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Historic

Sites

Liberty Jail

Liberty, Missouri

Introduction

Joseph Smith was unjustly confined in Liberty Jail from December 1838 to April 1839 along with several other Church leaders. Joseph suffered helplessly, knowing that the Latter-day Saints were being driven from Missouri under an "extermination order" from the governor. The Prophet and his companions were imprisoned in a rough stone dungeon measuring 14 by 14 feet, with a ceiling just over 6 feet high. Only two small barred windows allowed light and air into the cell. The six prisoners suffered from winter weather, filthy conditions, hunger, and sickness.

While in Liberty Jail, the Prophet wrote letters to his family and the Saints. His correspondence contains some of the most poignant revelation found in scripture. In this miserable jail, Joseph learned that his sufferings were still not comparable to those of the Savior, as the Spirit whispered to him: "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" He was taught that in the end "all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." 1

In early April 1839, Joseph and the other prisoners were allowed to escape, and they fled to safety in Illinois.

The jail was eventually torn down, though some of the dungeon floor and walls remained. The property was purchased for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1939. President Joseph Fielding Smith dedicated a partial reconstruction of the jail housed within a visitors' center in 1963.

Quotes

Joseph Smith Quotes

Hell may pour forth its rage like the burning lava of Mount Vesuvius . . . and yet shall "Mormonism" stand. . . . God is the author of it. He is our shield. . . . It was by Him we received the Book of Mormon; and it is by Him that we remain unto this day; and by Him we shall remain, if it shall be for our glory; and in His Almighty name we are determined to endure tribulation as good soldiers unto the end. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 139.)

The Savior said, . . . "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake; rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you." Now, dear brethren, if any men ever had reason to claim this promise, we are the men; for we know that the world not only hate us, but they speak all manner of evil of us falsely, for no other reason than that we have been endeavoring to teach the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 124; paragraph divisions altered.)

Witnesses

Hyrum Smith, Church Patriarch, 1841–1844 

I was innocent of crime, and . . . I had been dragged from my family at a time, when my assistance was most needed; . . . I had been abused and thrust into a dungeon, and confined for months on account of my faith, and the "testimony of Jesus Christ." However I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to, wherever my lot had been cast. ("To the Saints Scattered Abroad," Times and Seasons, Dec. 1839, 23.)

Mercy Rachel Fielding Thompson, Early Member of the Church 

"It would be beyond my power to describe my feelings when we were admitted into the jail by the keeper and the door was locked behind us," wrote Mercy Thompson of her visit to the prisoners in Liberty Jail. "We could not help feeling a sense of horror on realizing that we were locked up in that dark and dismal den, fit only for criminals of the deepest dye; but there we beheld Joseph, the Prophet . . . confined in a loathsome prison for no other cause or reason than that he claimed to be inspired of God to establish His church among men." ("Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Juvenile Instructor, July 1, 1892, 398.)

Key Events

Revelations Received

  • D&C Section 105  — 

    June 22, 1834. Shortly before the arrival of Zion’s Camp in Clay County, Missouri, the governor rescinded the aid he had promised. Hence, the goal to restore the Saints to their inheritance was frustrated.

  • D&C Section 121  — 

    Mar. 1839. The persecutions against and the sufferings of the Saints led the Prophet Joseph Smith to plead with the Lord in their behalf while he was in Liberty Jail.

  • D&C Section 122  — 

    Mar. 1839. The persecutions against and the sufferings of the Saints led the Prophet Joseph Smith to plead with the Lord in their behalf while he was in Liberty Jail.

  • D&C Section 123  — 

    Mar. 1839. The persecutions against and the sufferings of the Saints led the Prophet Joseph Smith to plead with the Lord in their behalf while he was in Liberty Jail.

Readings

Online Resources at LDS.org

Online Resources at BYU

 

Footnotes

[1] See D&C 122:7–8.