Liberty Jail
Liberty Jail is a former jail in Liberty, Missouri, USA where Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of Latter Day Saint movement, and other associates were imprisoned from December 1, 1838 to April 6, 1839 during the Mormon War. It is sometimes described as a "prison temple" because of revelations received during Smith's imprisonment there, now recorded as Sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The site at 216 North Main, two blocks northwest of the Clay County, Missouri courthouse in downtown Liberty, is now owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates a visitors' center featuring an indoor, cut-away reconstruction of the jail on the original site.


Missouri settlements
Followers of Joseph Smith from Kirtland, Ohio were among the first settlers in the Kansas City metropolitan area, locating about 15 miles (24 km) southeast of the jail site in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri in 1831. After Smith proclaimed that Independence was the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden and the City of Zion should be located there, settlers in the area feared that they would lose political control of the county to the growing numbers of immigrating Mormons. To suppress Mormon ambitions in the area, settlers destroyed a Mormon printing press. Tensions even led to violence when a battle between the two groups broke out on the banks of the Blue River (Missouri). In 1833, Smith led the Mormons to resettle in Clay County. In 1836, Smith followers then moved 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Liberty to establish Far West, Missouri in Caldwell County, Missouri. A few settlers led by Lyman Wight moved about 15 miles (24 km) further north to Daviess County, Missouri where Wight established a ferry across the Grand River (Missouri) north of Gallatin, Missouri at Adam-Ondi-Ahman. On May 18, 1838, Smith proclaimed that the land around Wight's ferry was the area to which Adam was banished after leaving the Garden of Eden, and that it would be a gathering spot prior to the Millennium. Within three months, the population of Daviess County exploded to 1,500.

Mormon War
Other settlers in Daviess County, fearing that they would lose control of the county, attempted to prevent Mormons from voting during the Gallatin Election Day Battle on August 6, 1838. This was the first skirmish in what became known as the Mormon War, in which men were killed and property destroyed by both sides. On October 27, 1838, Lilburn W. Boggs, governor of the state of Missouri, issued Missouri Executive Order 44: "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace... their outrages are beyond all description."

Smith Surrender
General Samuel D. Lucas, leading a militia of 7000 men informed the Mormons at Far West that "...they would massacre every man, woman and child..." if Joseph Smith and several others were not given up. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, Lyman Wight, and George W. Robinson surrendered on November 1. A secret court martial was held. Joseph Smith and his companions were not even aware of the proceeding until after it was over. At about midnight on November 1, General Lucas issued the following order to General Alexander William Doniphan: "Sir:-- You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square at Far West, and shoot them at 9 o-clock tomorrow morning." General Doniphan refused to obey the order. "It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning at 8 0'clock; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God." General John Bullock Clark had been appointed by Governor Boggs to enforce the extermination order. He arrived and took command of the combined force on November 4th. On November 5th, he had an additional 56 men arrested and gave a speech in the public square at Far West. He outlined the terms of the treaty that General Lucas had previously negotiated which stripped the Saints of all their arms and property, and required them to leave the state immediately.

First Trial
On November 9th Colonel Sterling Price and a force of seventy men took Joseph Smith and his companions to Richmond, Missouri for trial. Austin Augustus King presided over the trial which began on November 13th and continued for approximately two weeks. The defense attorneys consisted of Doniphan and David Rice Atchison. During the trial, Joseph Smith and his companions were not allowed to call any witnesses for their defense and were abused in various ways. On or about November 30, 1838, the Richmond court committed Joseph Smith, Jr., and his companions, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, Caleb Baldwin, and Sidney Rigdon to Liberty Jail. They were taken from Richmond, Missouri to Liberty Jail in Liberty, Missouri in a large heavy wagon. Many residents of Liberty and the surrounding area turned out to watch their arrival and some expressed their disappointment in their ordinary appearance. As the prisoners climbed the stairs and entered the jail, Joseph Smith paused on the platform at the top of the stairs, turned to face the crowd, raised his hat and said "Good afternoon, gentlemen" before entering the jail. While Joseph Smith and his companions were incarcerated in the lower dungeon room, the upper room was used by their guards.

Change of Venue and Escape
On January 25, 1839, Sidney Rigdon was released from jail following an eloquent self-defence in the Clay County Courthouse. Because of threats, however, he stayed until February 5, 1839. On April 6, 1839, Smith and the prisoners were transferred to the Daviess County Jail in Gallatin where a Grand Jury was investigating. The Grand Jury was to indict them on murder, treason, burglary, arson, larceny, theft, and stealing. Smith and the followers were to appeal for a change of venue to Marion County, Missouri in the northeast corner of the state near the village of Nauvoo, Illinois. However, the venue was changed to Boone County, Missouri. On April 15, 1839, en route to Boone County, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin were allowed to escape after the sheriff and three of their guards drank whiskey while the fourth guard helped them saddle their horses for the escape. They arrived in Quincy, Illinois on April 22 and from there were to regroup at Nauvoo.

Smith's writings
While incarcerated in Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith, Jr. recorded what became Sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Doctrine and Covenants 121 begins with Smith asking God for help the difficulties being experienced by Latter Day Saints, then discusses righteous and unrighteous dominion. Doctrine and Covenants 122 talks about expectations for Smith's present and future circumstances. Doctrine and Covenants 123 instructs Latter Day Saints to document their difficulties and ask the Federal government of the United States for assistance.

The Jail

Liberty Jail was a double walled, masonry and timber structure, twenty-two and a half feet long, twenty-two feet wide, and twelve feet tall. Inside dimensions were fourteen and a half feet by fourteen feet. The building was divided into two levels, with a six and a half foot ceiling in the lower level and a seven foot ceiling in the upper room. The outer walls were stone masonry construction, two feet thick. The inner walls and ceilings were hewn oak logs, about a foot square. There was about a foot of space between the outside masonry walls and the inside oak walls. This space and the space above the upper ceiling were filled with loose rock to discourage escape. The only openings in the lower level were two iron barred windows, two feet wide and six inches (152 mm) high, and an opening in the ceiling to the upper room with a heavy wooden door. The upper room had two larger iron barred windows, two feet wide by one foot tall, along with a heavy oak door. Outside the door was a small platform with a stairway down to ground level.

Joseph Smith, Jr., and his companions were imprisoned in Liberty Jail for four and a half months during the coldest part of the Missouri winter. Food was scanty, of poor quality and frequently poisoned. Some of the prisoners suspected that they were sometimes fed human flesh, but comments by the guards regarding 'Mormon beef' probably had reference to cattle stolen from the Mormons. Fortunately, their friends on the outside were occasionally able to bring them wholesome food in spite of the many persecutions they were suffering. No bedding was provided, so the prisoners were forced to sleep on the stone floor with only a bit of loose straw for comfort.

The prisoners were allowed visitors from time to time. Alexander McRae recorded visits by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, Don Carlos Smith, Benjamin Covey, James Sloan, Alanson Ripley, and Porter Rockwell. Mary Smith visited her husband Hyrum Smith in February with their three month old son, Joseph F. Smith who was named and blessed by his father in custody. Her sister, Mercy Fielding Thompson accompanied her. Emma Smith also visited her husband Joseph multiple times with their children.

The jail was torn down although the walls and "dungeon" were still visible when a house was built over it. In 1939 the property was purchased by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in 1963 Joseph Fielding Smith presided over the establishment of a partial reconstruction of the jail wholly within a museum. The reconstructed jail includes a front limestone facade on the east side and a cut away on the west side so visitors see the upper area and the lower dungeon which has mannequins representing Smith and the prisoners.

Building Activity

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