The Tarring and Feathering of Joseph Smith

16 Tarring and Feathering by CCA ChristensenTar and Feathers

It was sometime in the wee hours of the morning of March 25, 1832, when an infuriated mob exploded through the door of the summer kitchen of the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio. They pounced on 26 year-old Joseph Smith Jr. and began carrying him out the door. It all happened so fast Joseph was on the stoop before he came awake. Struggling, he freed one leg and kicked one of the mobbers in the face, sending him sprawling. The man jumped to his feet and with his hands all covered in his own blood, grabbed Joseph by the throat and choked him until he lost consciousness.

When Joseph revived he saw his friend and counselor, Sidney Rigdon stretched out unmoving on the cold ground. Supposing that Sidney was dead, Joseph asked the mob for mercy. They cursed and swore, “Call on yer God for help,” they said, “We’ll show you no mercy!”

Men seemed to come from everywhere and join the fray. Would they kill him or just rough him up. The decision was made to hurt him, and to that end they proceeded. Tearing off all his clothes but his shirt collar they beat, kicked, and scratched him. One man fell on Joseph like a mad cat and scratched his body with his nails, crying as he did, “That’s the way the Holy Ghost falls on folks.”

Someone brought forward a bucket of hot tar which they then smeared over Joseph’s lacerated body, at the same time trying to force the tar paddle into his mouth. He resisted. They tried to force a vial of poison in his mouth—aquafortis, or nitric acid. Again he clenched his jaw and fought back. Had they succeeded the poison would have burned his throat ruined his voice, and probably killed him. As it was, they succeeded only in knocking out one of his teeth, and spilling the acid over his skin, severely burning him.

How bad was this attack? They tore out a patch of his hair by the roots that never grew back. They injured his side in such a way that it pained him the rest of his life and–they killed him. Joseph would later describe standing above his body and watching as the mob beat him and poured the acid over his face and neck.

Then a noise was heard and the mob fled in fear leaving Joseph upon the ground. Slowly, he regained consciousness. He tried to sit up but couldn’t. Unable to breathe, he pulled the tar from his mouth. After a time, he made his way home. Emma stood in the doorway and fainted at the sight of him. Joseph asked for a blanket for cover and went inside by the fire. His friends spent the night peeling and scraping the tar from his body, sometimes taking off layers of skin with it.

It made a lasting impression on mobbers and members alike when the next morning, the Sabbath, Joseph stood and meekly preached a sermon, following which, he baptized three people. About a week later, in obedience to revelation, Joseph set out for an extended visit to Missouri. He would not give up.

Why the mob? What was it that had so infuriated the locals that ministers, doctors, and former friends would join a mob to kill Joseph, or at least silence him. There were many reasons, chief of which was a new revelation Joseph and Sidney had received the month before– the three degrees of glory—Doctrine and Covenants 76, The Vision! Light and truth stir up darkness. It has ever been that way, and it still is. Don’t expect anything different and don’t give up. Endure to the end!