The prison —­ Fare —­ Conduct of the ­guards —­ A strange ­couple — My wife visits the prison —­ Fasting and prayer —­ An important question — Vision — A ministering spirit —­ The question answered

November 28, 1838–March 25, 1839

The four following chapters are extracted from the Millennial Star, published in Liverpool, England, Numbers 9, 10 and 11, Vol. VIII. I give them in full, with some little revision, although they contain a repetition of some of the things recorded in the foregoing chapters: [1]

At the end of this extraordinary mock trial or inquisition, which lasted over two weeks, I was unchained from Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and the others, and being separated from them, was conducted to a gloomy, dark, cold and filthy dungeon in Richmond, Ray County, where I was doomed to spend the winter and spring, and await a further trial; while they shared a similar fate in a place called Liberty, in Clay County.

When I first entered the dungeon there were some twenty men, mostly heads of families, who had been torn from their families in those awful times, and thrust into prison. [2] It was not only crowded to suffocation, without a chair, stool, bench, bed, furniture or window light, but just then completely filled with smoke by a fire which was lighted in a stove without a pipe, or any conductor for the smoke to pass out, except at the crevices between the timbers, where the winter storm was passing in. When my guard conducted me to the door of this miserable cell it grated on its huge hinges and opened like the pit yawning to receive me; a volume of thick smoke issued forth and seemed to forbid my entrance; but, urged in my rear by bayonets and loaded pistols in the hands of savage beings, I endeavored to enter, but was forced to retreat again outside of the door to breathe for a moment the free air. At this instant several pistols were cocked and presented at my head and breast, with terrible threats and oaths of instant death if I did not go in again. I told them to fire as soon as they pleased, for I must breathe a moment or die in the attempt. After standing a few moments, I again entered the prison, and threw myself down, my face to the floor, to avoid the smoke. Here I remained for some time, partly in a state of insensibility; my heart sickened within me, and a deathlike feeling came over me, from which I did not wholly recover for several days.

I arose, however, as soon as I was able, and began to speak to and recognize my fellow prisoners — most of whom were my neighbors and acquaintances. The door was now locked, bolted and barred, and several guards placed before it. The fire died away, and the smoke gradually cleared away from the dungeon; but the floor formed a hard and cold winter lodging.

In a few days all those in our prison, except five, were released on bail, and themselves and bail banished from the State, with the rest of the Society; thus compelling them to forfeit their bail bonds, which amounted in all to many thousand dollars. The five who remained were Morris Phelps, Darwin Chase, Norman Shearer, Luman Gibbs and myself. Two of these were finally dismissed — being boys scarcely out of their teens. But another was soon added by the name of King Follett.

This made our final number four. One of this number, viz.: Luman Gibbs, denied the faith and turned a traitor to the others; becoming their most inveterate enemy. This was in order to save his life and gain his liberty. However, he was still kept in prison as a spy upon us, lest it should be said that it was wholly a religious persecution; but he was treated very well, and went out to dine with the Sheriff or others, or to spend a day with his wife whenever it pleased him to do so. Our food was of the most unwholesome kind, and scant at that; consisting of bones and remnants of meat, coarse corn bread, and sometimes a little coffee. We generally partook of our meals in a standing position, using our fingers instead of knives, forks or plates. A tin cup served us for our coffee. [3] We were guarded very strictly, both by night and day, by two or three men with loaded pistols.

These consisted of the most unprincipled, profligate villains that could be found anywhere. They would swear, drink, gamble, and sing the most obscene and disgusting songs. They would boast of shooting the Mormons; robbing and plundering them; committing rapes, etc. They would also insult every female slave or black woman who might happen to come within hearing, and then boast of their criminal connections with them. The blasphemy; the noisy grumbling; the blackguard chit chat; doleful lullaby and vulgar songs of these guards grating daily upon our ears, seemed like the howls and wailings of the damned, or like wandering spirits and demons hovering around to torment us. What greatly added to our affliction, as if to complete our hell, the old apostate, Gibbs, became very quarrelsome and noisy — not only to us, but with his wife also, who sometimes came into the prison to spend a few days with him. He was a hard faced, ill formed man, of about fifty years of age; full of jealousy, extremely selfish, very weak minded, and withal, a little love cracked; and, I may say, that he seemed not to possess one redeeming quality.

His wife was about the same age, and withal, a coarse, tall, masculine looking woman, and one of whom he had no reason to complain or be jealous. True, she did not love him — for no female could possibly do that; but then no one else would love her, nor was she disposed to court their affections. However, he was jealous of her, and, therefore, abused her; and this kept a constant and noisy strife and wrangling between them whenever she was present.

Whole nights were spent in this way, during which no one in or about the prison slept. After a quarrel of some two or three days and nights between them, he would attempt to regain her love, and a conversation like the following would ensue. Luman, drawing down his face and drawling his words with a loud and doleful tone, commenced as follows:

“Now, Phila, won’t you love me? Come; here’s my watch, and here’s all the money I’ve got!” Then turning to us, he would exclaim: “Boys, I’ll tell you all about it; the fact is, she never did love me; she only married me out of pity — we being members of the Baptist church together in Vermont.” Then again addressing his wife: “Come now, Phila; won’t you love me? O, that I had been born a rich man! I would give you a dollar a minute to love me.”

Phila would then laugh and call him “a silly old fool.

” Whereupon he would turn away in a rage, and exclaim: “Go along away, you—, you! Nobody wants your love, no how!”

On one occasion they had quarreled and kept us awake all night, and just at break of day we heard a noise like a scuffle and a slamming against the wall; next followed a woman’s voice, half in laugh and half in exultation: “Te-he-he-he, Luman, what’s the matter? What’s the matter, Luman?” Then a pause, and afterwards a man’s voice in a grum, sorry, and rather a whining tone was heard at a distance from the bed, exclaiming: “Now, I swan, Phila, that’s tu bad.”

The truth of the matter was this: She had braced her back against the wall, and with both her feet placed against his body, had kicked him out of bed, and landed him upon the opposite side of the room.

Such scenes as these and all the folly of the guards served to enhance the misery of imprisonment, and to render our sufferings complete. We tried to keep them quiet, but tried in vain. Neither threats nor persuasion, coaxing nor reasoning had any influence over them. This miserable specimen of humanity was a peculiar favorite of the Sheriff and guards, and other citizens of Richmond. He was considered by them as the only honest, good, deserving man in the prison. They often expressed pity for him, and wished he was at liberty. He, in turn, watched our movements closely, and was ready to betray us on the least show, on our part, of any meditated plan of escape.

Under these painful circumstances we spent a long and dreary winter. Our whole community, who were not in prison, were forced out of the State, with the loss of homes, property, and many lives. They fled by thousands to Illinois.

My wife visited me several times in prison; but at length the period expired that the State authorities had stipulated for every Mormon to be gone, and my wife and children, and a few others who remained behind, were obliged to fly or be exterminated, as bands of armed men were roaming amid the deserted settlement, robbing, plundering, destroying property, and threatening all who remained. [4]

My fellow prisoners, who had been separated from me and sent to the prison at Liberty, had also effected their escape, and had fled to Illinois to join their families. [5] In short, all were gone, except King Follett, Morris Phelps and myself, and the old apostate, who was left to torment us.

Alone in a State which was wholly governed by an open banditti of murderers and robbers, we seemed abandoned to our fate, and doomed to suffer that full weight of vengeance and fury which seemed in reserve for an entire people; but that people were now beyond their reach; all the fury of the storm, therefore, seemed now to beat upon our heads. We were daily threatened with assassination, without the form of a trial; and were repeatedly told that we never should escape alive from the State. Our guards were doubly vigilant, while the Sheriff took every possible precaution. Luman, the apostate, was also in constant watchfulness, and busy in forming plans for escape; then accusing us and pretending to reveal wonderful things to our keepers in regard to our plans; which, in fact, only existed in his lying brain. This increased the severity of our confinement, and seemed to preclude the possibility of escape.

To be tried without friends or witnesses, or even with them, by a set of “Gadianton robbers” and murderers, who could drive out and murder women and children, was but to be condemned and executed; to tarry there and drag out a miserable life, while our wives and children wandered abroad in a land of strangers, without the protection of husbands and fathers, was worse than to die ten thousand deaths.

Under these circumstances, and half way between hope and despair, I spent several days in fasting and prayer, during which one deep and all absorbing inquiry, one only thought, seemed to hold possession of my mind. It seemed to me that if there was a God in Heaven who ever spake to man on earth I would know from him the truth of this one question. It was not how long shall I suffer; it was not when or by what means I should be delivered; but it was simply this: Shall I ever, at any time, however distant it may be, or whatever I may suffer first; shall I ever be free again in this life, and enjoy the society of my dear wife and children, and walk abroad at liberty, dwell in society and preach the gospel, as I have done in bygone years?

Let me be sure of this and I care not what I suffer. To circumnavigate the globe, to traverse the deserts of Arabia, to wander amid the wild scenes of the Rocky Mountains to accomplish so desirable an object, would seem like a mere trifle if I could only be sure at last. After some days of prayer and fasting, and seeking the Lord on the subject, I retired to my bed in my lonely chamber at an early hour, and while the other prisoners and the guard were chatting and beguiling the lonesome hours in the upper apartment of the prison, I lay in silence, seeking and expecting an answer to my prayer, when suddenly I seemed carried away in the spirit, and no longer sensible to outward objects with which I was surrounded. A heaven of peace and calmness pervaded my bosom; a personage from the world of spirits stood before me with a smile of compassion in every look, and pity mingled with the tenderest love and sympathy in every expression of the countenance. A soft hand seemed placed within my own, and a glowing cheek was laid in tenderness and warmth upon mine. A well known voice saluted me, which I readily recognized as that of the wife of my youth, who had for near two years been sweetly sleeping where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.[6] I was made to realize that she was sent to commune with me, and answer my question.

Knowing this, I said to her in a most earnest and inquiring tone: Shall I ever be at liberty again in this life and enjoy the society of my family and the Saints, and preach the gospel as I have done? She answered definitely and unhesitatingly: “Yes!” I then recollected that I had agreed to be satisfied with the knowledge of that one fact, but now I wanted more.

Said I: Can you tell me how, or by what means, or when I shall escape? She replied: “That thing is not made known to me yet.” I instantly felt that I had gone beyond my agreement and my faith in asking this last question, and that I must be contented at present with the answer to the first.

Her gentle spirit then saluted me and withdrew.

I came to myself. The doleful noise of the guards, and the wrangling and angry words of the old apostate again grated on my ears, but Heaven and hope were in my soul.

Next morning I related the whole circumstance of my vision to my two fellow prisoners, who rejoiced exceedingly. This may seem to some like an idle dream, or a romance of the imagination; but to me it was, and always will be, a reality, both as it regards what I then experienced and the fulfilment afterwards. * * *

Chapter 31, Part 2 to be continued next week.


[1] The Millennial Star was an official Church publication printed in Manchester (1840–42) and Liverpool (1842–1970), England, and approved and commissioned by a conference of the Church on April 15, 1840. The first issue appeared in May 1840. Parley was appointed as the publication’s first editor. The Millennial Star became the longest running periodical in the history of the Church, being published until 1970.

[2] The prisoners who were separated from Parley and taken to Liberty Jail were Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae. The following men appear to be among the twenty or so individuals who were in Richmond Jail: Parley, George Robinson, Morris Phelps, Luman Gibbs, Darwin Chase, Norman Shearer, Orrin Porter Rockwell, Alanson Ripley, Washington Vorhees, Sidney Turner, Jacob Gates, George W. Harris, Jessee D. Hunter, George D. Grant, Elijah Newman, Thomas Beck, Moses Clawson, Daniel Shearer, John S. Higbee, Ebenezer Page, Ebenezer Robinson, James M. Henderson, David Pettegrew, Edward Partridge, Francis Higbee, George Kimball, Joseph W. Younger, Benjamin Jones, and Daniel Garn (see Smith, History of the Church, 3:209–12). Five of these men — Parley, Morris Phelps, Luman Gibbs (who apostatized during the prison term), Darwin Chase, and Norman Shearer — ended up spending the winter in the Richmond Jail. King Follett was added later.

[3] The first generation of the Church welcomed the Word of Wisdom as it was sent: “[by] greeting; not by commandment or constraint” (D&C 89:2). The revelation was accepted as a commandment on September 9, 1851, during general conference in Salt Lake City. It took nearly two more generations before it was fully incorporated into the thinking and habits of faithful Saints.

[4] Most Church members left during the bitter winter of 1838–39, the last faithful members leaving Missouri by the end of February 1839. The feelings Emma Smith expressed to Joseph may have been similar to those of Parley’s wife, Mary Ann, as she was expelled from Missouri: “I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are, the walls, bars, and bolts, rolling rivers, running streams, rising hills, sinking valleys and spreading prairies that separate us, and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there, with many other considerations, places my feelings far beyond description. Was it not for conscious innocence, and the direct interposition of divine mercy, I am very sure I never should have been able to have endured the scenes of suffering that I have passed through, since what is called the Militia, came into Far West, under the ever to be remembered Governor’s notable order … No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of every thing that we possessed excepting our little children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving you shut up in that lonesome prison. But the recollection is more than human nature ought to bear” (Smith, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 388–89; spelling standardized).

[5] Joseph, Hyrum, and their fellow prisoners were allowed to escape during a change of venue to Boone County, Missouri, and arrived in Illinois sometime around the third week of April 1839.

[6] For Parley to say Thankful had been gone “near two years” marks the date of this vision as close to March 25, 1839.