September 12, 2023

Visiting Liberty Jail Visitors Center, Missouri

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Liberty Jail in one of the most highlighted accounts of suffering in all of Church History. The endured agony happening in Liberty Jail, along with the hardship of the Saints at the same time, was a trail almost unbearable for the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The unjust imprisonment of the prophet Joseph Smith and his loyal friends Liberty Jail in Clay County, Missouri is taught every couple years during the study of the Doctrine and Covenants, and in general conferences throughout time. With studying about the events surround the imprisonment of the prophet Joseph Smith then going to the Liberty Jail visitors center, more can be understood about how God speaks to His Children, why trials build and how all can receive comfort through humbly seeking Gods help and guidance through trials.

Visiting Liberty Jail

The Liberty Jail's Visitors Center in Clay County Missouri, is only a block north of the Clay County Courthouse. The visitors center was dedicated on September 15, 1963 by Joseph Fielding Smith, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time. A house was built over the the original Liberty Jail, and used some of the walls of the jail. The house was purchased for the Church and the Liberty Jail in the visitors center was reconstructed using original parts of the jail.

Background of Liberty Jail

Liberty Jail served as the Clay County Jail from 1833 to 1856. Liberty Jail held Joseph Smith and five of his friends(Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRea, and Caleb Balwin) who were arrested as a result of a court inquiry which came from the Extermination Order issued by Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs. The Prisoners were brought from Richmond Missouri to Liberty Jail because there were no jails in Caldwell and Daviess Counties.

The five prisoners were confined to Liberty Jail from December 1, 1838 to April 6, 1839. Sidney Rigdon was released earlier than the rest of the men, he was released on January 25, but because of threats to his life he stayed in Liberty Jail until February 5.

Orrin Porter Rockwell was also imprisoned in Liberty Jail 5 years after the prophet. Porter Rockwell spent 10 days in Liberty Jail after spending months in prison in Independence. He was accused of attempting to assassinate the former Governor Boggs. Alexander Doniphan aided in the release of Porter Rockwell getting the charges dropped.

How horrible was Liberty Jail

Reading Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-10, 122, and 123 can give anyone a pretty good idea of the hardships endured by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and his friends. The prophet Joseph Smith and friends suffered starvation, betrayal, freezing temperatures and much more. It was a very dark time for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and their prophet behind bars in a dark, cold, dirty jail would have been disheartening. All would be wondering where God was, and where was the Divine Help of which they were in need.

The agony felt by the prophet away from his family, imprisoned and getting messages of the suffering all throughout the area, was intense. The civil unrest of the time, made the times of peace so much sweeter. The Lord was teaching His children, and they were learning hard lessons.

There are many historical scholars today intent on "debunking myths" of how bad Liberty Jail was really. Nobody alive today was alive when this imprisonment took place, everyone is interpreting documents left behind. Joseph Smith's own writings on his imprisonment are the most insightful documents of how the imprisonment truly was, his writings in Doctrine and Covenants are full of the soul wrenching words of a man suffering and trying to find God through the darkness.

Know Before You Go Liberty Jail Visitors Center

The visitors center does guided tours by sister missionaries. They teach and tell the accounts that led up to the imprisonment of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his friends. There are large tour groups that come through regularly, but the missionaries do a great job getting everyone in and through the process well.

Before you go there are two great clips on Liberty Jail that will help you understand more surrounding the events that happened.

Women's Stories of Liberty Jail

Read about the wives of the prisoners of Liberty Jail: Mary Fielding Smith was pregnant when her husband Hyrum was taken to Liberty Jail and she gave birth to her son(Joseph F. Smith) and almost died read her story here Mary Fielding Smith, Hyrum Jailed in Liberty Alexander McRae was in Liberty Jail when his house was ransacked by the Missouri Mob, read his wife's account of what happened here: Eunice McRae Pioneer Women.

While the Prophet Joseph Smith and friends were in Liberty Jail other brethren were falsely imprisoned in other prisons in the state here is the story of Laura Clark Phelps getting others out of prison: Pioneer woman, Laura Clark Phelps-Helping her Husband escape from Missouri Jail

More on Liberty Jail

Orrin Porter Rockwell also was imprisoned in Liberty Jail in 1843 for 10 days, after spending months in prison at in Independence. Rockwell was put in jail for the attempted murder of Lilburn W. Boggs. After his time in Liberty Jail he was returned to Independence where Alexander Doniphan aided in his release by having the charges against him dropped.


"Sacred Places Missouri" by La Mar C. Berrett p. 219-227

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