June 27 marks the 166th anniversary of the death of Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum Smith, when the Illinois jail in which they were sheltered was overrun by a bloodthirsty mob.
Mormons remember the event with quiet reverence, considering Joseph — the founder and first President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – and Hyrum — the Church’s second-ranking officer in his day — to have willingly made the ultimate sacrifice required of them in service to God and mankind.
The martyrdom was a horrifying event that branded itself onto the memories of Latter-day Saints then living. The sorrow and loss they felt found expression in a variety of artistic works, including a large number of songs and poems dating from 1844 and thereafter. One of the best-known works, “O Give Me Back My Prophet Dear,” was written by John Taylor, an eyewitness to the martyrdom, just weeks after it occurred.
The following short video features a powerful performance of “O Give Me Back My Prophet Dear” in the character and with the feeling which Taylor, himself a gifted baritone, might have given it. This memorable performance was recorded at a 2005 presentation of Rob Gardner’s Joseph Smith the Prophet in Salt Lake City’s Abravanel Hall.
Following are the verses originally penned by John Taylor. They first appeared in the August 1, 1844 edition of the Times and Seasons newspaper – less than two months after the Prophet’s death.
O give me back my Prophet dear,
And Patriarch, O give them back;
The Saints of latter days to cheer,
And lead them in the gospel track.
But ah! they’re gone from my embrace,
From earthly scenes their spirits fled;
Those two, the best of Adam’s race,
Now lie entombed among the dead.
Ye men of wisdom tell me why,
When guilt nor crime in them were found,
Why now their blood doth loudly cry,
From prison walls, and Carthage ground
Your tongues are mute, but pray attend,
The secret I will now relate,
Why those whom God to earth did lend,
Have met the suffering martyr’s fate.
It is because they strove to gain,
Beyond the grave a heaven of bliss;
Because they made the gospel plain,
And led the Saints in righteousness.
It is because God called them forth,
And led them by his own right hand
Christ’s coming to proclaim on earth,
And gather Israel to their land.
It is because the priests of Baal
Were desperate their craft to save;
And when they saw it doomed to fail,
They sent the Prophets to the grave.
Like scenes the ancient Prophets saw,
Like these, the ancient Prophets fell;
And till the resurrection dawn,
Prophet and Patriarch-Fare thee well.
The essential facts of the Martyrdom as announced to the Church’s membership in 1844 have been preserved as Section 135 of the Doctrine & Covenants, one of the Church’s books of scripture.
A detailed, somewhat chilling first-person account of the martyrdom was recorded by John Taylor. Taylor sustained ghastly wounds in the assault on Carthage Jail, but survived to become the third President of the Church. His profound sense of grief and personal loss are reflected in the poem featured above.
Finally, I draw your attention to a fine response given to the question, “Do Mormons Worship Joseph Smith,” in the Mormon Women web log.