The First Book of Wilford

by Jane Clayton Johnson

By Jane Clayton Johnson, Board Member

During the final days of December 1833, twenty-six-year-old Wilford Woodruff began his first journal as a new convert. He titled his first entry, “The First Book of Wilford.”

Wilford had a divine calling to keep a record. In the preamble of his first journal he writes, “It is at once beneficial and instructive to the reflecting mind to review the past with candor and rightly consider the present and be in perfect readiness for that which is to come.”

The Spirit worked so hard on Wilford that he could almost not sleep without writing. “I seldom ever heard Brother Joseph or the Twelve preach or teach any principle but what I felt as uneasy as a fish out of water until I had written it. Then I felt right. I could write a sermon of Joseph’s a week after it was delivered almost word for word, and after it was written, it was taken from me or from my mind. This was a gift from God unto me.”

I have been profoundly touched by Wilford’s sensitivity to spiritual promptings that guided him to be a record keeper from day one as a young convert. He did not know all that he would see in the long life ahead of him—that he would walk with and be nurtured in the doctrines of the kingdom by the prophet Joseph Smith, that he would be among the first to experience the power of the keys of the Gathering of Israel as one of the great missionaries of the early restoration, witnessing the conversion of thousands.

Wilford did not know he would have an inside view to the rise of restored temples and be a mouthpiece for the development of temple doctrine while serving as an apostle for over six decades and as president of the Church. All these things he did not know, and yet, in faith, he followed the prompting to sit down and begin, “The First Book of Wilford, feeling it to be his privilege and duty to “keep an accurate account of our proceedings.” The Lord wanted the world to have an accurate view of the unfolding of the restoration of His church, and he worked through a faithful man who listened to the Spirit.

I believe the same spirit that moved Wilford to keep a record also worked on Jennifer Mackley for two decades, preparing her to pave the way for the founding of the Wilford Woodruff Papers. That spirit is now spreading to a growing team of individuals who have felt guided to be part of this project.

There is a power in this project, a potential to do great good, and the Lord is in this work. I have felt it, and I hope you feel it too. Moving this work forward would not be possible without the generous contributions of hundreds of our donors, interns, and volunteers.

Click here to read more of President Woodruff's journal from December 1833.