Tarred and Feathered
Tarring and feathering is a form of physical punishment, public torture, and mob violence. Although used during the Middle Ages, the early American frontier also used the practice—possibly brought by the Pilgrims in 1620—during the 18th and 19th centuries. (For examples, see Wikipedia.)
Those encountering such torture are stripped naked, or at least stripped to the waist, and wood (pine) tar, which is sometimes hot, is poured or painted onto the person while being held immobile. The victim either has feathers thrown at them or they are forced into a pile of feathers that stick to the tar.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland describes the violent incident that occurred to Joseph Smith.
- Cursing as they went, the mob that had seized him were swearing to kill Joseph if he resisted. One man grabbed him by the throat until he lost consciousness from lack of breath. He came to only to overhear part of their conversation on whether he should be murdered. It was determined that for now he would simply be stripped naked, beaten senseless, tarred and feathered, and left to fend for himself in the bitter March night. Stripped of his clothing, fighting off fists and tar paddles on every side, and resisting a vial of some liquid—perhaps poison—which he shattered with his teeth as it was forced into his mouth, he miraculously managed to fight off the entire mob and eventually made his way back to the house. In the dim light his wife thought the tar stains covering his body were blood stains, and she fainted at the sight.
- Friends spent the entire night scraping and removing the tar and applying liniments to his scratched and battered body. I now quote directly from the Prophet Joseph’s record:
- By morning I was ready to be clothed again. This being the Sabbath morning, the people assembled for meeting at the usual hour of worship, and among them came also the mobbers [of the night before. Then he names them.] With my flesh all scarified and defaced, I preached to the congregation as usual, and in the afternoon of the same day baptized three individuals. [HC 1:264]
- Unfortunately, one of the adopted twins, growing worse from the exposure and turmoil of the night, died the following Friday.
Scholar Susan Easton Black adds that the mob had intended to castrate Joseph Smith. “‘Intending to kill him, Joseph was stripped of his clothing and taken to a Dr. Dennison, who was selected to castrate him, but his hand began to shake. In other words, could the doctor really do it? Apparently not,’ Black said. ‘Plan B was a vial of nitric acid. The doctor attempted to push it into his mouth but Joseph clenched his teeth, and in the struggle, Joseph's front tooth and the next one were chipped.’” Black also suggests that tar is also poured down a person’s throat to suffocate the victim, and that Joseph was able to remove the ball of tar from his mouth. On the same night, Sidney was also dragged from his home across the frozen ground, beaten, tarred and feathered, and had been knocked unconscious from severe cuts and bruises to his head. He was delirious for several days. Some suggest that his head injuries possibly caused him brain damage and emotional instability. Other members of the Church were threatened with being tarred and feathered. (See, for example, “The Time John Taylor Was Almost Tarred and Feathered”.)