Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom

Joseph Smiths Martyrdom

The murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in the summer of 1844 by an angry mob was a turning point in the Mormon religion. Smith founded the Church of Latter-Day Saints in 1830 in upstate New York.

After years of persecution in several states like New York, Ohio, and Missouri, he moved his followers to Nauvoo, Illinois. Here the Mormons started a new community. The murderous events of June 1844 left Smith and his brother as religious martyrs of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom Facts for Kids

  • Smith wrote The Book of Mormonthat detailed his vision of the Mormon religion.
  • The Mormons were religiously persecuted in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.
  • At the time of his murder, he was the mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, and the leader of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
  • The newspaper named Nauvoo Expositorwas published claiming that Smith practiced polygamy and wanted to be a theocratic leader of the city.
  • Smith and his brother Hyrum destroyed the printing press and the newspaper. He then declared martial law in Nauvoo.
  • He was jailed by Illinois Governor Thomas Ford on charges of treason, inciting a riot, and destruction of property.
  • Joseph Smith was the founder of the Mormon religion. He had visions and conversations with God and was proclaimed a Prophet of God by fellow Mormons.
  • Joseph and his brother Hyrum were murdered by an angry mob while awaiting trial in Carthage, Illinois. From his death forward, the Church of Latter-Day Saints has viewed Joseph Smith as a religious martyr for Mormons.

 The Book of Mormon

In 1830 Joseph Smith had a vision of meeting with God and several saints. He told his vision and conversations with God to people in New York. The Book of Mormon outlined his visions of religion and his meetings with God. He began telling people that he was a Prophet of God after his vision and writing The Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion shortly after.

Smith and his followers had a hard time in New York and would be forced to move first to Ohio. They forced Smith and his followers to Missouri, where they settled in Independence, Missouri. After more trouble in Missouri, the Mormons led by Smith moved to settle in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Nauvoo Expositor

Smith and the Mormons built a new settlement in Nauvoo. They occupied many offices within the local government. The city council was controlled by the Mormons, and Joseph Smith was the mayor of the small town. In June 1844, a group of non-Mormons and ex-members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints began to publish a newspaper named the Nauvoo Expositor.

The first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor happened on June 7, 1844. The newspaper was very critical of Joseph Smith. The newspaper reported that Smith was a polygamist with eight wives. The Nauvoo Expositor also claimed that Smith wanted to be a theocratic king.

In response to the newspaper, the city council of Nauvoo held a vote. The city council voted that the newspaper was a public nuisance. After the vote, Smith ordered the city marshal to destroy the printing presses and the newspaper.

At this point, many citizens thought this action violated the freedom of the press in the United States. Some of these people even wanted legal charges like the destruction of private property, inciting a riot and treason placed against Smith and the city council. Soon there were numerous violent threats made towards Smith and the city council.

The angered people were able to bring warrants from outside of Nauvoo against Smith. But these warrants were dismissed by the Nauvoo courts. On June 18, 1844, Smith declared martial law in Nauvoo and brought in an organized Mormon militia called the Nauvoo Legion to protect the city from violence.

Government involvement

News of the incident reached the desk of Illinois Governor Thomas Ford. The governor then traveled to Carthage, Illinois, on June 21, 1844. Governor Ford wanted Smith and the city council to stand trial with a non-Mormon jury in Carthage. The governor also guaranteed the safety of the men involved. Smith quickly fled Nauvoo into Iowa, and the governor issued an arrest warrant for Smith.

On June 15, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, many Nauvoo city council members, surrendered in Carthage. The two brothers were then charged with inciting riot and treason against the State of Illinois for declaring martial law. That afternoon the members of the city council were released on bonds. But the Smith brothers were sent to jail pending their trial for treason.

Carthage jail

Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were held at the Carthage jail along with other Mormon supporters. Governor Ford assigned the Carthage Greys, an anti-Mormon militia, to provide security to the Smith brothers while in jail. On the morning of June 27, 1844, the brothers were visited by Cyrus Wheelock, who had sneaked a gun to Joseph Smith during his visit. Another gun was given to Hyrum Smith by John Solomon Fullmer.

On the afternoon of June 27, 1844, an angry mob of over two hundred men with their faces painted in wet gun powder stormed the Carthage jail. During the onslaught of fighting, Hyrum was shot first. Joseph thought he could jump and escape during the battle. Joseph was shot twice before he could jump and a third time as he stood in front of the window inside the jail. Joseph Smith was killed.

Religious Martyr

Joseph Smith, the leader and prophet of God for the Mormons, had become a religious martyr after his death. He was hailed by Mormons as a prophet and savior of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. During his lifetime Smith gained thousands of followers to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. He is viewed by Mormons as a prophet, along with Moses and Elijah.

Today, there are several memorials to Joseph Smith, including the Joseph Smith Building on the campus of Brigham Young University, an obelisk in New York where he was born, and there is the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City.


  1. Where did Joseph Smith start the Mormon religion?
    New York
  1. What book detailed his visions and conversations with God?
    The Book of Mormon
  1. What was the name of the newspaper that was destroyed by Joseph Smith and followers in Nauvoo, Illinois?
    The Nauvoo Expositor
  1. What charges were brought against Joseph Smith by the State of Illinois?
    Treason, inciting a riot and destroying public property
  1. Where were Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum murdered by an angry mob?
    The Carthage jail