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!

11 Responses

  1. I want to know more about John Johnson and his family. Only his name can be found. Who was his wife, his children, etc. did he move on with the saints? My maiden name is Johnson. My roots stop at generation 5. His name was John Johnson, but no one in the family know anything about him. My grandfather and his siblings were raised not to drink coffee or tea and to abstain from tobacco products. My uncle, a professor at Purdue at the time, pointed out to my great aunts that it sounded like the Mormon religion. But I cannot find anything out.

    1. Kate,
      I would recommend getting in touch with the folks at the Church History library in Salt Lake. They could refer you to someone that can track the family history or one of their historians. I know that Luke Johnson came west in 1847 with the Vanguard Company and Brigham Young. He became a bishop in Tooele. His sister, Marinda Johnson was married to Orson Hyde and also came west. As far as I know the rest of the family became disaffected and remained behind. I believe John Johnson himself is buried in the small cemetery next to the Kirtland Temple.

  2. this left me crying. I have to fulfil my baptismal vows and attend church meetings no matter how sick I am.

    1. Glen,
      Sidney left the Church after 1844 and the Martyrdom and returned to Pennsylvania where he became an active minister of another faith once again. There he lived out his days and holds a prominent historical place in their history.

  3. I’m from the country Peru, is located in south america, l although I was not born in the USA The legacy of the pioneers, it is also our legacy, thanks Joseph Smith, for their love, faith, obedience, courage, at the anarchist heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise to the prophet surrender honors

  4. Glen, my husband is a fourth great-grandson of John Johnson. I am currently putting together the histories of our pioneer ancestors. There were a few details in your recent Sunday evening podcast entitled “Tarring and Feathering,” that I had not come upon in my research. How might I get a printed copy of the podcast that pertains to the night of the tarring of Joseph Smith? John’s son, Luke, recorded in his journal that Dr. Dennison brought his black medical bag with the intent to emasculate the prophet. I did not see that included in this article nor on the podcast. I have a story I have been researching about how the Church came to purchase the John Johnson home and farm. It appears that it was through a miraculous visitation by the Prophet Joseph to Wilford C. Wood in 1956, (who was on assignment by Pres. David O. McKay to purchase the property), that this transaction came about. I would love to share that with you and ask for a copy of your recent fireside—just the portion that pertains to the tarring and feathering of the Prophet at our ancestor’s home.

    I wasn’t sure how to contact you.

    Anna Price

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