Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tar and Feathering of the Prophet Joseph Smith

As of lately, I have been reading the Joseph Smith Papers. It is compilation of the words, writings, teachings, of Joseph Smith. I cannot express my great gratitude towards this man. It was his sacrifice that allowed us to receive the restored gospel in our day. I decided to write down the dramatic experience of Joseph's tar and feathering in Hiram, OH March 24th, 1832. Not too many people know about the specific details that went on. Thanks to the help of Susan Easton Black and some further research of my own, I compiled this amazing story of personal sacrifice of the prophet Joseph Smith. 

While Joseph Smith was in Hiram, OH he was betrayed by a fellow friend and member of the church, Symons Ryder. Symons fell away from the church after Joseph Smith spelled his name wrong which is still spelled wrong in today's edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. He began to be irritated with all that Joseph had going on for him, he was worried a temple would be built next to his farm and would not have anything of it. On March 24th, 1832 Symons says this is the night Joseph dies. He sends letters to places all around Hiram, to all those that despise the prophet and the Mormon church. The men that volunteer know that close to midnight, they are to meet in the brickyard of Hiram. When the men get to the brickyard, they become drunk with whiskey as to be out of their minds to accomplish their plans of murdering Joseph.

Because of jealousy, pride and anger sixty men plot to kill Joseph Smith in the night. Twelve men approach the house of Joseph and Emma. Joseph and Emma are laying in the front room with their two newly acquired twins who were ill. Suddenly Emma begins to hear what she thinks is knocking against the house, like a tree blowing in the wind. Within a few moments the twelve men broke through the front door into the front room and Emma wakes Joseph up by screaming "Murder!" After the scream the twelve men are now beginning to grab Joseph. One of the men, Warren Waste, whom had prior to this event bragged in the saloon about being able to take down Joseph, made a mistake. He grabs Joseph's right leg, which is the strong leg, and is kicked in the face so hard that knocks Mr. Waste out of the front bedroom out onto the front porch. Years later, Mr. Waste was asked if Joseph was a prophet. He said he didn't know about that but he knew that he was the strongest man he had ever tangled with in the Ohio's. Another man in the room, Carnit Mason, grabs Joseph's head and eventually grabs his hair. He pulls so hard on his hair that he pulls out part of Joseph's scalp. Years later, a short man and an ancestor of mine Levi Hancock, was walking the Streets of Nauvoo and saw Joseph. Levi said to Joseph, "Joseph, I understand you lost part of your hair in the tar and feathering, could you show me?" Joseph bends over and shows that yes, Joseph was missing part of his scalp. Levi Hancock is my ancestor. 

Eleven of the twelve men now succeed in taking Joseph outside. They get him out to the porch. Warren Waste is now standing up after being kicked in the face; he is bleeding tremendously from the wound. He notices the blood on his hands and is very upset. He chokes Joseph trying to strangle him; he does so until Joseph loses consciousness. The interesting part about this is that the other mobbers are the ones who stopped Mr. Waste from killing Joseph, because they wanted Joseph to die another way, they already planned a premeditated murder. Joseph is now taken about thirty yards farther from the house. When Joseph regains consciousness he now sees all sixty men around him and there he sees his stride, Sidney Rigdon. Sidney was pulled out of his home by his feet and hit his head on the frozen ice causing it to bleed profusely and was lying in a pool of his own blood; Joseph thought his friend Sidney was dead. For the first time now, Joseph speaks to his captors and says, "You will spare my life won't you?" At which point, they say, "Call unto your God for mercy, for we will show you none." 

They now take him 30 yards further and take off all of his clothing except his shirt collar. It used to be back then that men's shirts were flat without collars, but the important people would put on a collar to show respectability, much like we do when we enter church in a suit and tie. Joseph, once naked, is then put on boards and suddenly he is introduced to the man who had been determined to kill him, Dr. Dennison. Dr. Dennison was the doctor that delivered baby Joseph in Sharon, Vermont December 23rd, 1805. Dr. Dennison was known for saying, "If I had known what this baby would become I would have smothered the gus." Dr. Dennison was planning to kill Joseph by castrating him. He has a knife in his hand and comes close to Joseph. As he comes closer to Joseph, his hand with the knife begins to shake and he eventually drops the knife. This was the plan of the mob to have Joseph be killed by castration but they had back up plans in case their first plan did not work. Once the doctor drops the knife, he pulls out of his pocket a vile of nitric acid. The doctor's plan is to put this nitric acid into Joseph's mouth and have him swallow it. Once it is swallowed it causes a cruel death of burning the body from inside out. The doctor attempts to put this small vile into Joseph's mouth, but Joseph keeps his teeth clenched very tightly as to not let anything pass through. Between the clenched teeth and the pushing so hard with the vile, one tooth or another will be broken off. It is not until 1843, when a dentist joins the church in Nauvoo, Joseph will get his teeth fixed. From 1832 to 1843, you could always tell Joseph was preaching because he had a whistle. 

Once the vile was dropped, the mob wondered how do they kill him? All of a sudden you hear, "Symon, Symon, where is the tar bucket?" Some run to get a tar bucket, some break into the home of Sidney Rigdon and grabbed pillows. Joseph now describes that a man fell on him like a mad cat and scratched him well. When the tar is ready and the paddle is put into his mouth, Joseph has no fight left. He knows he is going nowhere and he is done. They splash the tar all over his body and throw the feathers from the pillows over the tar. The last Joseph heard was, "The Mormons are coming." When you say the Mormons are coming, you have Orin Porter Rockwell and similar members who are there to protect Joseph. The mob disperses and leaves Joseph for dead in the street. 

When the tar was put into his mouth, Joseph fell unconscious. He regains himself and rips out the tar of his mouth, when he does so he loses consciousness again. Joseph later regained consciousness and crawled back to the front porch of his home. He discovers Emma and the future Relief Society sisters walking and worried on the porch. Joseph is not happy to have company. Joseph now yells to Emma, "Throw me a blanket." Emma is sure it is Joseph and looks towards the direction of the voice spoken, she sees the tar on him and concludes that it is blood and faints straight onto her back. Emma is helped by the other sisters there and Joseph receives his blanket. Many men come to find Joseph and see him at his home. The men then excuse the ladies from helping Joseph and send them to take care of the sick children. They then pull out their knives and begin to scrape away the tar off Joseph's body. These were not normal knives, they were corn husker knives, thick bladed and dull. 

The next day is church and Joseph speaks as usual, no matter what happens to him, it seems he preaches the gospel. After church, they break the ice on the river and Joseph baptizes three people. In coming days, Joseph and Emma lose one of their twins very likely because of the freezing air that entered the home when the mob came. Joseph and Emma had already lost three children prior to this child. 

Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. No greater man has ever lived and done a greater work, save Jesus Christ alone. I love Joseph; he is my brother and friend. Through the song, "Praise to the Man" (my favorite), we learn that "sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven." Joseph sacrificed everything to do the will of God, to bring the restoration of the gospel in this last and great dispensation. And now we see the blessings in this church because of what Joseph sacrificed. What can we learn from Joseph? What are we doing to sacrifice so that we too may have the blessings of heaven unto ourselves and unto the rest of the world? 
Millions truly have come to know who Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God and millions and millions more will still come to learn. Praise to the man Joseph Smith and his endless glory with the almighty God.


  1. Thank you for taking time to outline this story for us. Makes me just love him all the more for his remarkable testimony.

  2. Thank you for this. He is truly a Prophet of God.

  3. What a complete lie! Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered because he was caught messing around with the 15 year old daughter of the family Smith was staying with! The mob was led by the brother of the girl. They brought a doctor with them to perform a castration on Smith. Why would they do that?

    1. I don't think anything has been lied about. But if there is further information, please do share the sources.

  4. Scott,

    Your historical facts are very one sided, and some are simply wrong. I think it is disingenuous of anyone to call you a liar though.

    Castration is not a death sentence. No one would try and kill someone by castrating them.

    There is no evidence that those in the mob were "drunk out of their minds", though Fawn Brodie claimed they were "fortified by a barrel of whiskey". Getting too drunk would make what they were doing even harder than it was.

    Todd Compton wrote,

    //The motivation for this mobbing has been debated. Clark Braden…alleged…that Marinda’s brother Eli led a mob against Smith because the prophet had been too intimate with Marinda. This tradition suggests that Smith may have married Marinda at this early time, and some circumstantial factors support such a possibility. The castration attempt might be taken as evidence that the mob felt that Joseph had committed a sexual impropriety; since the attempt is reported by [Marinda's brother who became LDS apostle] Luke Johnson, there is no good reason to doubt it. Also, they had planned the operation in advance, as they brought along a doctor to perform it. The first revelations had been received in 1831, by historian Danel Bachman’s dating. Also, Joseph did tend to marry women who had stayed at his house or in whose house he had stayed” (In Sacred Loneliness, page 231).//

    Braden got many facts wrong. Nancy had an uncle named Eli, (Eliphet) not a brother.

    Men's shirts back then had collars, though some did not. Why would Smith be wearing a formal collar (as you claim) to bed? That makes little sense. He was most likely wearing a collared night shirt that was probably buttoned and the stitching ripped leaving the collar around his neck when they yanked his shirt off.

    It was claimed that Dr. Dennison brought the nitric acid and was going to do the castration, but “his heart failed him”, and he could not castrate Smith. (Luke Johnson account) If he (Dr. Dennison) was squeamish about castration (which was hardly leathal), why would he even consider pouring nitric acid down someone’s throat, which would have burned out his esophagus and stomach and killed him? That doesn’t make any sense.

    Neither does it that they would break Smith’s teeth with a vial, and not spill a drop on him - his whole mouth and chin and neck area would have been burned severely if that were the case, would it not?

    Also, they were choking him to death (according to Black) and then stopped, just so they could castrate him and then poison him? That makes absolutely no sense at all. They could have castrated him after he was dead.

    If they were going to kill Joseph with the tar, why carry it over 1000 yards from the brick yard in the cold? Why not carry Joseph there? If they couldn’t get his mouth open to give him nitric acid, how were they going to do this with tar? Why then, save that for last? Why not do it first? It was absolutely not meant to kill a person, but to humiliate them. Most victims of this were later paraded around town squares to reinforce the humiliation, they were not killed.

    Easton’s account is just full of ridiculous assumptions, faulty facts and wrong conclusions.

  5. There are no accounts that speak of Joseph being burned by acid. I believe that the vial was discarded before the attack, (as they settled on castration) and that it was found later, and everyone assumed that it was brought along, and that is what broke Smith’s teeth, but it was probably a stick with tar on it that caused his teeth to break.

    Rigdon would later claim to see dead grass in the area where he was mobbed, but I believe that this was from the brickyard, where they discarded the unused nitric acid. He was so messed up during the account that he went crazy afterwards and tried to kill Smith. It is highly unlikely that he remembered specific details about the account due to his head trauma. Luke Johnson wrote,

    they tore off the few night clothes that he had on, for the purpose of emasculating him, and had Dr. Dennison there to perform the operation; but when the Dr. saw the Prophet stripped and stretched on the plank, his heart failed him, and he refused to operate.

    Joseph’s teeth could have easily been broken by the tar stick being shoved in his mouth. Richard Bushman wrote in 2005:

    //In early 1832, opposition took a violent turn. On Saturday, March 24, Joseph was dragged from his bedroom in the dead of night. His attackers strangled him until he blacked out, tore off his shirt and drawers, beat and scratched him, and jammed a vial of poison against his teeth until it broke.//

    Why did they simply not pour the liquid down his throat when he was unconscious? Again, how would Smith escape from being burned all over his face and neck from the nitric acid? Also, even breathing in the fumes of nitric acid can damage the lungs.

    If they tried to pour it in his mouth, why would they not hold his nose? 60 men (according to you) could not overpower one man? These observations cast doubt that the mob even tried to poison him with nitric acid.

    The mob only consisted of about 25-30 people. There were no set plans to outright kill Joseph or Sidney. Even in his own account, (History of the Church) Joseph claimed that Symonds Ryder was concerned about his (Joseph) catching cold and to “pull up his drawers”, and that the mob was divided about what exactly to do to him.

    While some wanted to kill him, it appears that some did not, and the mob even stopped everything and had a debate about it, which seems far-fetched, considering that they were probably pressed for time. What we do know is that they brought a plank with them, and tar. This is clearly what they intended to do from the beginning. Joseph knew this and simply exaggerated that they wanted to kill him.

    This is borne out by this notice which appeared in a local paper at the time,

    //That on Saturday night, March 24, a number of persons, some say 25 or 30, disguised with coloured faces, entered the rooms in Hiram, where the two Mormonite leaders, Smith and Rigdon were sleeping, and took them, together with the pillows on which they slept, carried them a short distance and after besmearing their bodies with tar, applied the contents of the pillows to the same.

    Now Mr. Editor, I call this a base transaction, an unlawful act, a work of darkness, a diabolical trick. But bad as it is, it proves one important truth which every wise man knew before, that is, that Satan has more power than the pretended prophets of Mormon. It is said that they (Smith and Rigdon) had declared, in anticipation of such an event, that it could not be done -- that God would not suffer it; that those who should attempt it, would be miraculously smitten on the spot, and many such like things, which the event proves to be false.” (The Geauga Gazette – April 17, 1832, “Triumphs of the Mormon Faith.”)//

  6. They simply report that he was tarred and feathered. Of course Smith exaggerated this into an attempt on his life, it made him look better to his followers.

    Joseph more than likely lost more than one tooth. (George Moore account, Nauvoo, 1842) He also had an injury to his side, which he complained about a few years later when he lost a fight with his brother William, claiming that it was due to the injury he had received in his side by the mob at Hiram. But Joseph hated to lose (he was always boasting about his physical prowess), and so could have used this as an excuse when his younger brother whipped him so badly.

    As for Nancy Marinda Johnson, Smith later sent her husband Orson Hyde on a mission and secretly married her in Nauvoo.

    There is more to the 1832 assault than what you portray here. The Johnson family was divided about Smith. Most of them (at first) believed in the Book of Mormon. It was Smith’s later “revelations”, about the United Order, and others that Ezra Booth revealed, that divided many and caused them to turn against him. The mob was probably divided, some angry at Joseph for his advances to Nancy Marinda, others over what they claimed were land grabs. This division obviously played out in the assault.

    A very well researched account about this appears in Mark Staker’s book, “Hearken, O Ye My People,” which is about the Ohio “revelations” to Smith. Being faithful, he downplays the Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde aspect of the assault, and claims that the castration was simply an “afterthought” of the Dr.

    You have the portrayal of Symond’s Ryder all wrong. It was not a name misspelling that led him to leave the church, though he did mention that as something that troubled him later. He left the church (In September 1832 after Booth returned from Missouri) over what was written in Joseph’s revelations and was working closely with Ezra Booth to expose what they perceived as Smith’s hypocrisy concerning land, and their arrogant actions as leaders of the church. Only Joseph claimed that Ryder was part of the mob, and portrayed him as concerned about his health in the attack. Sidney Rigdon wrote of him in 1836:

    //Symonds Rider [sic]... could blow like a porpoise when there was no person to oppose him; but when called upon to be as bold in the presence of those whom he envied, as in their absence, he had recourse to the same means of slander and abuse: but to the credit of Symonds, we will say that since that time [when a challenge to debate was issued in 1832] he has been silent on the subject, in this he has displayed more honesty than some others of his brethren."//

    It is hard to imagine Rigdon writing this if he believed that Ryder was the head of the mob that attacked him in 1832. I believe that it was Eli Johnson who was the leader of the mob, and that it was motivated by a perceived slight to his sister, Nancy Marinda Johnson, and some of the Johnson family’s concerns over Smith’s attempts to have them sell their properties.

    Later, even John Johnson refused to believe in Smith’s “revelations” and was excommunicated after becoming disaffected due to the trust he placed in Smith’s “revelation” about the Kirtland Safety Society.

    I was a brutal attack, and that should be enough, but some can’t help making this into more than it was, someone who was tarred and feathered and humiliated by an angry mob of people disillusioned that they had once believed in Smith’s prophetic claims and angry about his sexual advances towards women.

  7. Thank you for your comments Grindael. There surely is much that you've obviously prepared (or copied from someone else's preparations). There is always more to learn. Discerning between the things you learn and how to discern is the greatest action any one can do. God bless my friend.

    1. According to Gregory Smith:

      Marinda recalled in 1877: “I feel like bearing my testimony that during the whole year that Joseph was an inmate of my father’s house I never saw aught in his daily life or conversation to make me doubt his divine mission.”35 If sexual impropriety was an issue in 1832, it is strange that even hostile sources made no mention of it until 1884. It does not appear in the historical record prior to that time.

    2. "There surely is much that you've obviously prepared (or copied from someone else's preparations)."

      Insinuating much?

  8. Haters will always try to bend things to make Joseph look like a demon. None of us were there. I imagine the truth is in the middle. I'm always amazed how liars become credible sources later on.

  9. Haters will always try to bend things to make Joseph look like a demon. None of us were there. I imagine the truth is in the middle. I'm always amazed how liars become credible sources later on.

  10. It's funny to me that the so-called "true" Christians (i.e. those who "know" that Joseph was a false prophet and a self-promoting, devilish con-man) are the same ones who try to find excuses to downplay the highly UN-Christian actions of the Protestant mobs who persecuted the Mormons back then (and still do today--if rarely as violently). The fact remains that Joseph Smith went through horrible experiences and suffered constant abuse from the moment he said that God had chosen him, and the fact that he stayed true to his calling and his testimony until they finally shot him to death at 38 is an undeniably powerful witness of the truthfulness of his claims.

    If he "made it all up", as his detractors choose to believe, his life (and the lives of his loved ones) would have been MUCH easier if he had just used the "opportunity" of being forced to relocate for the umpteenth time to start over and deny or refuse to speak about all his previous claims. He didn't. Go get pulled out of your house in the middle of the night and beaten and tortured for something you just "made up". Then go through similar things again and again. Have your kids die, your wife get disowned by her parents, and your parents and brothers constantly harassed and threatened. Lose all your money repeatedly. Spend time in jail and have constant lawsuits filed against you. Have the news constantly reporting what a corrupt and immoral liar you are. See if you stick to your story...
    Joseph Smith was far from a perfect man. But he was a Prophet of God and a personal witness of Jesus the Christ. Stop wasting time regurgitating biased and prejudiced attacks on Joseph. Go and read the Book of Mormon with an open heart and mind, and let the Holy Spirit confirm it's truthfulness to you. You'll find a deeper appreciation of the grace and reality of the Lord Jesus than you will from the Holy Bible alone. Joseph went and preached a sermon on forgiveness the day after his tarring and feathering. Find it in yourself to let go of your hate too.

  11. That last paragraph sounds so cultish

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  14. Mr Gemmell, do you know the names to mob member who were present for Joseph Smith’s sermon the day after the attack?

  15. Hi Scott, I am trying to write about Joseph Smith's experience and am very interested in a citation for Dr. Dennison being present. Can you please point me to a good source? Thanks!

    1. Hey Rebecca, it was so long ago during college days that I can’t remember but I do know I got it from Dr. Susan Easton Black. I’d find her and see what sources she has.

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