Latter-day Saint Life

Joseph Smith's Last Letter to Emma +More Important Documents from the Last Month of His Life


This month, the Joseph Smith Papers Project reached an important milestone on the website. The site was updated to include more than one hundred new documents, including discourses, sermons, letters, and meeting minutes dating from June 1844, the final month of Joseph Smith’s life. Among these documents are items dealing with Joseph Smith’s arrest and imprisonment in Carthage, Illinois, and letters to and from his family members, friends, fellow church members, lawyers, and the governor of Illinois.

If you need a refresher, the Joseph Smith Papers Project is an ongoing effort to gather together and publish everything Joseph Smith (or his scribes) wrote. These documents include everything from journals, revelations, and discourses to meeting minutes, legal records, and newspaper editorials.

Here are five highlights from the wealth of documents dating from the final month of Joseph Smith’s life.

On the morning of June 27, 1844, the day that he was killed, Joseph Smith wrote his last letter to his wife Emma. In it, he strives to comfort his wife and reassure her that she would be protected should Governor Thomas Ford and his troops visit Nauvoo. He asks her to tell Major General Jonathan Dunham of the Nauvoo Legion to keep the residents of Nauvoo at home and in order. Finally, he closes by expressing his love for their children, telling Emma he feels free of guilt and fear and encouraging her not to be afraid.

On June 16, 1844, in a grove east of the Nauvoo temple, Joseph Smith delivered a discourse on the plurality, or multiplicity, of gods. In his sermon, he affirms that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct and separate personages and gods. He also references passages from both the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Abraham, to explain and provide proof of this controversial doctrine.

On June 14, 1844, Joseph Smith wrote to Governor Thomas Ford regarding his order to the Nauvoo Legion to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor press. In the letter, he states that this action was taken in accordance with the law and only after a thorough investigation into the paper’s libelous character and the owners’ malicious intentions. He seeks to dispel any rumors Governor Ford might hear of a mob or murders in Nauvoo and assures the governor that he would be entirely forthcoming should the state government feel it necessary to investigate the city officers’ actions.

On the afternoon of June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith wrote a brief letter to lawyer Orville Browning of Quincy, Illinois. In the letter, Joseph explains that he and his brother Hyrum are being held in jail facing charges of treason against the state of Illinois. He requests Browning’s services as an attorney for their defense at a scheduled examination on June 29. Joseph assures Browning that he and his brother are innocent of the charges, but he also expresses the urgency he feels to ensure their legal representation.

On June 20, 1844, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the president of the United States, John Tyler. As mayor of Nauvoo, he informs President Tyler that the state of Missouri had joined the Illinois mob in conspiring against members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He encloses copies of affidavits, indicating the readiness of the citizens of Warsaw and Carthage to take action against the Saints. Joseph Smith closes by imploring the president for the protection guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States against such persecution.

For more fascinating facts and additional material leading up to Joseph Smith’s death, check out the last month of Joseph Smith’s journals on the Joseph Smith Papers website and in Journals, Volume 3, May 1843―June 1844.

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