Menu

Joseph Smith’s death: 96-hour timeline surrounding his martyrdom

See a detailed timeline of Joseph Smith’s last 96 hours and the events that surrounded his death

In honor of the 175th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Church News collaborated with the Church History Department to put together the following timeline explaining the events surrounding the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844.

Timeline of Joseph Smith’s death

Note: If you are viewing this on mobile, please be sure to scroll within the timeline graphic.



When, Where, and How Did Joseph Smith Die?

It is unknown who actually shot Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith. Willard Richards and John Taylor made a list of people they recognized in the mob. In October 1844, nine men were indicted for the murders. In May 1845, only five of those men were tried: Thomas C. Sharp, Levi Williams, Jacob C. Davis, Mark Aldrich, and William N. Grover. They were all acquitted.

The Nauvoo Legion was a state-authorized militia in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. Led by Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints, the militia was organized, in part, to protect the Saints against potential mob violence.

The Carthage Greys were the government authorized local militia in Carthage and were under the command of Robert F. Smith.

On June 7, 1844, the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor was published. The newspaper was openly critical of Joseph Smith and his teachings. Concerned about the newspaper’s potential to incite mob violence, Joseph and the Nauvoo City Council declared the press to be a nuisance. On June 10, 1844, Joseph instructed the city marshal to destroy the press. An arrest warrant was soon issued for Joseph, Hyrum Smith, and 16 other men for causing a riot when the press was destroyed. Convinced that an armed attack on Nauvoo was imminent, Joseph Smith called out the Nauvoo Legion and proclaimed martial law on June 18, 1844. These declarations, however, were viewed as acts of treason against Illinois. When Joseph and Hyrum arrived in Carthage for the riot case examination, they were arrested for treason. This accusation arose from Joseph’s attempt to protect the city from mob violence.

Index of people included in the timeline

Joseph Smith: the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time.

Hyrum Smith: Joseph Smith’s older brother and patriarch for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time.

Emma Smith: Joseph's first wife. She was living in Nauvoo at the Mansion House at the time.

Gov. Thomas Ford: The governor of Illinois at the time.

Robert F. Smith: Carthage justice of the peace at the time.

John S. Fullmer: Church member and officer in the Nauvoo Legion at the time.

John Taylor: Newspaper editor in Nauvoo and apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was with Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage at the time of their deaths.

Stephen Markham: Church member and officer in the Nauvoo Legion at the time.

Dan Jones: Church member who was with Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage.

Willard Richards: Joseph Smith’s secretary and apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was with Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage.

Jonathan Dunham: Church member and officer in the Nauvoo Legion.

Orville Browning: An attorney who represented Joseph Smith in 1841 and who later served as the attorney for the five men accused of killing Joseph and Hyrum Smith in 1845.

Thomas Sharp: Editor of the Warsaw Signal newspaper in Illinois and antagonist of the Latter-day Saints. He was indicted but later acquitted for killing Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

Josephus: A first-century Jewish historian whose writings provide non-biblical insights into Jewish history.

Timeline of Joseph Smith’s Death

Monday, June 24, 1844

Late in the evening (around 11:45 pm) on June 24, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, along with 14 other men — all of whom had been accused of rioting for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press — arrived at Carthage, Illinois. They stay the night at the Artois Hamilton’s hotel in Carthage.

Tuesday, June 25, 1844

8 a.m. Joseph and Hyrum Smith are arrested for treason.

Between 2 and 3 p.m. Joseph Smith writes a letter to Emma Smith. He describes a personal meeting with Gov. Thomas Ford which occurred earlier that morning. He describes his confidence in the governor’s ability to enforce the laws and keep the peace and notes that he plans to accompany Gov. Ford when he marches to Nauvoo with his forces. 

After 4 p.m. all 16 of the men are brought before Robert F. Smith, Carthage justice of the peace, for the Nauvoo Expositor riot case examination held at Artios Hamilton’s hotel. All 16 men charged with riot are released on bail $500 per person. Joseph and Hyrum Smith pay the bail but remain in Carthage on charges of treason.

Around 9 p.m. Joseph and Hyrum Smith are taken to Carthage Jail. Willard Richards, John P. Greene, Stephen Markham, Dan Jones, an individual identified as Dr. Southwick, Lorenzo Wasson, and John Taylor accompany the Smiths. Other records indicate that John Fullmer and Gilbert Belnap also join the Smiths.

Wednesday, June 26, 1844

In the morning, sometime between 7 and 10 a.m., Joseph Smith writes to his legal counsel and requests a change of venue for the treason hearing. He is anxious about staying in Carthage and having the hearing there.

8 a.m. Captain James Singleton and 60 men meet in Nauvoo with the Nauvoo police. The police agree to cooperate with Singleton. (Gov. Ford had sent Singleton to Nauvoo to protect the city from potential mob attacks).

8:10 a.m. Joseph Smith writes to Gov. Ford requesting an interview and indicates his desire to be released from jail.

10:15 a.m. Gov. Ford indicates that Joseph and Hyrum Smith will “probably” return to Nauvoo. Joseph Smith anticipates returning to Nauvoo the next day, on Thursday, June 27.

Sometime during the day, Church member John Fullmer gives Joseph Smith a single-barrel pistol, which he keeps with him at Carthage Jail.

12 p.m. Joseph Smith writes to Judge Jesse B. Thomas, the circuit judge for Hancock County and a justice in the Illinois Supreme. Court. In his letter, he requests for Judge Thomas to come to Nauvoo to investigate the treason charges.

12-12:30 p.m. Joseph Smith expresses his anxiety about his safety: “I have had a good deal of anxiety about my safety, which I never did before.”

4 p.m. Joseph and Hyrum Smith appear before Robert F. Smith for the initial treason examination for which they had been arrested the day before. (The treason charge related to when Joseph Smith called out the Nauvoo Legion and declared martial law on June 18. Joseph and Hyrum Smith were required to remain in Carthage because justices of the peace were not authorized to set bail for treason, which was a capital offense. The court gave Joseph and Hyrum Smiths’ defense team until noon on Thursday, June 27, to gather witnesses. The treason hearing was set for Thursday, June 27, but was later moved back to Saturday, June 29.)

In the evening, John Fullmer, John Taylor, Stephen Markham, Dan Jones, and Willard Richards all opted to stay the night with Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage Jail in the upper room.

During the evening, Hyrum read aloud from the Book of Mormon. Joseph bore testimony to the guards on duty of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and testified that “the gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored, that angels s till ministered to humanity, and that the kingdom of God was once more on the earth” (Saints, Volume 1, Chapter 44).

A view of the historic Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois on Friday, May 28, 2021.
The Historic Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois on Friday, May 28, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Thursday, June 27, 1844

8:20 a.m. Joseph Smith writes a letter to his wife Emma Smith instructing Jonathan Dunham and the Nauvoo citizens to be peaceful and respect the authority of Gov. Ford should he visit that day. Joseph tells Emma he is innocent of treason, has done his best, and asks her to give his love to their children. (Note: Joseph added to the letter at 9:40 a.m.)

In the morning, Gov. Ford, concerned that a war might break out if he arrived at Nauvoo with a large number of troops, dismisses troops at Carthage as well as those at Golden Point close by. He decides to go to Nauvoo with a small number of troops and assigns the Carthage Greys (local militia) to guard Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage. Gov. Ford then departs for Nauvoo that morning.

Sometime in the morning, Cyrus Wheelock visits Carthage Jail and gives Joseph Smith a six-shooter revolver. Joseph gives the previous pistol he received from John Fullmer to Hyrum.

At some point in the late morning or early afternoon after Gov. Ford has dismissed the troops, Thomas Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw Signal, gives a speech to some of the dismissed troops from Golden Point and calls on them to go to Carthage and assassinate Joseph Smith.

12 p.m. Joseph Smith writes to Orville Browning and asks him to act as their attorney for the treason hearing. (Note: Browning had previously served as Joseph’s attorney in 1841 and later, in 1845, he represented the five men accused of killing Joseph and Hyrum Smith).

1:30 p.m. Stephen Markham leaves Carthage Jail to get a pipe and tobacco for Willard Richards who had a sour stomach. The Carthage Greys (local militia guarding the prison), however, did not allow Markham to return to the jail.

3:15 p.m. The prisoners at Carthage Jail overhear threats from the guards. John Taylor sings “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” two times. Hyrum reads Josephus (a first-century historian).

5-6 p.m. Wine is brought in for the prisoners in the upper room of the jail and Joseph Smith, Taylor, and Richards “tasted” of the wine to lift their spirits.

The prisoners hear guns discharging and Richards looks outside to see around 100 armed men at the jail door. Joseph and Hyrum Smith grab their guns and Taylor and Richards grab canes to defend themselves.

Responding to shots and noise, Hyrum Smith fires his gun and is then shot in the face by a bullet coming through the door.

The window where Joseph Smith was shot, killed and fell through at the historic Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois on Friday, May 28, 2021.
The window where Joseph Smith was shot, killed and fell through at the Historic Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois on Friday, May 28, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Joseph Smith discharges his weapon. It misfires two or three times — reportedly wounding three people.

Taylor attempts to jump out of the window but is shot. He falls on the windowsill, breaking his watch, which stops showing the time as 5:16:26. Taylor then rolls under the bed for protection.

Joseph Smith also attempts to jump out the window but is shot and falls out of the window to the ground below. Attempting to sit up against the well in the jail yard, Joseph dies.

Richards then takes Taylor into the jail dungeon to hide him from the mob.

Around 5 p.m., Gov. Ford arrives in Nauvoo and delivers a speech telling the Saints they were wrong to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor press and to invoke martial law through the Nauvoo Legion.

After 6 p.m., Gov. Ford leaves Nauvoo. About three miles outside of Nauvoo, Gov. F ord is met by messengers from Carthage, Constable David Bettisworth and Latter-day Saint George D. Grant, who inform him that Joseph and Hyrum Smith are dead.

Sometime in the evening, James Singleton and his men leave Nauvoo.

8:05 p.m. Richards and Taylor send a letter to Gov. Ford, Jonathan Dunham, Stephen Markham, and Emma Smith indicating that Joseph and Hyrum Smith are dead. The letter also reassures that the Saints will not attack Carthage citizens.

Close to 10 p.m. Gov. Ford arrives at Carthage.

Around midnight, Richards, Taylor, and Samuel H. Smith send a letter to Emma Smith and Jonathan Dunham instructing the Saints to not leave the city and emphasizing the need to be still.

After midnight, Gov. Ford tells Carthage citizens to leave and later, he also leaves. Warsaw citizens leave their city as well after hearing that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were dead. The citizens feared the Saints would retaliate violently.

Friday, June 28, 1844

In the morning, Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s bodies are carried to Nauvoo on wagons in oak boxes. To protect the boxes from the sun, they are. covered with brush.

In the afternoon, when the bodies reach Nauvoo, they are taken to the Mansion House. The bodies are washed a second time (they were washed once at Carthage), impressions are taken for their death masks, and the bodies are clothed in white.

Late in the afternoon, Willard Richards and others speak to the Saints.

The Mansion House in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 2013. | Kenneth Mays

Saturday, June 29, 1844

From the early morning into the afternoon, a public viewing of the bodies is held at the Mansion House.

In the afternoon, following the conclusion of the public viewing, sandbags are placed in the outer boxes while the coffins are locked in a bedroom in the Mansion House. The boxes with the sandbags are taken and publicly buried in the Nauvoo city cemetery.

Sometime around midnight, the coffins with the bodies are secretly buried in the basement of the Nauvoo House.

— Chase Kirkham, historian with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, contributed to this article

Updated on Aug. 9, 2023

Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed