First Chapter Wednesday

We're adding some great new features to the blog--Free Book Friday, Get to Know You Monday, and First Chapter Wednesday. Doesn't all of that sound exciting?

Today's First Chapter is
Early Missionary Journeys of Faith: Wilford Woodruff
by Wilford Woodruff

For the benefit of the young Latter-day Saints, for whom the Faith-Promoting Series is especially designed, I will relate some incidents from my experience. I will commence by giving a short account of some events of my childhood and youth.

I spent the first years of my life under the influence of what history has called the “Blue Laws” of Connecticut.

No man, boy or child of any age was permitted to play or do any work from sunset Saturday night until Sunday night. After sunset on Sunday evening, men might work, and boys might jump, shout and play as much as they pleased.

Our parents were very strict with us on Saturday night, and all day Sunday we had to sit very still and say over the Presbyterian catechism and some passages in the Bible.

The people of Connecticut in those days thought it wicked to believe in any religion, or belong to any church, except the Presbyterian. They did not believe in having any prophets, apostles, or revelations, as they had in the days of Jesus, and as we now have in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There was an aged man in Connecticut, however, by the name of Robert Mason, who did not believe like the rest of the people. He believed it was necessary to have prophets, apostles, dreams, visions and revelations in the church of Christ, the same as they had who lived in ancient days; and he believed the Lord would raise up a people and a church, in the last days, with prophets, apostles, and all the gifts, powers and blessings, which it ever contained in any age of the world.

The people called this man the Old Prophet Mason.

He frequently came to my father’s house when I was a boy, and taught me and my brothers those principles; and I believed him.

This prophet prayed a great deal, and he had dreams and visions and the Lord showed him many things, by visions, which were to come to pass in the last days.

I will here relate one vision, which he related to me. The last time I ever saw him, he said: “I was laboring in my field at mid-day when I was enwrapped in a vision. I was placed in the midst of a vast forest of fruit trees: I was very hungry, and walked a long way through the orchard, searching for fruit to eat; but I could not find any in the whole orchard, and I wept because I could find no fruit. While I stood gazing at the orchard, and wondering why there was no fruit, the trees began to fall to the ground upon every side of me, until there was not one tree standing in the whole orchard; and while I was marveling at the scene, I saw young sprouts start up from the roots of the trees which had fallen, and they opened into young, thrifty trees before my eyes. They budded, blossomed, and bore fruit until the trees were loaded with the finest fruit I ever beheld, and I rejoiced to see so much fine fruit. I stepped up to a tree and picked my hands full of fruit, and marveled at its beauty, and as I was about to taste of it the vision closed, and I found myself in the field in the same place I was at the commencement of the vision.

“I then knelt upon the ground, and prayed unto the Lord, and asked Him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to show me the meaning of the vision. The Lord said unto me: ‘This is the interpretation of the vision: the great trees of the forest repesented the generation of men in which you live. There is no church of Christ, or kingdom of God upon the earth in your generation. There is no fruit of the church of Christ upon the earth. There is no man ordained of God to administer in any of the ordinances of the gospel of salvation upon the earth in this day and generation. But, in the next generation, I the Lord will set up my kingdom and my church upon the earth, and the fruits of the kingdom and church of Christ, such as have followed the prophets, apostles and saints in every dispensation, shall again be found in all their fullness upon the earth. You will live to see the day, and handle the fruit; but will never partake of it in the flesh.’”

When the old prophet had finished relating the vision and interpretation, he said to me, calling me by my Christian name: “I shall never partake of this fruit in the flesh; but you will, and you will become a conspicuous actor in that kingdom.” He then turned and left me. These were the last words he ever spoke to me upon the earth.

This was a very striking circumstance, as I had spent many hours and days, during twenty years, with this old Father Mason, and he had never named this vision to me before. But at the beginning of this last conversation he told me that he felt impelled by the Spirit of the Lord to relate it to me.

He had the vision about the year 1800, and he related it to me in 1830—the same spring that the Church was organized.

This vision, with his other teachings to me, made a great impression upon my mind, and I prayed a great deal to the Lord to lead me by His Spirit, and prepare me for His church when it did come.

In 1832, I left Connecticut, and traveled with my eldest brother to Oswego County, New York; and in the winter of 1833, I saw, for the first time in my life, an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He preached in a schoolhouse near where I lived. I attended the meeting, and the Spirit of the Lord bore record to me that what I heard was true. I invited the Elder to my house, and next day I, with my eldest brother, went down into the water and was baptized. We were the first two baptized in Oswego County, New York.
When I was baptized I thought of what the old prophet had said to me.

In the spring of 1834, I went to Kirtland, saw the Prophet Joseph Smith, and went with him, and with more than two hundred others in Zion’s Camp, up to Missouri. When I arrived, at my journey’s end, I took the first opportunity and wrote a long letter to Father Mason, and told him I had found the church of Christ that he had told me about. I told him about its organization and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; that the Church had prophets, Apostles, and all the gifts and blessings in it, and that the true fruit of the kingdom and church of Christ were manifest among the Saints as the Lord had shown him in the vision. He received my letter and read it over many times, and handled it as he had handled the fruit in the vision; but he was very aged, and soon died. He did not live to see any Elder to administer the ordinances of the gospel unto him.

The first opportunity I had, after the doctrine of baptism for the dead was revealed, I went forth and was baptized for him. He was a good man and a true prophet, for his prophecies have been fulfilled.

I arrived at Kirtland on the 25th of April, 1834, and for the first time saw the Prophet Joseph Smith. He invited me to his house. I spent about a week with him, and became acquainted with him and his family, also with many of the Elders and Saints living in Kirtland, quite a number of whom were preparing to go up to Zion.

On Sunday, the 27th of April, I attended a meeting in a schoolhouse in Kirtland, and for the first time heard Elders Sidney Rigdon, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt and others speak and bear testimony to the work of God, and much of the Spirit of God was poured out upon the Saints.

It was the 26th of April, 1834, that I was first introduced to Elders Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. When I met Brother Brigham, he had his hands full of butcher knives; he gave me one, and told me to go and put a good handle on it, which I did. I also had a good sword, which Brother Joseph wanted, and I gave it to him. He carried it all the way in Zion’s Camp to Missouri, and when he returned home he gave it back to me.

When I was called to go on a mission to the South I left the sword and knife with Lyman Wight. When he was taken prisoner at Far West, with Joseph and Hyrum, he had both the sword and the knife with him. All their weapons were taken from them, so were the arms of many of the Saints at Far West, under promise that they should be returned to them when they were prepared to leave the State. When the brethren went to get their arms, Father James Allred saw my sword, which Lyman Wight had laid down, and took it and left his own, and afterwards gave it to me and I still have it. I prize it because the Prophet Joseph carried it in Zion’s Camp. The knife I never regained.

The first day of May, 1834, was appointed for the Camp of Zion to start from Kirtland to go up to Missouri for the redemption of their brethren. Only a small portion of the Camp was ready. The Prophet told those who were ready, to go to New Portage and wait for the remainder. I left, in company with about twenty men, with the baggage wagons. At night we pitched our tents. I went to the top of the hill and looked down upon the camp of Israel. I knelt upon the ground and prayed. I rejoiced and praised the Lord that I had lived to see some of the tents of Israel pitched, and a company gathered by the commandment of God to go up and help redeem Zion.
We tarried at New Portage until the 6th, when we were joined by the Prophet and eighty-five more men. The day before they arrived, while passing through the village of Middlebury, the people tried to count them; but the Lord multiplied them in the eyes of the people, so that those who numbered them said there were four hundred of them.

On the 7th, Brother Joseph organized the camp, which consisted of about one hundred and thirty men. On the following day we continued our journey. We pitched our tents at night and had prayers night and morning. The Prophet told us every day what we should do.

We were nearly all young men, gathered from all parts of the country, and strangers to each other; but we got acquainted very soon, and had a happy time together.

It was a great school for us to be led by a Prophet of God a thousand miles, through cities, towns, villages, and through the wilderness.

When persons stood by to count us they could not tell how many we numbered; some said five hundred, others one thousand.

Many were astonished as we passed through their towns. One lady ran to her door, pushed her spectacles to the top of her head, raised her hands, and exclaimed: “What under heaven has broken loose?” She stood in that position the last I saw of her.

The published history of Zion’s Camp gives an account of the bones of a man which we dug out of a mound. His name was Zelph. The Lord showed the Prophet the history of the man in a vision. The arrow, by which he was killed, was found among his bones. One of his thigh bones was broken by a stone slung in battle. The bone was put into my wagon, and I carried it to Clay County, Missouri, and buried it in the earth.

The Lord delivered Israel in the days of Moses by dividing the Red Sea, so they went over dry shod. When their enemies tried to do the same, the water closed upon them and they were drowned. The Lord delivered Zion’s Camp from their enemies on the 19th of June, 1834, by piling up the waters in Fishing River forty feet in one night, so our enemies could not cross. He also sent a great hail storm which broke them up and sent them seeking for shelter.

The camp of Zion arrived at Brother Burk’s, in Clay County, Missouri, on the 24th of June, 1834, and we pitched our tents on the premises. He told some of the brethren of my company that he had a spare room that some of us might occupy if we would clean it. Our company accepted the offer, and, fearing some other company would get it first, left all other business and went to work, cleaning out the room, and immediately spread down our blankets, so as to hold a right to the room. It was but a short time afterwards that our brethren, who were attacked by cholera, were brought in and laid upon our beds. None of us ever used those blankets again, for they were buried with the dead. So we gained nothing but experience by being selfish, and we lost our bedding.

I will exhort all my young friends to not cherish selfishness; but if you have any, get rid of it as soon as possible. Be generous and noble-hearted, kind to your parents, brothers, sisters and play-mates. Never contend with them; but try to make peace whenever you can. Whenever you are blessed with any good thing, be willing to share it with others. By cultivating these principles while you are young, you will lay a foundation to do much good through your lives, and you will be beloved and respected of the Lord and all good men.

Wilford Woodruff was born at Farmington, Connecticut, on March 1, 1807. In December, 1833, he was baptized and became a member of the LDS Church at Richland, New York. The following year he went to Missouri and then began his missionary labors in the Southern States and Fox Islands, which continued for four years. On April 26, 1839, he was ordained an Apostle at Far West, Missouri. The following year he went to England, where he labored with great diligence for nearly two years. He returned to Nauvoo in the fall of 1841. In 1844 he was in the east when the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846 he again went to England to preside over the European mission. He was with the pioneer company which came to Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. After a short mission to the east he moved to the valley in 1850, and thereafter made his permanent home in Salt Lake City. He was interested in everything that developed the Church and State. In 1877 he was made president of the St. George Temple. In 1887, at the death of President John Taylor, he became the active head of the Church in his capacity as president of the Twelve. In 1889 the First Presidency was organized with Wilford Woodruff as President of the Church. He presided for nine years in this capacity, until his death on September 2, 1898. He was honored, respected and loved by all who knew him.

Early Missionary Journals of Faith: Wilford Woodruff can be purchased from Amazon, Deseret Book, and of course your local LDS Bookstore.

1 comment

  1. Wow. That was fascinating. I had heard the story of Robert Mason and his vision before, and reading it today touched me again, especially in Wilford Woodruff's own words. I was impressed with how he described having a "happy time" with Zion's Camp. We always focus on the hardships they faced, but he was focused on positive things. What an example! Thanks for sharing that. You're new blog features sound fun.