Meet the Defendants in the Carthage Conspiracy Trial

Mark Aldrich

Thomas C. Sharp

In October 1844, a Hancock County grand jury indicted nine men for the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.  Four men fled the county and were never arrested: John Wills, William Voras, and two men with unknown first names, Gallaher and Allen.  A witness to the murders, Jeremiah Willey, said that Wills, Gallaher, and Voras were among the men that broke into the Smiths' room and that Gallaher shot Joseph Smith in the back as he ran to the window. Wills, Gallaher, and Voras all received wounds when they were shot through the cell door by Joseph Smith.

The following biographical sketches of the five defendants in the Carthage Conspiracy trial of 1845 are drawn largely from Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith, by Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill (University of Illinois Press, 1979).
Levi Williams
Colonel and commanding officer of the 59th Regiment of the Illinois Militia
Age at indictment: 34
Levi Williams and his wife moved from New York to Green Plains, Illinois, in the early 1830s, where the couple raised their five children.  Williams farmed, worked as a cooper, and served as a part-time Baptist minister.  He rose through the ranks of the Illinois militia and assumed the position of commanding officer of the 59th Regiment in 1840.  Williams used his position in the militia to make life difficult for Mormons.  In December 1843, he led a mob that kidnapped a Mormon and his son at gunpoint, bound them in chains, and carried them across the river to Missouri, where they were briefly held on charges of horse theft.  On June 19, 1844, Williams ordered the tar and feathering of a militia officer who refused a request of a constable to join a posse that was traveling to Nauvoo to attempt to arrest Joseph Smith.  Williams reportedly said after Smith's murder, that Mormon domination of Hancock County meant "the old settlers had no chance, and that [murder] was the only way to get rid of them."  At the 1845 trial, the prosecution presented no evidence that Williams actually fired a bullet at the Smiths, but two witnesses testified that Williams asked for militia volunteers to go to Carthage, where the Smiths were imprisoned.  Williams, according to witnesses, was among the 100 or so men present at the jail when the Smiths were murdered.  According to the account of William Daniels, Williams gave the order to charge the jail: "Col. Williams shouted out, 'Rush in!—there’s no danger boys—all is right!'”
Mark Aldrich
Land developer and Commander of the Warsaw Independent Battalion (a two-company battalion attached to the 59th Regiment)
Age at indictment: 42
Mark Aldrich, the oldest of the Carthage defendants, was a founder of Warsaw, a Whig Party member of the Illinois State Legislature, and--after the Carthage trial--the first American mayor of Tuscon, Arizona.  Aldrich moved to Hancock County from New York in 1832 and quickly established himself as one of the early developers in the area.  Aldrich and Smith became involved in a land dispute in 1841-42 after 204 English immigrant Mormons moved on to rented land just south of Warsaw owned by Aldrich.  When Aldrich raised the rent and imposed certain restrictions objectionable to Smith, the Mormons left for Nauvoo, a move that forced Aldrich to file for bankruptcy in March 1842.  Anti-Mormon antipathy in Warsaw also was a factor in the decision to leave Aldrich's property.  It is believed that the land controversy turned Aldrich into an outspoken opponent of the the presence of Mormons in Hancock County.  Witnesses at the 1845 trial placed Aldrich at a railroad shanty where volunteers were recruited to march to the Carthage jail.  There he reportedly spoke in favor of ridding Hancock County of the Smiths, and then set off with the mob.  The jury acquitted Aldrich along with the other defendants.
Jacob C. Davis
State senator and commander of the Warsaw Cadets
Age at indictment: 31
After attending William and Mary College in Virginia, Davis moved to Warsaw in 1838, where he studied law and served as Hancock County circuit clerk before being elected (with Mormon support) to the Illinois Senate in 1842.  In 1844, Davis sought the Democratic nomination for a seat in Congress, but failed to win Mormon backing for his bid and thus lost the race.  It is believed that the failure of the Mormons to support his campaign for Congress might have led to Davis becoming an outspoken opponent of the presence of the Latter Day Saints in Hancock County.  According to prosecution witness William Daniels, Davis agreed with other conspirators the night before the murders that the Smiths should be killed.  When asked by Thomas Sharp to join the march to the Carthage jail, however, Davis refused and (according to Daniels) was called a "damned coward."  At the 1845 trial, Prosecutor Lamborn effectively dropped charges against Davis.  Lamborn told the jury, "I have no doubt in my own mind, not a particle, that Davis cooperated in the murder, but there is no legal evidence to convict him."
Thomas C. Sharp
Publisher of the Warsaw Signal, a leading anti-Mormon newspaper
Age at indictment: 31
"Old Tom Sharp," as he was called by Mormons, was the most prominent of the five defendants.  Sharp's anti-Mormon views, published in his Warsaw Signal newspaper, helped turn much of Hancock County's non-Mormon population against the Smiths.  After graduating from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and studying law, Sharp moved to Warsaw in 1840.  After a year or so of largely unsuccessful law practice, Sharp turned to editorializing against Mormon power in Hancock County.  After the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, Sharp called for revenge: "War and extermination is inevitable!...We have no time for comment, every man will make his own.  Let it be made with powder and ball!!!"  Evidence at the trial showed Sharp spoke at the railroad shanty in favor of an attack on the jail and made no effort "to inform the Carthage Greys that a mob was coming."  Witness William Daniels testified that Sharp's speech "pointed to the necessity of killing the Smiths to get rid of the Mormons."  After the murders, Sharp defended them in the Warsaw Signal calling them an "execution" supported by "some of our most respectable citizens."Sharp fled to Missouri after a reward was posted for his arrest, but surrendered to Illinois authorities on October 1, 1844.  Following his acquittal at the Carthage trial, Sharp served as mayor of Warsaw, Hancock County judge, and as a school principal.
William N. Grover
Captain of the Warsaw Rifle Company
Age at indictment: 26
William Grover, married but childless, practiced law in Warsaw.  He was elected justice of the peace in 1843.  In his summation for the prosecution, Josiah Lamborn conceded that the state had failed to produce sufficient evidence to convict Grover.  Lamborn told the jury: "Nor is there evidence to convict Captain Grover, although I verily believe he was at the jail with a gun." Lamborn's concession was surprising in view of the fact that testimony indicated Grover was among the mob that marched to the Carthage jail and that Grover had later bragged that he had killed Joseph Smith.  After his acquittal, Grover moved to Missouri and, in 1863, was appointed U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. 

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