New Content on the Wilford Woodruff Papers Website September 2021

by Howard Collett

The Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation released over 830 pages of new documents in September 2021, including letters from Wilford Woodruff’s British mission in 1839–1840, over 120 pages of notes for Wilford’s autobiography and testimony, and 680 pages of his journal entries covering July 1845–December 1853.

Four sets of drafts and notes of Wilford’s autobiographies were published by the Foundation. In these records, Wilford includes numerous treasured accounts of the miracles, hardships, successes, lessons, and blessings that he experienced throughout his life. One night, while on his mission to Kentucky and Tennessee, Wilford and a company of other Saints were attempting to ford a flooded stream. He writes:

“while we were gropeing in the darkness like the blind for the wall suffering under the cold bursts & pelting hail, floods of the storms & runing the risk of killing both ourselves & animals by riding off steep bluffs, a bright light suddenly shone around about us & revealed unto us our perilous situation as were upon the edge of a deep gulf, the light continued with us untill we found a house & learned the right road then the light disappeared.” 

This account illustrates the reality of the guiding hand that protected Wilford throughout his life. When reading experiences like this and countless others, it is easy to see that Wilford continuously loved and trusted in God, through the good and the bad.

The Wilford Woodruff journal entries published cover July 1845–December 1853. That eventful period included thousands of saints receiving endowment and sealing ordinances in the temple at Nauvoo, Illinois, Wilford’s second mission to Great Britain, the gathering of thousands of Latter-day Saints to the Rocky Mountains in the American West, and the establishment of a new First Presidency. Wilford’s journal entry for July 24, 1847 says: 

“This is an important day in the History of my life and the History of the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints. On this important day after trav[eling] from our encampment 6 miles through the deep ravene, valley, ending with the canion through last creek we came in full view of the great valley or Bason [of] the Salt Lake and land of promise held in reserve by the hand of GOD for a resting place for the Saints upon which A portion of the Zion of GOD will be built.” 

By December 5, 1847 Wilford had returned east to the Missouri River, where thousands of saints were encamped for the winter. There the apostles who were present met and, as Wilford documented, counseled together about sustaining a new First Presidency. 

As an ordained apostle, Wilford Woodruff was a leading figure in this period. As a journal keeper, his records are a major source of our knowledge of these vital events. 

The Foundation also published important letters from Wilford’s 1839–1841 apostolic mission to England. In these documents, readers see Wilford pass through both high and low moments as a missionary. While preaching in Burslem in February of 1840, Wilford saw immediate results from his missionary labors. He excitedly reported “vary full and attentive congregations,” “a number baptized,” and “a number of doors opening” to the preaching of the Gospel. In contrast, in London nine months later, Wilford wrote “I know not what will be done here . . . it seems to be rather slow making a start. . . we cannot get many of the people out to hear.” However, though Wilford obviously wanted people to embrace the Gospel, he knew baptism and church attendance numbers were not the only measures of a missionary’s success. 

In a September 1840 letter, Wilford pointed out that the mission to Britain had also allowed the apostles to “obtain a knowledge of Kingdoms and countries,” “unite [their] hearts more closer together in the love of God,” and be privileged to “bear some humble part in the sacrafices, sufferings, & reproach of Christ.” Among other insights from these letters, one sees that Wilford had a great ability to remain positive in both good times and bad.