One hundred and sixty six years ago today, on June 27th 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob in Carthage IL. Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, known as The Mormons to many. The mob that killed him had blackened their faces and, although five were tried, no one was convicted of the killing.
The mob most likely contained William Law and Robert Foster who had been generals in the private militia (The Nauvoo legion) that Smith had created to enforce his theocratic law within Nauvoo. They complained that Smith had proposed marrying their wives and Smith had them excommunicated on April 18th 1844. On June 7th Smith used his Nauvoo legion to destroy the printing presses of the Nauvoo Expositor because it had published stories calling him a polygamist, a charge Smith denied often. Riots ensued and Smith declared martial law and enforced it with his Nauvoo legion. The governor of IL mobilized the national guard in nearby Carthage and threatened to send an even larger force if Smith and his brother refused to surrender themselves. Smith originally thought he was being held for inciting a riot, but when he discovered that running a shadow theocratic government and raising a private army against the United States of America earned him a charge of treason he panicked. He had a gun smuggled in to his jail cell and sent orders to the Nauvoo Legion to attack Carthage and free him by force. Fearing that Smith would be freed a mob of former Mormons attacked Carthage. Smith fired upon them and jumped out the window, pistol in hand, into a crowd waiting bellow; apparently in an ill-conceived attempt at escape. Joseph Smith was then shot to death. Hyrum Smith was shot dead with a bullet to the head. John Taylor and Willard Richards were also in the jail cell with the Smith brothers, both lived, Richards was uninjured.
The specifics of this event makes Joseph Smith an awkward Martyr at best. Although an unjust killing by any moral measure Smith enjoyed much more justice than most on the pre-civil war American frontier. Still, there are many who consider this one of the great martyrdoms in American History.