On June 27, 1844, a mob, spurred by vigilante justice, stormed the Carthage Jail,1 which held the Prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum,2 and two associates. The attackers charged the second-floor room and fired their guns. “Joseph and Hyrum are dead,” Willard Richards3 (who survived the attack) wrote in a quick dispatch to the Saints of Nauvoo. “Taylor wounded, not very badly. I am well. . . . The job was done in an instant.”4
Martyred for the cause of Christ, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum sealed their work with their blood. In a hasty letter from Carthage, written that morning before his death to his wife Emma, the Prophet Joseph wrote: “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.”5
Wrote John Taylor, who survived the attack on the prison at Carthage: “As our Prophet he approached our God, and obtained for us his will; but now our Prophet, our counselor, our general, our leader, was gone. . . . He had spoken for the last time on earth.”6
Joseph Smith Quotes
“‘Father, forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me,’ for I freely forgive all men. If we would secure and cultivate the love of others, we must love others, even our enemies as well as friends. . . . I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world is a good heart and a good hand. The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon.’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination. . . . It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul” (History of the Church, 5:498; paragraph divisions altered).
“I am a lover of the cause of Christ and of virtue, chastity, and an upright, steady course of conduct and a holy walk. I despise a hypocrite or a covenant breaker. I judge them not; God shall judge them according to their works. I am a lover even of mine enemies, for an enemy seeketh to destroy openly. I can pray for those who despitefully use and persecute me, but for all I cannot hope” (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee (2002), 272; spelling, capitalization, and punctuation modernized).
“Persecution has not stopped the progress of truth, but has only added fuel to the flame, it has spread with increasing rapidity. Proud of the cause which they have espoused, and conscious of our innocence, and of the truth of their system, amidst calumny and reproach, have the Elders of this Church gone forth, and planted the Gospel in almost every state in the Union. . . . It has also spread into England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales” (History of the Church, 4:540).
John Taylor, Third President of the Church, 1880–1887
“When I reflected that our noble chieftain, the Prophet of the living God, had fallen, and that I had seen his brother in the cold embrace of death, it seemed as though there was a void or vacuum in the great field of human existence to me, and a dark gloomy chasm in the kingdom, and that we were left alone. Oh, how lonely was that feeling! How cold, barren and desolate! In the midst of difficulties he was always the first in motion; in critical positions his counsel was always sought” (History of the Church, 7:106).
Parley P. Pratt, Apostle, 1835–1857
“He [Joseph Smith] has organized the kingdom of God.—We will extend its dominion.
“He has restored the fulness of the Gospel.—We will spread it abroad. . . .
“He has kindled up the dawn of a day of glory.—We will bring it to its meridian splendour. . . .
“In short, he quarried the stone . . . ; we will cause it to become a great mountain and fill the whole earth” (Millennial Star, Mar. 1845, 151–52).
Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the Church, 1995–2008
“Joseph Smith never saw the day of which we are a part, except through the vision of a seer. He died that sultry 27 June 1844, at Carthage, Illinois. . . .
“Now, 167 years since the organization of the Church, we are inclined to exclaim, ‘What hath God wrought through the instrumentality of His servant Joseph!’
“I give you my testimony of him. He was the ordained servant of God, this Joseph, raised up to become the mighty prophet of this dispensation—‘a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ’ (D&C 21:1)” (“What Hath God Wrought through His Servant Joseph!,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 4).
What does it mean to be a martyr?
A martyr is “a person who gives his life rather than forsake Christ, the gospel, or his righteous beliefs or principles” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Martyr, Martyrdom,” scriptures.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Zacharias (see Matthew 23:35), Stephen (see Acts 7:59), and Abinadi (see Mosiah 17:20) were such men. Most people, however, are called not to die for Christ but to live a life devoted to Him and His teachings.
What happened during those few minutes in Carthage Jail?
As the mob ascended the stairs, Hyrum and the others moved to hold the door, which had no functional lock. Hyrum fell first from a ball that passed through the door and struck him in the face. Receiving more wounds as he fell, Hyrum exclaimed, “I am a dead man.” Joseph leaned over his older brother and exclaimed, “Oh, dear brother Hyrum!” As Joseph moved toward the window, the mob fired at him from within the jail and from outside. “Oh Lord, my God!” were his last words, his body lifeless by the time it struck the ground below the window. John Taylor received four wounds, while Willard Richards escaped serious harm (see History of the Church, 6:619–21). Then the cowards who murdered the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum fled.
Was Joseph’s work on earth done?
“Was there frustration in the martyrdom of Joseph Smith?” asked President Spencer W. Kimball. “Joseph was protected and his life saved in every instance of persecution until his work was finished and he had done his part in the restoration of the gospel and the priesthood and all other keys of the dispensation, and until the organization of the kingdom was effected. He could not be killed before that time, though all hell raged against him” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1945, 59).
Online Resources at ChurchofJesusChrist.org
“The Martyrdom”—Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 273–85
“The Martyrdom”—in “Sacrifice and Blessings in Nauvoo,” Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996), 62–66
Online Resources at BYU
“All Things Move in Order in the City: The Nauvoo Diary of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs”—Maureen U. Beecher, BYU Studies, vol. 19, no. 3 (1979): 285–320
Describes the events of the martyrdom, the succession of the Presidency, the trial of Joseph’s murderers, the building of the temple, and increased persecution.