Mob Attack and Attempted Murder of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon

This year’s church study focuses on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. The following is one of the many trials the saints suffered.

Emma and Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio in the spring of 1831. They soon moved to the Johnson family farm in Hiram.  Shortly thereafter, Emma lost twins in childbirth.  (Remember, in 1828 she previously lost a child, and almost lost her life, during child birth.) At the same time, John Murdock’s wife died giving birth to twins. They agreed that the Smiths should raise the Murdock babies.

On the night of March 24, 1832, 11-month-old Joseph Murdock was sick. Joseph Smith rocked the baby in his arms while he paced the floor. Emma and the others slept.  

Mob Attack, Attempted Murder, and Tarring and Feathering

Suddenly, a mob, led by recent apostates Ezra Booth and Symonds Ryder attacked.  Twelve men broke down the front door and rushed inside.  One man pulled Joseph’s hair so hard that he ripped out part of his scalp. Another man grabbed Joseph’s leg, but Joseph sent him sprawling with a powerful kick.

Joseph was so strong from a life of physical labor, and also games of wrestling and stick-pulling, that the mob could not control him.  Finally, they strangled him until he lost consciousness.

They forced Emma from the house.  They threatened to rape and murder her. Baby Joseph Murdock was left exposed on floor in the doorway as the mob dragged Joseph Smith from the home.

The mob stripped Joseph naked.  They asked a local doctor to castrate him. The doctor’s hand started shaking so badly the mob changed plans.

They asked the doctor to force a vial of acid and poison down Joseph’s throat.  Joseph clenched his teeth, and in the struggle, the glass vial broke and two of Joseph’s front teeth were chipped.  (Thereafter, he spoke with a slight whistle until his teeth were repaired in Nauvoo.)

At one point, Joseph Smith saw an unmoving Sidney Rigdon lying on the ground with a pool of blood under his head. He had been brutally beaten and appeared to be dead.

The mob then covered the Prophet’s naked body with hot tar.  They forced tar into his mouth to suffocate him. As a final humiliation, they covered Joseph with pillow feathers.

When they thought the Prophet was dead, someone shouted, “The Mormons are coming,” and the mob dispersed.

Joseph regained consciousness in time to remove the ball of tar from his mouth.  He staggered back to the Johnson house.  Upon seeing Joseph, Emma fainted.

The Prophet’s friends spent the night scraping the tar off his burned body with knives, leaving his skin raw. 

The following morning was Sunday, and Joseph was scheduled to preach. The mobbers were certain that would not happen.  However, the injured Prophet stood on the front steps and preached the gospel. Three of the listeners asked to be baptized. 

Sadly, baby Murdock died a few days later from exposure.  Although Sidney Rigdon recovered, he struggled with ongoing emotional and mental issues.

The mob leaders, Ezra Booth and Symonds Ryder, are mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. Who are they?

Apostate Ezra Booth

Ezra Booth was a full time Methodist minister in the Kirtland, Ohio area. He was intrigued upon hearing the claims of the restoration and Book of Mormon. 

In the spring of 1831, he witnessed Joseph Smith’s miraculous healing of Mother Johnson’s arm, and he immediately accepted baptism. In June, Ezra Booth was overcome by an evil spirit.  Joseph miraculously rebuked the spirit and freed Ezra.

Having witnessed two prophetic miracles, Ezra accepted a call in June to go on a mission to Missouri. (D&C52:23) He started preaching “without purse or scrip.” However, he became disillusioned when he didn’t get paid for preaching, like he was used to.  

When he returned to Ohio in September, he was an apostate.  “The Lord was angry with him” and withdrew his Spirit. (D&C 64:15-16) Thereafter, Booth published a series of newspaper letters about the “Mormon delusion.”

In December, the Lord called upon church members to “allay the unfriendly feelings that had developed against the Church as a result of the publication of letters written by Ezra Booth, who had apostatized.” (D&C 71: Introduction)

Little is known of Ezra Booth after the attack on Joseph and Sidney. Ironically, several people became interested in the church after reading Booth’s articles and were baptized.

Apostate Symonds Ryder

Symonds Ryder joined the church in Ohio in June 1831, after listening to the impassioned testimony of Ezra Booth and the account of Joseph Smith’s miracles.  Ryder was soon ordained an elder and called on a mission. (D&C 52:37)   

In the ordination certificate, Joseph and Sidney spelled his name “Rider” instead of “Ryder.”  Symonds tore up the certificate saying that if Joseph Smith couldn’t the spell his name correctly, he was not guided by the Spirit and was a false prophet. Ryder left the church.  He also started publishing articles attacking Joseph Smith and the church. 

Little is known of Symonds after the mob attack. Interestingly, his great-great-granddaughter donated to the Church a document written and signed by Oliver Cowdery in 1829 entitled, “The Articles of the Church of Christ.” The document had somehow found its way into Symonds’ possession.

Ironically, on Symonds tombstone, he is listed as a one of the “Desciples” of Christ. The word “Disciples” is misspelled. This must have caused Symonds to turn over in his grave.

(See: “Life of Joseph Smith from 1831-1834,” Wikipedia,” Susan Easton Black, “A New Depth of Anger and Rage: The Tarring and Feathering of Joseph Smith,” BYU Education Week, Aug. 2018; Trent Toone, “When a Mob Failed to Murder the Prophet Joseph Smith – Twice,” LDS Living, Aug. 23, 2018.)

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