Lilburn W. Boggs was born in Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky on December 14, 1796, to John McKinley Boggs and Martha Oliver. Boggs served in the War of 1812. He moved in 1816 from Lexington, Kentucky to Missouri, which was then part of the Louisiana Territory. At Greenup County, Kentucky, in 1817, Boggs married his first wife Julia Ann Bent (1801—1820), a sister of the Bent brothers of Bent's Fort fame. She died on September 21, 1820 in St Louis, Missouri. They had two children, Angus and Henry.
In 1823, Boggs married Panthea Grant Boone (1801—1880), a granddaughter of Daniel Boone, in Callaway County, Missouri. They spent most of the following twenty-three years in Jackson County, Missouri, where all but two of their many children were born.
Boggs started out as a merchant, then entered politics. He served as a Missouri state senator in 1826 to 1832; as lieutenant governor from 1832 to 1836; governor from 1836 to 1840; and again as state senator from 1842 to 1846. He was a Democrat.
While governor of Missouri, Boggs issued a document known in Latter Day Saints (LDS) history as the "Extermination Order". A response to the escalating threats and violence of what came to be known as the Missouri 1838 Mormon War, this executive order was issued on October 27, 1838 and called for Latter Day Saints ("Mormons") to be driven from the state, by dint of their
The order was rescinded after nearly 138 years by Missouri Governor Christopher Bond, who declared that the original order violated legal rights established by the U.S. Constitution. In rescinding the order, Bond offered his regrets on behalf of the state.
Three days after Boggs signed the extermination order, a unit of the state militia killed 17 Latter Day Saint men and boys in the Haun's Mill Massacre. While most historians now agree that the unit could not have known of the Extermination Order and were not motivated by it, the massacre underscored the seriousness of the threat. The 1838 Mormon War ended shortly afterwards and thousands of Latter Day Saints crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois.
Meanwhile, the crime was investigated. Sheriff J.H. Reynolds discovered a revolver at the scene, still loaded with buckshot. He surmised that the suspect had fired upon Boggs and lost his firearm in the dark rainy night when the weapon recoiled due to its unusually large shot. The gun had been stolen from a local shopkeeper, who identified "that hired man of Ward's" as the most likely culprit. Reynolds determined that the man in question was Orrin Porter Rockwell, a close associate of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.. However, Reynolds was unable to capture Rockwell.
Some Mormons saw the assassination attempt positively: An anonymous contributor to The Wasp, a pro-Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois, wrote on May 28 that "Boggs is undoubtedly killed according to report; but who did the noble deed remains to be found out." Rockwell denied involvement in oblique terms, stating that he had "done nothing criminal"
Also at about this time, John C. Bennett, a disaffected Mormon, reported that Smith had offered a cash reward to anyone who would assassinate Boggs, and that Smith had admitted to him that Rockwell had done the deed. He went on to say that Rockwell had made a veiled threat against Bennett's life if he publicised the story. Joseph Smith vehemently denied Bennett's account, speculating that Boggs—no longer governor, but campaigning for state senate—was attacked by an election opponent. Mormon writer Monte B. McLaws, in the Missouri Historical Review, supported Smith, averring that while there was no clear finger pointing to anyone, Governor Boggs was running for election against several violent men, all capable of the deed, and that there was no particular reason to suspect Rockwell of the crime. This opinion was not shared by Rockwell's most noted biographer, Harold Schindler. Whatever the case, the following year Rockwell was arrested, tried, and acquitted of the attempted murder (Bushman, p. 468), although most of Boggs' contemporaries remained convinced of his guilt.
Boggs was accompanied by his second wife Panthea, his son William, William's bride Sonora Hicklin, and his younger children. They arrived in Sonoma, California in November and were provided refuge by Mariano Vallejo at his Petaluma ranch house. There, on January 4, 1847, Mrs. William Boggs gave birth to a son, who was named Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo Boggs after their benefactor. Lilburn Boggs became alcalde of the Sonoma district in 1847. During the California Gold Rush, Boggs owned a store and did quite well. On November 8, 1849, Boggs resigned as alcalde and became the town's postmaster.
Boggs accepted an appointment as state assemblyman from the Sonoma District in 1852. In 1855 he retired to live on a ranch in Napa County, California where he died on March 19, 1860. His widow Panthea died in Napa County, California on September 23, 1880. They are buried in Tulocay Cemetery, Napa, California.