Last Friday I went to the LDS Church sanctioned Joseph Smith web site. The site has a section titled “On This Day…,” reporting daily events from the life of Joseph Smith. On Friday it said,
March 24, 1832
Hiram, Ohio. A mob violently tarred and feathered Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.
This is interesting to me because on my web site, Questioning Mormonism, I have a similar feature that lists daily events in the history of the LDS Church. And for March 24th both the Joseph Smith site and the Questioning Mormonism site list the same bit of history. But the QM site has a little more detail:
“1832 – Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were tarred and feathered by a mob in Ohio due to rumors of Smith’s intimacy with Nancy Marinda Johnson. Nancy’s brother, Eli, was said to have led the mob.”
Interesting how a few additional facts can change the whole tenor of a historic event. Here’s the more complete story.
On September 2, 1831 Joseph and Emma Smith, along with their 5 month old twins, moved into the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio. The Johnson’s had four grown sons and a 16-year-old daughter, Nancy Marinda. LDS author Fawn Brodie wrote,
“Fortified by a barrel of whiskey, [the mob] smashed their way into the Johnson home on the night of March 24, 1832 and dragged Joseph from the trundle bed where he had fallen asleep while watching one of the twins. They stripped him, scratched and beat him with savage pleasure, and smeared his bleeding body with tar from head to foot. Ripping a pillow into shreds, they plastered him with feathers. It is said that Eli Johnson demanded that the prophet be castrated, for he suspected Joseph of being too intimate with his sister, Nancy Marinda. But the doctor who had been persuaded to join the mob declined the responsibility at the last moment…” (No Man Knows My History, page119).
Joseph survived the ordeal with injuries that healed over time. But one of Joseph and Emma’s twins, who had been suffering from measles and was that night exposed to cold, damp air, died five days later.
LDS author Todd Compton wrote,
“The motivation for this mobbing has been debated. Clark Braden…alleged…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 [Marinda’s brother who became LDS apostle] Luke Johnson, there is no good reason to doubt it. Also, they had planned the operation in advance, as they brought along a doctor to perform it. The first revelations had been received in 1831, by historian Danel Bachman’s dating. Also, Joseph did tend to marry women who had stayed at his house or in whose house he had stayed” (In Sacred Loneliness, page 231).
Thinking that the circumstantial evidence may be lacking in some respects, Mr. Compton suggested the possibility of a different motivation for the mobbing, one of an economic nature rather than a sexual nature. Whatever provided the impetus for the tarring and feathering of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that night in 1832, the event didn’t happen in a vacuum.
A postscript to the Joseph and Nancy allegations: In 1834 Nancy married LDS Church member Orson Hyde. Six years later, in the spring of 1840, Church authorities sent Orson on a three-year mission to Jerusalem. Two years into the mission, while he was away, Joseph Smith was sealed to Orson Hyde’s wife, Nancy Marinda. Nancy thus became Joseph’s 10th plural wife, though she remained married to Orson as well. In 1870 Nancy divorced Orson after 34 years of marriage, leaving him to his five remaining plural wives.