Levi Williams

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Levi Williams (c. 1796–1860) was a member of the Illinois militia and a Baptist minister who was active in opposing the presence of the Latter Day Saints in Hancock County, Illinois during the 1840s. He is one of five defendants who were tried and acquitted for the murder of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

In the early 1830s, Williams, his wife (Mary "Polly" Reid), and three sons John Reid Williams, Henry Clay Williams and Rice Williams moved from Kentucky to Hancock County, Illinois. Southeast of Warsaw, Illinois, Williams became a farmer and a cooper. He also occasionally worked as a Baptist minister. Williams served as a county commissioner to establish roads. In 1835, he was commissioned a captain in the 59th Regiment of the Illinois militia and in 1840 was commissioned colonel and commanding officer of the same regiment. Williams was a veteran of the War of 1812, and is a direct descendent of numerous veterans of the American Revolutionary War who served in Virginia.

When Latter Day Saints began settling in Hancock County in the late 1830s and early 1840s, Williams became a fierce opponent of their presence. In 1843, Williams led a militia that captured a Mormon named Daniel Avery and his son and threatened them with guns and knives for illegal activities on behalf of the Latter Day Saints before releasing them in Missouri.[1]Governor Ford called up the militia, led by Colonel Levi Williams, "for the purpose of assisting in the arrest of Joseph Smith" who had a warrant against him in MIssouri for capital offenses, and had escaped from prison there. Co. Williams had about 400 men against the " Nauvoo Legion under 'General' Joseph Smith was much larger- estimated at 3,000--4,000 men or more..." "Colonel Williams was a courageous leader, whom the Mormons at Nauvoo, including Joseph Smith, feared, as shone in a letter written by Joseph Smith to the Governor... They knew that Colonel Williams and his militia forces would deliver them back to Missouri, where they were wanted for capital of fences, if they could."

,Murder trial[edit]

After Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844, Williams was accused of having ordering his 59th Regiment to take part in the storming of the jail. At trial, Williams and four other defendants[2] were acquitted by a jury of the murders.

According to "Wild Bill" Hickman, Williams told him that because the Mormons "ruled the county [and] elected whom they pleased ... the old settlers had no chance". Killing the Smiths, Williams claimed, "was the only way they could get rid of them."[3]

Williams died on November 20, 1860 at his farm in Green Plains, Illinois of a stroke. Williams, previously a member of the Whig party, joined the Republican party and was most proud of his vote for Abraham Lincoln shortly before his death.


  1. ^ Joseph Smith, B.H. Roberts (ed.), History of the Church, 6:99–100, 108–110, 145–148.
  2. ^ Thomas C. Sharp, Mark Aldrich, Jacob C. Davis and William N. Grover.
  3. ^ Bill Hickman (1872). Brigham's Destroying Angel (New York: George A. Crofutt) 39.