Mormon History

Mormon on Mormon Violence

The Geauga Gazette April 17, 1832


-- Several verbal statements agree in establishing the following facts.

That on Saturday night, March 24, a number of persons, some say 25 or 30, disguised with coloured faces, entered the rooms in Hiram, where the two Mormonite leaders, Smith and Rigdon were sleeping, and took them, together with the pillows on which they slept, carried them a short distance and after besmearing their bodies with tar, applied the contents of the pillows to the same.

Now Mr. Editor, I call this a base transaction, an unlawful act, a work of darkness, a diabolical trick. But bad as it is, it proves one important truth which every wise man knew before, that is, that Satan has more power than the pretended prophets of Mormon. It is said that they (Smith and Rigdon) had declared, in anticipation of such an event, that it could not be done -- that God would not suffer it; that those who should attempt it, would be miraculously smitten on the spot, and many such like things, which the event proves to be false.


Mormon leaders targets of vicious attack in Hiram 175 years ago

March 25, 2007

By Roger J. Di Paolo

Record-Courier Editor

One of the most shameful episodes in Portage County's history occurred 175 years ago today on a farm in Hiram Township, where a dispute fueled by religious differences escalated into a near-lynching.

Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had been living in the Hiram area since the fall of 1831 at the invitation of John and Elsa Johnson, who lived on a farm on Pioneer Trail near S.R. 700, south of Hiram Center.

Smith was the first prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had organized a year earlier in the state of New York, and Rigdon was one of his closest followers in what was commonly referred to as Mormonism.

The Johnsons had become Mormons and had opened their home to Smith, his wife, Emma, and their children after the Latter-day Saints had moved to Ohio and established headquarters in the Kirtland area. Rigdon and his wife, Phebe, lived in a log cabin near the Johnson farm.

The Mormon leaders' stay in Portage County had not been without controversy. A number of Mormon converts had left the church and aired their theological differences in a series of broadsides published in the Ohio Star, the Ravenna weekly newspaper (and the journalistic "parent" of the Record-Courier). Smith and Rigdon attempted to refute their critics during a series of appearances in Ravenna, Shalersville and elsewhere in January 1832, but ill feelings persisted.

The dispute took a violent turn on the evening of Saturday, March 24, 1832, when a mob of men from Hiram, Garrettsville and Shalersville appeared at the Johnson home and dragged the 26-year-old Smith from his bed.

"The mob burst open the door and surrounded the bed in an instant," Smith wrote. "I found myself going out of the door, in the hands of about a dozen men, some of whose hands were in my hair, and some had hold of my shirt, drawers and limbs.

"I made a desperate struggle, as I was forced out, to extricate myself... They swore they would kill me if I did not be still, which quieted me," he recalled.

Smith was taken to a frozen field, about 150 yards from his home. There he saw Rigdon, who had been dragged by his heels and set upon by some of the attackers. Smith thought his companion was dead.

The mob stripped Smith of all of his clothing except for his shirt collar, scratched and tore at his body and stretched him out on a plank. According to one account, a doctor was summoned to castrate him, but refused to do so. Someone fetched a pot of tar, and a coating of tar and feathers was applied. Smith also said that a vial of nitric acid was forced into his mouth in an apparent attempt to poison him.

Rigdon also was tarred and feathered in addition to being beaten severely.

Following the attack, Smith made his way to the Johnson residence. "When I came to the door, I was naked, and the tar made me look as though I had been covered with blood," he wrote. Emma Smith fainted at the sight of her husband.

"My friends spent the night in scraping and removing the tar, and washing and cleansing my body," he wrote.

The following morning was a Sunday, and a group of Mormons assembled for a scheduled worship service. Despite his ordeal, Smith led the service. "With my flesh all scarified and defaced, I preached to the congregation as usual, and on the afternoon of the same day I baptized three individuals."

Among those in the crowd, Smith claimed, were several men who had attacked him and Rigdon just a few hours earlier.

Smith and Rigdon left Hiram about a week later, following continued harassment of the Johnson family by members of the mob. The Mormons continued what would prove to be a long journey westward, moving first to Missouri, then to Illinois, where they faced continued persecution.

A dozen years after being attacked in Portage County, Joseph Smith was set upon by a lynch mob that forced its way into a jail in Carthage, Ill., where he and his brother, Hyrum, were being held. Both men were murdered.

The Johnson Home, located at 6203 Pioneer Trail, is considered a Mormon shrine, not only because of Smith's brush with martyrdom but because he received 16 revelations there while it was the temporary headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons purchased the site in 1956 and it has been restored as it might have looked when Joseph and Emma Smith lived there 175 years ago.

In 1984, the Mormons re-established a branch in Hiram, more than 150 years after being driven from the area. A worship facility constructed on the grounds of the Johnson Home was dedicated in 1987. The shrine itself, which is open to the public, was rededicated in 2001.


Most Mormons believe that Joseph Smith's and Sidney Rigdon's tarring in February 1832 was done by an "anti-Mormon mob" inspired by the devil.

To the contrary, they were tarred not by an "anti-Mormon mob," but by their own followers, for two primary reasons.

FIRST was their plan to have all of their church members sign over all of their assets and properties to the "United Order" communal experiment. Some members saw this as Smith and Rigdon's scheme to fleece them, and rightly so; the financial disaster that was the United Order,
which culminated in the Kirtland Bank scandal, caused many Mormons to lose their life savings, and about half of all church members abandoned the faith over the incident, including most of the original twelve apostles.

The proof that it was his own church members who did the tarring was Smith's own statement that he recognized the perpetrators in church the morning after the incident, primarily one Symonds Rider and the sons of John Johnson.

Smith, Emma, and Rigdon had been boarding with the Johnson family 35 miles from Kirtland at Hiram, Ohio. They weren't subjecting themselves to the communal lifestyle that they demanded of their followers at Kirtland.

SECOND, it was alleged that Smith made a pass at Johnson's 15 year-old daughter, Nancy Marinda, and that was her brothers' motivation for attacking Smith. "Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith" supports this idea, but in his "In Sacred Loneliness" Todd Compton doubts it for lack of
convincing evidence. It's likely true that Smith made the pass at Marinda for five reasons:

1. Joseph Smith had already taught his "plural marriage" concept in his 1831 "revelation" commanding a group of married men to "take ye wives from among the Lamanites" in 1831 (the tarring occurred in February 1832). This indicates that he had extra-marital relations on his mind
during that period.

2. Joseph Smith eventually "plural married" Marinda in April of 1842, after sending her husband, Orson Hyde, on a mission. (Marinda later said she thought Smith was the father of her son, Frank.)

Thus, it is likely that Smith had his eye on Marinda since he had met the 15-year-old girl at Hiram in 1831, and that his 1842 "plural marriage" to her was his formalization of a long-existing desire for her (as it was also in the documented cases of Mary Rollins and Sarah Ann Whitney).

The essence of Smith's "spiritual wifery" concept was that people knew each other in the "pre-existence," and that part of their earthly mission was to find their "soul mates" (Remember "Saturday's Warrior?") Once Smith had designated a female as one of his "soul mates," or "spiritual wives," they were to be "his" for eternity, even if they were already married to someone else; in this case, Orson Hyde.

3. Third, Smith's "plural" relationship with the 16-year-old Fanny Alger began in 1833. Since the 1832 tarring incident occurred between the 1831 marry-the-Lamanite-girls revelation and the 1833 beginning of his affair with Fanny, it's entirely likely that the tarring was at least partly
because of Smith's budding unorthodox sexual concepts, which he tried out on fifteen year-old Marinda.

4. Fourth, it seems more likely that Marinda's brothers would want to castrate a man because of a sexual advance on their teenage sister, rather than over an issue of money.

5. The mob of church members that attacked Rigdon and Smith that night did not attempt to castrate Rigdon. Smith was the sole target of castration by Marinda's brothers.

Here is a little of LDS member and historian Todd Compton's views on the subject:

     According to Luke Johnson, Smth was stretched on a board, then 'they tore off the night clothes that he had on, for the purpose of emasculating him, and had Dr. Dennison there to perform the operation. But when the Doctor saw the prophet stripped and stretched on the plank,
his heart failed him, and he refused to operate.

     The motivation for this mobbing has been debated. Clark Braden, a late, antagonastic, secondhand witness, alleged in a polemic public debate that Marinda's brother Eli led a mob against Smith because the prophet had been too intimate with Marinda. This tradition suggests that Smith may have married Marinda at this early time, and some circumstantial factors support such a possibility. The castration attempt might be taken as evidence that the mob felt that Joseph had committed a sexual impropriety; since the attempt is reported by Luke Johnson, there is no reason to doubt it. Also, they had planned the operation in advance, as they brought along a doctor to perform it.

     The first revelations on polygamy had been received in 1831, by historian Daniel Bachman's dating. Also, Joseph Smith did tend to marry women who had stayed at his house or in whose house he had stayed. [Joseph Smith was living in the home of Marinda at the time.]

     Many other factors, however, argue against this theory. First, Marinda had no brother named Eli, which suggests that Braden's accusation, late as it is, is garbled and unreliable. In addition, two antagonistic accounts by Hayden and S. F. Whitney give an entirely different reason for the mobbing, with an entirely different leader, Simonds Ryder, an ex-Mormon, though the Johnson brothers are still participants. In these accounts the reason for the violence is economic: the Johnson boys were in the mob because of 'the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it in the control of Smith.' The castration, in this scenario, may have only been a threat, meant to intimidate Smith and cause him to leave Hiram, Ohio.

     While it is not impossible that Marinda became Smith's first plural wife in 1831, the evidence for such a marriage, resting chiefly on the late, unreliable Braden, is not compelling. Unless more credible evidence is found, it is best to proceed under the assumption that Joseph and Marinda did not marry or have a relationship in 1831.

~~  "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith," 231-232.

Of course, Braden's recollection of an "Eli" could possibly have referred to a nickname for one of Marinda's brothers.

Faithful Latter-day Saint Mary Elizabeth Rollins testified that Joseph had a private conversation with her in 1831; she was then twelve years old. She said Joseph 'told me about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife.'

~~  Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells, summer 1905, LDS Archives

Within six months of Joseph's conversation with 12 year-old Mary Elizabeth Rollins, he and Emma had moved into the John Johnson home, where 15 year-old Marinda lived. Orson Pratt later quoted Lyman Johnson as saying that 'Joseph had made known to him as early as 1831 that plural marriage was a correct principle,' but remarked also that 'the time had not yet come to teach and practice it.'

~~ Orson Pratt, "Latter-day Saints Millennial Star (Liverpool England), 40 (16 Dec. 1878):788)

Perhaps Joseph was not discreet in his discussions about plural marriage, because rumor and insinuation fed the fury of the mob that tarred and feathered him. When the Johnson boys joined the mob that entered their own home, they clearly suspected an improper association between Joseph and their sixteen-year-old sister, Nancy Marinda."

~~  "Joseph Smith: the First Mormon", p.146.

If Joseph Smith had been successfully castrated that night in 1832, it's unlikely that there would ever have been secret Mormon temple ceremonies, sealings, garments or even temples as they exist today. After all, these are all relics of Joseph Smith's attempts to practice and conceal his plural marriage.