The Martyrdom

MEEThinks   June 27, 2016   6 Comments on The Martyrdom

Yes, this is the anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. 27 June 1844.


On June 24, Joseph and Hyrum Smith bade farewell to their families and rode with other Nauvoo city officials toward Carthage, voluntarily surrendering 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. On the afternoon of June 27, 1844, the little group of brethren sat silent and disconsolate in the jail. One of the men asked Elder Taylor, who had a rich tenor voice, to sing to them. Soon his voice was raised: “A poor wayfaring Man of grief hath often crossed me on my way, who sued so humbly for relief that I could never answer nay.” Elder Taylor recollected that the hymn “was very much in accordance with our feelings at the time for our spirits were all depressed, dull and gloomy.” (John Taylor, quoted in History of the Church, 7:101; from John Taylor, “The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith,” in Historian’s Office, History of the Church ca. 1840s–1880, p. 47, Church Archives). Shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon, a large group of attackers stormed the jail, firing their guns at the men inside. Within a few minutes, the foul deed was done. Hyrum Smith was shot first and died almost immediately. Elder Richards miraculously received only a superficial wound; and Elder Taylor, though severely wounded, survived and later became the third President of the Church. The Prophet Joseph ran to the window and was fatally shot. The Prophet of the Restoration and his brother Hyrum had sealed their testimonies with their blood.


God protected Joseph Smith until his earthly mission was complete. In August 1842, Joseph Smith said: “My feelings at the present time are that, inasmuch as the Lord Almighty has preserved me until today, He will continue to preserve me, by the united faith and prayers of the Saints, until I have fully accomplished my mission in this life, and so firmly established the dispensation of the fullness of the priesthood in the last days, that all the powers of earth and hell can never prevail against it.”  In October 1843, the Prophet said: “I defy all the world to destroy the work of God; and I prophesy they never will have power to kill me till my work is accomplished, and I am ready to die.”  In May 1844, the Prophet said: “God will always protect me until my mission is fulfilled.”  In June 1844, the Prophet said: “I do not regard my own life. I am ready to be offered a sacrifice for this people; for what can our enemies do? Only kill the body, and their power is then at an end. Stand firm, my friends; never flinch. Do not seek to save your lives, for he that is afraid to die for the truth, will lose eternal life. Hold out to the end, and we shall be resurrected and become like Gods, and reign in celestial kingdoms, principalities, and eternal dominions.”


Early on June 27, 1844, in Carthage Jail, Joseph Smith wrote in a hasty letter to Emma Smith: “I am very much resigned to my lot, knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends … ; and as for treason, I know that I have not committed any, and they cannot prove one appearance of anything of the kind, so you need not have any fears that any harm can happen to us on that score. May God bless you all. Amen.” (Letter from Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, June 27, 1844, Carthage Jail, Carthage, Illinois; Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri; copy in Church Archives).


Before his death, Joseph Smith conferred upon the Twelve Apostles every priesthood key and power that the Lord had sealed upon him. Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of the Church, recalled: “[Joseph Smith] spent the last winter of his life, some three or four months, with the quorum of the Twelve teaching them. It was not merely a few hours ministering to them the ordinances of the gospel; but he spent day after day, week after week and month after month, teaching them and a few others the things of the kingdom of God.” (Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, Dec. 21, 1869, p. 2.)  Gordon B. Hinckley, the fifteenth President of the Church, testified: “So certain was [Joseph Smith] of the cause he led, so sure of his divinely given calling, that he placed them above the value of his own life. With prescient knowledge of his forthcoming death, he surrendered himself to those who would deliver him defenseless into the hands of a mob. He sealed his testimony with his life’s blood.”  (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 7)


PARLEY P. PRATT gave a detailed description of the Prophet Joseph Smith shortly after the martyrdom of the Prophet:  President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active; of light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself, on which the eye naturally rested with interest, and was never weary of beholding. His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint or affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with the serene and steady penetrating glance of his eye, as if he would penetrate the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heaven and comprehend all worlds. He possessed a noble boldness and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar; his rebuke terrible as the lion; his benevolence unbounded as the ocean; his intelligence universal, and his language abounding in original eloquence peculiar to himself – not polished – not studied – not smoothed and softened by education and refined by art, but flowing forth in its own native simplicity, and profusely abounding in variety of subject and manner. He interested and edified, while, at the same time, he amused and entertained his audience; and none listened to him who were ever weary with his discourse. I have even known him to retain a congregation of willing and anxious listeners for many hours together, in the midst of cold or sunshine, rain or wind, while they were laughing at one moment and weeping the next. Even his most bitter enemies were generally overcome, if he could once get their ears…. In short, in him the character of a Daniel and a Cyrus were wonderfully blended. The gifts, wisdom, and devotion of a Daniel were united with the boldness, courage, temperance, perseverance and generosity of a Cyrus. And had he been spared a martyr’s fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endowed with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world in many respects, and to have transmitted to posterity a name associated with more brilliant and glorious acts than has yet fallen to the lot of mortal.  (The Historical Record, VII, January, 1888, pp. 575-576).


GEORGE Q. CANNON wrote this about when he first saw the Prophet Joseph Smith: (He had been converted in England in 1840 at the age of 15 and came to Nauvoo two years later).  This is what he wrote in his book, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet:  It was the author’s privilege thus to meet the Prophet for the first time. The occasion was the arrival of a large company of Latter‑day Saints at the upper landing at Nauvoo. The general conference of the Church was in session and large numbers crowded to the landing place to welcome the emigrants. Nearly every prominent man in the community was there. Familiar with the names of all and the persons of many of the prominent elders, the author sought with a boy’s curiosity and eagerness to discover those whom he knew, and especially to get sight of the Prophet and his brother Hyrum, neither of whom he had ever met. When his eyes fell upon the Prophet, without a word from anyone to point him out, or any reason to separate him from others who stood around, he knew him instantly. He would have known him among ten thousand. There was that about him, which, to the author’s eyes, “distinguished him from all the men he had ever seen.”  (George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1964), 20‑21).


OTHER REFERENCES (I know there are many more):  Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “JOSEPH, THE MAN AND THE PROPHET,” Ensign May 1996 /  Elder Tad R. Callister, “JOSEPH SMITH – PROPHET OF THE RESTORATION,” Ensign November 2009  /  Elder Neil L. Andersen, “JOSEPH SMITH,” Ensign November 2014  /  Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, “THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH,” Ensign May 2014  /  There is an article about the martyrdom written by Brother Joseph I. Bentley (currently president of the Newport Beach California Temple). Here’s a link:   Brother Bentley, an attorney, also wrote “Road to Martyrdom: Joseph Smith’s Last Legal Cases.” It can be found in BYU Studies, Volume 19, #2, Winter 1979

Elder Dallin H. Oaks co-authored a book about the martyrdom with Marvin S. Hill: Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith. It’s available on I read a copy my Dad had, and it’s fascinating. This is what they (the authors) wrote about the book:  Our book is intended to have significance for both scholar and layman. We have tried to look at the trial as a significant legal event in Mormon and American history. But we have tried not to lose sight of the fact that good history is good narrative. Our introduction and concluding chapter may be of special significance for the scholar, but for most readers the point of interest will be the story between.



6 thoughts on “The Martyrdom

  1. Janet Kerr

    Thanks for the reminder. I so enjoyed reading this. I read another article that was in today about what the newspapers in the 1800s said about the martydom. I found it very interesting and thought you might like to read it. I tried posting the link here, but it didn’t look like it would link you over. So I posted a link on your Facebook page if you’re interested.

    Yes, “Praise to the Man” indeed, in fact Praise to the Men, both of them. I so look forward to hearing them speak someday and possibly meeting them. Oh what an experience that will be. Just the thought of it makes me tear up.

  2. Leanne

    What a beautiful reminder of the man who changed the world for those who come to know he truly did restore the fullness of Christ’s gospel to the earth. I look forward to the day when I thank Joseph, Hyrum, Emma, and so many others!!

  3. Karen G Stout

    Mary Ellen, thank you for this moving, insightful article about the martyrdom of “Brother Joseph” and “Brother Hyrum,” and especially for the glimpse into Joseph Smith’s countenance and personality. I am looking forward to meeting him in the eternities, and thanking him for the incredible sacrifices he was willing to make to bring the full gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth again. He was not a perfect man, because he was human and fallible. But he was not worthy of the scorn and dismissal some have expressed toward him in the past few years. He accomplished so much for good in his short life, and my heart swells with pride and love for him when I sing “Praise to the Man.” Thank you for a wonderful start to my day!


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