Mormonism and Freemasonry/Joseph Smith's involvement


Joseph Smith's involvement in Freemasonry

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What were the causes of Joseph and Hyrum Smith's martyrdom?

Political tensions, theological disagreements, rumors of polygamy and the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor

There were many contributing factors which led to the martyrdom. Chief among these include:

  1. political tensions
  2. theological disagreements
  3. rumors of polygamy
  4. destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor

The factors which led to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith are complex and multi-faceted. They included the following:

  1. Politics: Local, and, eventually, national, politics involving the Saints and their non-Mormon neighbors were often heated, given the fact that the Saints voted as a block and given Joseph Smith's commanding influence on how the Saints voted. This easily led to antagonism and rivalry between Mormons and non-Mormons over political issues. Joseph, being the mayor of Nauvoo and eventually a presidential candidate, was right in the middle of many of these controversies. Being the president of the Church and considered a prophet by his followers also generated suspicion in plenty of non-Mormons that Joseph was transgressing state-church boundaries, which furthered hostilities.
  2. Theology Mormons, both in the 19th century and even today, are and have been considered either fanatics or blasphemous in their radical break from many mainstream, conventional Christian doctrines about the nature of God, scripture, revelation, etc. Joseph Smith's Nauvoo-era theology led to further rifts that can be seen even today. Some of his most radical teachings about the nature of God and the potential of man alienated his theological rivals and furthered tensions.
  3. Polygamy: By Joseph's martyrdom in 1844, rumors of polygamy had begun circulating in Nauvoo and surrounding areas, prompting both members within the Church and non-members to come to see Joseph Smith as morally contemptible and even dangerous. Joseph made admittedly awkwardly-worded public denials of polygamy, but with the rumor-mongering and distortions of such men as John C. Bennett, polygamy was a charged issue. As Joseph privately taught his version of plural marriage—which differed markedly from the libertinism and seduction practiced by Bennett—rumors began to circulate, and some members became concerned that Joseph was either a fallen prophet, or one who was teaching false doctrine.

There were other factors that led to Joseph's martyrdom, including economic, social, and cultural tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons.

All of this was dry powder that was finally sparked by the publication and suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor. If one reads the Expositor, one can see all of the reasons listed above as grievances dissenters gave against Joseph Smith. Because of its highly incendiary and threatening language, the Nauvoo city council deemed the paper a public nuisance and voted to stop its publication out of fear that allowing its continued publication would lead to mobs and violence against the Saints. Acting under the direction of the city council and Joseph Smith, the Nauvoo city marshal destroyed the press that printed the Expositor.

This, naturally, led to a public outcry against Joseph Smith. Thomas Sharp, the virulent anti-Mormon editor of the Warsaw Signal, infamous proclaimed upon hearing about the destruction of the Expositor,

War and extermination is inevitable! Citizens ARISE, ONE and ALL!!!—Can you stand by, and suffer such INFERNAL DEVILS! to ROB men of their property and RIGHTS, without avenging them. We have no time for comment, every man will make his own. LET IT BE MADE WITH POWDER AND BALL!!!

At the behest of governor Thomas Ford, and after being discharged of charges of inciting a riot by a non-Mormon justice of the peace, Joseph went to the county seat in Carthage, where he again faced charges of inciting a riot and the destruction of private property. After paying bail of $500 dollars, there suddenly came the bogus charge of "treason," a non-bailable offense, by dissenter Augustine Spencer, and justice of the peace Robert Smith order Joseph and Hyrum kept in Carthage. To be frank, the charge of treason was probably little more than a legal pretext to keep Joseph in Carthage, and was likely part of Thomas Sharp's conspiracy to lynch Joseph.

Despite his pledge to protect Joseph, Ford, at the last minute, disbanded his militia troops, apparently out of a concern that if they accompanied him to Nauvoo they'd cause trouble, and told them to go home. But left behind in Carthage as Ford traveled to Nauvoo were the Carthage Greys, in whose ranks some of the most fanatical and bloodthirsty anti-Mormons, including members of Thomas Sharp's Warsaw militia and Sharp himself, were marshaled. Small wonder that Joseph was murdered by the Greys almost as soon as Ford left Carthage for Nauvoo.

Did Joseph and others with him remove their garments in order to avoid being identified as polygamists?

John Taylor, who was an eyewitness to the martyrdom, clarified that the garments were not removed out of fear, but that they were sometimes removed because of the hot weather

It is claimed that prior to leaving for Carthage, that Joseph Smith removed his garments, and advised others to remove theirs, in order to avoid identification as polygamists. [1]

  • Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and John Taylor removed their garments prior to leaving for Carthage. Willard Richards continued to wear his.
  • According to contemporary accounts, Joseph may have asked others to remove their garments in order to avoid having them desecrated or mocked.
  • John Taylor, who was an eyewitness to the martyrdom, clarified that the garments were not removed out of fear, but that they were sometimes removed because of the hot weather.
  • Because Willard Richards escaped the martyrdom unscathed, a widespread belief arose that his wearing of the garment afforded him physical protection.
  • Garments were sometimes used as a means for enemies of the church to identify Church members.
  • There is no evidence that the wearing of garments or their subsequent removal had anything whatsoever to do with identifying someone as a polygamist.

Of the four men who were in Carthage Jail at the time that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed, three of them had removed their garments prior to leaving Nauvoo

Of the four men who were in Carthage Jail at the time that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed, three of them had removed their garments prior to leaving Nauvoo. Willard Richards was the only one of the four who was wearing his garments at the time of the martyrdom.

The commonly believed reason for the removal of the garments was that they were removed in order to keep them from falling into the hands of their enemies

The commonly believed reason for the removal of the garments was that they were removed in order to keep them from falling into the hands of their enemies. Heber C. Kimball reported in his journal that Joseph instructed those of the Quorum who were going to accompany him to Carthage to remove their temple garments prior to leaving.[2] Sarah G. Richards noted the following in a letter to Zina Huntington,

[T]he order came that in every habitation where any of the endowment clothes were found, [it] would [mean] death to the inmates—Olive Frost...came to tear to pieces the garments &c of...Doctor Levi....Miss [Rhoda] Richards separated the parts and placed them among the articles of linen.[3]

Oliver Huntington elaborated on this in his journal entry for 22 April 1897:

Thursday, April 22, 1897: My niece Zina Card and sister Lucy B. Young came on their return from Goshen and the other settlements in this county south of here and stayed all night with us.

They were out by appointment from the Presidency of the Church in the interests of the young womans Journal.

We had an excellent time while they were here talking over old times, the sayings of Joseph and Hyrum of Brigham and others.

Among other things both new and old was repeated the fact that the Prophet Joseph pulled off his garments just before starting to Carthage to be slain and he advised Hyrum and John Taylor to do the same, which they did; and Brother Taylor told Brother Willard Richards what they had done and advised him to take off his also, but Brother Richards said that he would not take his off, and did not; and he was not harmed.

Joseph said before taking his garments off, that he was going to be killed. . . "was going as a lamb to the slaughter" and he did not want his garments to be exposed to the sneers and jeers of his enemies.

These facts all came from President John Taylor's lips after he was President of the Church. Elder John Morgan had told them to me as stated to him by Brother Taylor. Sister Lucy B. Young said that Brother John Taylor told her in answer to direct questions, the same all except with regard to Willard Richards.[4]

It appears, therefore, that garments may indeed have been removed in order to prevent them from being mocked

It appears, therefore, that garments may indeed have been removed in order to prevent them from being mocked. Critics, however, assumed that the garments were removed because Joseph and the others were somehow afraid of wearing them in the presence of their enemies. John Taylor, who was one of the four present in the jail at the time of the Joseph and Hyrum's death, responded to this by clarifying that the garments were sometimes removed simply because of the hot Illinois weather.

Elder John Taylor confirmed the saying that Joseph and Hyrum and himself were without their robes in the jail at Carthage, while Doctor Richards had his on, but corrected the idea that some had, that they had taken them off through fear. W. W. Phelps said Joseph told him one day about that time, that he had laid aside his garment on account of the hot weather.[5]

The fact that Willard Richards was the only one who escaped the martyrdom unscathed appears to have led to the belief that he had been protected by them

The fact that Willard Richards was the only one who escaped the martyrdom unscathed appears to have led to the belief that he had been protected because he was the only one of the four wearing his garments at the time.

[Elder Kimball] Spoke of Elder Richards being protected at Carthage Jail—having on the robe, while Joseph & Hyrum, and Elder Taylor were shot to pieces.[6]

This idea that the garments would have physically protected Joseph and Hyrum was further elaborated on by Hubert Howe Bancroft in his History of Utah. Bancroft notes the following regarding the temple garment,

This garment protects from disease, and even death, for the bullet of an enemy will not penetrate it. The Prophet Joseph carelessly left off this garment on the day of his death, and had he not done so, he would have escaped unharmed.[7]

Did Willard Richards violate the Word of Wisdom by using tobacco at Carthage Jail?

Summary: Willard Richards was a Thompsonian herbalist doctor, a nineteenth-century healing tradition that relied on wild tobacco extensively.

Modern-day Church leaders have since clarified that the temple garment serves as "a protection against temptation and evil"

Modern-day Church leaders have since clarified that the temple garment serves as "a protection against temptation and evil" and instead of it being some type of 'lucky talisman' the "promise of protection [associated with it] is conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness." (First Presidency Letter, 10 October 1988; see Ensign, August 1997, 19-).

The wearing of garments was used by those hostile to the Church as a means of identifying Mormons

The wearing of garments was used by those hostile to the Church as a means of identifying Mormons. In the autobiography of B.H. Roberts, Elder Roberts relates the story of how an "Elder Robinson" removed his garments while in hostile territory in order to avoid being identified as a Mormon.

But unfortunately if Elder Robinson should fall into the hands of enemies, it would be a betrayal of him as to his being a Mormon elder. He therefore retired to a densely wooded section of the country and, stripping off these garments, rolled them up and climbed a tree and tied them securely....But approaching the neighborhood of Kane Creek where the elders were reported to be killed, the railroad passes over a bit of trestle work over a very deep and quite large ravine, and near the middle of this trestle work he observed three men approaching from the other side, guns in hand. There was nothing left to do than to go right on.

These men proved to be members of the mountain guard watching for me. On meeting Elder Robinson they questioned him as to where he came from and what his purpose was, and when he told them that he was looking for a job cotton picking they laughed saying, "A damn fine cotton picker you would be. Look at your hands." And, of course, as Elder Robinson had not engaged in physical labor, his hands were white and soft, not at all characteristic of cotton pickers. He then told them of having been sick for sometime, and that accounted for his pallor in his face and hands and that he was just now beginning to get about and was now strong enough to begin cotton picking.

Hence he was in search of that job. They invited him to sit down while they thought things over. No sooner did he do that when one of the three grabbed his shirt by the collar and tore it so as to expose his body, but they found no garments incriminating him as to his Mormonism and finally allowed him to pass.[8]

There is no documentation that ties the wearing of garments to the practice of polygamy

Did Joseph and the others remove their sacred garments in order to avoid being identified as polygamists? There is no documentation that ties the wearing of garments to the practice of polygamy. It was not required that one practice polygamy in order to receive the endowment. In the case of Joseph Smith, he was easily identifiable whether or not he was wearing his garments. Removal of his garments would certainly have made no difference in his being identified and taken to Carthage.

Were Joseph Smith's final words, "O Lord, my God!" a cry for help or mercy from Freemasons in the mob at the Carthage jail?

Joseph Smith's final words were "O Lord, my God!"

According to the accounts of both John Taylor and Willard Richards—the two eyewitnesses who survived the mob's attack on Carthage jail—Joseph Smith's final words were "O Lord, my God!"

The account in the official History of the Church records:

Joseph, seeing there was no safety in the room, and no doubt thinking that it would save the lives of his brethren in the room if he could get out, turned calmly from the door, dropped his pistol on the floor and sprang into the window when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward into the hands of his murderers, exclaiming. "O Lord, my God!"[9]

John Taylor reported:

Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner, and both received four balls. (D&C 135:1)

Willard Richards' testimony was that

two balls pierced [Joseph] from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward, exclaiming, "Oh Lord, my God!" As his feet went out of the window my head went in, the balls whistling all around. He fell on his left side a dead man.[10]

Those who knew Joseph Smith believed that this was an attempt to save his life and the life of his friends by calling out to Freemasons in the mob

Those who knew Joseph Smith believed that his use of the phrase "O Lord, my God!" was an attempt to save his life and the life of his friends by calling out to Freemasons in the mob. (Joseph and the other Mormons in the jail were Masons, Joseph himself having been initiated on 15 March 1842.)

Among the brotherhood of Freemasons, there is the Grand Hailing Sign of Distress: "Oh Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow's son?" According to Masonic code, any Mason who hears another Mason utter the Grand Hailing Sign must come to his aid.

Most adult men in Hancock County, Illinois, were Masons, and there were Masons in the mob that attacked the jail. If Joseph was attempting to give the Grand Hailing Sign, they would have been obligated to stop their attack and defend Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor, and Willard Richards.[11]

John Taylor, a Master Mason himself, wrote:

...[T]hese two innocent men [Joseph and Hyrum] were confined in jail for a supposed crime, deprived of any weapons to defend themselves: had the pledged faith of the State of Illinois, by Gov. Ford, for their protection, and were then shot to death, while, with uplifted hands they gave such signs of distress as would have commanded the interposition and benevolence of Savages or Pagans. They were both Masons in good standing. Ye brethren of "the mystic tie" [Masonry] what think ye! Where is our good Master Joseph and Hyrum? Is there a pagan, heathen, or savage nation on the globe that would not be moved on this great occasion, as the trees of the forest are moved by a mighty wind? Joseph's last exclamation was "O Lord my God!"

If one of these murderers, their abettors or accessories before or after the fact, are suffered to cumber the earth, without being dealt with according to law, what is life worth, and what is the benefit of laws? and more than all, what is the use of institutions which savages would honor, where civilized beings murder without cause or provocation?[12]

According to Heber C. Kimball:

Masons, it is said, were even among the mob that murdered Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail. Joseph, leaping the fatal window, gave the Masonic signal of distress. The answer was the roar of his murderers' muskets.[13]

Zina D. H. Young wrote in 1878:

I am the daughter of a Master Mason [Heber C. Kimball]! I am the widow of a Master Mason [Joseph Smith] who, when leaping from the window of Carthage jail pierced with bullets, made the Masonic sign of distress; but...those signs were not heeded.[14]

From the above it appears the last words of Joseph Smith were believed by at least some people who knew him to be the Masonic cry of distress.

Were Joseph and Hyrum killed by John Taylor and Willard Richards?

One theory about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith is that they were killed by John Taylor and Willard Richards, who were acting under the orders of Brigham Young. Those advancing this theory rely on their interpretation of evidence currently available about the martyrdom scene. However, this interpretation is inconsistent with widely accepted interpretations by most scholars and researchers. There are three primary reasons why this theory is untenable: (1) currently available evidence, (2) the relationship between Joseph Smith and other Church leaders, and (3) the evidence of the actual assassins.

Currently Available Evidence

Little physical evidence currently exists for what happened in the Carthage Jail. In the jail itself, "the only physical evidence of the shooting of Joseph and Hyrum Smith that still remains at Carthage Jail are two bullet holes through the door of the jailer’s bedroom." We also have the clothing Hyrum wore when he was killed and the pocket watch he was carrying.[15] Thus, everything else is based on witness descriptions and later recollections or renderings of the physical scene. We have two eyewitness testimonies of what occurred inside the room, and another eyewitness testimony of what occurred outside the jail.[16] Their testimonies, currently existing physical evidence, and later recollections and renderings substantiate the accuracy of John Taylor's and Willard Richards' accounts. In-depth analyses are available in BYU Studies, Mormon Historical Studies, and Journal of Mormon History.[17]

Relationship between Joseph Smith and Other Trusted Church Leaders

In addition to current available evidence, proponents of this theory have to account for the relationship between Joseph and those closest to him, including Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Willard Richards. These leaders repeatedly testified of their love for Joseph and their despair that he was martyred. After the martyrdom, John Taylor wrote, "O give me back my Prophet dear, / And Patriarch, O give them back."[18] At a Church conference shortly after Joseph's death, Brigham Young said, "I feel to want to weep for 30 days." He also addressed "rumors that Joseph and Hyrum were not the only leaders targeted by anti-Mormon enemies: 'I don’t know whe[the]r theyll take my life,' he commented, and he confessed that he did not care, for 'I want to be with the man I love.'"[19]

Any theory purporting that these leaders killed Joseph has to account for the abundant evidence of their love for Joseph. Thus, as noted by one observer, this theory has "a gaping hole . . . the question of motive for Willard Richards and John Taylor killing Joseph and Hyrum. Anyone . . . might necessarily wonder why would Richards and Taylor want to kill Joseph and Hyrum? They might also ask whether there is any evidence to suggest that they believed they should do that."[20] Contrary to the motive proposed by those who theorize that Taylor and Richards killed Joseph and Hyrum, we have substantial evidence that the martyrdom was carried out for the mob's own political and religious reasons. This has been documented thoroughly by historian Joseph I. Bentley in BYU Studies.[21]

Video by The Interpreter Foundation.

The Evidence of the Actual Assassins

Finally, any theory about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum has to account for the evidence of the actual assassins. First, the actual assassins proclaimed themselves as having committed the act, as explained by historian Alex Smith:

In the Warsaw Signal, editor Thomas Sharp publishes in the 10 July issue of 1844, an astonishing editorial titled "The Act and the Apology." A spoiler alert: there’s not much apology in it. It’s mostly a justification of why we did this, and I believe in many ways it stands unparalleled in American history as a written explanation for why a community deemed vigilantism necessary. It’s basically saying, had you been us, you would have killed him too.[22]

More evidence of the actual assassins comes from an 1845 trial. Nine men were charged with committing the murder of Joseph and Hyrum, and a trial was held. As explained by Dallin H. Oaks, who researched the trial:

There was ample evidence to convict all nine of the defendants. They were all present. They helped plan and bring the thing about and later bragged about it—ample evidence to convict them. But they were all found not guilty. It was a clear case where the law was against the defendants, but the facts of the case were approved by the jury. In other words, the jury wouldn’t convict someone of an obvious crime when the result of that crime was what the jurors desired. That was known as "jury nullification."…

Something that a principal defense attorney argued to the jury when all the evidence was in [was] he said to the jury, essentially, these men are not guilty because they expressed the community desire to be rid of this man. That’s jury nullification in its rankest description.[23]

The trial and evidence is explored in detail in the book Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith.[24]

Learn more about Joseph Smith: martyrdom
Key sources
  • Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, the Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 1. ISBN 025200762X.
  • Joseph Smith Papers, Season 1/49
Wiki links
FAIR links
  • Lance Starr, "Was Joseph Smith a Martyr or a Murderer?," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, May 2003) PDF link
  • W. John Walsh, "Was Joseph Smith a Martyr?" off-site
  • Reed Blake, "Martyrdom at Carthage," Ensign (June 1994),
  • Joseph I. Bentley, "Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:860–862. FAIR link
  • Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, "'There's the Boy I Can Trust': Dennison Lott Harris' First-Person Account of the Conspiracy of Nauvoo and Events Surrounding Joseph Smith's 'Last Charge' to the Twelve Apostles," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21/2 (15 July 2016). [23–118] link
  • Craig L. Foster and Brian C. Hales, "Big Trouble in River City: American Crucifixion and the Defaming of Joseph Smith," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11/5 (8 August 2014). [177–208] link
  • "Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992).
  • "Joseph and Hyrum Smith's martyrdom," BH Roberts Foundation print-link.

  • Stephen R. Gibson, "Was Joseph Smith Really a Martyr?," in One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 2005) ISBN 0882907840. off-site
  • FairMormon Topical Guide: Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith FairMormon link

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 262. ( Index of claims )


  1. Question posted to the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion board, October 2009
  2. Heber C. Kimball, Journal, 21 December 1845, and Oliver B. Huntington, Journal, 22 April 1897.
  3. Sarah G. Richards to Zina Huntington, 20 September 1890, Church Archives.
  4. HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF OLIVER B. HUNTINGTON, Written by Himself, 1878 - 1900
  5. William Clayton and George D. Smith (editor), An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1995), 222.
  6. Heber C. Kimball's diary for 21 Dec. 1845 kept by William Clayton as cited in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies p. 117
  7. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco, CA: The History Company, Publishers, 1890), 357 n.17.
  8. Brigham H. Roberts, Gary Bergera (ed.), The Autobiography of B.H. Roberts [citation needed]
  9. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:618. Volume 6 link
  10. History of the Church, 6:618. Volume 6 link
  11. Masons in antebellum America took the Grand Hailing Sign very seriously. Many accounts exist of it being used during the Civil War. See Michael A. Halleran, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War (University Alabama Press, 2010).
  12. "The Murder," Times and Seasons 5 (15 July 1844), 585. off-site GospeLink Taylor's original italics have been removed, and italics added for emphasis. The article itself is unsigned, but John Taylor was the editor of the Times and Seasons and would have either written it or approved its publication.
  13. Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball: The Father and Founder of the British Mission (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888), 26. It should be noted that while Heber C. Kimball personally knew Joseph Smith, he was not an eyewitness to the events at Carthage.
  14. Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, A. Jenson History Co., 1901; reprinted Salt Lake City, Utah : Greg Kofford Books, 2003), 1:698. Zina's statement about "leaping the window" matches very closely with what her father, Heber C. Kimball, said about the incident.
  15. Joseph L. Lyon, David W. Lyon, "Physical Evidence at Carthage Jail and What It Reveals about the Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith," BYU Studies Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2008): 4–50.
  16. John Taylor and Willard Richards provided testimony of the interior, and a member of the mob who later joined the Church provided testimony of the exterior. See "Deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith," Church History Topics, accessed January 22, 2023,
  17. See Lyon and Lyon, "Physical Evidence"; Curtis G. Weber, "Skulls and Crossed Bones? : A Forensic Study of the Remains of Hyrum and Joseph Smith," Mormon Historical Studies 10, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 1–29; E. Gary Smith, "Blood, Bullets, Pistols, and Mobbers: A New Look at Solving a Carthage Jail Mystery," Journal of Mormon History 45, no. 4 (October 2019): 1–37.
  18. "Poetry," Times and Seasons 6, no. 14 (August 1, 1845).
  19. Ronald K. Esplin, "Discipleship: Brigham Young and Joseph Smith," in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1993), 241–69.
  20. Hanna Seariac, "Conspiracy as History: 'Who Killed Joseph Smith?' as a Case Study," Public Square Magazine, January 18, 2022.
  21. Joseph I. Bentley, "Road to Martyrdom: Joseph Smith's Last Legal Cases," BYU Studies Quarterly 55, no. 2 (2016): 8–73.
  22. Episode 4: "The Martyrdom," in Road to Carthage: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast,
  23. Episode 8: "A Conversation with Dallin H. Oaks and Richard E. Turley Jr.," in Road to Carthage: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast,
  24. Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (University of Illinois Press, 1979).

Improvement Era, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered"

Charles W. Penrose,  Improvement Era, (September 1912)
Question 17: Was Joseph Smith, Jr., a Mason?
Answer: Joseph Smith the Prophet was a Mason. [1]

Reed C. Durham letter issued after his 1974 talk “Is There No Help for the Widow’s Son?”

Reed C. Durham wrote and circulated this letter after an address given at a Mormon History Association meeting on 20 April 1974.

To Whom It May Concern:

On Saturday, April 20, 1974, at the Mormon History Association Annual Meeting at Nauvoo, Illinois, I delivered the Presidential Address entitled, “Is There No Help for the Widow’s Son?” At that time I was gravely concerned that the presentation of my findings and conclusions, as a result of long months of research, would not be properly interpreted; and that regardless of what I attempted to say, misunderstandings would occur. My concerns were justified. I have been informed of instances where even my own colleagues in the Mormon History Association, and also some close friends within the Church misinterpreted what I said, and more important to me, in some cases even questioned my faith in Joseph Smith and the Church.

Of course, I assume the full responsibility for creating those questions, concerns, and misunderstandings. It was because I was not skillful enough, erudite enough, nor perhaps prayerful enough to make my personal position and feelings clearly known.

Therefore, regardless of what I said, or what interpretations were placed upon what I said, let it be known at this time, that:

1. I know that Joseph Smith was/is indeed a true prophet of God – the one called under direction of Jesus Christ to usher in this dispensation of the fullness of times.
2. I know further that Temple Work, with all its ramifications including Eternal Marriage and the Endowment ceremony is divinely inspired.
3. Because of the personal witness I have received by the Spirit (which has been complemented and supported by continual study and experience), the prime criterion or standard of judgment I am committed to employ as an explanation of any aspect of the Church – either of Joseph Smith and/or the Temple ceremonies – is that of divine revelation.

Had I delivered my address in Nauvoo, making sure that my knowledge and conviction of the above three statements was clearly reflected in the subject matter of my address, I am confident that fewer misunderstandings would have been occasioned; and my address would have more clearly approximated my honest feelings. I am deeply sorry that such was not the case.


Reed C. Durham, Jr.


  1. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).