United States and American History: 1844 and the Mormons

About the history of the Mormon people and the United States in 1844 when the leader and prophet of Mormanism Joseph Smith was killed.


June 7 Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, had made romantic overtures to the wife of a Canadian convert named William Law. Incensed, Law quit the Latter-day Saints and brought out one issue of the Nauvoo Expositor in which he attacked the practice of Mormon polygamy. Law's lead article explained: "We are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms."

Smith, accompanied by the Nauvoo city marshal, proceeded to destroy Law's printing press. Charged by the governor of Illinois with inciting a riot, Smith started to flee, changed his mind, and went to jail.

June 27 Confined to a spacious upstairs cell of the Carthage, III., jail, Joseph Smith was drinking wine with his brother and some friends in the late afternoon when he heard an angry mob approaching. Arming himself with a 6-chambered revolver that had been smuggled to him, Smith waited. Part of the mob forced his cell door, and emptied their weapons into Smith's brother and friends. Smith, throwing down his revolver, leaped for the window ledge. Bullets from the court below and from inside the cell struck him. Groaning, "Oh Lord, my God," Smith pitched over and plummeted 2 stories to the ground below. Some accounts say he was killed by his fall. Others claim he survived it only to be propped up in a sitting position and dispatched by a firing squad of 4. The Mormon prophet was dead, but in less than 2 months there would be a new prophet, a 43-year-old onetime carpenter and house painter from Vermont named Brigham Young.

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