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The following sketch of the life and labors of our departed President, Wilford Woodruff, is written in cheerful compliance with his request when giving instructions, several years ago, concerning the disposition of his remains after his departure from this life.
"I wish to say that at my death I wish the Historian of the Church to publish a brief account of my life, labors and travels as an Elder and Apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Wilford Woodruff was born March 1, 1807, at Farmington (now called Avon), Hartford County, Connecticut. He was the son of Aphek and Beulah Thompson Woodruff. His father, his grandfather Eldad Woodruff, and his great grandfather Josiah Woodruff, were men of strong constitutions, and were noted for their arduous manual labors. His greatgrandfather was nearly a hundred years old when he died, and was able to work until shortly before his decease. A scion of this hardy stock, Wilford Woodruff was also noted for his activity, industry and physical endurance. Though not a large man, he was able to perform labors that would have prostrated men of ordinary physique. At an early age he assisted his father on the Farmington Mills, and, when 20
years of age, took charge of a flouring mill belonging to his aunt, Helen Wheeler, holding the position of manager for three years, when he was placed in charge of the Collins flouring mill at South Canton, Connecticut, and subsequently of the flouring mill owned by Richard B. Cowles of New Hartford, Connecticut. In the spring of 1832, in company with his brother Azmon Woodruff, he went to Richland, Oswego County, New York, purchased a farm and saw-milí and settled down to business on his own account.
On December 29, 1833, he and his brother Azmon heard the Gospel preached by Elders Zerah Pulsipher and Elijah Cheney. They both believed it at once, entertained the Elders, offered themselves for baptism, read the Book of Mormon, and received a divine testimony of its truth. He was baptized and confirmed by Elder Zerah Pulsipher December 31, 1833.
At a very early age, Wilford Woodruff was imbued with religious sentiments, but never allied himself with any of the various sects. He received much information from Robert Mason, who resided at Simsbury, Connecticut, and was called “The old Prophet Mason." He taught that no man had authority to administer in the things of God without revelation from God; that the modern religious societies were without that authority; that the time would come when the true Church would be established, with all its gifts and graces and manifestations, and that the same blessings enjoyed in the early Christian Church could be obtained in this age through faith. This led the youthful Wilford to hold aloof from the churches of the day, and to desire and pray for the coming of an Apostle or other inspired man to show the way of life. For three years previous to receiving the everlasting Gospel, he was impressed with the conviction that God was about to set up his Church and Kingdom on earth in the last days and for the last time. Thus he was prepared to receive the truth when it was presented to him by the Elders.
On January 2, 1834, he was ordained a Teacher, and on February 1, being visited by Elder Parley P. Pratt, he was instructed to prepare himself to join the body of the Church at Kirtland. He immediately commenced to settle up his business, started with a wagon and horses, and arrived in Kirtland April 25, 1834. There he met with the Prophet Joseph Smith and many leading Elders, and received much light and knowledge. A week later he went to New Portage, where he joined the company of volunteers which was organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and known as Zion's Camp, to go into Missouri for the relief of the suffering Saints in that State. He remained with the Camp through all its
travels and trials, until it was dispersed in Clay County, Missouri, when the Prophet Joseph returned to Kirtland and Brother Woodruff remained with Lyman Wight and worked until the ensuing winter. Having a great desire to preach the Gospel, he went one Sunday evening into the woods alone and prayed earnestly that God would open his way and grant him his desire. He received a witness by the Spirit that his prayer would be answered. After walking some distance from the spot, he was met by Elder Elias Higbee, who said to him: "Brother Wilford, the Spirit of the Lord tells me that you should be ordained and go on a mission." Brother Woodruff replied, “I am ready."
At a meeting of the High Council in Lyman Wight's house, November 5, 1834, Brother Woodruff was ordained a Priest by Elder Simeon Carter, and was shortly after sent on a mission to the Southern States. On January 13, 1835, in company with Elder Harry Brown, he crossed the river into Jackson County, where there was much danger from mobs, but which they passed through in safety, traveling on foot and enduring much fatigue. After crossing the Osage River in a canoe, they walked sixty miles in one day without anything to eat. Just before dark, when approaching some timber, a large black bear arose before them on his hind feet, but after a short time, he turned and walked off. They obtained shelter at night in a log cabin, but could get no food as there was none in the house. Walking twelve miles further, a mobocrat pamed Conner, gave them breakfast, cursing them all the while they ate because they were “Mormons."
They reached Pettyjohn Creek in Arkansas, where Alexander Akeman and family resided, who had been members of the Church in Jackson County, Missouri, but he had apostatized and become very bitter. The brethren stayed in the neighborhood 25 days, though threatened by Akeman and others with death. On February 14, Brother Woodruff, in response to a thrice.given admonition of the Lord, called upon Mr. Akeman and bore testimony to the truth of “Mormonism” and the wickedness of opposing it, when Akeman followed him from the house in a terrible rage, but just as he reached Brother Woodruff he fell dead at his feet, as though struck by lightning, swelled up and turned black. This had a great effect upon the people; several meetings were held and some persons baptized, but Elder Brown ipsisted upon leaving the place and traveling southward; so they journeyed on to Little Rock, rowing down the Arkansas River 125 miles in a canoe, which they made out of a cottonwood tree, which they cut down and dug out, 4 feet wide and 12 feet long.
From that point they started for Memphis, Tennessee, about 175 miles, wading through mud and water, sometimes forty miles a day, and on March 24, Brother Woodruff was seized in the swamps with rheumatism, and could not travel as fast as his companion desired. The latter determined to return to his family in Kirtland, so left Brother Woodruff sitting on a log in the mud and water, unable to walk, without food and twelve miles from any house on the road. In this condition he kneeled down in the water and besought the Lord to heal him. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, the pain left him, and he went his way, preaching the Gospel wherever he could find people to listen. He crossed the Mississippi River March 27th, and went to Middle Tennessee. On April 4th, in Benton County, he met with Elder Warren Parrish, with whom he labored over three months, preaching and baptizing, forty persons joining the Church while they labored together. Being called to Kirtland, Warren Parrish ordained Brother Woodruff an Elder on June 28, 1835, and the latter continued his labors in Kentucky and Tennessee and baptized thirty-one after Elder Párrish left.
At a conference held February 26, 1836, at Benjamin L. Clapp's house, in Calloway County, Kentucky, Brother Woodruff ordained Abraham O. Smoot and Benjamin Boydston Elders and B. L. Clapp and Daniel Thomas priests. Brothers Woodruff and Smoot labored in the ministry, and in April, Apostle David W. Patten and his wife returned to Tennessee, and Elder Woodruff labored under his direction, being opposed by mobs, but receiving no injury, and being comforted by great manifestations of the power of God in the healing of the sick. On May 31, he was ordained by David W. Patten a member of the Second Quorum of Seventies.
At a conference held at Damon's Creek, Calloway county, Kentucky, where several branches numbering 119 members were represented, Elders Woodruff and Smoot were released from their labors in the South to go to Kirtland and receive their endowments. September 19th Brother Woodruff organized the first company of Saints who emigrated from the Southern States, numbering 22_souls. In company with Abraham 0. Smoot and Jesse Turpin, Brother Woodruff started for Kirtland October 20th, arriving November 25. By advice of the Prophet Joseph, he attended school in the Temple and studied Latin and English grammar. January 3, 1837, he was set apart as a member of the First Quorum of Seventies. In the spring of that year, he witnessed manifestations from the Lord in the Kirtland Temple, where the gifts of the Gospel were enjoyed, the spirit of prophecy was poured out, and the prophet was clothed with the power of God.