|Chapter 53 William Law identified as an enemy of the Church. Joseph Jackson wants Hyrum’s daughter for a wife, is refused, begins to plot the murders of all the Smith family. The Nauvoo Expositor affair. Governor Thomas Ford arrives in Carthage, Illinois. Joseph and Hyrum are arrested, taken to Carthage Jail, and murdered by a mob of between one and two hundred men. Samuel Smith chased by the mob, receives injury, dies thirty-three days after the Martyrdom. Tremendous scene of sorrow at the family viewing of their murdered sons, husbands, and fathers. Church leadership set in order after Joseph’s death. Mother Smith ends her history with a soliloquy and a testimony of warning to her persecutors.May 17, 1842 to July 1845
About the time that John C. Bennett left Nauvoo, an election was held for the office of mayor, and Joseph, being one of the candidates, was elected to that office. I mention this fact in order to explain a circumstance that took place in the winter of 1843 and 1844, which was as follows. Joseph, in organizing the city police, remarked that “were it not for enemies within the city, there would be no danger from foes without,” adding, “If it were not for a Brutus, I might live as long as Caesar would have lived.”
Someone who suspected that Joseph alluded to William Law went to the latter and informed him that Joseph regarded him as a Brutus; and that it was his own opinion that he (Law) was in imminent danger. Law, on hearing this tale, went immediately to Joseph, who straightway called a council and had all that knew anything concerning the matter brought together and thus succeeded in satisfying Law that he intended no evil in what he had said.
About this time a man by the name of Joseph Jackson, who had been in the city several months, asked Hyrum for his daughter Lovina, for he wished to make a wife of her. Hyrum, not choosing to have his daughter marry a man who did not belong to the Church, refused for this and other reasons. Jackson then asked Joseph to use his influence with Hyrum to get the girl for him. As Joseph refused to do that, he next applied to Law, who was our secret enemy, for assistance in stealing Lovina from her father. Hyrum heard of this and came to me several times for advice. He said he was alarmed about her, that he felt worse than he did when he was in prison. Jackson went from one to another, wherever he could learn that anyone had any feeling against our family, till finally he succeeded in getting a number to join in a conspiracy to murder the whole Smith family. They commenced holding secret meetings, one of which was attended by a man named Eaton, who was our friend, and he exposed the plot.
This man declared that the Higbees, Laws, and Fosters were all connected with Jackson in his operations. There was also another individual, named Augustine Spencer, a dissolute character who, I believe, was concerned in this conspiracy (although his brother Orson, formerly a Baptist minister, was one of Joseph’s warmest friends). About the time of Eaton’s disclosures, this man went to the house of his brother Orson, and abused my sons and the Church at such a rate that Orson finally told him that he must either stop or leave the house. Augustine refused and they grappled. In the contest Orson was considerably injured. He went immediately to Joseph and, stating the case, asked for a warrant. Joseph advised him to go to Dr. Foster, who was a justice of the peace. Accordingly, he went and demanded a warrant of Foster, but was refused. On account of this refusal, Foster was brought before Esquire Wells, and tried for non-performance of duty. At this trial Joseph met Charles Foster, the doctor’s brother, who attempted to shoot him as soon as they met, but Joseph caught his hands and prevented him, and he was compelled to hold the man in this way above an hour in order to preserve his own life. Jackson and the apostates continued to gather strength, till, finally, they established a printing press in our midst. Through this organ they belched forth the most intolerable and the blackest lies that were ever palmed upon a community. Being advised by men of influence and standing to have this scandalous press removed, the city council took the matter into consideration, and finding that the law would allow them to do so, they declared it a nuisance and had it treated accordingly.
At this the apostates left the city in a great rage, swearing vengeance upon Joseph, the council, and the city. They went forthwith to Carthage and got out writs for Joseph and all those who were in any wise concerned in the destruction of the press. But, having no hope of justice in that place, the brethren took out a writ of habeas corpus and were tried before Esquire Wells at Nauvoo. With this the apostates were not satisfied. They then called upon one Levi Williams, who was a bitter enemy to us, whenever he was sufficiently sober to know his own sentiments, for he was a drunken, ignorant, illiterate brute that never had a particle of character or influence until he began to call mob meetings and placed himself at the head of a rabble like unto himself, to drive the “Mormons,” at which time he was joined by certain unmentionable ones in Warsaw and Carthage; and for his zeal in promoting mobocracy he became the intimate acquaintance and confidential friend of some certain preachers, lawyers, and representatives, and, finally, of Joseph Jackson and the apostates.
He, as Colonel Levi Williams, commands the militia (alias mob) of Hancock County. On this man, I say, they called for assistance to drag Joseph and Hyrum, with the rest of the council, to Carthage. Williams swore it should be done and gathered his band together. Joseph, not wishing to fall into the hands of wolves or tigers, called upon the Legion to be in readiness to defend the city and its chartered rights. Just at this crisis, Governor Ford arrived in Carthage. The apostates then appealed from the mob to the governor. At this time he came into the midst of the mob and asked them if they would stand by him in executing and defending the law. They said they would, and so organized them into militia and then demanded the brethren for trial upon the warrant issued by Smith (as he did not choose to recognize the right of habeas corpus granted us in the city charter). At the same time he pledged the faith of the state that the brethren should be protected from mob violence. Those called for in the warrant made their appearance at Carthage, June 24, 1844. On the morning of the twenty-fifth, Joseph and Hyrum were arrested for treason, by a warrant found upon the oaths of A. O. Norton and Augustine Spencer. I will not dwell upon the awful scene which succeeded. My heart is filled with grief and indignation, and my blood curdles in my veins whenever I speak of it.
My sons were thrown into jail, where they remained three days in company with Brothers Richards, Taylor, and Markham. At the end of this time, the governor disbanded most of the men, but left a guard of eight of our bitterest enemies over the jail and sixty more of the same character about a hundred yards distant. He then came into Nauvoo with a guard of fifty or sixty men, made a short speech, and returned immediately.
During his absence from Carthage, the guard rushed Brother Markham out of the place at the point of the bayonet. Soon after this two hundred of those discharged in the morning rushed into Carthage, armed and painted black, red, and yellow, and in ten minutes fled again, leaving my sons murdered and mangled corpses!
In leaving the place, a few of them found Samuel coming into Carthage, alone, on horseback, and, finding that he was one of our family, they attempted to shoot him, but he escaped out of their hands, although they pursued him at the top of their speed for more than two hours. He succeeded the next day in getting to Nauvoo in season to go out and meet the procession with the bodies of Hyrum and Joseph, as the mob had the kindness to allow us the privilege of bringing them home and burying them in Nauvoo, notwithstanding the immense reward which was offered by the Missourians for Joseph’s head.
Their bodies were attended home by only two persons, save those that went from this place. These were Brother Willard Richards and a Mr. Hamilton; Brother John Taylor having been shot in prison, and nearly killed, he could not be moved until some time afterwards.
After the corpses were washed and dressed in their burial clothes, we were allowed to see them. I had for a long time braced every nerve, roused every energy of my soul, and called upon God to strengthen me, but when I entered the room and saw my murdered sons extended both at once before my eyes and heard the sobs and groans of my family and the cries of “Father! Husband! Brothers!” from the lips of their wives, children, brothers, and sisters, it was too much; I sank back, crying to the Lord in the agony of my soul, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!” A voice replied, “I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest.” Emma was carried back to her room almost in a state of insensibility.
Her oldest son approached the corpse and dropped upon his knees and, laying his cheek against his father’s and kissing him, exclaimed, “Oh, my father! my father!” As for myself, I was swallowed up in the depths of my afflictions, and though my soul was filled with horror past imagination, yet I was dumb until I arose again to contemplate the spectacle before me. Oh! at the moment how my mind flew through every scene of sorrow and distress which we had passed, together, in which they had shown the innocence and sympathy which filled their guileless hearts. As I looked upon their peaceful, smiling countenances, I seemed almost to hear them say, “Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendancy is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph.”
I then thought upon the promise which I had received in Missouri, that in five years Joseph should have power over all his enemies. The time had elapsed and the promise was fulfilled.
I left the scene and returned to my room, to ponder upon the calamities of my family. Soon after this, Samuel said, “Mother, I have had a dreadful distress in my side ever since I was chased by the mob, and I think I have received some injury which is going to make me sick.” And indeed he was then not able to sit up, as he had been broken of his rest, besides being dreadfully fatigued in the chase, which, joined to the shock occasioned by the death of his brothers, brought on a disease that never was removed.
On the following day the funeral rites of the murdered ones were attended to, in the midst of terror and alarm, for the mob had made their arrangements to burn the city that night, but by the diligence of the brethren, they were kept at bay until they became discouraged and returned to their homes.
In a short time Samuel, who continued unwell, was confined to his bed, and lingering until the thirtieth of July, his spirit forsook its earthly tabernacle and went to join his brothers, and the ancient martyrs, in the Paradise of God.
At this time William was absent on a mission to the eastern states. And he had taken his family with him in consequence of his wife being afflicted with the dropsy, hoping that the journey might be a benefit to her. Thus was I left desolate in my distress. I had reared six sons to manhood, and of them all, one only remained, and he was far too distant to speak one consoling word to me in this trying hour. It would have been some satisfaction to me if I had expected his immediate return, but his wife was lying at the point of death, which compelled him to remain where he was. His case was, if it were possible, worse than mine, for he had to bear all his grief alone in a land of strangers, confined to the side of his dying wife, and absent from those who felt the deepest interest in his welfare; whilst I was surrounded with friends, being in the midst of the Church; my daughters, too, were with me, and from their society I derived great comfort.
The Church at this time was in a state of gloomy suspense. Not knowing who was to take the place of Joseph, the people were greatly wrought upon with anxiety, lest an imposter should arise and deceive many. Suddenly, Sidney Rigdon made his appearance from Pittsburgh, and rather insinuated that the Church ought to make choice of him, not as President, but as guardian; for “Joseph,” said he, “is still President, and the Church must be built up unto him.” But before he could carry his measures into effect, the Twelve, who had also been absent, arrived and assuming their proper places, all was set to rights.
William, however, did not return till the spring of 1845, when, with great difficulty, he got his wife to Nauvoo. She survived but a short time after her arrival, for in about two weeks, to complete the sum of William’s afflictions, he followed her to the grave. Her disease was brought on by her exposures in Missouri, so that she was what might be termed an indirect martyr to the cause of Christ, which makes the sum of martyrs in our family no less than six in number.
Shortly after William’s return from the East, he was ordained Patriarch of the Church, in the place of Hyrum, who held the keys of that priesthood previous to his death.
I have now given a history of my life as far as I intended carrying it at this time. I leave the world at liberty to pass judgment upon what I have written as seemeth it good. But this much I will say, that all that I have written is true and will stand forever. Yes, it will stand before God at that hour when small and great shall appear to answer at his bar for the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil, and there will I meet the persecutors of my family who are the enemies of the Church and declare with a voice that shall penetrate the ears of every intelligence which shall be present on that momentous occasion-when the spirits of the just and the unjust, the beggars and lords, the princes and potentates, the kings and emperors, the angels and seraphs, the cherubims and gods be called before him who is the God of gods and Lord of lords.
Yes, in the presence of all these will I declare concerning our persecutors, that for eighteen years they hunted us like wild beasts who were thirsting for the blood of their prey; that without any just cause they drove me and my family from our home in New York; that they maliciously cast my husband into prison and despitefully used him; that they, while he was there, plundered my house and sought my son Hyrum that they might slay him; that in consequence of their abuse, we fled again before them and went to the state of Ohio. Here they dragged my son Joseph out of his bed at midnight and beat him until life for a season departed from his body, and after he recovered, they still continued to persecute him and the rest of my family so sorely that we were compelled to flee to Missouri, where they again renewed their hostilities against my household, and tore my sons from their wives, from their little ones, and from me; that they were thrown into prison, bound in chains, and sentenced to be shot, and all this when my sons were guilty of no sin and had committed no crime or offense against the law.
I will testify to our Lord that after my sons had been in the hands of their adversaries for six months, they were compelled to fly from the state of Missouri into the state of Illinois in order to save their lives, for Governor Boggs had decreed that all Saints found within his jurisdiction after a certain time should be slain by the sword; that in Illinois, we were promised protection from murders and from mobs and we bought us homes and lived with them for a short time like brothers of one family. They were kind to us and we loved them, but the spoiler came, and certain who were not of our faith, joined themselves with the rabble of Warsaw, Carthage, and Green Plains, and they lied about us and scandalized us unto our friends, which caused our friends to become lukewarm and our enemies to increase, until at last they again seized my sons and cast them into prison and slew them.
Furthermore, I will testify before him who was slain in like manner that in consequence of all these wrongs, the gray hairs of my aged companion were brought down in sorrow to the grave, and he was caused to weep over his children when he was even dying because of the wickedness of their enemies; that the cries of widows and orphans have gone up to the councils of the great men of the land and the rulers of the nation, but they laughed at our calamities; and the hands of murderers were upon us, and we were threatened, oppressed, and despoiled by our enemies. We appealed to lawyers, judges, governors, and presidents, but they heeded not our cry, their pledges were broken, the laws were trampled upon, and the statutes and ordinances of the land were tarnished to gratify murderers, thieves, and robbers.
This shall be my testimony in the day of God Almighty, and if it be true, what will Lilburn W. Boggs, Thomas Carlin, Martin Van Buren, and Governor Ford answer me when I shall appear where the prayers of the Saints and the complaints of the widow and orphan come up before a just and righteous judge, who is not only our judge but the judge of the whole earth?
Say unto those who have suffered us to be thus abused, “Ye have not bound up that which was broken, neither brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost, but with force and cruelty have ye ruled my people; therefore, because ye ruled in unrighteousness, because you have robbers to devour my people, and murderers to steal and pierce the hearts of the defenseless in prison chambers and didst suffer fierce demons to rush upon them with fire and with sword to demolish their dwellings and destroy their substance; because ye had power to preserve the innocent and did not-you cannot answer because you did not take your future destiny to heart.”
You suffered my husband and children to be robbed, imprisoned, and murdered until the cries of five widows and twenty-four orphan children were lifted to you in vain, and we are still chased before a lawless band from one kingdom to another.
Although I am now seventy years of age and a citizen of the United States, and although my father and my brothers fought hard and struggled to establish a government of liberty and equal rights upon this home of my birth, and although I violated no law, yet in common with many thousands equally innocent, we were commanded by a mob to leave a country or stay there at the peril of our lives.
Last of all and most to be deplored, those who are chosen to enforce and execute the law declare that the proceedings are outrageous but we must of necessity submit to them, for our countrymen have all become so corrupt that there are none to defend and maintain the sacredness of the law.
If this be so, well may I say with the poet: Oh, for a lodge in some vast wilderness, some boundless contiguity of shade, where rumor of oppression and deceit might never reach me more.
Let me leave the bones of my fathers and brothers, and the bones of the martyred children, and go to a land where never man dwelt.
Farewell, my country, thou that killest the prophets and hath exiled those that were sent unto thee. Once thou wert fair, once thou wert pure and lovely, when thy legislators were just men and the lawgivers sought the good of the people like unto themselves. But now thou art fallen.
The halls where wisdom and justice once dwelt, debauchery and despotism reign. Thy tables are filled with vomit and filthiness, and the hearts of the people with rottenness and deceit; but, oh, if there is left one in the midst of this sink of corruption in whose breast flows one feeling that warmed the heart of Washington, come forth, I pray you, declare yourself men, and spurn a spot which is so polluted that nothing can cleanse it but the judgments of him who is a consuming fire.
I bid farewell until I shall appear before him who is the judge of both quick and dead; to whom I solemnly appeal in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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