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While Freemasonry as a rule avoids religious discussion, the history of Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has definite masonic points of interest.
Did Joseph Smith give the masonic grand hailing sign of distress?
Founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, and his brother Hyrum, the incumbent Worshipful Master of Nauvoo lodge, were shot to death June 27, 1844 as a mob stormed the jail where they were being held.
Present on that afternoon were John Taylor, Stephen Markham, John S. Fullmer, Captain Dan Jones, and Dr. Willard Richards. Only Dr. Richards has left us an eye-witness account.
John Taylor did not witness Smith’s death:
It would seem that immediately after my attempt to leap out of the window, Joseph also did the same thing, of which circumstance I have no knowledge only from information. Brother Richards was very much troubled, and exclaimed, "Oh! Brother Taylor, is it possible that they have killed both Brother Hyrum and Joseph? It cannot surely be, and yet I saw them shoot them;" and elevating his hands two or three times, he exclaimed, "Oh Lord, my God, spare Thy servants!"1
Dr. Willard Richards reports:
Joseph attempted, as the last resort, to leap the same window from whence Mr. Taylor fell, when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward, exclaiming, "Oh Lord, my God!" As his feet went out of the window my head went in, the balls whistling all around. He fell on his left side a dead man.2
The following month the Mormon publication, Times and Seasons reported: "...with uplifted hands they gave such SIGNS OF DISTRESS as would have commanded the interposition and benevolence of Savages or Pagans. They were both MASONS in good standing. Ye brethren of 'the mystic tie' what think ye! Where is our good MASTER Joseph and Hyrum? Is there a pagan, heathen, or savage nation on the globe that would not be moved on this great occasion, as the trees of the forest are moved by a mighty wind? Joseph’s last exclamation was 'O LORD MY GOD!'"3
The source of the report in Times and Seasons is uncredited, and it is hard to imagine that there were any Mormon witnesses in the mob below the jailhouse window. The position of Smith’s arms is inconclusive since it would be an understandable posture of someone leaping through a window while being shot at. The expression "Oh Lord, my God!", while not the sort of invocation to prayer common to Smith, is also understandable as the last exclaimation of a mortally wounded man.4
And then the embroidery begins. Thirty-three years later, John D. Lee claimed that "Joseph left the door, sprang through the window, and cried out, 'Oh, Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow’s son!'"5 Forty-four years later Heber C. Kimball reports: "Joseph, leaping the fatal window, gave the Masonic signal of distress."6
Whether or not Joseph Smith’s last words were intended to be the masonic Grand Hailing Sign of Distress is a question that cannot be answered. Mormon writers, intent on distancing the Church from Freemasonry, have stressed this apocraphyl history while masonic writers have either relied on Mormon reports or stressed the irregular nature of Smith’s Freemasonry.

1.John Taylor, "An Eyewitness Account by Elder John Taylor".
2.Dr. Willard Richards. "Two minutes in jail", published in the Carthage Times and Seasons of 27 June 1844 and cited in History of the Church, Vol. 6 Chapters 33-34, p. 602-622.
3.Times and Seasons. vol. 5, p. 585.
4.Oh Lord My God.
5.John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled; Or The Life And Confessions Of The Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee, (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Co, 1877. 1st edition. 390 pages. 8vo., p. 153).
6.Orson Ferguson Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, an apostle, the father and founder of the British mission. Salt Lake City : Kimball Family (Juvenile Instructor Office), 1888. 1st edition. 520 pages. 8vo.), p. 26. Cited by E. Cecil McGavin , Mormonism and Masonry. p. 16.


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