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Hancock County legal instruments

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS SC 1283

Scope and Contents

This collection contains various handwritten legal instruments, such as lawsuits and affidavits, related to court cases involving early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Hancock County, Illinois. These include: Amos Davis vs. Joseph Smith, Orson Spencer, and John P. Green, May 1844; State of Illinois & Hancock County vs. John Dedman /John Dedman vs. Levi Williams, 1833-1835; State of Illinois & Hancock County vs. John Elliott, 1843-1844; Reuben Herrington vs. Amos P. Baker, 1834-1837; State of Illinois vs. Jacob H. Sherman, 1839; and Daniel Witt vs. Levi Williams, 1831-1832 (notably held in the original Montebello courthouse). John Elliott and Levi Williams were involved in the attacks on Latter-day Saints in settlements outside Nauvoo, Illinois, and the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in June 1844. Materials dated 1831-1844.


  • 1831-1844


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to use material from this collection must be obtained from the Reference Services at

Biographical / Historical

Hancock County, Illinois, was originally part of a military tract designated by Congress as a reward for veterans of the War of 1812. Settlement of the area was delayed due to concerns about conflicts with its indigenous peoples, but proceeded after the Blackhawk War in 1832.

The county was officially formed on January 23, 1825, out of Pike County. It was named for John Hancock, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1833, the state commissioned the formation of the county seat at Carthage. Its original courthouse, a log cabin that later became a school, was built in Montebello (near Nauvoo, but no longer existing) and used until 1839. The second courthouse, which was in use until 1906, was the location from which Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln gave campaign speeches while running for the U.S. Senate in 1858. The current courthouse, which was rebuilt on the same spot, was dedicated in 1908.

Hancock County is home to the city of Nauvoo, which in the 1840s was the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and one of Illinois' most populated cities. The Church's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., was killed at Carthage Jail in 1844, after which most Church members left the area. It continues to be a site of vacation and religious pilgrimage for Church members today.

Biographical / Historical

Colonel Levi Williams was born April 8, 1794, in Madison, Kentucky, to ohn H. Williams and Elizabeth Collins. He married Mary Reid on December 27, 1814, in Madison, Kentucky, and they had five children. In the early 1830s, Levi and his family moved from Kentucky to Green Plains in Hancock County, Illinois. He was a farmer and cooper, occasionally preached as a Baptist minister, and was a county commissioner in charge of building roads. In 1835, he was given a commission as captain of the 59th regiment of the Illinois militia; five years later, in 1840, he became its colonel and commanding officer.

When Latter-day Saints began settling in Hancock County in the late 1830s and early 1840s, Williams quickly became a fierce opponent. In 1843, he led the militia that kidnapped Church member Daniel Avery and his son, threatened them with weapons, and let them go in Missouri.

After the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844, Levi was accused of having ordered his regiment to participate in storming the jail, but he and four others were acquitted of the charges by a jury. Williams was said to have told "Wild Bill" Hickman that the Saints held too much political influence in the county, and that killing the Smiths was the only way to get rid of them.

After the trial, Levi served as postmaster of Green Plains until his death due to a stroke on November 20, 1860.


1 folder (0.03 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Documents are arranged by last name of the plaintiff or first party named in the suit, or by last name of the defendant if the plaintiff is the State of Illinois or Hancock County; items are then chronological within that suit.

Custodial History

The documents were purchased from Peter Crawley and Ernest D. Strack in 1982.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased; Peter Crawley; 1982.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased; Ernest D. Strack; 1982.


LDS cultural, family, social, intellectual, mission and religious history (19th Century Mormon & Western Manuscripts Collection Development Policy, Section V.b.v.1).

Related Materials

Hancock County (Ill.) legal instruments, MSS SC 1271-1276; Hancock County (Ill.) legal documents, MSS 6050; Hancock County (Ill.) legal papers collection, MSS SC 3234; Hancock County (Ill.) Circuit Court legal document(s), MSS 1259 and MSS 1443; Hancock County (Ill.) Circuit Court subpoena, MSS SC 626; Hancock County (Ill.) court summons, MSS SC 1294; Hancock County (Ill.) deposition, MSS SC 134; Hancock County (Ill.) search warrant, MSS SC 343; Hancock County (Ill.) summons(es), MSS SC 744 and MSS SC 759; Hancock County (Ill.) and Portage County (Ohio) legal documents, MSS 4054; Legal documents of the Icarian Community, Hancock County, Ill., MSS SC 358; Hancock County records, MSS SC 212.

Processing Information

Processed; Amanda Crandall; February 2023.

Hancock County legal instruments
In Progress
Amanda Crandall
2023 February 2
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States