Albert Brown’s November 11, 1844, letter from Nauvoo to his New York relatives adds significantly to the historical record of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. Brown wrote from the perspective of one loyal to Joseph Smith. When studied in connection with antagonistic accounts published earlier in BYU Studies, readers of the letter can sense the views, loyalties, and hostilities of the bitterly divided factions that swirled around Joseph Smith as they once did around Jesus Christ.1
Written less than four months after the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the letter captures the Saints’ efforts to make sense of the brutal act. Albert Brown’s account of the martyrdom draws from a July 4, 1844, affidavit written by William M. Daniels and published by Lyman O. Littlefield in 1845. Littlefield’s sensational account portrayed a lynch mob intent on mutilating Joseph’s body “when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene. . . . The arm of the ruffian, that held the knife, fell powerless; the muskets of the four, who fired, fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues.”2 Chroniclers initially included this information in the Manuscript History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but B. H. Roberts considered the details “questionable” and edited them out of the published History of the Church.3 Brown’s letter evidences how this story spread quickly and widely after the murders. Whether factual or not, Saints used this story as part of an effort to cope with their shocking loss.
Except for the unverifiable story, Brown’s letter is an efficient and accurate recounting of the events that led to Joseph’s martyrdom and the trial of the accused assassins. Brown wrote it weeks after nine men were indicted for the murders. “The question arises,” he wrote, “will the Murder[er]s be hung?” His expectation that they would not be punished is both historical and prescient. Joseph’s accused assassins, some of whom were “leading citizens in Hancock County,” were acquitted. Their guilt was tacitly acknowledged, but their actions represented the popular will.4
Albert Brown was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1807 and joined the LDS Church in 1832.5 A carpenter by trade, Brown served in Zion’s Camp, the Nauvoo Legion, and the Mormon Battalion.6 He supported Joseph Smith and the Restoration at every turn, including serving as a doorkeeper in the House of the Lord during the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple.7 In Utah, Albert Brown served as a patriarch until he died in 1902 in Mill Creek at age ninety-four.8 In 1980 BYU Studies published another historically important letter by Albert Brown dealing with the Book of Abraham, and this 1844 letter was displayed in the gallery at the Library of Congress during the Joseph Smith bicentennial conference.9 Both that letter and the one published here for the first time are housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Brown’s spelling, punctuation, capitalization, superscripts, and grammar have been maintained. His strikeouts are interlined
like this; his inserts are in angle brackets <like these>. Editorial inserts are in brackets [like these].
Albert Brown’s 1844 Letter
Amos L. Underwood
Utica On[e]ida CO NY
Nov 11 the 1844
I willingly comply with your request to write to you to tel you all that I can on one sheet of paper, in the first place then I will proced to Acknowledeg the Receipt of one Box of Drygoods by the hand of the Misses Munrose from the city of Utica10 who Arived at this place near the 1 <first> Nov it contained a number of Articals as follows til we come to the second part white flannel 10 yds Domestic 30 yds I believe red flannel 5 yds Casimear for pants or vest patter dress pattern Also 5 yds chquered goods cap for Carlos11 which precisely fited his h<e>ad 2 Pair socks yarn paper spools and skeins of thread and also to letters one from Miss Louisa12 & Bro wn the Authors name was not attached to the other consequently I cannot tell who wrote it. If I recolect write these are the Articals we received [document damage obscures at least one word] which we need for our own use, we can but acknowledge our grateful thanks to Father for these [?] Sister Ives13 has not as yet go hirs She lives near twelve miles from this place we heard from her not Long sinse she sent word she is coming to spend Some time with us this winter she will no [illegible word] address a letter to som one of our friends when she has Leisure it now remains for[unclear line of writing along fold]
meme to give you a limited view of the knews as it stands at the presant time you have no Doubt heard various and Contradictory rumors for three or four Mo<n>ths past concerning the Mormons som the truth som Falshood be this as it may the story runs thus A number of Apostates feeling very anxious to make Disturbance in this city got up a Printing Establishment14 for the Expres Purpose of vilifying and slandering and if Possible to Destroy the whole sosiety of Latter Day Saints the first paper contained their prospe<c>tus it was Certainly one of the most fowl filthy Libilous ever heard of,15 where upon the City Counsel proceded to take Measurs to Destroy it they proceded acording to the strict letter of the Law as I very believe to Demolish the press or remit it as a neusance16 after evry Counselor had Expressed his views and wishes in relation to it it finally passed to a vote the [“the” blotted out, but not clear if intentional] Result was only one Desenting <voice> voice17 som ten or twelve persons then proceded toRepaired to the office opend the door took the press and threw it into the street smashed it to peeces consumed the furnitur destroyed the fixturs,18 thus one of the Meanest vulgares printing Establishments that Ever disgrast anny place or People from the Beginning of time up to the presant Date was remitted according to Constituton and the Laws of Illinois this as a matter of course Greatly Incensed the Mob party of handcok [Hancock] county19 who thirsted for the Blood of Joseph and hiram Smith and others also however those alone have been killed after the Destruction of the Above press the owners of it Left the city for the Cuntry20 got [document damage obscures several words] they could and those together with others who have for some time saught the Lives of our valuable citizen<n>s considered this a good oppertunity to Execut their hellish plots convened at Carthage held their Mob Meeting21 finally got out a [w]rit and sent an officer to Nauvoo for Joseph and hiram with Many other offor no other purpos thant to Mass[a]cre them they refused to give themselves up until the Governor Interfered who by the by the Mob party had Deputed Messengers to hold an intervue with himthe Governor soon repaird to carthag where he was soon
of Mobocrcy his mind became poisened with falshood and finally maid a Deman for the Men a bove Mentioned who Did not give them selves up until the Governor had pldge his word and the faith of the State of Illinois that they should be protected22 after som three or
orfour Days consultation thy concluded to repair to Carthage to Meet the Governor23 Joseph well knowing howevr before he left home that he never should return herea live for said he I am Going Like a Lamb to Slaughter but I have a conscienc void of offence toards God and all men I shall dye inncent24 he finally arived at carthage where were gathered sevral hundred men or demons wating impatin[tly] to reek their vengence on an inocent Man25 they immediately gave Bail for their appearance to Court after which they were arrested for treason on purpost to Detain them26 knowing they could not Sustain any charg against them after they had been there two or three days the g[?] governor finally concluded to disband his men all but two or three companes who had sworn that Joseph and hiram Smih should never leave Carthage a live out of these a guard was selected to guard the Jail in which these mene were unlawfully Detained27 on the Morning of the Day on which Joseph and hiram was killed the governor had maid [damage obscures words] to March to Nauvoo to make [damage, presumably “a”] Speech to citizns28 this being a favourable oppertu[nity] [damages] Murders to the a mount of betwene 1 and two hundrd prepaired themselfs29 som painted yellow som black som red30 and in the after part of the Day31 Repaired to the Jail Broke opne the door Discharged their Muskit killed Joseph32 and hiram Smith33 Dead on the spo[t] [final letter cut off] and wounded John tailor very seriously34 he has since recovered doctor Richards was in the same room but escaped unhurt,35 there was one occurrance which I must Relate after they had shot these Brethren one [damaged words] to take off his head at this Moment there was a sharp flash of light falashed around them and the four men that don the horrid deed were disarmed of their strength their guns fell to the ground and had to be carred or helped ofa wey from the spot, after all this Mobicrats and Murderrs air not satisfid with Blood Matters have continued with more or less Excitemen up until the presant time however it has now mostly died away I would say that Eight or ten of those Murderers have been Indited be for the Court,36 the question arises will the Murders be be hung it is very unlikely no Murderer has ever bin Punished I believe sinse the world began for Murdering a Prophit of the Lord37
I have now writen what I wish to at this on this subject our papers contain an impartial account of the whole affiar, but to conclude I wish you prosperity and happiness
I wish further more that you could see and understand the fullness of the gospel as it is revealed in the Last Days firmly believing that it would constitute your happiness in this world and in the world to come you would be prepaired to understand the sines of the times also, I must come to a close I must say to Louisa I thank hir for the goodness and genirosity she has manifested in hir Litter to me and may the Bessings of Almighty God be with hir is the Preyr of hir unworthy Uncle and all the re[s]t