Mob action increases in Kirtland; apostasy is rampant. Mob threatens to burn the Egyptian mummies. Joseph prophesies of the Lord’s promise of protection on his life. Joseph flees Kirtland to Missouri. Constable Luke Johnson arrests Joseph Smith Sr., then allows him to escape with son Hyrum. Most of the Smiths move temporarily to New Portage, Ohio, to await removal to Missouri.
Summer 1837 to spring 1838
I will now return to the mob, for we have said little of their proceedings for some time, principally because they were not of sufficient importance to demand attention. They had become discouraged and ceased their operations, when they found that despite their best endeavors, we had built the house of the Lord, and that we had seen prosperity in everything to which we had set our hands. But suddenly, seeing that there was a division in our midst, they began to renew their diligence to effect the desire of their hearts, which was our overthrow.
Their first movement was to sue my son Joseph for debt and, with this pretense, seize upon every piece of property which they could have the least pretext to lay hold upon. They considered it quite sufficient if the article in question belonged to any member of the family. Joseph then had in his possession four Egyptian mummies, with some ancient records that accompanied them. These, the mob swore, they would fetch from the Mormon meetinghouse and burn. They devised every invention to get these things into their possession, hoping to destroy the only then existing evidence in writing of the Book of Mormon which was accessible to the world. Accordingly they levied an execution upon them, claiming that they belonged to Joseph, and that he owed them a debt of fifty dollars. This was an unjust demand, for we did not owe any man out of the Church anything, but by various stratagems, we were able to keep them out of the hands of the rabble, who were joined by the apostates.
The persecution became so hot, that Joseph regarded it as unsafe to remain any longer in Kirtland and began making arrangements to move to Missouri. He was preparing for his journey when the first effort was made to get the mummies and their attendant records.
One evening he was at our house, speaking with the brethren of various things he wished to have them do in case he left. When it was quite late, he rose to go home, but as he was about leaving, he turned to the company and said, “Well, brethren, one thing more. I do not want you to be concerned about me, for I shall see you again, let what will happen, for I have a lease of my life for five years anyway, and they will not kill me till after that time is expired.”
That night he was warned by the Spirit of immediate danger and to make his escape as speedily as possible. Therefore, he set out in the night with his family, beds and bedding, and sufficient clothing to make them comfortable. When we came to hear from his house the next morning, he had gone on his journey. Emma’s oldest son was then only five years old.
Soon after Joseph left, the constable, Luke Johnson (who had formerly been a member of the Church), came to our house and served a summons on Mr. Smith which requested him to go to the magistrate’s office. Johnson said that no mischief was intended, and that it was of a peaceable nature.
Mr. Smith was then sick, and I begged Johnson not to take him away among our enemies, for I knew by experience that their design was generally false imprisonment, and that their civil writs too often proved to be very uncivil. Johnson paid no attention to what I said. Indeed, nothing else would satisfy those very “civil” men but his going into a crowd of apostates and mobocrats and running the risk of what treatment he might receive at their hands.
After Mr. Smith arrived at the office, he was soon informed of the cause of his being arrested, and what would be necessary to escape from imprisonment. He was taken before Esquire Cowdery for marrying a couple. As the apostates and the mob did not consider him a minister of the gospel, they contested his right to perform such a ceremony, and he was fined the sum of three thousand dollars, and in case he should default of paying this, he was sentenced to the penitentiary. Luke Johnson bustled about and seemed to be very much engaged, preparing to draw writings for the money and making other arrangements such as were required of him by the party to which he belonged. But at the first opportunity, he went to Hyrum (who had not yet set out for Missouri) and told him to take his father into a room which he pointed out to him. Luke said, “I will manage to get the window out, and he will be at liberty to jump out and go when or where he pleases.”
Hyrum and Mr. Smith left the company, and Luke told the mob that they had gone to consult together about raising the money. By deceiving them in this way, he kept them still until Mr. Smith crept out of the window, with the help of Hyrum and John Boynton (who said he was our friend at this time).
He traveled about four miles and stopped with Brother Snow, who is the father of Miss Eliza Snow, the poetess. The old man said he would secrete him and forbade his family from saying to anyone that Father Smith was there.
When Luke supposed that my husband was out of their reach, he started up and ran into the room where he had left him, saying that he must see after the prisoner. Upon finding that the prisoner had fled, he made a great parade, calling out that he was gone and hunting in every direction for the fugitive. He came to me and inquired if Mr. Smith was at home. This frightened me very much and I exclaimed, “Luke, you have taken my husband away and given him into the hands of the mob and they have killed him.” This he denied but gave me no explanation. In a short time, however, I found out where my husband was and sent him money and clothes to travel with. He started in a few days for New Portage with Carlos, my youngest son, and Brother Wilber. By this time handbills were stuck up on every public or private road, giving a description of his person, and no means which ingenuity could invent was left untried to prevent his escape. Runners were sent through the country to watch for him with authority to bring him back in case they found him. But despite their utmost exertions, he eluded them and succeeded in getting to New Portage, where he remained with Brother Taylor. Don Carlos, having accompanied his father to the above-named place, returned home again to his family; but immediately discovering that the mob contemplated taking him for the same offense, he moved with his family to New Portage, and was there with his father, until the rest of the family were ready to remove to Missouri. Hyrum had already moved there with his family.
Shortly after they left, a man by the name of Edward Woolley came to Kirtland to see Mr. Smith, and not finding him there, he went to New Portage and persuaded my husband to accompany him home.
After Mr. Smith had remained with Mr. Woolley about two weeks, we became very uneasy about him, not having received any intelligence of him since he left us. Accordingly, William resolved to go in pursuit of him to see how he was situated; whether he had met with friends and was comfortably provided for, or had fallen into the hands of his enemies and been murdered by them, for we had as much cause to fear the latter as to hope for the former.
When William arrived at New Portage, now called Norton, it was some time before he could learn exactly where his father had gone. But as soon as he obtained the necessary intelligence, he went immediately to him and had the pleasure of finding him in good health, although in great anxiety about the family, for he did not know how we were situated, nor where we were, since we had designed moving to Missouri soon after he left us.
As soon as it was known that William was in the place, a part of the inhabitants were very anxious that he should preach, and he agreed to do so. But there were a few that declared that if he did preach, they would tar and feather him. One of these was Mr. Bear, a man of extraordinary size and strength. Besides him were three others, no less than he. As these men came in, William was just taking his text, which was, “The Poor Deluded Mormons.” The singularity of this text excited their curiosity so much that they stopped in the door, saying, “Wait, let’s see what he will do with his text,” and they waited so long that they either forgot what they came for, or they changed their minds, for they made no further move towards making use of tar or feathers, and when he got through preaching, Mr. Bear frankly confessed his conviction of the truth and was baptized soon afterwards.
William told his father that we should set out for Missouri soon, and we wished him to be ready to go with us. William then returned home and his father went again to New Portage. Here he remained with Don Carlos until we were ready to go to Missouri.