Letter from Wilford Woodruff and Others, 9 March 1838

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Vinalhaven, Fox Islands, Me.
March 9th, 1838.
, and Joseph Smith jr., , , and the Saints in , Greeting:
Dear friends in the ;
I, , sit down to inform you, that I have just heard, correctly, of the deplorable state of things in , and I have this day held a with and , who are now with me upon these , and we resolved to address a few lines to you concerning our feelings, and set before you a brief account of things with us, and the course we intend to pursue. I have labored principally alone upon these , since left last fall, and the work of the Lord has prospered in my hands, or in other words, the Lord has worked with me during the winter. Elder has been with me for a number of weeks past upon the . There is rising of 40 members in the on these , and they are strong in the faith. I returned last evening from a mission in company with Elder . we have been visiting the most notable cities and vilages in the eastern country, and delivering unto them the word of God.
We preached in their City Halls, Chapels, School houses, dwellings &c., in such places as Camden, Belfast, Northport, Frankfort, Hampden and the City of Bangor. Doors were open in all of these places, and many others I might mention, and the people heard with profound attention; and many are believing. I never saw more doors open for doing good, than at the present time in the State of : But the Devil is stired up against me here on the .
One Methodist priest has applied several times for a warrant to take me, but the Officers, as yet, will not grant him any, for he cannot bring any accusation against me in truth or justice.
The most trouble I now have, is the stopping the papers. I have forwarded about 30 subscribers with the money, and now the is burnt down, and our enemies roar in the midst of the congregations, and they set up these ensigns for signs.
I expect the report of these things will come like a clap of thunder in the ears of the Saints upon these and else where. They do not know it yet, but are wondering why these papers do not come. We have appointed a time to meet the church, and we shall lay all these things before them and trust in God for wisdom to direct us. The Elders that are with me are expecting to go to their homes, and I shall be left to fight the battles alone. Brethren, pray for me out of Zion, for I have a load to bear; but in the name of Elijah’s God, I am determined to stand at my post. I feel as though the time of Jacob’s trouble had began, but I know God will deliver him out of it, and fulfil his word.
We are advising the Saints of God to go from this country to , as soon as they can. I suppose this is right: many are preparing to go the following season.
Now we say to the Presidency of the church in ; we do not expect to counsel you, nor any one there, let God be your counsellors. But we ask, can it not be consistent with the will of God and your feelings and circumstances, to soon publish the Elders’ Journal from , that we may have one weapon, to cut away some of the deep gloom, that will be cast upon the minds of thousands of the Saints, by wicked men and devils, and false brethren. The traveling Elders feel the wait of these things, equally, if not more than those who are in ; for we are naked targets to the press and tongue, as we pass through the midst of the Gentiles. O my God! have mercy and support us, I pray, through the toils that are to come, that our garments may be washed white in the blood of the Lamb! for it is through tribulation that we inherit the blessing and overcome.
Could the Elders’ Journal be continued, it would be great relief to the feelings of all the faithful; for while our enemies are publishing against us, even in , we should also know what God is doing for his Saints.
Brethren, we pray you to consider this last clause, not for our sake alone, but for the sake of all the faithful that are scattered abroad. We do not make these remarks because we have any lack of confidence in you,—No, God forbid, we believe you have done, and will do all that lies in your power for [p. 35] the salvation of Israel; and for one, I pray God to take away my life, sooner than to suffer me to turn my back upon the faithful part of the , and Joseph whom God hath chosen to lead his people. O my soul mourns over the corruptions of the hearts of men! O how man will stumble in dark places, when he neglects prayer and departs from his God! O ye Saints of , watch and pray, and keep the Celestial law, which is safe!
That you may know the feelings of the undersigners of this page, we say to you before God, that we are in full fellowship with Joseph Smith jr. and the of the church, and with all who still adhere to, and receive their teachings and instructions; and we say, in the name of Jesus Christ, that we will uphold such by our prayers, faith, and influence, at the risk of our fortunes, lives, and worldly honor. “For life is but a name, when virtue and truth is gone.”
We further believe, that judgment awaits the world speedily, not excepted, and we do believe that those who have dissented from the body of the church, will have cause to lament for their folly. We ask in the name of reason and revelation, who has power to take from Joseph, the delivered to him by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and deprive him of the work that God has said he should perform? We answer, none but God alone. We believe the book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, speaks too loud upon the subject, to fall unfulfilled and to be made void, by those who have neglected prayer, and departed from the living God, and sought to take honor unto themselves. O ye Saints of God in Zion! we entreat you to uphold Joseph by prayer, faith, brotherly love, and charity: for we testify, in the Spirit of God, that he will be brought off conquerer, and his enemies put to shame.
Do you remember his toils and labors for your salvation? Nothing but a God has supported him to the present day. His perils are great, and the greatest are among false brethren; and we do entreat the Saints in Zion not to add to his wounds, by following the example of many in .— Bear with us, ye Saints of God, while we exhort you to keep the Celestial law of God, while in the land of . Be humble, be watchful, be prayerful. Beware of pride, lest you fall like others. We do not make these remarks for compliment sake, we feel what we say. is and will be scourged, to fulfill revelation and prophecy; it is all right, the hand of God is in it. God’s work will not stop. He will work for, and with his Saints. God will redeem Jacob. God will build up Zion. The Lord will establish Jerusalem. And O ye Judges in Zion! that God may bestow wisdom and salvation upon you, is the prayer of
, &
. [p. 36]


  1. 1

    See Revelation, 16 Apr. 1830 [D&C 22:1].  

  2. 2

    Woodruff, Ball, and Townsend may have met in the home of fellow Latter-day Saint Malatiah Luce. (See Woodruff, Journal, 8–15 Mar. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  3. 3

    Hale, Woodruff’s principal mission companion, returned to Kirtland in October 1837. (Woodruff, Journal, 31 May 1837; 19 Aug. 1837; 1 and 9 Oct. 1837.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  4. 4

    Ball joined Woodruff on North Fox Island on 13 January 1838. (Woodruff, Journal, 13 Jan. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  5. 5

    In September 1837, Woodruff wrote, “Although we have not baptized but few on these Islands, yet there is hundreds believing and many are almost ready to enter into the kingdom.” By the time Woodruff left in late April 1838, he had organized two branches of the church, one on each island, and each branch had about fifty members. (Letter from Wilford Woodruff and Jonathan H. Hale, 18 Sept. 1837; Woodruff, Journal, 28 Apr. 1838; Wilford Woodruff, Scarborough, ME, to Asahel Woodruff, Terre Haute, IN, 2 May 1838, Wilford Woodruff Collection, CHL.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

    Woodruff, Wilford. Collection, 1831–1905. CHL. MS 19509.

  6. 6

    Woodruff had been traveling with Townsend since 15 February 1838. (Woodruff, Journal, 15 Feb.–8 Mar. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  7. 7

    Camden lay just across Penobscot Bay from the Fox Islands. Northport and Belfast lay farther north along the west side of the bay. Frankfort, Hampden, and Bangor were situated along the Penobscot River. Woodruff’s journal records his travels through various municipalities in Maine on the way to the sizable city of Bangor. Along the way there and back, Woodruff took small detours to preach in Searsmont and on the Isle au Haut. Woodruff wrote of preaching in the city hall in Bangor; in the Universalist chapel in Hampden; in schoolhouses in Camden, Searsmont, Belfast, Northport, Frankfort, Hampden, and the Isle au Haut; and at a “Mr. Bailey’s” in Searsmont. (Woodruff, Journal, 13 Feb.–8 Mar. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  8. 8

    Woodruff was on North Fox Island at this time. (Woodruff, Journal, 8–9 Mar. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  9. 9

    Woodruff wrote that North Fox Island had “a Baptist church & meeting house,” while South Fox Island had “a small branch of the methodist church & a priest.” Woodruff contended several times with “Mr William Douglass the Methodist Priest” from South Fox Island. When Woodruff began converting Baptists on North Fox Island, the Baptist minister, Gideon Newton, invited Douglass to preach there. Douglass preached against Mormonism, and Woodruff rebutted him. Woodruff later wrote, “I then followed Mr Douglass to his own Island, and commenced preaching to his Church, and Baptized a good share of his members.” Woodruff also wrote that while he preached on South Fox Island, “the people came out by hundreds, to hear and filled the schoolhouses to overflowing.” A late nineteenth-century local history of South Fox Island stated that the Mormon religion had “held sway for several years, during which time a number of the leading members of the hitherto prevailing faith were converted to its ranks.” In January, Douglass had swayed some of Woodruff’s converts, but Woodruff reclaimed them and had what he called a “serious interview” with Douglass. (Woodruff, Journal, 20 Aug. 1837; 11, 17, and 30 Sept. 1837; 28 Dec. 1837; 29 Jan.–1 Feb. 1838; Letter from Wilford Woodruff and Jonathan H. Hale, 18 Sept. 1837; “History of Wilford Woodruff,” 27, Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861, CHL; Brief Historical Sketch of the Town of Vinalhaven, 59–60.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

    Historian’s Office. Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861. CHL. CR 100 93.

    A Brief Historical Sketch of the Town of Vinalhaven, from Its Earliest Known Settlement: Prepared by Order of the Town on the Occasion of Its One Hundredth Anniversary. Rockland, ME: By the authors, 1889.

  10. 10

    Woodruff had sent in subscriptions to the church newspaper, the Elders’ Journal. On the night of 15–16 January, the building in Kirtland where the church printed the Elders’ Journal was burned to the ground with all its contents. JS and many other Latter-day Saints assumed that dissenters in Kirtland had set the fire. Dissenter Warren Parrish alleged that the building was burned down at the command of JS. Decades later, devout Latter-day Saint Benjamin F. Johnson recounted that Lyman Sherman, another loyal Saint living in Kirtland, set fire to the building after it had fallen into the hands of dissenters. (Woodruff, Journal, 20 Nov. and 31 Dec. 1837; 3 Jan. and 6 Feb. 1838; John Smith and Don Carlos Smith, Kirtland Mills, OH, to George A. Smith, Shinnston, VA, 15–18 Jan. 1838, George Albert Smith, Papers, CHL; Letter to the Presidency in Kirtland, 29 Mar. 1838; Warren Parrish, Kirtland, OH, 5 Feb. 1838, Letter to the Editor, Painesville [OH] Republican, 15 Feb. 1838, [3]; Johnson, “A Life Review,” 24.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

    Smith, George Albert. Papers, 1834–1877. CHL. MS 1322.

    Painesville Republican. Painesville, OH. 1836–1841.

    Johnson, Benjamin Franklin. “A Life Review,” after 1893. Benjamin Franklin Johnson, Papers, 1852–1911. CHL. MS 1289 box 1, fd. 1.

  11. 11

    Organized opposition on the islands and the mainland came primarily from the Baptists. (Thompson, “Wilford Woodruff’s Missions to the Fox Islands,” 108–114.)  

    Thompson, Jason E. “‘The Lord Told Me to Go and I Went’: Wilford Woodruff’s Missions to the Fox Islands, 1837–38,” in Banner of the Gospel: Wilford Woodruff, edited by Alexander L. Baugh and Susan Easton Black, 97–148. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010.

  12. 12

    See Psalm 74:4.  

  13. 13

    Three days later, on the evening of 12 March 1838, Woodruff met with Latter-day Saints at the home of Malatiah Luce to “lay before them the situation of the church in Kirtland.” Woodruff wrote that they “had a good meeting & these things did not move the faith of the Saints.” (Woodruff, Journal, 12 Mar. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  14. 14

    Woodruff wrote in his journal that on 21 March 1838, Ball left North Fox Island “to return to his friends in the city of Boston.” Ball was originally from Boston or Cambridge and still had family there, though he had moved to the Kirtland area. Townsend was from Buxton, Maine, where he lived with his wife and children. By 21 March, Townsend had already left and would not return until 11 April. As Woodruff noted in his diary, “I am now left to labour again alone upon these Islands.” (Woodruff, Journal, 21 Mar. and 11 Apr. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  15. 15

    See Jeremiah 30:7.  

  16. 16

    The letter Woodruff had just received from an Elder Robbins in Kirtland informed him that JS and Sidney Rigdon had departed Kirtland for Far West. (Woodruff, Journal, 8 Mar. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  17. 17

    The first two issues of the Elders’ Journal, dated October and November 1837, were published in Kirtland, with JS as the editor. Following JS’s departure from Kirtland in January 1838 and the destruction of the printing office shortly thereafter, publishing operations ceased. An 1831 revelation designated Missouri as “the land of Zion” and commanded that William W. Phelps move to Independence, Missouri, to be a printer for the church. A year later, Phelps and others established a printing operation and began publishing a newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star. When a mob razed the Mormon print shop, the Mormons continued the Star in Kirtland. In 1834, the Star was replaced by the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, which in turn was replaced in 1837 by the Elders’ Journal. Because the print shop in Kirtland had burned down and JS, the editor of the Elders’ Journal, was moving to Missouri, Woodruff proposed that the church once again establish a newspaper in “the land of Zion.” (Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:32–34, 47–49, 72–74; Revelation, 20 July 1831 [D&C 57].)  

    Crawley, Peter. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. 3 vols. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997–2012.

  18. 18

    Latter-day Saints considered the vast majority of white Americans to be “Gentiles,” or non-Israelites. However, Woodruff, like other Latter-day Saints, considered himself a descendant of Israel through Israel’s son Joseph and through Joseph’s son Ephraim. Woodruff had received a patriarchal blessing that identified him as a descendant of Joseph and “of the Blood of Ephraim.” Woodruff believed that his mission was “to search out the Blood of Ephraim & gather him from these Islands.” (Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., i; “Israel Will Be Gathered,” The Evening and the Morning Star, June 1833, [5]; Revelation, Sept. 1830–B [D&C 28:8–9, 14]; Woodruff, Journal, 15 Apr. and 5 Sept. 1837; see also Woodruff, Journal, 20 Aug. and 28 Sept. 1837.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  19. 19

    See Revelation 7:14; and Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 27, 259, 321, 567 [1 Nephi 12:10–11; Alma 13:11; 34:36; Ether 13:10].  

  20. 20

    See Revelation, 1 Aug. 1831 [D&C 58:4]; and Revelation, 24 Feb. 1834 [D&C 103:12–13].  

  21. 21

    In 1837 Warren A. Cowdery, who edited the LDS Messenger and Advocate in Kirtland, used the paper to critique the officers of the Kirtland Safety Society (including JS and Sidney Rigdon) for their mismanagement of the failed financial institution. In the month before Woodruff wrote this letter, Warren Parrish attacked JS and the church in one of the newspapers in nearby Painesville, Ohio. (Editorial, LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1837, 3:535–541; Warren Parrish, Kirtland, OH, 5 Feb. 1838, Letter to the Editor, Painesville [OH] Republican, 15 Feb. 1838, [3].)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

    Painesville Republican. Painesville, OH. 1836–1841.

  22. 22

    See Jeremiah 13:16.  

  23. 23

    See Matthew 26:41; and Mark 13:33.  

  24. 24

    According to a revelation JS dictated in 1834, “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principoles of the law of the Celestial kingdom.” By “Celestial law,” Woodruff probably meant the “Laws of the Church” that had been revealed in 1831, including the consecration of property. The Saints in and around Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, had attempted to live by this law of consecration prior to being driven out of their “centre place” in Jackson County. Now, after purchasing several tracts of land in Caldwell County, church leaders there were contemplating how to live the law of consecration again. (Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105:5]; Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:30–39]; Cook, Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration, 29–39; Revelation, 20 July 1831 [D&C 57]; Minute Book 2, 6–7 and 23 Dec. 1837.)  

    Cook, Lyndon W. Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration. Provo, UT: Grandin Book, 1985.

  25. 25

    See Instruction on Priesthood, between ca. 1 Mar. and ca. 4 May 1835 [D&C 107:22].  

  26. 26

    See the closing line of the United States Declaration of Independence.  

  27. 27

    Several JS revelations predicted millenarian judgment upon the world. One revelation, dictated in 1831, includes the Lord’s intention to “retain a strong hold in the Land of Kirtland, for the space of five years in the which I will not overthrow the wicked, that thereby I may save some.” Though Kirtland had been singled out as a stronghold, it was only temporarily so. (Revelation, 11 Sept. 1831 [D&C 64:21]; see also Revelation, ca. 7 Mar. 1831 [D&C 45].)  

  28. 28

    In an early revelation, JS was “chosen to do the work of the Lord.” JS’s revelations and writings indicated that the “keys” he had received allowed him to unlock the mysteries of heaven and divine authority. A recent revelation declared that “the keys which I have given him . . . shall not be taken from him untill I come.” (Revelation, July 1828 [D&C 3:9–10]; Revelation, 23 July 1837 [D&C 112:15]; see also Matthew 16:19; Revelation, 30 Oct. 1831 [D&C 65:2]; Revelation, 15 Mar. 1832 [D&C 81:2]; and JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 1.)  

  29. 29

    The Book of Mormon includes prophecies of a latter-day prophet named Joseph, who would be “like unto Moses” and help restore the house of Israel in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants affirm JS’s divine calling. (Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 66–68, 500 [2 Nephi 3:6–25; 3 Nephi 21:10–11]; see also Articles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830 [D&C 20:5–11].)  

  30. 30

    See Hebrews 3:12; and Articles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830 [D&C 20:32].  

  31. 31

    Warren Parrish and others in Kirtland had attempted to depose JS and either replace him with David Whitmer or lead the church themselves. (Historian’s Office, Brigham Young History Drafts, 14; Backman, Heavens Resound, 327–329.)  

    Historian’s Office. Brigham Young History Drafts, 1856–1858. CHL. CR 100 475, box 1, fd. 5.

    Backman, Milton V., Jr. The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983.

  32. 32

    See Revelation, Feb. 1831–A [D&C 43:12]; and Instruction on Priesthood, between ca. 1 Mar. and ca. 4 May 1835 [D&C 107:22].  

  33. 33

    See Psalm 44:7.  

  34. 34

    See 2 Corinthians 11:26.  

  35. 35

    See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 321, 576 [Alma 34:39; Moroni 6:4].  

  36. 36

    See Revelation, 2 Jan. 1831 [D&C 38:39].  

  37. 37

    The letter that Woodruff received the day before from Elder Robbins reported that JS and Rigdon had left Kirtland for Far West and that, as Woodruff wrote in his journal, “the faithful are to follow them for Kirtland will be scorged.” Woodruff added: “Often have I herd Joseph Prophecy of these things for a year past.” (Woodruff, Journal, 8 Mar. 1838.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  38. 38

    See Isaiah 44:23; Jeremiah 31:11; and Minutes and Prayer of Dedication, 27 Mar. 1836 [D&C 109:62].  

  39. 39

    See Psalm 102:16.  

  40. 40

    JS’s revelations explained that Edward Partridge, the bishop of Zion, was “a Judge in Israel” and a “common judge,” while the president of the high priesthood was a supreme church judge. In addressing this 9 March letter to Partridge, JS, and his counselors in the First Presidency, Woodruff was addressing the chief judges in Zion. (Revelation, 1 Aug. 1831 [D&C 58:17–18]; Revelation, 11 Nov. 1831–B [D&C 107 (partial)].)