Visit Liberty

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Jan 09

Spot to Stop - The Liberty Jail

Posted on January 9, 2023 at 3:16 PM by Claire Rodgers

Explore some of Liberty's history at the Liberty Jail! History buffs and those wanting to learn more about Liberty will love this museum located at 216 N Main St.

What is known today as the Historic Liberty Jail served as the Clay County Jail from 1833-1856. On December 1, 1838, Missouri authorities imprisoned Joseph Smith and several other Mormon leaders in the Clay County Jail for crimes allegedly committed during conflicts with other Missourians during the 1838 Mormon War. Joseph Smith was the first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Joseph Smith

Smith was arrested on October 31, 1838 after Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs ordered that Mormons should be “exterminated or driven from the State if necessary, for public peace”. General Alexander Doniphan represented Smith in a preliminary court hearing in Richmond, Missouri. The court charged the six men with overt crimes of treason and ordered that they be held in the Clay County Jail in Liberty until their trial in spring of 1839.

While in jail, Joseph Smith wrote many letters, parts of which were later canonized and included in a book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. His correspondence contains some of the most poignant revelations found in the book and details about his time in jail. 

The prisoners pursued several legal means to try and obtain their freedom. Believing their imprisonment to be deeply unjust and illegal, they also tried to escape on at least two occasions. In February 1839, authorities released Sidney Rigdon following an eloquent self-defense at the Clay County Courthouse. The other prisoners obtained a change of venue and on April 16, 1839, in route to their trial in Boone County, one of the guards helped them escape. The men then made their way to Nauvoo, Illinois, which was the principal settlement of the Latter-day Saints from 1839 to 1846 and was the start of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail that extends to Salt Lake City, Utah. 

In 1856 Clay County officials declared the jail unsafe. It fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down. On June 19, 1939, LDS Church member Wilford C. Wood purchased the site for $4,000 and transferred the title to the Church for the same cost. The Church sent missionaries to the site to care for the property and welcome tourists, dedicating a new visitors center in 1963. 

Liberty Jail 3

The Liberty Jail is open year-round Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 – 5 p.m. (with exceptions being Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). It is free to visit and no tickets are required. Large group tours are welcome and asked to submit a group reservation request online

If you’re wanting to check out the Liberty Jail without leaving the comfort of your home, the Liberty Jail offers virtual tours! To schedule your virtual tour, register online.

Liberty Jail 1

For more information, check out their website or visit their Facebook page!

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