Wilford Woodruff was born on 1 March 1807 in Farmington, Connecticut, to Aphek Woodruff and Beulah Thompson. He was one of nine children. His father was a miller by trade, and as a young man, Wilford worked in a saw mill and flour mill owned by his father. His mother died of “spotted fever” in 1808 at the young age of 26. Wilford, only 15 months old at the time of her death, would be raised by his stepmother, Azulah Hart.
Wilford was known as a conservative religious man, and also as one who was actively engaged in the social and economic life of his community. He became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 31 December 1833. At that time, the Church, still in its infancy, numbered only a few thousand Saints who resided around Kirtland, Ohio. As an adult, he was a farmer, horticulturist and stockman by trade, and wrote extensively for periodicals for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Wilford Woodruff and the St. George Temple
The St. George Utah Temple, originally named the St. George Temple, and the only temple completed during Brigham Young’s 30-year tenure as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the oldest operating temple of the Church and the first built in Utah. It was privately dedicated on 1 January 1877 in a series of three dedicatory prayers: the baptistry by Wilford Woodruff, the main floor by Erastus Snow, and the sealing room by Brigham Young, Jr. The St. George Utah Temple is also the first temple where endowments for the dead were performed, and it is also there that temple ordinances were put into a written form for the first time.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen, former president of the St. George Utah Temple and emeritus General Authority, during a presentation titled “Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and the St. George Temple” at the Church History Museum in 2014 noted that “the temples in Kirtland, Nauvoo and St. George were all necessary for bringing about the restoration of important priesthood keys and ordinances.”
While serving as President of the St. George Utah Temple, the Founding Fathers of the United States of America appeared to Wilford Woodruff in the temple asking why their temple work had not been performed on their behalves. He recorded in his journal that the signers of the Declaration of Independence, along with General George Washington, appeared to him in the temple on two consecutive nights and said:
You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God. (Wilford Woodruff, in a Conference Report, April 10, 1898; Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 160-61; Wilford Woodruff Journal, August 21, 1877.)
He further stated in his journal that he called upon Brother John D.T. McCallister to baptize him for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as fifty other renowned men, for a total of 100, to include John Wesley, Christopher Columbus, and others. He goes on to say that baptisms for every President of the United States were performed with the exception of three; “and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.” (JD 19:229, September 16, 1877.)
“On the same day these ordinances were performed, President Woodruff records in his journal that he baptized brother McAllister for 21, including Gen Washington & his forefathers and all the Presidents of the United States that were on my list except Buchanan, Van Buren & Grant….Sister Lucy Bigelow Young went Forth into the font and was baptized for Martha Washington and her family and seventy (70) of the Eminent women of the world….There were baptized in all to day 682” (Woodruff, Journal 7:367-69)–Arnold K. Garr, Epilogue, Christopher Columbus, p. 71-73.)
He also recorded that George Washington, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were ordained High Priests at the time.
During the 68th Annual General Conference of the Church which was held in April 1898, President Woodruff recounted the sacred experience:
I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.
Another thing I am going to say here, because I have a right to say it. Every one of those men that signed the Declaration of Independence, with General Washington, called upon me, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple at St. George, two consecutive nights, and demanded at my hands that I should go forth and attend to the ordinances of the House of God for them. Men are here, I believe, that know of this, Brother John D. T. McAllister, David H. Cannon and James S. Bleak. Brother McAllister baptized me for all those men, and then I told these brethren that it was their duty to go into the Temple and labor until they had got endowments for all of them. They did it. Would those spirits have called up on me, as an Elder in Israel to perform that work if they had not been noble spirits before God? They would not. (Wilford Woodruff, Conference Report, April 1989, pp. 89-90.)
Eminent Men and Women Baptized in the St. George Temple
Temple work was performed on behalf of the following well-known and respected men and women in the St. George Utah Temple in August 1877 (Vision of Former Eminent Men in The St George Temple; Compiled By Glen W. Chapman- January 2002)
Founding Fathers: William Hooper(NC), Joseph Hewes (NC), John Penn(NC), Button Gwinnett(GA), Lyman Hall(GA), George Walton(GA), Edward Rutledge(SC), Thomas Heyward Jr.(SC), Thomas Lynch(SC), Arthur Middleton(SC), Samuel Chase(MD), William Paca(MD), Thomas Stone(MD), Charles Carrol(MD), George Wythe(VA), Richard Henty Lee(VA), Thomas Jefferson(VA), Benjamin Harrison(VA), Thomas Nelson Jr.(VA), Francis Lightfoot Lee(VA), Carter Braxton(VA), Robert Morris (PA), Benjamin Rush(PA), Benjamin Franklin(PA), John Morton(PA), George Clymer(PA), James Smith(PA), George Taylor(PA), James Wilson(PA), George Ross(PA), Caeser Rodney(DE), George Read(DE), Thomas McKean(DE), Philip Livingston(NY), Francis Lewis(NY), Lewis Morris(NY), Richard Stockton (NJ), John Witherspoon(NJ), Francis Hopkinson(NJ), John Hart(NJ), Abraham Clark(NJ), Josiah Bartlett(NH), William Whipple(NH), Matthew Thornton(NH), Samuel Adams(MA), John Adams(MA), Robert Treat Paine(MA), Elbridge Gerty(MA), Stephen Hopkins(RI), William Ellery(RI), Roger Sherman(CN), Samuel Huntington(CN), William Williams(CN), and Oliver Wolcott(CN).
Note: Temple work was not done for John Hancock or William Floyd as it had already been completed previously.
Presidents of the United States: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Knox Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson.
Note: Temple work was not done for James Buchanan, Martin Van Buren, or Ulysses S. Grant.
Other eminent men baptized by Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Utah Temple in August 1877 include: Sir Edward Gibbon, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Grattan, Humboldt, Alexander von Irving, Washington Jackson, Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Johnson, Samuel Ju~rez, Benito Pablo Kemble, John Philip Liebig, Baron Justus von Livingstone, David Macaulay, Thomas Babington Nelson, Lord Horatio O’Connell, Daniel Peabody, George Powers, Hiram Reynolds, Sir Joshua Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Scott, Sir Walter Seward, William Henry Stephenson, George Thackeray, William Makepeace, Vespucci, Amerigo Webster, Daniel Wesley, John Wordsworth, William Parepa, Count Dimitrius, Martha Washington and her family, John Washington(Great Grandfather of George Washington), Sir Henry Washington, Lawrence Washington (Brother of George Washington), Augustine Washington (Father of George Washington), Lawrence Washington (Father of Augustine), Lawrence Washington, Daniel Park Custis, John Park Custis (Son of Daniel and Martha Parke Custis), and Martin Luther.
Eminent Women baptized include: Jean Armour (1767—1834) of Scotland, Jean Armour Burns (Wife of Robert Burns) (1759—1796), Jane Austen (1775—1817) of England, novelist, Mary Ball (1708—1789) of America, Mary Ball Washington (Mother of George Washington) (1732—1799), Sarah Bernard (1800—1879) of England, Sarah Barnard Faraday (wife of Michael Faraday (1791—1867), Charlotte Bronte (1816—1855) of England, novelist, Felicia Dorothea Browne (1793—1835) of England, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806—1861) of England, poet, (wife of Robert Browning) (1812—18?), Martha Caldwell Calhoun (d. 1802) of America ( mother of John Caldwell Calhoun) (1782—1850), Martha Parke Custis (1755—1773) of America (Daughter of Martha Washington) (1732—1802), Martha Dandridge Washington (1732—1802) of America (wife of George Washington) (1732—1799), Rachel Donelson Jackson (1767—1828) of America (wife of Andrew Jackson (1767—1845), and Abigail Eastman Webster (1737—1816) of America (mother of Daniel Webster (1782—1852), to name but a few. Temple work was performed for a total of 70 eminent women.
Of the sacred experience, James G. Bleak, Clerk to Brigham Young, wrote:
I was also present in the St. George Temple and witnessed the appearance of the Spirits of the Signers….the spirits of the Presidents….and also others, such as Martin Luther and John Wesley….Who came to Wilford Woodruff and demanded that their baptism and endowments be done. Wilford Woodruff was baptized for all of them. While I and Brothers J.D.T. McAllister and David H Cannon (who were witnesses to the request) were endowed for them. These men… laid the foundation of this American Gov., and signed the Declaration of Independence and were the best spirits the God of Heaven could find on the face of the earth to perform this work. Martin Luther and John Wesley helped to release the people from religious bondage that held them during the dark ages. They also prepared the people’s hearts so they would be ready to receive the restored gospel when the Lord sent it again to men on the earth.” (Personal journal of James Godson Bleak-Chief Recorder of the St. George Temple.)
Modern Guidelines for Temple Work
Although Wilford Woodruff was prompted by the Lord to do the temple work for these famous men and women, that is not Mormon practice today. Now, Mormons are directed to seek out the records of their direct ancestors and perform eternal ordinances for those in their own family line. They are directed NOT to perform vicarious temple work for famous people now dead, or for Holocaust victims or any others not related to them.
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.
Thanks for the post! According to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, George Washington and John Wesley were ordained as high priests on the 22nd, Benjamin Franklin on the 23rd, and Columbus and one other person on the 24th. I’ve found Lord Horatio Nelson identified as the 5th person on various lists or comments on forums, but I’m unable to substantiate that identification. Do you have any knowledge of that detail?
Thank you for this well written article, and for your service to our country. Your sacrifice and service to our country has brought honor to us and to those founding fathers and other prominent individuals of note in your article.
James Selander from Solaray and Nutra?
Thank for publishing this article! Well done, Keith!
I am curious why you say the vision of signers of the Declaration of Independence and 50 eminent men is found in his journal. It is not found in his journal from any research I have done. All I have have found is just the record that he was baptized for them and selected their names. Interestingly, George Washington and many of the signers baptisms were performed previously in Nauvoo, where the practiced was introduced, sanctioned, and presided over by Joseph Smith himself, so why would GW and 50 eminent men complain that their work had not been done? Is it possible WW wanted to self aggrandize a little 22 years after the event occurred?
I wish I could answer your question. The record of the ordinances performed is in the St. George Temple, and I am aware that some ordinances were repeats of previous ordinances, even for people outside of this list. There actually was a book published about this ordinance work. I think this is the one I had heard about, but it doesn’t talk about the women. One possibility is that temple ordinances had not been completely revealed and refined in Nauvoo, so some aspects were missing and had to be redone. Also, I don’t know that all of the dead (for whom work was done by W. Woodruff and others enlisted to help) actually appeared to Wilford Woodruff. He may have had more revelation on the matter that came in other forms as the work progressed.
Gale, I amnot doubtinghe did them and thought they were needed to be done. there is plenty of documentation that they were done in ST George. Isn’t it strange that Wilford Woodruff’s Journal had over 7,000 pages. He discusses in detail in his journal his thinking about the work that needs to be done regarding the founding fathers work he presumes needs to be done, and then documents doing it, but omits any record of the spectacular vision in his journal. Is that something any normal person would omit? Could he forget such a spectacular vision, and then suddenly remember it in a conference talk 22 years later?
It may be logical to assume that if a church leader did it there must be a good reason, but looking at history, when Joseph Smith received the revelation to do Baptisms for the dead, he was particularly concerned about his brother Alvin. (See section 137).
Alvin’s work was done for him by Hyrum in the Missisippi. Thousands of names were done and recorded under Joseph’s supervision, so if they were inappropriately done why did Joseph who brought up the issue to begin with think the Mississippi river was appropriate for his brother. In all reality, can anyone think the Lord would reject anyone who had it done there. Wouldn’t that make God a small being to object to where something was done? Joseph didn’t say anything about it needing to be done in the temple until much later.
I remember watching a panel of doctors discussing the crucifixion and what Christ may have suffered. One doctor was reticent to participate, and when asked why, he replied, “I don’t like making diagnoses over the phone.” With our distance from historical events and the mind of God, it’s almost impossible to put this puzzle together correctly. There are questions, yes, but there always are.
Kim Curtis’ Master’s Thesis addresses the fact that W.W. talks about this event right after it happened, in September. He does talk about it 22 years later as well. But it was also discussed in public immediately after. See https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5629&context=etd go to p. 97-98
Fascinating. I wish I could set everything aside and do a deep dive into this part of LDS history.
Thank you for the article totally enjoyed it. I was wondering was the temple work performed for Alexander Hamilton?
Hal, you are forgetting two very important things in your question. 1) Had baptisms been performed for all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in Nauvoo and the Endowment House or only some of them? They were speaking as group requesting ordinances for everyone in the group. 2) According to President Woodruff’s account the signers of the Declaration were asking for their temple work to be done and never confined the request to baptism alone. While baptisms for the dead were performed in the Nauvoo temple and in the Endowment House, other temple ordinances for the dead were not performed until the dedication of the St. George temple. Perhaps this is the very reason the request came at the time it did to President Woodruff.
This link might help answer some of your questions…https://www.ldsliving.com/What-You-Didn-t-Know-About-the-Founding-Fathers-Temple-Work-Story/s/78831
What do you know about the baptism of Alexander Hamilton?
He is not listed among the Founding Fathers baptized in August 1877. Family Search shows him being baptized in December of 1878. (https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/ordinances/LZKN-H6X).
I can assume that this means he did not appear seeking baptism. At what point was it brought up to get him baptized?