Mormon History

Second Arrest and Release of Joe Smith - 1843

  Illinois Register July 7, 1843


JO SMITH. -- More of the late arrest. -- Our city was visited this week by the agent of Missouri and his counsel, and also by Mr. Walker, counsel of Joseph Smith. An application has been made to Gov. Ford for a military force to retake Smith, which, we learn, is now under consideration. We proceed to give the facts, as we have learned them. of the proceedings under the arrest thus far:

Joseph Reynolds, the agent of Missouri, after leaving this place, with a writ, proceeded to Nauvoo, to arrest Smith. On his arrival he ascertained that Smith was at Dixon, in Lee county. Reynolds, in company with a constable of Hancock, proceeded to Lee, and arrested Smith at Palestine Grove, near Dixon. All in company then returned to Dixon. Cyrus Walker (the Whig candidate for Congress) was at Grand du Tour, only six miles off, and was immediately retained by Smith. Under the management of Walker as his lawyer, Smith sued out a capias against Reynolds and the constable for damages in arresting him, and they were immediately arrested by the Sheriff of Lee county.

Smith, Reynolds, and the constable, all obtained writs of habeas corpus, and proceeded towards Quincy for the purpose of having a trial before Judge Young: Smith being in the custody of Reynolds, and Reynolds and the constable being in the custody of the sheriff of Lee county.

They all proceeded towards Quincy together, Smith being attended by his counsel, Cyrus Walker, who broke all his appointments in the district, where he was to have addressed the people; and Reynolds was attended by his counsel, Mr. Mason, of Dixon.

The whole party made some stop at Nauvoo, where the Missouri agent says he was forced to go against his will. Smith and Walker then sued out a writ of habeas corpus from the Municipal Court of Nauvoo. The case of Smith, was brought before that court, which, after hearing a very able speech from Mr. Walker three hours long, and very loud in favor of Smith, that Court discharged him from imprisonment. Thus the matter now stands, The Executive of Illinois has so far performed the duty required by the Constitution and laws, and he will doubtless persevere in that course without deviation.

Note 1: Smith's charges against Mr. Reynolds and Constable Wilson, for "damages in arresting him," may have something to do with Smith's disgrace and dishevelment in being chased and caught by the two Gentile officers -- see Thomas Gregg's telling of the story in his 1890 book, The Prophet of Palmyra. Gregg quotes the July 1, 1843 issue of the Nauvoo Times and Seasons, in placing Joseph Smith, Jr.'s 1843 arrest at "Mr. Wasson's... house" to which Smith had fled -- an isolated spot in south central Lee Co., Illinois, where stood "his wife's sister's residence, 12 miles from Dixon." The same incident was told in slightly varying versions by Lucy Mack Smith, in her son's biography and by her grandson, Joseph Smith III, who wrote of the events as an eye-witness, recalling the adventure in an article published posthumously in the Jan. 22, 1935 issue of the RLDS Saints' Herald.

Note 2: In their 1994 retelling of the capture episode, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery locate the Benjamin Wasson residence "in an area of Amboy Township called Inlet Grove." This is unlikely. The reporter of the 1843 new item locates the spot of the arrest "at Palestine Grove, near Dixon." At the time, Palestine Grove was located within Inlet Township, but a subsequent restructuring of the Lee County townships left Palestine Grove on the border of Sublette and May townships, while Inlet Grove was relegated to Lee Center Township, six miles north of "old Palestine." During the first part of 1850, Joseph Smith, Jr.'s sole surviving brother, William, abandoned his wife, Roxie Ann Grant Smith, in Knox County, with her parents, and continued the scene of his church organizing activities at Palestine -- a place had had been operating in since March, 1849, if not earlier. The potentially helpful presence of his Wasson relatives in the Palestine area may have influenced William's decision to "set up shop" there, but other factors were also involved. In 1843, one of the Dixon lawyers who had helped Joseph Smith, Jr. escape the "long arm of the law" was Joseph Wood, Esq. Mr. Wood was temporarily "converted" to William Smith's fledgling church and he served as William's spokesman for a few years (see William's letter of Dec. 5, 1851 for an interesting reference to Wood). Another convert from the region was former Strangite Elder Aaron Hook, who lived a dozen miles east of Palestine, in what is now Compton, Illinois. Although William spent a good deal of his time during the early 1850s on missionary trips, as far afield as Covington, Kentucky, etc., he appears to have maintained his official residence at Palestine until he left Lee Co. during the summer of 1854.