October 15, 2023

What happened at Carthage Jail

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Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have heard of Carthage Jail, the location of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was at Carthage Jail when evil forces combined to take the life of the Prophet Josep and his brother Hyrum Smith. Years of uncertainty, and hiding for the prophet finally came to an end at Carthage Jail.

Carthage Jail is located about 13 miles South East of Nauvoo, 23 miles on State 96 and US 136. The Jail is located on the NE corner of Fayette and Walnut Streets with parking on the south side.

Carthage Jail was built 1840-1842, and its 400 yards from the courthouse. The jail is 34-by-28 foot stone building, and it two stories high with 2.5 foot thick walls. Part of the jail was the residence of the jailers family.

Joseph F. Smith purchased the jail on November 5, 1903 for 4,000$. It was the first historical landmark purchased by the Church. In 1984 the Church acquired the whole block where the jail is located. A new visitors center and grounds were dedicated in June 1989.

Martyrdom of Joseph Smith

The martyrdom of Joseph Smith took place on June 27, 1844. Joseph had voluntarily traveled to Carthage to meet in court on indictments filed by the proprietors of the Nauvoo Expositor, regarding the destruction of their printing press. On June 21, 1844 Governor Thomas Ford came to Nauvoo to investigate the problem.

On June 25, 1844 Joseph Smith, Hyrum, and 13 others were charged with rioting and destroying the press of the Nauvoo Expositor. The men were arrested fro treason based on a warrant founded upon the otaths of H.O. Norton and Augustine Spencer. That evening the sheriff Bettisworth came to take Hyrum and Joseph to jail to await the trial for treason. The Sheriff produced a mittimus which Justice Robert F. Smith had signed without conducting a proper investigation, and committed the men to Carthage Jail.

They spent the night in the "debtor's apartment" on the bottom floor.

On the morning of June 26, 1844, Governor Ford interview Joseph and his party at the jail. Between 100 and 200 of the governors troops took the men to the courthouse but then returned them to jail because their hearing was postponed until Saturday, June 29.

That evening the Prophet and his friends with him slept upstairs in the front room of the jail, in the jailers bedroom.

By June 27, there were only four prisoners in the Jail: Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor and Willard Richards. The governor left eight of his men to guard the prisoners.

The men stayed in the jailers bedroom and at around 3:15 pm John Taylor sang "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief."

Soon after 5 pm a mob of 150-200 men with blackened faces surrounded the jail, forced their way into it, and fired a shower of bullets into the room. Hyrum was killed first, by a bullet that came through the door and struck him in the face, just left of his nose.

John Taylor went for the open window opposite the door and attempted to leap out, but a ball struck his watch, forcing him back into the room. John Taylor was severely injured by four balls. One of them in his hip, a fifth ball would have passed through his chest but his watch in his pocked stopped it.

Joseph tried to jump out the same east window, but was shot with four balls. He fell from the window to the ground below to his death.

Willard Richards escaped with only a bullet grazing his left ear. The Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied to Willard Richards that "balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but . . . there should not be a whole in his garment."

John Taylor recorded that they whole ambush lasted about three minutes.

Both Willard Richards and John Taylor were left as witnesses to the horrendous attack. The two were miraculously spared for the purpose of telling the world. Without the two eye witnesses, what would generations of Saints have known of the last minutes of the life of their fallen prophet and friend?

Aftermath of the Martyrdom

Samuel Smith, the brother of Joseph Smith, rode to Carthage and was attacked several times by mob men. He arrived to Carthage during the attack on his brothers. A man named Artois Hamilton gave Samuel refuge in his hotel. Samuel and Artois went to the jail when mob left, and retrieved the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum and brought the bodies to the hotel. Both Willard Richards and John Taylor stayed in the hotel for three or four days after the attack.

Two white horses pulled the wagon that brought the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum from Carthage Jail to Nauvoo on June 28, 1844. Under the direction of Willard Richards and Samuel Smith. Samuel Smith ended up dying soon after from the effects of journey to Carthage.

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