Mob Violence Against Mormons

William Clayton

The reform and religious movements of the 19th century often sprouted in response to the economic and social dislocation that the Market Revolution brought.  Among the most successful and controversial communal societies created was the Church of Latter Day Saints, or more commonly called Mormons, in which members of the church willingly let many aspects of their lives be controlled by a church hierarchy that emphasized hard work and loyalty to faith.  This tight knit community, founded by Joseph Smith of New York in the 1830s, was envied for its economic success and political activism and driven from New York, then Ohio, and finally Missouri before it settled in Nauvoo, Illinois.  Its embracement of polygamy in 1843, however, dramatically increased tension with its surrounding neighbors.  In this passage, British immigrant William Clayton, who served as a personal secretary to Joseph Smith, details the mob violence directed against the Mormon community.  Only when 10,000 Mormons fled to modern-day Utah were they allowed to build a community in relative peace.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is William Clayton's perspective in this document?
  2. How would you describe the Mormon's relations with their neighbors?
  3. What can you deduce about mid-nineteenth-century American views toward alternative religious practices?

    THURSDAY, 24th.  Very cold all day.  I did not feel so well.  I have been told that Daniel H. Wells and William Cutler have arrived in camp and brought a report that there has been a battle fought in Nauvoo and some of the brethren killed.

FRIDAY, 25th.  I learned today that the mob had made it known that they were coming to drive out the "Mormons."  The Governor sent an officer to raise volunteers to disperse the mob, but the mob learning this they came sooner than they had calculated.  The brethren being apprised of the intentions of the mob prepared to meet them as well as their circumstances would permit.  Some of the new citizens also made preparations to join the brethren.  They made five cannon shot of an old steam boat shaft.  They also filled some barrels with powder, old iron, etc., which were buried in the pass to the city which could be fired by slow match but this was of no avail as some traitors informed the mob of it, hence they did not come into the settled part of the city.  On Saturday the 12 inst., the mob made their appearance being about twelve hundred in number.  The brethren and some of the new citizens in the whole about one hundred and sixty went to give them battle, but many of the new citizens and some of the brethren when they saw the numbers of the mob fled and left about one hundred, nearly all brethren to fight the enemy.  The mob had pieces of cannon.  They met near Boscow's store on Winchester street.  The cannon of the mob fired a number of times into Barlow's old barn expecting many of the brethren were concealed there but in this they were disappointed, the brethren chiefly lying down on the ground behind some shelter and fired in that position.  They fought one hour and twenty minutes when the mob offered terms of compromise which were these, that all the "Mormons" should leave the city within five days leaving ten families to finish the unsettled business.  The brethren consented to this inasmuch as they had been well informed that 1500 more were coming to join the mob and they had nothing to expect from the authorities of the state.  Lyman Johnson, one of the twelve, headed a party of the mob from Keokuk, Iowa territory.  Three of the brethren were killed, viz. William Anderson, his son, and Norris, a blacksmith.  Three others wounded.  The mob would not own to any of their party being killed but one person saw them put sixteen men into one wagon and handled them more like dead persons than wounded.  The ground where they stood was pretty much covered with blood, so that there is no doubt they had many slain or wounded.  They had 150 baggage wagons.  Esquire Wells took command of the brethren and rode to and fro during the whole battle without receiving injury, although the balls whistled by him on every side.  Amos Davis fought bravely.  While running across a plowed field he stumbled and fell on his left arm which formed a triangle with his head.  As he fell a cannon ball passed through the angle of his arm between that and his head.  Hiram Kimball received a slight wound with a musket ball on the forehead.  The mob fired sixty-two shots with the cannon and ten rounds with the muskets making 12,000 musket balls only killing three and wounding three.  The brethren did not fire so much in proportion but did much more execution.  Truly, the Lord fights the battles of his saints.  The cannon of the brethren was not of much service, they would not carry more than a quarter of a mile whereas those of the mob would hold well a half a mile.  They shot nine balls through a small smith shop, one through Wells' barn and one at his house but the ball struck the ground in front of his house and glanced through the well curb.  The mayor of Quincy watched the battle from the tower of the temple and owned that history never afforded a parallel.  The brethren then began to get their families and effects over the river where they remain in a suffering and destitute condition until wagons and means are sent from the saints to their relief.  On the Thursday following, the mob 1200 strong, entered the city.  'Tis said from good authority that such is the distress and sufferings of the saints as actually to draw tears from this mob....