Episode 5 - Martial Law in Nauvoo
Joseph Smith is in Nauvoo and he hears these reports of Mormons who are getting kicked out of their homes and being forced into the City Limits of Nauvoo. He hears they are having their weapons stolen from them and he has a gut reaction. He tells his brother Hyrum, “we cannot give up our weapons. When we give up our weapons we give up our liberty.”
Meanwhile, news from Warsaw and Carthage, and from Missouri and Iowa are telling about angry mobs who are starting to gather their weapons, and cannons, and prepare to attack Nauvoo.
I am Stephen Dethloff, and this is the Strangers & Pilgrim’s podcast telling of the Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
During the persecutions in Missouri the Missouri Militia had come in and taken away the Mormons weapons. Confiscated them. This was done right before some attacks were made on the Mormons.
Now, Six years later, Joseph sees his people starting to have their weapons confiscated, again, and he starts to have flashbacks to their trials and persecutions in Missouri. He knows that once they start giving up their weapons in an environment where they are surrounded by citizens who are angry with them, that persecution is going to follow close behind. They will probably soon start to be attacked. And he doesn’t want that to happen.
Meanwhile, back at the state capital, these same reports that Joseph Smith is getting regarding the violence which is starting in the county, and the mobs that are being organized in neighboring cities, are being received by Governor Ford. Some men are getting shot at while they’re out with their cattle. Other men are overhearing the mobs plans to murder Joseph. Not only that, but the Governor is getting the reports from the incident that started it all – he is hearing about the Nauvoo Expositor having its press destroyed.
The Mormons are writing affidavits to the Governor explaining their persecution and justifying tearing down the press, and the Anti-Mormons are writing affidavits to the governor explaining their persecution – most notably the destruction of the press. Everyone is trying to convince the Governor to get on their side.
And some people with the popular “Ant-Mormon” party in the state – people like Thomas Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal, are now getting angry with the Governor. The Missouri Government adopted anti-Mormon laws and rules. Why can’t we do it in Illinois? Why is the Governor not doing more to fix the Mormon problem?
Governor Ford is worried about a civil war breaking out in Illinois. So, he decides that he must go to Carthage, the county seat of Hancock County, to see what is going on and try to stop this war from happening.
And, some of these stories that are getting back to the Governor are true, and a lot of them aren’t. For example, on the day that Governor Ford gets to Carthage he was woken up hearing stories about Mormons going around murdering their enemies and burning down and destroying their houses. He is told that everyone in the county is heading to Carthage to get up an army to fight the Mormons. But, when he gets there he finds it was just a story. Someone somewhere along the lines blew something up out of proportion, or the story was just created out of thin air.
This happened a lot back during this time period. Stories regularly got blown way out of proportion, so that often times what you get is a strong reaction to an event that didn’t even happen – or didn’t happen in the way it was told. Mormons heard stories that weren’t true, and over reacted. And, anti-Mormons heard stories that weren’t true and over-reacted.
Also, in the mix, complicating everything, are stories that people intentionally make up so that they have an excuse to quote unquote ‘defend themselves’. People are saying, “I’m only protected by the law in punching someone if I am punched first – so let’s just say I was punched.” And, then, on top of that, people are claiming that the other side is only making up stories so that they can fake a defense.
Ultimately, there are enough stories going around, and enough tension in the air, that the Governor feels he must go to Carthage. So, he does. He gets there on June 21st, and he sets up shop in the hotel there – the Hamilton House
Meanwhile, back in Nauvoo, stories keep coming in. More affidavits are being made. And the persecution is increasing. And Joseph decides he must do something about it.
So, acting as Mayor, he writes a Declaration – a declaration of martial law.
His declaration says, “From the newspapers around us, and the current reports brought in from the surrounding country, I have good reason to fear that a mob is organizing to come upon this city, and plunder and destroy said city. As well as murder the citizens. And by virtue of the authority vested in me as Mayor, and to preserve the said city. . .declare the city under martial law.”
So, the city is now under the order of the Nauvoo Legion, and more specifically under the order of the leader of the Nauvoo Legion – its Lieutenant General – Joseph Smith. As Mayor, Joseph, writes the declaration of martial law. Then, literally fifteen minutes later, turning from mayor to Lieutenant-General, Joseph goes to address his troops at the parade grounds.
When he addresses them he is dressed in full military gear. He has the hat with the big plume. The blue jacket with the yellow shoulder wings. He has a sword sheathed at his side. Joseph’s outfit, by the way, can be found in Salt Lake City at the LDS Church History Museum. It’s there. You can go see it.
Now, the parade grounds are right next to his house – The Nauvoo Mansion. And, right across the street is the timber frame of a building under construction. So, they had put a little platform on top of it and Joseph climbs up on top of this building frame and addresses the more than 2,000 troops that have gathered for their orders.
Regarding the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor he says, “we have broken no law.”
He tells the troops gathered that he and his fellow defendants were acquitted in the first trial. They were discharged from the second trial. He tells the men gathered that the “mob-men, priests, thieves, and bogus makers, apostates and adulterers, who combine to destroy this people, now raise the hue and cry throughout the state that we resist the law, in order to raise a pretext for calling together thousands more of infuriated mob-men to murder, destroy, plunder, and ravish the innocent.”
He asks the men, “will you all stand by me to the death, and sustain at the peril of your lives, the laws of your country, and the liberties and privileges which our fathers have transmitted unto us, sealed with their sacred blood!?”
The thousands in attendance all shout, “Aye” or yes.
After they told him yes, he said, “It is well. If you had not done it, I would have gone out there,” and he points to the west and says, “and would have raised up a mightier people.”
I especially like that line – “if you had not done it, I would have gone out there and raised up a mightier people.” That highlights to me the very Old Testament prophet mentality of Joseph. He is there to do what he is going to do. And, everyone can either get on board or get out of the way.
Anyway, Joseph continues, “Come all ye lovers of liberty, break the oppressor’s rod, loose the iron grasp of mobocracy, and bring to condign punishment all those who trample under the foot the glorious Constitution and people’s rights.”
Then, Joseph Smith draws his sword – he unsheaths it and raises it to the sky.
He says, “I call God and angels to witness that I have unsheathed my sword with a firm and unalterable determination that this people shall have their legal rights, and be protected from mob violence, or my blood shall be spilt upon the ground like water and my body consigned to the silent tomb. While I live, I will never tamely submit to the dominion of cursed mobocracy. I would welcome death rather than submit to this oppression; and it would be sweet, oh, sweet, to rest in the grave rather than submit to this oppression, agitation, annoyance, confusion, and alarm upon alarm, any longer.”
He goes on. He says, “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. . . God has tried you. You are a good people; therefore I love you with all my heart. Greater love hath no man than that he should lay down his life for his friends. You have stood by me in the hour of trouble, and I am willing to sacrifice my life for your preservation. May the Lord god of Israel bless you forever and ever. I say it in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and in authority of the Holy Priesthood, which He hath conferred upon me.”
Everyone in attendance says, “Amen,” to Joseph’s statements, and then they commence going around the city setting up barricades at all the entrances. Going on patrols. Ensuring the safety of the city.
They have an armory they’ve constructed, and they’re pouring balls to fire out of their muskets. And, while they’re doing this, as Lieutenant General, Joseph goes down to inspect. And, he tells the men, “there will not be a gun fired on our part during the fuss. But, we must be ready nonetheless.”
So, Joseph, being worried about mob activity, declares martial law. And, the Governor, worried about Mob activity and Mormon activity, has set up shop in Carthage and he is hearing perspectives from both sides. He is interviewing people and collecting all these stories. A lot of the leading anti-Mormons go out and visit. Tell him their side of the story. William Law doesn’t go – he is still in Iowa. But, William’s business associates go. His brother goes. Members of Thomas Sharp’s Anti-Mormon commission are there. Other men who are vagabonds and adventurers who have been swept up in this story and are fighting against Joseph Smith are there, too. They all go out there and give their views on the matter to the Governor.
Joseph Smith sends all these affidavits they’ve collected to the Governor, too. He sends one of his close friends, and a member of the quorum of the 12 apostles, and the campaign manager for his presidential election, John Taylor, out to visit the Governor with the affidavits.
Because, remember, Joseph is still running as a 3rd party candidate for president while all this is going on.
John goes with another Mormon, Dr. Bernhisel. They’re sent to tell Governor Ford that Joseph Smith cannot go to Carthage for trial. That it is too dangerous. And that if a 3rd trial is going to take place it must take place in Nauvoo.
And, this request isn’t too out of the ordinary. In Missouri, when Joseph Smith was in liberty jail for treason, he went to court twice in old, abandoned farmhouses. Because, the state didn’t think it was safe enough to march him through the mobs to an actual courthouse.
So, John Taylor and Dr. Bernhisel travel to Carthage, Illinois. Carthage is 20 miles south-east of Nauvoo. They stay that night at the Hamilton Hotel – which is the main hotel in the city. So, everyone is staying there. Governor Ford is there. Leaders of the anti-Mormon movement. William Law’s brother Wilson is there. Francis Higbee is there. It’s almost like the social center of the city. And, where everyone has to return and go to sleep at night after they’re arguing with each other during the day.
They spend the night at the hotel. While they’re there John Taylor becomes worried that they’re trying to be murdered by some of their enemies staying in the hotel. He sleeps all night long with two loaded pistols underneath his pillow.
In the morning they meet with Governor Ford. While they’re meeting with Governor Ford, these enemies of Joseph Smith are also in the meeting. They’re reading, over the governor’s shoulders, the affidavits the Mormons have written. And telling the Governor, “oh. That’s a lie. Oh, that’s a lie, too.” Directing him on how to view and how to think about the Mormon’s evidence supporting Joseph’s inability to travel to Carthage.
Years later, when ex-Governor Ford was writing the History of Illinois covering the years that he served as Governor, he said, regarding these affidavits and reports of all the troubles between the Mormons and their enemies, “Upon the whole, if one-half of these reports had been true the Mormon community must have been the most intolerable collection of rogues ever assembled; or, if one-half of them were false, they were the most maligned and abused.”
Now, that seems like a partial statement, but the Governor wasn’t necessarily partial to the Mormons. Governor Ford only served one term as governor. And, he actually died just 6 years after Joseph Smith. And, on his own deathbed, the Governor still claimed Joseph Smith was an impostor and that his followers were ignorant.
He, however, as opposed to Thomas Sharp and William Law, believed that most of the problems the Mormons had were political. We talked about this in the first episode, but you’ll remember the Mormons were such a powerful voting bloc that they controlled who won elections and who did not. So, Governor Ford believed the persecution and murder of the prophet was performed by people who wished to have a more fair system of democracy, and wished to destroy the leader of this voting bloc in Hancock County. That singular motivation turns out to not be entirely true – even though it was one part of the larger puzzle of Joseph’s many murderers. But, it is interesting to hear a politician ascribe political motivations to a murder. It reminds me of the saying, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
So, in Carthage, in 1844, the Governor sides with the majority of the people in his state, and tells John Taylor and Dr. Bernhisel that Joseph needs to go to Carthage for trial. And, still, they insist he cannot.
The Governor tells them that the citizens of Illinois want to see Joseph brought to carthage so that he can undergo a fair trial for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor. John Taylor tells him, no! The citizens of Illinois only want Joseph Smith brought to Carthage so that they can kill him on the way there. Or kill him once he gets to the city.
Then the Governor flips it on John. He says, “woah. You think your neighbors want to kill you? You think very poorly of them. And, you know, they can tell you think poorly of them, too.” He essentially ends up saying, if you want people to like you guys better you need to start doing what they want you to do. Because if you resist public opinion the public is just going to hate you more.”
The governor then tells the two men that he will personally see that Joseph is protected on the way to Carthage. He has them go outside and wait as he writes a letter for them to take to Joseph.
John Taylor and Dr. Bernhisel get the letter and they go back that night.
While Joseph is waiting for Taylor and Bernhisel he is walking down by the Mississippi River with his bodyguard, Stephen Markham. The prophet tells Stephen that he knows he is going to die. He wants his brother Hyrum to avenge his death, but Joseph doesn’t feel like that will happen because Hyrum refuses to leave Joseph’s side long enough so that Joseph can be killed without Hyrum there protecting him. In fact, there on the banks of the Mississippi River, Joseph tells Stephen that if he and Hyrum are ever taken again that they will both be murdered, or he is not a prophet of God.
So, John Taylor and Dr. Bernhisel arrive in Nauvoo and give Joseph the Governor’s letter. They go upstairs to Joseph’s office in his house and read through it with Joseph and other close friends and advisors.
The Governor writes that even though the Nauvoo Expositor was full of libels, that Joseph and the city council did not have the right to destroy it. The Governor says that he, himself, is at near constant attack from a newspaper in Illinois, but he does not destroy it. And, in fact, he says, that he would shed blood to defend their right to attack him. Governor Ford over and over again tells Joseph how much he values the freedom of the press.
He tells Joseph that he and all other men involved in the destruction of the press must submit themselves for arrest.
Governor Ford says, “I am anxious to preserve the peace. A small indiscretion may bring on a war. The whole country is now up in arms, and a vast number of people are ready to take the matter into their own hands. Such is the excitement of the country that I fear the militia, when assembled, would be beyond legal control.”
The Governor fears here what happened back in Missouri. In Missouri, when the militia was assembled to protect the Mormons from being attacked by the mob, the Militia showed up, and began defecting to the side of the Mob. The militia was so full of people angry with the Mormons that they refused to obey orders. And, instead of showing up to fight the enemy, they joined the enemy. The Generals of the Missouri militia ended up having to march the militia out of the area because their men were just showing up and defecting to the enemy.
So, this is a valid fear the Governor has. That the militia is soon to be beyond legal control. It had happened before. And, I think this is a fascinating look into the society they lived in. That order and organization and societal rules were there – but they were tenuous. And, there was always this underlying current of anarchy or mob rule, or populism, that was threatening to undermine the authority of the government.
The Governor ends his letter by saying that he will promise the protection of all the people that leave Nauvoo and travel to Carthage to face trial.
At the end of the letter Joseph looks up and says, “there is no mercy—no mercy here.” Hyrum agrees and tells Joseph that “as sure as we fall into their hands we are dead men.”
While Joseph Smith is upstairs a steamboat pulls into town. You can imagine this steamboat pulling into town when there is martial law in the streets. The Nauvoo Expositor press has been destroyed. The Governor of the State is in a hotel room 20 miles south east trying to prevent a civil war. And this steamboat pulls into town and there are two men on board who persuade the steamboat captain to stop so they can go visit with Joseph Smith – the famous Mormon Prophet.
Now, aside from the timing of the visit, this was pretty normal routine for the prophet. Travelers were always coming out to Nauvoo to visit Joseph Smith. He is the young leader of a growing religion. A prophet. A translator. A stranger and a pilgrim on the earth. People are interested in him. Governors, travelers, newspaper men, are all regularly streaming into Nauvoo to visit this fascinating religious leader. But, who shows up tonight but two of the sons of the Secretary of State for the United States – John C. Calhoun Jr.
Now, you will remember that two episodes ago we talked about how Joseph was writing letters back and forth with the Secretary of State. And, these letters were being published in newspapers all across the country. And in them, Joseph Smith was trying to get Secretary of State Calhoun to commit some sort of federal assistance or aid to his people. But he wouldn’t. And, here his two sons come in. Both in their early twenties. Knocking on the door. They weren’t there to talk about the Mormon problem per se. And, they didn’t specifically come out west to visit Joseph. They were traveling through on their way further out west, and just decided they had to stop and see the Prophet.
They get to the Nauvoo House and there are 300 armed men outside. They ask a man guarding the front gate, Reynolds Cahoon, if they cannot come up and meet the prophet and he tells them no. Reynolds had been meeting upstairs with the prophet, going over the Governor’s letter but was sent down earlier specifically to watch the gate.
The city Marshall, too, comes down and tells the Calhoun boys they need to leave. Everyone assumes they are spies from the anti-Mormons or from William Law. Remember – spies are everywhere. Finally, though, the Calhoun boys are insistent enough that they get the interview with Joseph.
Joseph goes downstairs into the drawing room and talks to them. Maybe he thinks this might be the perfect time to appeal to the federal government again. Or, at least nd them of their problems. Or maybe he thinks they’re here in relation to Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt’s work in Washington DC trying to find support for their cause.
Either way, Joseph meets with the young Calhouns for so long, and John Taylor is so tired from his long day in Carthage, that John goes home to get some sleep. Not much comes from the meeting. The Calhouns end up telling Joseph that he should keep seeking for federal assistance, and Joseph probably decided that was a good idea. Because he goes back upstairs and writes a response letter to Governor Ford telling him that he is going to, based off advice from men back east, continue to appeal to the Federal Government for assistance.
So, back upstairs in the office, after writing this response letter to the Governor, Joseph asks his brother, Hyrum, “what shall we do.”
Hyrum says, “I don’t know.”
Then, suddenly, Joseph perks up. He has a thought. He says, “the way is open. It is clear to my mind what to do. All they want is Hyrum and myself; then tell everybody to go about their business, and not to collect in groups, but to scatter about. There is no doubt they will come here and search for us. Let them search; they will not harm you in person or property, and not even a hair of your head. We will cross the river tonight.”
Joseph goes downstairs. He gets Emma, his wife. He gets up his children. He tells them all goodbye.
Joseph’s wife Emma had four children and was pregnant with a fifth. She had married Joseph back in 1827 – three years before he founded the Mormon Church. And, essentially her whole marriage had been varying degrees of this -- on the run from mobs and apostate Mormons. She must have been, at least, as exhausted of running as was Joseph.
Six years earlier Joseph was forced to run out of Kirtland, Ohio in the night on horseback. Running away from men who were looking to kill him. Emma, pregnant at the time with their 4th child, stayed back in the city. She packed a wagon with a few things, put her three children inside, and left everything else to follow Joseph out of town the very next day. Emma met up with her husband and a few of his closest followers sixty miles outside of town and they made the 800 mile treck together to Missouri. Armed mobs followed them for 200 of those miles.
Brigham Young was one of the men on the run with Joseph Smith from those mobs chasing them out of Ohio. Brigham was the leader of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He had also been forced to leave Kirtland, Ohio, however, a month before Joseph when he was threatened to be killed by a large group of men who had left the Mormon Church and started their own Reformation movement – just as William Law was to do 6 years later.
The leader of their new Mormon reformation church in Kirtland was going to be a man named David Whitmer. The apostates within the religion held a meeting in the Kirtland Temple – the centerpoint of the Mormon settlement in Ohio. They began talking about how Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. Remembering the meeting later, Brigham Young said that he stood up and told them “Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased; they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God, and sink themselves to hell’”
With this statement, Brigham Young found himself being chased out of Kirtland by the men forming the new Mormon reformation church.
So, we talked about, back in episode 2, how William Law was hoping to be excommunicated at one of the church’s biannual conferences – called a General Conference. Well, those still go on in the Mormon Church. And, in fact, at the most recent General Conference, held in October of 2017, one of the leaders of the Mormon Church today told this story about Brigham Young standing up to the leaders of this Mormon reformation movement.
He told the story and then said to those members of the Mormon church listening that, “There will be times, as there were in the days of Kirtland, when we will need the faith and the integrity of a Brigham Young to stand in the place the Lord has called us to, loyal to His prophet and to the leaders He has put in place.” So, even today, these stories are told and shared. And morals are pulled from them and calls are made to follow God’s prophet on the earth.
As Joseph and Brigham ran away from Kirtland with their families they were forced to hide underneath blankets in wagons as they rode through the country. The mob burst into the places they were staying, and places they were eating at on the roadside, trying to find the family. One time they burst into the sleeping family’s room but, miraculously, never recognized the prophet or his travel companions.
The Smiths flee Ohio and get to Missouri. Only a few months after arriving in Missouri, the Mormons are attacked. Joseph is taken off to jail as his oldest son, Joseph Smith the third, is clinging to his leg. A guard hits the young kid with the side of his sword and tells him he isn’t going to ever see his dad again. Emma’s husband has been thrown in jail as Emma stands by and helplessly watches. Less than a year after getting to Missouri, Emma leaves the state with her children in a wagon. Leaving behind all her property, again.
Heading back east, she crossed the frozen Mississippi river into Illinois carrying her 2 ½ year old son Frederick, and her eight month old son Alexander while her other two children were with the wagon.
Remembering that exodus, Emma said, “the reflection is more than human nature ought to bear.”
Now, settled into Nauvoo, Emma is pregnant with their fifth child who is due to be born in November – 5 months from now. And, Joseph comes downstairs after reading this letter from Governor Ford telling him he must go to Carthage. And, once again, in the middle of the night, Joseph tells his wife he has to leave.
All the while Emma has seen what happened with the Nauvoo Expositor. Seen the trials. Seen the Nauvoo Legion in the street patrolling for the mobs which are now starting to grow in the neighboring cities.
They hug each other and tell one another goodbye. Joseph is crying. He leaves the house with a handkerchief covering his face. Out into the night. Out past the 300 armed guards around his house.
It’s well past midnight now. Joseph, his brother Hyrum, and Porter Rockwell and Willard Richards have set out in the dark.
In the very first episode we talked about Joseph’s love for Porter. Where he referred to Porter as “a fellow wanderer with myself – an exile from his home.” And, so it is again. Joseph and Porter are exiles from their homes. What did Jesus say of himself? He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” In a small way, Joseph and Emma Smith and Porter Rockwell where in a similar circumstance. They were occasionally obligated to leave with no place to lay their heads.
The title of this podcast, “Strangers and Pilgrims” comes from the Bible – the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament. In the book, the author talks about Old Testament prophets like Moses and Abraham who through faith performed many great works – but were wanderers on the earth. They were mocked, scourged, and put into bonds and prisons. They were stoned, sawn asunder, and wandered in deserts and mountains. I look at Joseph Smith and those early Mormon converts – Porter Rockwell, Brigham Young, Emma and Hyrum Smith as strangers and pilgrims in the world. They were trying to live their religion. Trying to implement revelations from God. And for that were punished and fought against.
In choosing to tell the story of the death of Joseph Smith through the framework of “strangers and pilgrims” I have chosen to highlight and revisit Joseph’s fleeing from Kirtland, and Missouri. His hiding from false accusations and murder attempts. There are, probably, numerous ways to tell the story of the Death of Joseph Smith – and different aspects of it you could highlight – different themes to pull out – but I have chosen to take the perspective that highlights him as a Stranger and Pilgrim.
So, once again, Joseph, Hyrum, Porter, and Willard Richards have set out. They head out and get to a small boat tied up. They all get in. It has one oar. Porter paddles.
The boat they’ve taken is full of holes. Joseph, Hyrum, and Willard take off their boots and have to bail the boat out as Porter paddles them along. They cross the giant Mississippi River in the dark by moonlight. They’re on the run.
They paddle from the night of June the 22nd into the morning of the 23rd. Joseph Smith will be murdered in 4 days.
NEXT WEEK ON THE PODCAST
The citizens of Nauvoo, and Governor Ford’s men make moves to ensure their successes after they learn Joseph Smith left Nauvoo in the middle of the night.