Liberty Jail…Young Women’s Activity
For our Mutual Activity we went to Liberty Jail, where Joseph Smith was imprisoned over the winter of 1838-39.
In 1833 a small jail was constructed in Liberty, the seat of Clay County, Missouri. In 1856 the building was abandoned. After a short tenure as an ice house, it fell into disrepair and was finally demolished near the turn of the century. Today, thousands of Latter-day Saints and other tourists visit the partially reconstructed jail and view it as what the LDS historian B. H. Roberts called a “prison temple” because of a notable prisoner it housed: the Prophet Joseph Smith languished within its four-foot-thick walls from December 1, 1838 until April 6, 1839. Sharing this incarceration were his brother Hyrum (see Smith, Hyrum), who served as his second counselor in the presidency of the Church; Sidney Rigdon, his first counselor; and three other brethren-Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin.
They were held on a variety of unsubstantiated charges stemming from the “Mormon War” (see Missouri Conflict), which had culminated in their betrayal and the fall of the LDS settlement of Far West, Missouri, a few weeks earlier. As they awaited trial, they suffered severe privation. Confined to the lower level or dungeon portion of the building, they slept on the straw-strewn stone floor with little light and scant protection from the Missouri winter. Alexander McRae described the food they were served as “very coarse, and so filthy that we could not eat it until we were driven to it by hunger” (CHC 1:521). He also recorded that several attempts were made to poison them.
Notwithstanding these trying physical conditions, Joseph Smith’s greater suffering seemed to come from his anguish for the thousands of Latter-day Saints, including his own family, who were being driven from the state under the executive order of Governor Lilburn W. Boggs calling for the extermination of the Mormons (see Extermination Order). In a very long, two-part letter to the Church, written between March 20 and March 25, Joseph cried out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries? Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions?” (D&C 121:1-3).
In answer, he was told to be of good cheer: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:7-8). Some of Joseph Smith’s most sublime writings are found in this letter. The counsel of the Lord concerning the proper exercise of priesthood authority (D&C 121:33-46) is among the most quoted latter-day scripture. Excerpts from the letter make up sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
In early April 1839, the prisoners were moved to Daviess County for trial; and then while being taken to Columbia, Boone County, on yet another change of venue, they learned from their captors that, for a variety of reasons, it would be agreeable to the officials if they would escape. With the aid of their guards, the prisoners hastened to join the exiled Latter-day Saints who were gathering in western Illinois.
KANSAS CITY FIRST WARD YOUNG WOMEN