Liberty Jail, Clay County, Missouri, USA

Liberty Jail Visitors' Center. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Liberty Jail Visitors’ Center. Photo by Kenneth Mays.

Joseph Smith, Jr., Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin were incarcerated in Liberty Jail on charges of treason. The Prophet was jailed here from December 1838 until April 1839. While there, he wrote epistles to his loved ones and to members of the Church; portions of which are contained in Doctrine & Covenants Sections 121-123. Sidney Rigdon who “had suffered terribly because of exposure and the ill-treatment he had received, he being much older and less able to endure than the other brethren, was released by the action of the judge” in February 1839.1

The jail was about 14-feet square and about 6½ feet tall and lacked sanitary facilities.2 Joseph Fielding Smith, grandson of Hyrum Smith, described the prison as follows:

“Here they suffered, during that time, many untold hardships. Much of the time they were bound in chains. Their food was often not fit to eat, and never wholesome or prepared with the thought of proper nourishment. Several times poison was administered to them in their food, which made them sick nigh unto death, and only the promised blessings of the Lord saved them. Their bed was on the floor, or on the flat side of a hewn white oak log, and in this manner they were forced to suffer.” 3

The jail had two stories, and Joseph and his colleagues were confined to the bottom level, referred to as the dungeon.4

Liberty Jail cutaway. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Liberty Jail cutaway. Photo by Kenneth Mays.

In April 1839, the remaining prisoners obtained a change of venue and were being transported to another location when one of their guards allowed them to escape, where they make their way to Illinois.5 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has restored a portion of the jail to resemble the conditions that would have existed at the time that Joseph and the other leaders of the Church were incarcerated. The jail was dedicated by Joseph Fielding Smith, grandson of Hyrum Smith and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on September 15, 1963.


SOURCES

 

1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950), 211.

2 Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 322.

3 Joseph Fielding Smith, 210.

4 B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930), 1:532.

5 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951), 3:320-321.

Map & Directions


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Hours of Operation: Daily, 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Admission: Free

Ownership Status

The Liberty Jail Visitors’ Center is a Church Historic Site, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visitors are welcome. Missionary volunteers staff the site seven days a week during normal hours. Admission is free.

Photos

Liberty Jail Visitors' Center. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Liberty Jail Visitors’ Center. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Liberty Jail cutaway. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Liberty Jail cutaway. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Liberty Jail Visitors' Center. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Liberty Jail Visitors’ Center. Photo by Kenneth Mays.

Articles & Resources

Liberty Jail Historic Site, at LDS.org

Liberty Jail, at JosephSmith.net

Liberty Jail, at Doctrine & Covenants Revelvation Sites Website

Leonard J. Arrington, “Church Leaders in Liberty Jail,” BYU Studies, 1972.

Alexander L. Baugh, “Was Joseph F. Smith Blessed by His Father Hyrum Smith in Liberty Jail? Mormon Historical Studies, Spring 2003, 101.

Lawrence R. Flake, “Liberty Jail,” Encylopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow et al., 1992.

H. Dean Garrett, “Seven Letters from Liberty,” Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Missouri, ed. Arnold K. Garr and C. V. Johnson, 1994.

Andrew Jenson, “Clay County, Missouri,” Historical Record, 1888.

Dean C. Jessee, “‘Walls Grates, and Screeking Iron Doors’: The Prison Experience of Mormon Leaders in Missouri, 1838-1839,” New Views of Mormon History, ed. Davis Bitton and Maurine Ursenbach Beecher, 1987.

E. Stevenson, “Liberty Jail,” Utah Monthly Magazine, 1893.

Robert J. Woodford, “Letter from Liberty Jail,” Hearken O Ye People: Discourses on the Doctrine and Covenants, 1984.

Liberty Jail PDF