Cruelty by a Mob

Joseph Smith, Jr.
Joseph Smith Jr.
Sidney Rigdon Sidney Rigdon

In September, 1831, Joseph Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon and their families moved from Kirtland, Ohio to Hiram, Ohio so that Joseph and Sidney could resume work on the Inspired Version, which they commenced in October of that year. Joseph and Emma and their adopted twins lived with the Johnson's on their farm in Hiram. Joseph, with Sidney as his scribe, used one of the upper rooms in the Johnson house to revise the King James Version of the Bible, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. On February 16, 1832, while working on the Inspired Version, Joseph and Sidney received the vision of the several glories of eternity. This revelation is recorded as Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The following is an account, told by Joseph Smith Jr., of a brutal event that happened to both him and Sidney Rigdon at the hands of an angry mob on March 25, 1832. At this time, they were still engaged in the work of the Inspired Version at Hiram, Ohio. While the account is very graphic, it is reproduced here so that all may know of some of the persecutions received by many of the early Saints. This is intended to show that even though persecutions were severe, the Saints were undaunted in their belief of the truth of the restored Gospel. Not even physical harm, threat of death, nor loss of children could dissuade them from pursuing that which the Lord had commanded them to do. Many early Saints paid a great price for the restored Gospel. As you read the following, ask yourself, "Am I willing to pay a similar price for my belief in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ?"

According to previous calculations, we now began to make preparations to visit the brethren who had removed to the land of Missouri. Before going to Hiram to live with Father Johnson, my wife had taken two children (twins) of John Murdock, to bring up. She received them when only nine days old; they were now nearly eleven months. I would remark that nothing important had occurred since I came to reside in Father Johnson's house in Hiram; I had held meetings on the Sabbaths and evenings, and baptized a number. Father Johnson's son, Olmsted Johnson, came home on a visit, during which I told him if he did not obey the gospel the spirit he was of would lead him to destruction; and then [when] he went away, he would never return or see his father again. He went to the Southern States and Mexico; on his return took sick and died in Virginia. In addition to the apostate Booth, Simonds Rider, Eli Johnson, Edward Johnson, and John Johnson, Jr., had apostatized.

Johnson House Bedroom
Joseph was sleeping on the trundle bed, as pictured, when he was dragged by the mob from this room of the Johnson house.

On the 25th of March, the twins before-mentioned, which had been sick of the measles for some time, caused us to be broke of our rest in taking care of them, especially my wife. In the evening I told her she had better retire to rest with one of the children, and I would watch with the sickest child. In the night she told me I had better lay down on the trundle-bed, and I did so, and was soon after awoke by her screaming "Murder!" when I found myself going out of the door, in the hands of about a dozen men; some of whose hands were in my hair, and some hold of my shirt, drawers, and limbs. The foot of the trundle-bed was towards the door, leaving only room enough for the door to swing. My wife heard a gentle tapping on the windows which she then took no particular notice of, (but which was unquestionably designed for ascertaining whether we were all asleep,) and soon after the mob burst open the door and surrounded the bed in an instant, and, as I said, the first I knew I was going out of the door in the hands of an infuriated mob. I made a desperate struggle, as I was forced out, to extricate myself, but only cleared one leg, with which I made a pass at one man, and he fell on the doorsteps. I was immediately confined again; and they swore by God, they would kill me if I did not be still, which quieted me. As they passed around the house with me, the fellow that I kicked came to me and thrust his hand into my face, all covered with blood, (for I hit him on the nose,) and with an exulting horse-laugh, muttered: "Ge, gee, [expletive], I'll fix ye."

They then seized me by the throat, and held on till I lost my breath. After I came to, as they passed along with me, about thirty rods from the house, I saw Elder Rigdon stretched out on the ground, whither they had dragged him by the heels. I supposed he was dead.

I began to plead with them, saying: "You will have mercy and spare my life, I hope." To which they replied: "[Expletive], call on yer God for help, we'll show ye no mercy;" and the people began to show themselves in every direction: one coming from the orchard had a plank, and I expected they would kill me, and carry me off on the plank. They then turned to the right and went on about thirty rods further, about sixty rods from the house, and thirty from where I saw Elder Rigdon, into the meadow, where they stopped, and one said: "Simonds, Simonds," (meaning I supposed Simonds Rider,) "pull up his drawers, pull up his drawers, he will take cold." Another replied: "A'nt ye going to kill 'im? A'nt ye going to kill 'im?" when a group of mobbers collected a little way off and said: "Simonds, Simonds, come here;" and Simonds charged those who had hold of me to keep me from touching the ground (as they had done all the time) lest I should get a spring upon them. They went and held a council, and as I could occasionally overhear a word, I supposed it was to know whether it was best to kill me. They returned after awhile, when I learned that they had concluded not to kill me but pound and scratch me well, tear off my shirt and drawers, and leave me naked. One cried, "Simonds, Simonds, where's the tar bucket?" "I don't know," answered one, "where 'tis, Eli's left it." They ran back and fetched the bucket of tar, when one exclaimed, "[Expletive], let us tar up his mouth;" and they tried to force the tar-paddle into my mouth; I twisted my head around, so that they could not; and they cried out: "[Expletive], hold up yer head and let us give ye some tar." They then tried to force a vial into my mouth, and broke it in my teeth. All my clothes were torn off me except my shirt collar; and one man fell on me and scratched my body with his nails like a mad cat, and then muttered out: "[Expletive], that's the way the Holy Ghost falls on folks."

They then left me, and I attempted to rise, but fell again; I pulled the tar away from my lips, etc., so that I could breathe more freely, and after awhile I began to recover, and raised myself up, when I saw two lights. I made my way towards one of them, and found it was Father Johnson's. When I had come to the door, I was naked, and the tar made me look as though I had been covered with blood, and when my wife saw me she thought I was all mashed to pieces, and fainted. During the affray abroad the sisters of the neighborhood had collected at my room. I called for a blanket, they threw me one and shut the door; I wrapped it around me and went in.

In the meantime, Brother John Poorman heard an outcry across the cornfield, and running that way met Father Johnson, who had been fastened in his house at the commencement of the assault, by having his door barred by the mob, but on calling to his wife to bring his gun, saying, he would blow a hole through the door, the mob fled, and Father Johnson seizing a club ran after the party that had Elder Rigdon, and knocked one man, and raised his club to level another, exclaiming: "what are you doing here?" when they left Elder Rigdon and turned upon Father Johnson, who, turning to run towards his own house, met Brother Poorman coming out of the cornfield. Each supposing the other to be a mobber, an encounter ensued, and Poorman gave Johnson a severe blow on the left shoulder with a stick or stone, which brought him to the ground. Poorman ran immediately towards Father Johnson's, and arriving while I was waiting for the blanket, exclaimed: "I'm afraid I've killed him." Killed who? asked one; when Poorman hastily related the circumstances of the rencounter near the cornfield, and went into the shed and hid himself. Father Johnson soon recovered so as to come to the house, when the whole mystery was quickly solved concerning the difficulty between him and Poorman, who, on learning the facts, joyfully came from his hiding place.

Johnson House
Joseph stood at the door of the Johnson house (above) and preached to the congregation the morning after being tarred. Some of the mob were in the crowd.

My friends spent the night in scraping and removing the tar, and washing and cleansing my body; so that by morning I was ready to be clothed again. This being Sabbath morning, the people assembled for meeting at the usual hour of worship, and among them came also the mobbers; viz.: Simonds Rider, a Campbellite preacher, and leader of the mob; one McClentic, son of a Campbellite minister; and Pelatiah Allen, Esq., who gave the mob a barrel of whiskey to raise their spirits; and many others. With my flesh all scarified and defaced, I preached to the congregation as usual, and in the afternoon of the same day baptized three individuals.

The next morning I went to see Elder Rigdon, and found him crazy, and his head highly inflamed, for they had dragged him by his heels, and those too so high from the earth he could not raise his head from the rough frozen surface, which lacerated it exceedingly; and when he saw me he called to his wife to bring him his razor. She asked him what he wanted of it, and he replied to kill me. Sister Rigdon left the room, and he asked me to bring his razor. I asked him what he wanted of it, and he replied he wanted to kill his wife, and he continued delirious some days. The feathers which were used with the tar on this occasion, the mob took out of Elder Rigdon's house. After they had seized him and dragged him out, one of the banditti returned to get some pillows; when the women shut him in and kept him some time.

During the mob, one of the twins received a severe cold, and continued to grow worse till Friday, and died. The mobbers were composed of various religious parties, but mostly Campbellites, Methodists, and Baptists, who continued to molest and menace Father Johnson's house for a long time. Elder Rigdon removed to Kirtland with his family, then sick with the measles, the following Wednesday, and on account of the mob, he went to Chardon on Saturday, April 1. Sunday, April 2, I started for Missouri, in company with Newel K. Whitney, Peter Whitmer and Jesse Gauze, to fulfill the revelation. Not wishing to go by Kirtland, as another mob existed in that neighborhood, (and indeed, the spirit of mobocracy was very prevalent through the region of country at the time,) Brother George Pitkin took us in his wagon, by the most expeditious route to Warren, where we arrived the same day, and were there joined by Elder Rigdon, who left Chardon in the morning; and proceeding onward, we arrived at Wellsville the next day, and the day following at Steubenville, where we left the wagon; and on Wednesday, the fifth of April, we took passage on board a steam packet for Wheeling, Virginia, where we purchased a lot of paper for the press in Zion, then in care of W. W. Phelps

From Wheeling we took passage on board the steamer Trenton. While at the dock, during the night, the boat was twice on fire, burning the whole width of the boat through into the cabin, but with so little damage the boat went on in the morning; and when we arrived at Cincinnati, some of the mob which had followed us all the way round, left us, and we arrived at Louisville the same night; Captain Brittle offered us protection on board of his boat, and gave us supper and breakfast gratuitously. At Louisville we were joined by Elder Titus Billings, who was journeying with a company of saints from Kirtland to Zion, and we took passage on the steamer Charleston for St. Louis, where we parted with Brother Billings and company, and by stage arrived at Independence, Missouri, on the twenty-fourth of April, a distance of about three hundred miles from St. Louis. We found the brethren generally enjoying health and faith, and extremely glad to welcome us among them. (RLDS History of the Church 1:236–244; Times and Seasons 5: 611–612, 624)