it is better for your brother, Joseph, to die for his brothers and sisters, for I am willing to die for them. My work is finished; the Lord has heard my prayers and has promised that we shall have rest from such cruelties before long, and so do not prevent me with your tears from going to bliss.’ And after embracing his little children who were clinging to his clothes and after bidding a tender farewell to his wife whom he loved greatly, also in tears, and after giving the last comfort to his aged, saintly mother, he addressed the entire crowd with great effect, exhorting them to be faithful in the way and with the religion which he had taught them” (Dan Jones, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother, Hyrum!” in Ronald D. Dennis, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother Hyrum by Dan Jones,” BYU Studies, vol. 24, no. 1 , 85–86).
What do the Prophet’s words and actions reveal about his character?
As part of your discussion, invite students to locate John 15:13. Explain that the Savior spoke the words in this verse to His disciples shortly before His own death. Ask students to read John 15:13 silently and consider how these words describe the Savior Jesus Christ. Invite students to report what they find.
How did Joseph Smith follow the Savior’s example of love?
Explain that as the Prophet traveled with others to Carthage, he prophesied again of his martyrdom. Invite a student to read the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) aloud:
“I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men” (D&C 135:4).
How do you think having “a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men” could help the Prophet face what lay ahead with calmness and faith?
Explain that when Joseph Smith and his companions arrived at Carthage, the town was in a riotous state. Mobs of irate people, including unruly militia members, clamored to get a glimpse of the Prophet and his brother. The next morning, Joseph, Hyrum, and members of the Nauvoo city council were released on bail to await trial for the charge of inciting a riot. Before Joseph and Hyrum could leave town, they were charged with treason against the state for declaring martial law in Nauvoo. Because treason was a non-bailable offense, the Prophet and his brother were confined to the jail in Carthage, and several of their companions chose to remain with them in the jail.
Display the accompanying image of Carthage Jail.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Dan Jones, who was with Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage Jail. Ask students to listen for what Joseph and Hyrum Smith did in Carthage Jail on the evening of June 26, 1844.
“During the evening the Patriarch [Hyrum Smith] read and commented upon copious extracts from the Book of Mormon, the imprisonments and deliverance of the servants of God for the Gospels sake; Joseph bore a powerful testimony to the guards of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon—the restoration of the Gospel, the administration of angels, and that the Kingdom of God was again upon the earth” (Dan Jones, The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, 1855, 9, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
What principles can we learn from Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s actions in Carthage Jail? (Students may identify a few principles, but ensure they identify the following: During times of difficulty, we can find comfort in studying the Book of Mormon. We can bear our testimony of the truth in any circumstance we may be in.)
Why is it especially significant that Joseph and Hyrum Smith bore powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon when their lives were in jeopardy?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Safety for the Soul,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 89).
Explain that a few days before Joseph and Hyrum were imprisoned, as Hyrum prepared to leave for Carthage, he read Ether 12:36–38 (see D&C 135:4–5). Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Ether 12:36–38. Ask the class to follow along, looking for words and phrases that may have comforted Hyrum.
What words and teachings from this scripture passage do you think may have comforted Hyrum at this difficult time?
Invite students to ponder experiences they have had in which studying the Book of Mormon has given them comfort and solace in times of difficulty. Ask a few students to share their experiences.
Encourage students to follow the examples of Joseph and Hyrum Smith by taking time to regularly study and ponder the teachings in the Book of Mormon and to share their testimony of it with others.
Explain that on June 27, 1844, Governor Thomas Ford left Carthage to speak to the Saints in Nauvoo. The day previous, the governor had met with the Prophet Joseph Smith and promised to take Joseph and Hyrum with him if he left Carthage. The governor knew that men had threatened to charge the jail and kill the prisoners, but he left for Nauvoo without Joseph and Hyrum, breaking his promise to the Prophet. Shortly after 5:00 p.m., a mob of about 100 men surrounded the jail.
To help students visualize the events of the martyrdom, display the accompanying images. Explain that the first image is the room in Carthage Jail where Joseph and Hyrum Smith, John Taylor, and Willard Richards were held.
Divide the class into groups of two or three students. Ask students to locate chapter 44 of Saints: Volume 1. Invite students to read aloud in their groups from page 550, starting with the paragraph that begins “A few minutes later …” and continuing through the end of the chapter. Ask students to visualize what the scene would have been like if they had been with the Prophet in Carthage Jail.
Write the following question on the board, and invite students to discuss it with their group:
Explain that during the attack, Willard Richards’s only injury was that his left ear was grazed by a bullet. Joseph Smith’s history records that this fulfilled a prophecy that Joseph Smith had previously made “that the time would come that the balls would fly around [Willard Richards] 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” (Manuscript History, vol. F-1, p. 183).
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 135:3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the tribute written about the Prophet Joseph Smith.
What truth can we identify regarding Joseph Smith’s contribution to the salvation of God’s children? (Students should identify a truth similar to the following: Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of people in this world than any other except Jesus Christ.)
What are some things the Prophet Joseph Smith has done for our salvation that are especially significant to you? Why?
Invite a few students to share their testimonies of the Prophet Joseph Smith with the class.
Conclude by sharing your testimony of the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapter 45 of Saints: Volume 1.