The Mobbing of Joseph Smith
March 25, 1832, sometime in the wee hours of morning a mob of angry men crept towards the home of John and Elsa Johnson in Hiram, Ohio. They circled around the house to the summer kitchen. Creeping forward they peered through the window at the exhausted occupants sleeping beneath their blackened faces. Before them were Joseph and Emma Smith and their adopted twins, Joseph and Julia Murdock. The twins, only 11 months old, had the measles and Joseph and Emma in taking care of them had lost much sleep. Hence they either did not hear the tapping on the window or were too tired to notice. Suddenly, the men burst open the door, grabbed Joseph, and immediately began hauling him out the door. Emma screamed. Joseph came awake, conscious of going through the open door, and of men’s fingers tangled in his hair. He freed one leg and kicked one of the mobocrats in the face, sending him sprawling off the stoop. Moments later the man sprang to his feet, and with blood all over his face from his injured nose, pounced on Joseph and choked him until he lost consciousness.
They took him around the house and out to a secluded place. As they passed along, Joseph saw his friend and counselor, Sidney Rigdon, stretched out on the ground, seemingly unconscious or dead. He plead for his life, but they only threatened him further. Some wanted to kill him and others just beat him severely. One man in the group, a Dr. Denison, came with a vial of nitric acid which he attempted to pour down Joseph’s throat. The effect of the caustic chemical would have been to permanently injure if not kill him. However, Joseph clenched his teeth, the vial broke, and the acid spilled over his face, burning him severely.
In their frustration they beat him viciously, such that Joseph would later describe standing above his own body, looking down, and watching the wrath of these men poured out. They killed him. They then stripped off all his clothes and covered him with hot pine tar. Once again, they tried to force the tar paddle into his mouth, and again, Joseph resisted. This time they broke off one of his teeth, leaving his smile marred for years to come. Then, ripping open a pillow, they covered him with feathers. Perhaps they would have done more, but a sound was heard and the men scattered to the wind.
When Joseph regained consciousness and strength enough to stand, he made his way back to the house. Emma fainted at the sight of him. He called for a blanket and went into the house. That night before the fire, his friends and family scraped and peeled the tar from his body.
The next morning, Joseph, badly bruised and scarred, went to Church, and according to previous appointment, preached the Sabbath sermon. He spoke not in spite, nor uttered vengeful recriminations, but preached the pure gospel of Christ. Afterwards he baptized three people.
Six days later his little boy, Joseph Murdock, already weakened with measles, developed a high fever and died; the victim of exposure on the night of the attack.
Why? Emphatically—why would men be so hateful and brutal? There was one primary reason; Doctrine and Covenants 76. That Vision had come just weeks before and when people learned what it revealed they became so angry that they wanted to silence at least, or kill at most, the revelator. Light and truth stir up darkness—it always has and always will.