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Joseph Smith-Personal Writings

To Presendia Huntington Buell, March 15, 1839

Built in 1833 at a cost of $600, the jail at Liberty, Missouri, was a two-story structure approximately twenty-two feet square built of rough-hewn limestone. Inside the outer wall was another wall of oak logs. The two walls were separated by a twelve-inch space filled with loose rock, the whole presenting a formidable barrier four feet thick. The interior of the jail was divided into upper and lower rooms, the lower, or dungeon, lighted by two small windows grated with heavy iron bars. It was here on December 1, 1838, that Joseph Smith began four months and five days of confinement.

In January 1839, after petitioning to have their case heard on a plea of habeas corpus, the prisoners were brought before Judge Joel Turnham of Clay County. This hearing gave Sidney Rigdon his freedom, but the rest of the prisoners were returned to the jail. Convinced that justice could not be obtained for them in that part of the state, the prisoners decided to try other means to gain their freedom. The result was two abortive jailbreak attempts, one on February 6 and the other on March 4.

To discourage further thoughts of unauthorized departure, security at the jail was tightened. Visitors were watched closely and in some instances denied entrance altogether. One who came to the jail about this time was Presendia Huntington Buell, whose brother William had been among the Mormon prisoners at Richmond. Presendia visited the jail twice, once in company with her father and once with Frederick G. Williams. The second time she was refused entrance. Knowledge of this prompted the following letter from Joseph Smith.

Liberty Jail March 15th 1839

Dear Sister

My heart rejoiced at the friendship you manifested in requesting to have conversation with us but the Jailer is a very Jealous man for fear some one will leave tools for us to get out with he is under the eye of the mob continually and his life is at Stake if he grants us any privileges he will not let us converse with any one alone Oh what joy it would be to us to see our friends it would have gladdened my heart to have the privilege of conversing with you but the hand of tyrany is upon us but thanks be to God it cannot last always and he that sitteth in the heavens will laugh at their calamity and mock when their fear cometh We feel Dear Sister that our bondage is not of long duration I trust that I shall have the chance to give such instructions as are communicated to us before long I suppose you wanted some instruction for yourself and also give us some information and administer consolation to us and to find out what is best for you to do I think that many of the brethren if they will be pretty still can stay in this country until the indignation is over and past but I think it would be better for brother Buel to leave and go with the rest of the Brethren if he keep the faith and at any rate for thus speaketh the Spirit concerning him I want him and you to know that I am your true friend I was glad to see you no tongue can tell what inexpressible Joy it gives a man to see the face of one who has been a friend after having been inclosed in the walls of a prison for five months it seems to me that my heart will always be more tender after this than ever it was before my heart bleeds continually when I contemplate the distress of the Church Oh that I could be with them I would not shrink at toil and hardship to render them comfort and consolation I want the blessing once more to lift my voice in the midst of the Saints I would pour out my soul to God for their instruction it has been the plan of the Devil to hamper me and distress me from the beginning to keep me from explaining myself to them and I never have had opportunity to give them the plan that God has revealed to me for many have run without being sent crying tidings my Lord and have done much injury to the Church giving the Devil more power over those that walk by sight and not by faith [But trials] will only give us that knowledge to understand the minds of the Ancients for my part I think I never could have felt as I now do if I had not suffered the wrongs that I have suffered all things shall work together for good to them that love God Beloved Sister we see that perilous times have truly come and the things which we have so long expected have at last began to usher in but when you see the fig tree begin to put forth its leaves you may know that the Summer is nigh at hand there will be a short work on the Earth it has now commenced I suppose there will soon be perplexity all over the Earth do not let our hearts faint when these things come upon us for they must come or the word cannot be fulfilled I know that something will soon take place to stir up this generation to see what they have been doing and that their fathers have inherited lies and they have been led captive by the Devil to no profit but they know not what they do do not have any feelings of enmity towards any Son or Daughter of Adam I believe I shall be let out of their hands some way or another and shall see good days we can not do any thing only stand still and see the Salvation of God he must do his own work or it must fall to the ground we must not take it in our hands to avenge our wrongs Vengeance is mine saith the Lord and I will repay I have no fears I shall stand unto death God being my helper I wanted to communicate something and I wrote this &c Write to us if you can

J. Smith Jr.

pgs. 385-387

To the Church of Latterday Saints at Quincy, Illinois, and Scattered Abroad, and to Bishop Partridge in Particular, March 20, 1839 To Emma Smith, March 21, 1839

With her husband imprisoned in Liberty Jail, Emma Smith and her children were among the Latter-day Saints who made their way across northern Missouri to Quincy, Illinois, in the winter of 1839. This experience was vivid in her mind when she wrote to Joseph on March 7: "I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are, the walls, bars, and bolts, rolling rivers, running streams, rising hills, sinking vallies and spreading prairies that separate us, and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there, with many other considerations, places my feelings far beyond description. Was it not for conscious innocence, and the direct interposition of divine mercy, I am very sure I never should have been able to have endured the scenes of suffering that I have passed through, since what is called the Militia, came into Far West, under the ever to be remembered Governor's notable order. . . . We are all well at present, except Frederick, who is quite sick. Little Alexander who is now in my arms is one of the finest little fellows, you ever saw in your life, he is so strong that with the assistance of a chair he will run all round the room. . . . No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and allmost all of every thing that we possessed excepting our little children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving you shut up in that lonesome prison. But the recollection is more than human nature ought to bear. . . . The daily sufferings of our brethren in travelling and camping out nights, and those on the other side of the river would beggar the most lively description. The people in this state are very kind indeed, they are doing much more than we ever anticipated they would; I have many more things I could like to write but have not time and you may be astonished at my bad writing and incoherent manner, but you will pardon all when you reflect how hard it would be for you to write, when your hands were stiffened with hard work, and your heart convulsed with intense anxiety. But I hope there is better days to come to us yet."

pp. 388-389Personal Writings of Joseph Smith by Dean C. Jessee