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Death of the Prophet: the Martyrdom of Joseph Smith

On June 27, 1844, the prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered at Carthage Jail.

The events of the day are familiar to Latter-day Saints: the plaintive singing of A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, the frantic storming of the mob, and the volley of bullets into the upper room, which would send the body of the prophet out the window and to the vengeful crowd below.

Willard Richards’ eyewitness account describes Joseph Smith being shot by the window, falling out, and “He fell on his left side a dead man.”1

Carthage Jail original artwork by Rachel Clayton #NauvooHistorian

A Different Retelling

However, during my studies of the martyrdom, I’ve come across another account of this event by William Daniels who was part of the mob at Carthage. He states that Joseph Smith survived the fall and pulled himself up to the curb of the well. Four members of the mob lined up to shoot him. They stood about eight feet from the curb. Daniels describes,

“President Smith’s eyes rested upon them with a calm and quiet resignation. He betrayed no agitated feelings and the expression upon his countenance seemed to betoken his inly prayer to be, ‘O, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”2

Then, the men shot the prophet.

A Memorial for Hyrum and Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail

A Tour & A Testimony

I don’t know which account is correct. However, while giving a tour in The Tomb of Joseph Museum, I decided to share the Daniels version.

When I got to the part about Joseph’s eyes, my voice caught, and I found myself crying. Suddenly, I could imagine the scene in clarity.

I could imagine Brother Joseph having lived his life in devoted service to God. I pictured his imprisonments, the harsh words railed against him, the children he lost, and most of all, his unshaken faith.

It hit me and I struggled to continue the tour. I have no doubt that however Joseph died, when he passed into the next life the Savior greeted him like an old friend.

“He spake, and my poor name he named,

‘Of me thou hast not been ashamed.

These deeds shall thy memorial be;

Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”3 

On the special and solemn day of the martyrdom, may we remember the life and death of Joseph Smith and his testimony of the Savior’s restored gospel on the earth.

Sincerely yours,

Rachel #NauvooHistorian


Carthage Jail is so beautiful in the springtime! Have you ever visited Carthage Jail? Tell me about your experience there! Every time I visit I notice how special and sacred this place is. Who would have imagined that a jail and crime scene would one day become one of the most beautiful and peaceful places l’ve ever been? #nauvooblogger #carthagejail #carthage #prophet #Ids #josephsmith #sacred #peaceful #tranquility #spring #springtime #tulips

♬ original sound – Justina McCandless


  1. Appendix 3: Willard Richards, Journal Excerpt, 23–27 June 1844, p. 37, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed June 8, 2023,
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