"The Lord Told Me to Go and I Went"

Wilford Woodruff's Missions to the Fox Islands, 1837-38

Jason E. Thompson

Jason E. Thompson, “‘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, ed. Alexander L. Baugh and Susan Easton Black (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 97–148.

Jason E. Thompson graduated from Brigham Young University with a master’s degree in public administration.

Young Wilford WoodruffOriginal portrait of Wilford Woodruff in his twenties. It is believed that this portrait was made circa 1830. Original housed in the Utah State Historical Society. (Courtesy of Daughters of Utah Pioneers.)

A dozen miles off the coast of Rockland, Maine, lies a chain of islands rich in early Latter-day Saint history. These islands were first discovered by Englishman Martin Pring in 1603, four years prior to the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia. The earliest known published record of the discovery is found in Samuel Purchas’s 1627 Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes. Pring recorded that he and his men fell upon a multitude of islands, which were very pleasant to behold, on the north coast of Virginia in the latitude of forty-three degrees. With his vessel Speedwell anchored offshore, Pring canvassed one of the islands, where he admired the high, sheltering shores, abundance of trees, and countless fish. Sailing to the southwest end of the islands, “[they] rode with [their] ships under one of the greatest,” which they named Fox Island after the silver foxes they saw on shore.[1] Pring’s island and a bordering isle eventually became known as the Fox Islands.

map of fox islandsTopographical map of the Fox Islands (North Haven and Vinalhaven, Maine) by J. A. Mattingly and J. L. Watkins, 1941.

The Fox Islands are two major islands in the Penobscot Bay, Maine’s largest coastal waterway. The first permanent residents of the islands are believed to have arrived in 1762. Between the late 1760s and the mid-1770s, economic opportunity led many new families to migrate to the islands.[2] In 1785, the inhabitants of the Fox Islands petitioned the legislature in Boston for clear title to their lands. Their petition was granted on March 13, 1786, with the requirement that the Fox Islanders appropriate “two hundred acres for the use of the Ministry and two hundred acres for the use of a grammar school.”[3] The island’s inhabitants voted in February 1789 to employ John Vinal of Boston to lobby in their behalf for an abatement of taxes. In a meeting held on June 25, 1789, the town of Vinalhaven was incorporated, which included both North and South Fox Islands. The two islands remained incorporated as the town of Vinal Haven until June 30, 1846, when “the North Island was set off, and incorporated” as its own town, the town of Fox Isle.[4] Today, these islands are known as North Haven (the North Island) and Vinalhaven (the South Island), Maine, and are at some points separated by only a few hundred yards.

North HavenSoutheasterly view of the thoroughfare that runs between North Haven and Vinalhaven, Maine. (Courtesy of the author.)

From the time of Pring’s discovery of the Fox Islands in 1603 through the late 1700s, there are few records of religious activity or preaching on the Fox Islands. Records indicate that during the 1700s, “money for religious purposes was [scarce] . . . but in 1785, the General Court decided to decree that religious teachers be employed half the year for the destitute plantations of Lincoln County.”[5] Thus, the first preachers on the Fox Islands were paid from state taxes collected from the people.

A Reverend Isaac Case is known to have frequented the Fox Islands beginning sometime after the incorporation of Vinalhaven in 1789 and is remembered for exerting great influence over the people and for establishing Baptist churches in present-day Thomaston and Isleborough, Maine. Prior to Case’s visits to the Fox Islands, “the people had been blessed with but little preaching.”[6] In 1805, the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine published an abstract of a letter from Reverend Case to the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society entitled “The Isles Shall Wait for His Law.” In his letter, Case recounts a mission to the isles of the sea, including the Fox Islands, before declaring in part, “O how necessary it is that the truth should be preached pure and unadulterated, and the ordinances administered as they are delivered to us in the New Testament.”[7]

Several other missionaries are known to have visited the Fox Islands during the first decades of the 1800s, but the extent of their preaching and their establishment of churches cannot be fully determined.[8] However, by the mid-1820s, more than two centuries after Pring’s discovery of the Fox Islands, eight religious denominations competed for converts in Maine, including Catholics, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Universalists, and Shakers.[9] Each denomination contributed to and was impacted by the Second Great Awakening—a series of revivals that gave rise to increased religious sentiments manifested in local populations and church establishments. In the years that followed, preachers actively took their distinctive messages to Maine and the Fox Islands.

The history of religious life on the Fox Islands cannot be accurately told without including the missions of Wilford Woodruff and other missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One local historian wrote, “One of the most intriguing episodes in the religious life of the Fox Islands occurred in the 1830’s when Elder Wilford Woodruff came here as a Mormon Missionary.”[10] The intrigue of Woodruff’s missions is rooted in the magnitude of success he had as he introduced peculiar doctrines that resonated with the people while provoking unrest and animosity in religious leaders of other faiths and some members of the general public. Through Woodruff’s journal and other personal writings, we are able to reconstruct his missions to the Fox Islands. The desire of his heart was that his experiences on the islands “remain forever” in memory and be told to his children’s children.[11]

In an 1885 autobiographical sketch, Wilford Woodruff wrote that early in 1837 he “felt impressed by the Spirit of God to take a mission to the Fox Islands, situated east of the Maine shore, a country [he] knew nothing about.” He said, “I made my feelings known to the Apostles [Heber C. Kimball and Sidney Rigdon], and they advised me to go.”[12] Kimball blessed Woodruff and promised in the name of the Lord that he would be blessed and prospered on his mission.[13] Woodruff’s wife, Phebe Carter, and her family were from Scarborough, Maine, located a few miles southwest of Portland and about forty-five miles inland, southwest of the Fox Islands. It is not clear from Woodruff’s writings if its proximity to his wife’s family had any bearing on his decision to take a mission to the Fox Islands, but one can assume that Woodruff’s in-laws would have been somewhat familiar with the islands. Years later, as President of the Church, Woodruff said in a discourse: “The Spirit of God said to me, ‘You choose a partner and go straight to Fox Islands.’ Well, I knew no more what was on Fox Islands than what was on Kolob. But the Lord told me to go, and I went. I chose Jonathan H. Hale, and he went with me.”[14]

Jonathan Hale was a convert from Dover, New Hampshire. He and his wife were baptized by Gladden Bishop on June 13, 1834.[15] Like many early converts, Hale dedicated his life to missionary service. He was first called to preside over the newly organized branch in Dover in June of 1834. That September, Hale “went to the Fox islands and Bought a vessel load of sheep.”[16] The following April, he and his family left Dover to gather with the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio. The fact that Woodruff chose Hale to be his missionary companion suggests he was aware of Hale’s brief visit to the Fox Islands.

On May 31, 1837, just six weeks after his marriage to Phebe, Woodruff recorded that “the day had now arived for me to take the parting hand with the saints in Kirtland and again go into the vineyard to proclaim the word of God. I accordingly took my departure from Mrs Woodruff my Companion & Sister Hale who were expecting to tarry together for a season. I then left Kirtland in good spirits in company with Elder Hale.” Woodruff and Hale met Elder Milton Holmes at Fairport, Ohio, where they boarded the steamboat Sandusky and began their long journey.[17]

Eager to share the message of the restored gospel, the three elders preached along the way as they journeyed through western and upstate New York. In Richland, Oswego County, Wilford’s former home, he shared the message of Mormonism to his family and friends, a common practice among early missionaries. While there he had an experience with his brothers Azmon and Thompson, whom he had not seen for three years, which prepared him for the persecutions he would later face. “I found sumthing of a Coldness manifest towards me and my brethren because of our religion from my Brothers household esspecially from Elizabeth my Brothers wife,” he recorded, noting that his brother’s family felt it was against their principles to receive them for the night. Despite his family’s rejection, Walter Menter, a former neighbor, gave them lodging. Clearly affected by his family’s treatment, Woodruff closed his journal entry for June 4, declaring, “O, scenes of life how variant, how trancient, how painful thou art.” The next morning, Wilford once again called upon his brothers, and they discussed both temporal and spiritual matters. “Neither of them manifested any hardness towards me in the morning but both appeared affected,” he noted.[18]

Woodruff, Hale, and Holmes next traveled as far north as Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where they met with members of the Church in conferences, held interviews, bore testimony, officiated in ordinances, cast out devils, and healed the sick. At Kingston, the three missionaries met up with three Canadian elders, John Goodson, Isaac Russell, and John Snyder, who were traveling to New York City to set sail for England with Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, and Joseph Fielding on the first overseas Mormon mission. On June 16, following several days of traveling and preaching in eastern New York state, Woodruff and his companions bid farewell to their Canadian companions near Schenectady. After making their way to Canaan, Connecticut, to attend a conference, Elder Milton Holmes departed for New Rowley, Massachusetts, where his father, Nathaniel Holmes, presided over a small branch of the Church.[19]

In Connecticut, Wilford experienced a much sweeter reception with other members of his family. In Farmington, he baptized his uncle, Ozem Woodruff; his uncle’s wife, Hannah; and their son, John. “[They] rejoiced together, for this was in fulfillment of a dream [Wilford] had in 1818, when [he] was eleven years of age.”[20] Shortly after their baptisms, Woodruff had the happy privilege of again meeting his wife, Phebe, who had traveled from Kirtland to accompany him to her father’s home in Scarborough, Maine.[21] On July 19, 1837, Elder Hale departed alone for New Rowley, leaving Wilford and Phebe to continue sharing the gospel with Woodruff’s family.

Wilford was solicited to preach to the citizens of Farmington, Connecticut, by many prominent men, but every venue, including the town hall, was closed against him by a Reverend Noah Porter, pastor of the Presbyterian Church. Finally, Woodruff was offered the use of the Methodist Church building, which Porter had no influence over. Woodruff reported that two hours after he gave out an appointment to preach, the Methodist meetinghouse was full.[22] For the next several days, he preached to relatives, friends, and former neighbors with whom he had been acquainted since his youth. The people were satisfied with the doctrines Woodruff taught and requested him to hold more meetings, but he felt anxious to continue on the mission he had in view when he left Kirtland. “Had not the spirit called us away to perform a greater work, we should have had no difficulty in establishing a branch of the Church in that place,” Woodruff wrote.[23]

From Connecticut, Wilford and Phebe left to meet Elders Hale and Holmes in New Rowley. Not having enough money to pay stage fare for two from Hartford to New Rowley, Woodruff paid his wife’s fare and then walked the 136 miles, arriving in New Rowley three days later. He was in good spirits after walking the long distance, which he attributed to a physical endowment of strength. He wrote, “Excell this ye who can & not be weary in body or lame in limb or joint & it will be because you are assisted by higher power than man.”[24] At New Rowley, Elder Woodruff was again reunited with his wife and Elders Hale and Holmes. After eight days of fellowshipping the Saints there, Wilford, Phebe, and Elder Hale parted paths with Elder Holmes and the Saints in New Rowley to travel to Phebe’s parents’ home in Scarborough, where they arrived on August 8, 1837.

The First Fox Islands Mission

Leaving Phebe with her parents, Woodruff and Hale departed on the last leg of their journey to the Fox Islands. In Portland they took passage aboard the steamboat Bangor, which carried them to Owl’s Head. There they boarded a sloop that took them to North Fox Island, where they arrived during the early-morning hours of August 20, 1837.[25] Reflecting upon their arrival, Wilford experienced some peculiar feelings and sensations about these isles of the sea, “whose waters had never covered a soul for the remission of sins after the order of the gospel, and which soil had never before been pressed by the footsteps of an Elder of Israel,” and although “strangers, pilgrims, and almost penniless, . . . we had come on the Lord’s business, we believed Him faithful, . . . and we felt willing to trust in His name.”[26]

After coming ashore, Woodruff and Hale wandered over the rocky ground and through the cedars for about an hour before making their way to the home of a Nathaniel Dyer. As Woodruff knocked, a woman put her head out of the window and asked who was there and what they wanted. “I told her we were two strangers, and wanted a bed to lie down upon until morning,” Wilford wrote. “She let us in and gave us a bed, and we slept until quite late, it being Sunday morning. When we came out and took breakfast it was nearly noon. I asked her what she charged for our entertainment, and she replied that we were welcome.” Woodruff also asked her if there were any ministers or churches on the island. She said there was a Baptist minister by the name of Newton on the island who had a meetinghouse about five miles distant.[27]

That afternoon, Woodruff and Hale met Benjamin Kent, a local resident, who guided them to the Baptist meetinghouse, where church services were already under way. Upon arriving, they informed the deacon that they were “servants of the Lord, had a message to the people & wished to be herd.” The deacon told this to the pastor, Gideon J. Newton, who invited the Mormon elders to sit with him on the stand, where they listened to the preaching. At the conclusion of Newton’s sermon, Woodruff and Hale had a conversation with him, resulting in an appointment to preach at five o’clock that evening.[28]

Baptist Meetinghouse, North Haven, Maine.Baptist Meetinghouse, North Haven, Maine. (Courtesy of the author.)

Newton hospitably invited the two missionaries to his home for refreshment, where they presented him with a copy of the Book of Mormon. The minister said he would like to read the book, and Hale told him he could have the book for a week.[29] The missionaries also left a copy of the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants for his perusal.[30] Of this first interaction with Newton, Woodruff later recorded: “I opened my valise and took out the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants, laid them upon the table and took my seat. Mr. Newton took up the books and looked at them, but said nothing.”[31] Newton later wrote that “two Mormon preachers arrived here with a number of their books, and indicated a determination to plant the standard of their system here.”[32] Before departing to preach that evening, Woodruff inquired whether there were any schoolhouses on the island, and if so, whether they were free to preach. Newton answered there were four schoolhouses and that they could preach in any of them.[33]

That evening, Newton and his family accompanied Woodruff and Hale to a full meetinghouse, where Woodruff preached, using as his scriptural text Galatians 1:8–9. He testified that the Lord had “organized His Church as in the days of Christ and the ancient apostles, with prophets, apostles, and the gifts as anciently, and that He had brought forth the Book of Mormon.”[34] At the close of Woodruff’s remarks, Elder Hale bore testimony.[35] Before closing the meeting the elders gave out appointments for each of the following four evenings to be held in several districts of the North Island. As they retired that evening, the two missionaries knelt in prayer and requested help from the Lord in finding the descendants of Ephraim.[36]

Within two weeks, Woodruff and Hale preached nineteen discourses, of which Gideon Newton and his family attended twelve. Woodruff noted that “the people came out in masses to investigate the principles [they] taught.” Reverend Newton read the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and was convinced by the Spirit of the Lord that the doctrine of the Restoration was true; however, he struggled to accept it.[37] Woodruff later stated that for ten days Newton walked about his room until midnight trying to decide what to do.[38] “He finally resolved to reject it, and commenced preaching against us,” Woodruff said.[39]

Newton’s hospitality ended as he saw the boldness and implications of the Mormon preaching. The following Sunday, while Wilford preached to an attentive congregation, none of Newton’s parishioners attended his service.[40] “Thus we see the little influence that false reports have against truth,” Hale wrote.[41]

On September 3, 1837, just two weeks after arriving on the island, Justus Eames, a ship captain, and his wife, Betsy, came forward to be baptized. Wilford wrote, “These were the first Elder Hale ever baptized, & the first baptized upon the Islands of the sea (to my knowledge) in these last days by an Elder of Israel.”[42] Before leaving Kirtland, some of the leading ex-Mormon apostates had tried to discourage Hale from going on his mission to the Fox Islands, saying “he would never baptize any one, and he had better remain at home.” When Eames offered himself for baptism, Woodruff told Hale to “go and baptize him, and prove those men false prophets,” which he did.[43] “I must say this was a rejoicing time to us and also to [our new converts],” Hale wrote.[44] Following the baptisms, Woodruff gave out an appointment to preach the following Sunday at the Eames home and confirmed them members of the Church. “The spirit of God is like leaven through the Island,” Woodruff noted.[45]

Proclaiming the restored gospel on “the isles of the sea” held biblical significance for Woodruff. He later learned that Justus Eames was actually not the first Mormon convert to be baptized on the isles of the sea. On July 30, just a little over a month earlier, Heber C. Kimball baptized George D. Watt and eight others in the River Ribble in Preston, England. Therefore Watt, not Eames, was the first person to be baptized on the isles of the sea.[46]

Woodruff and Hale’s message resonated with the people, and additional converts were made, primarily from among Newton’s congregation. “We commenced baptizing his flock,” Wilford wrote.[47] In an October 1837 letter to the Portland, Maine, Zion’s Advocate, Newton expressed concern that his “conferences were thinly attended.”[48] After losing a substantial number Newton “sent to the South Island [Vinalhaven], for a Mr. Douglass, a Methodist minister (with whom he had been at variance for years) to come over and help him put down ‘Mormonism.’”[49]

On September 4, the day after the Eameses’ baptism, Elders Woodruff and Hale set out to cross the narrow channel to take their message to the South Island. “I felt to rejoice to stand upon another Island of the sea to preach the gospel,” Woodruff recorded. “May God bless us and give us access to the hearts of the people & souls as seals of our ministry.” Once on the South Island, Woodruff and Hale wasted no time and immediately gave out an appointment to preach in the local schoolhouse.[50]

On September 5, seeking communion with the Lord, Elders Woodruff and Hale ascended to the top of a high granite rock on the South Island for prayer and supplication. After finding shade under a pine tree, the two missionaries had morning prayers. Hale then read the sixteenth chapter of Jeremiah, which mentions the hunters and fishers that God would send in the last days to gather Israel. Woodruff commented: “And of a truth here we were on an Island of the Sea standing upon a rock whare we could survey the gallant ships, and also the Island, which was as full of rocks, holes, & caves Perhaps as any part of the earth. But what had brought us here? Ah to search out the Blood of Ephraim & gather him from these Islands, rocks, holes, & caves, which were numerous [unto Zion]. While the sun shed his beams to gladden earth, the spirit of God caused our souls to rejoice.”[51] After spending the majority of the day in meditation and prayer, Woodruff and Hale “went [their] way with glad hearts.”[52]

For the next several days, Elders Woodruff and Hale held meetings on the South Island, where “the people came out by hundreds to hear [them preach] and filled the schoolhouses to overflowing.”[53] On a few occasions, attendance and attention given at their meetings was the best Hale had ever seen.[54] Sermons focusing on the Book of Mormon became a central theme of their preaching. On September 8, the elders held a meeting in a schoolhouse, where Douglass, the Methodist minister, was present.[55] By this point, his presence at the Mormon meetings was no longer based on curiosity. Instead, he hoped to learn what he could about what Woodruff and Hale were teaching so that he could combat the peculiar doctrines of Mormonism and retain his parishioners.[56]

On Sunday, September 10, Elders Woodruff and Hale were back on the North Island, where they met with an attentive audience at the home of Justus Eames. Woodruff preached from Matthew 16–18, after which he extended the offer for anyone to be baptized, whereupon Ebenezer Eames, Justus’s brother and a sea captain, and a young lady requested baptism, which Wilford performed. Reflecting on the events of that day, he wrote, “I truly felt to rejoice to behold the mighty Captains of the sea enter the new & everlasting Covenant. The Spirit of God rested upon me.” He then addressed the people that had gathered to witness the baptisms, where “many were cut to the heart.”[57]

The elders spent considerable time building friendships and fellowshipping their young converts. One evening Woodruff accompanied several of his new friends to the meetinghouse to hear Douglass preach. Douglass exhorted his congregation to “prove all things” and “hold fast that which is good,” as prescribed in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Douglass then “commenced open war against the Book of Mormon & our principles. After doing all he Could & but little at that, he took the Book of Mormon in his hand, and with an out stretched arm declared he feared none of the judgments of God that Should come upon him for rejecting that Book as being the word of God.” Woodruff took minutes of his discourse and, when Douglass concluded, arose and “rectifyed some of his mistakes in his presence.”[58] He informed the people that Mr. Douglass “had made many false statements against Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints, with whom he had no acquaintance, and had misquoted much Scripture.”[59] Woodruff then invited people to the meetinghouse the following Sunday to further answer Douglass’ objections and correct his false statements. In his September 1837 letter to Church leaders in Kirtland, Woodruff wrote that while Mr. Douglass was “in the pulpit declaring to the people that the principles of the Book of Mormon are sapping the very foundation of our churches and the holy religion, the other [Mr. Newton] is gone over to the mainland calling upon his Baptist brethren, saying come over and help us lest we fall.”[60] Newton is also known to have written letters to ministers as far away as Cleveland, Ohio, seeking advice on how to combat the peculiar doctrines of Mormonism.

On September 19, Reverend Gideon J. Newton returned to the North Island from his trip to the mainland with fellow ministers Amariah Kalloch and Mr. Whitehouse.[61] While little is known about Whitehouse, a published sermon of Kalloch provides great insight into his sentiments:

A few years since and it was announced that a new revelation had been given to man, and in a somewhat miraculous manner too. Sacred plates were discovered, which had lain concealed in the bowels of the earth for centuries; and inasmuch as the writing thereon was unintelligible to the most learned, a prophet was inspired to decipher the mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, and tell to the world that God had, in this mysterious manner, appeared to his true servants, to revive his Apostolic Church in all its purity, with its (supposed) different orders of ministers, and to clothe it with all the miraculous gifts and graces of its primitive state.[62]

This story, Kalloch continued, “ridiculous to an enlightened and well balanced mind, trumpeted through the land, has had its thousands of hearers, many of whom, especially the credulous and superstitious, had only to hear in order to believe. Believing, Mormonism became to them the all engrossing subject, in view of which they lost sight of all others.”[63]

Amariah Kalloch, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Rockland, MaineAmariah Kalloch, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Rockland, Maine, 1834–47. Rev. Kalloch returned to the Fox Islands with Rev. Gideon J. Newton in an attempt to combat the teachings of Mormonism. Kalloch exerted great influence over the people of Thomaston and Rockland. Following his tenure as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Rockland, Kalloch moved to Augusta, where he became chaplain of the Maine State House of Representatives. (Courtesy of the First Baptist Church of Rockland.)

With the aid of Kalloch and Whitehouse, Newton worked to counter the missionary efforts of Woodruff and Hale. What was left of the Baptist congregation on the North Island agreed to hold a series of protracted meetings. Newton reported the meetings were interspersed with preaching, prayer, and conference and “was a melting season.” At one of the meetings two individuals came forward and, after confessing their “wanderings and neglect,” were baptized. Four others received the fellowship of the Baptist faith and became candidates for baptism. Newton wrote of his new converts, “It is worthy of remark, that those who have obtained a hope, are some of those who stood aloof from hearing the Mormons.”[64]

In Newton’s letter to the Zion’s Advocate, he expressed his concern over the “commotions which arise from the controversy of different denominations.” However, Woodruff and Hale’s preaching actually served to energize his own remaining constituents as the following report indicates:

About the middle of August, two Mormon preachers arrived here with a number of their books, and indicated a determination to plant the standard of their system here. The novelty of their sentiments led many to hear them. This excited many of the members of the church, and aroused them to a sense of their situation. The much neglected Bible was daily and carefully perused. Prayer increased, and was more fervent; faith was more exercised, and this brought them to their post, and they felt and saw the importance of contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.”[65]

Woodruff and Hale continued to labor, preach, and baptize until early October. The excitement became great on both islands, and the two organized a branch on each island.[66] According to records of the Baptist Church on the North Island for 1835–37, membership shrank from 134 to 54 members.[67] After reflecting over the success of their mission, Woodruff noted that “there is much of the Spirit of enquirey manifest by the Blood of Ephraim in this country.”[68] On October 2, after having spent nearly six weeks on the islands, Woodruff and Hale parted with their new converts to return to the mainland. Captain Valentine Eames carried Woodruff and Hale to the mainland in his sloop. Although not a baptized member of the Church, Eames promised to “obey the gospel,” which Woodruff and Hale had brought to the islands.[69]

On October 6, Elders Woodruff and Hale arrived at the Carters’ home in Scarborough, where Wilford was reunited with Phebe. Here, Hale received an important letter instructing him to return to his family in Kirtland.[70] On the morning of Hale’s departure, Wilford accompanied him for a mile, then the two knelt together in prayer and, after commending one another to God, parted paths. Woodruff noted that they had traveled over two thousand miles together, “with our hearts and spirits well united.”[71] Upon returning to Kirtland, Hale summarized his missionary experience. “I can say that the Lord has blessed me in verry deed. This journal was written while on my first mission and although I have Baptized but nine persons <these were on the Island> and witnessed a number more. Yet I trust my labours are not in vain for there appears to be a great field open for labours in Maine on the sea Coasts and on the Islands of the Sea. And whatever my circumstances may be I think I shall not forget my first mission.”[72]

The Second Fox Islands Mission

Following a three-week visit with his wife’s family, Wilford made the decision to return to the islands, this time accompanied by Phebe. The couple arrived at Vinalhaven on November 2. “I truly felt to rejoice and thank God for the privilege of setting my feet again upon North fox Islands in Vinalhaven, & to add to my happiness was accompanied by my companion,” he wrote. He was also gratified to find the members “rejoicing in God, & strong in the faith.”[73]

A week after returning to the North Island, Wilford made a two-day visit to Holt Island, a small island nearby. On November 15, he preached in the evening to a congregation that had gathered at the schoolhouse. After concluding, he spent the evening with John Turner, a local attorney to whom he sold a copy of the Book of Mormon. “This is the third Island of the Sea that I’ve visited & Preached to the People & left them the Book of Mormon,” Woodruff noted.[74]

Elder Woodruff’s second mission to the Fox Islands seems to have been filled with greater opposition, antagonism, and persecution than his first. He would later write that nearly all residents on the islands who had attended his meetings had taken sides, for or against his message.[75] On Christmas Day, Elder Woodruff preached in the Deep Hollow schoolhouse to a large congregation. His journal entry on that occasion reads: “My soul was vex’d with the wicked procedings of Mr Towl a school teacher in rejecting my testimony.”[76] Three days later he engaged in a conversation with Mr. Douglass, the Methodist priest, who requested that Wilford “work miracles to make him believe” and railed against him.[77] Wilford told Douglass that he was “a wicked and adulterous man, and predicted that the curse of God would rest upon him, and that his wickedness would be made manifest in the eyes of the people.” Reflecting years later, Woodruff wrote: “While visiting these Islands several years afterwards I learned that the prediction had really been fulfilled, and that he [Douglass] was serving out a fourteen years’ term of imprisonment for a beastly crime.”[78] He closed his journal for the year 1837 by declaring: “The solemnities of Eternity is resting upon the People. The word of God is like a sharp two edged sword in the hearts of men. I am now Preaching & Baptizing almost daily. O may the Lord roll on his work amid the Islands of the sea and give me a rich harvest of Souls.”[79]

The first months of 1838 were a trying time for Elder Woodruff, although he never complained about his circumstances.[80] In a letter to the Church at Kirtland, he noted: “I need the prayers of all the Saints as I am alone and much is required at my hands.”[81] Later he wrote that his “mission to [the Fox Islands] was not an exception to the general rule: success did not come without many obstacles presenting themselves. Those who rejected the word were frequently inspired by the evil one to make an attempt at persecution.”[82]

When Woodruff crossed the channel to the North Island on January 13, 1838, he learned of the arrival of Elder Joseph Ball, who had come to labor with him in the ministry. The two men had a “plesent interview,” and Woodruff learned that Ball had already baptized six individuals, indicating that the seed he had planted on the North Island was continuing to grow.[83] According to Baptist church records on the North Island, three of Elder Ball’s converts, Nathaniel and Susan Thomas and Ruth Luce, were “[e]xcluded” from the Baptist church for having “joined the mormons.”[84]

During a meeting conducted by the two elders two days later, “a canon . . . was discharged near the house on the sea shore and was soon followed by the discharge of small arms.”[85] Undaunted by their antagonists, who included a company of sailors on a U.S. revenue cutter, Woodruff arose and followed Elder Ball, declaring the word of God in great plainness.[86] Woodruff reported that his words were “at times mixed with the report of musketry that were echoing outside of the house.”[87] After some of the mob gathered around to see what affect their actions had on the elders’ teaching, Woodruff declared unto the people the judgments of God and shook his garments in their presence while informing them that he was clear of their blood. He then asked his interested congregants if any wished to receive the restored gospel and be baptized. Two arose and were baptized.[88]

On January 16, while Woodruff was holding a meeting in the east schoolhouse, a mob appeared and began disturbing the meeting by walking across the house, talking, whistling, singing, and dancing. The next day the two Mormon elders learned that notices had been posted warning them to leave town. Frustrated with his inability to force Woodruff and Ball off the islands, Douglass applied to the magistrates for warrants against them, which were refused.[89] For the next few weeks, the elders continued preaching almost daily. Their faithfulness and determination is evident in the success they continued to have among difficult circumstances.

Anti-Mormon tension soon began affecting some new Mormon converts on the islands. In late January, Woodruff and Ball went to visit a Brother Merchant, his wife, and a Sister Crockett on the North Island, whose faith had been shaken. Douglass had visited them, telling them that Woodruff denied the Bible and said it could not be depended upon, and the three converts yielded to Douglass’s insinuations. Woodruff instructed them in the principles of the gospel and prayed with them, delivering them from an evil influence.[90] After rectifying things with his young converts, Woodruff had a “serious interview” with Douglass, who made utterly false statements. “He rejected our testimony in every respect & is striving to overthrow the saints,” Woodruff recorded. As a witness against Douglass, he and Elder Ball washed their feet in a stream of pure water “and bore testimony unto God through Jesus Christ against Mr Douglass the Methodest Priest for rejecting our testimony & offending our little ones.”[91]

In spite of the opposition, Woodruff and Ball remained on the islands, preaching and fellowshipping the Saints. In early February, the elders administered the sacrament to the Saints for the first time on the South Island. Following the meeting, Woodruff blessed the son of Joseph Sylvester, giving him the name of Wilford Woodruff Sylvester.[92] Joseph Sylvester’s desire to name his son after Wilford is further evidence of the effect he had on the people.

On February 13, Elders Woodruff and Ball returned to the mainland. After a few days, Ball went back to the islands, while Wilford spent nearly three weeks in company with James Townsend preaching in Searsmont, Belfast, Northport, Frankport, Hampden, and Bangor. “The people heard with profound attention; and many are believing,” he wrote. “I never saw more doors open for doing good than at the present time in the state of Maine.”[93]

Upon returning to the North Island, Woodruff received a letter that discussed some of the dissension and apostasy taking place in Kirtland. Warren Parrish, a former missionary companion to Elder Woodruff and one of Joseph Smith’s former secretaries, was the primary antagonist who had joined “with the world to injure the influence of the Saints.”[94] Another leading dissenter was John F. Boynton, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. By mid-January 1838, Joseph Smith was compelled to leave Kirtland for the sake of his life and relocate in Far West, Missouri.

Among other difficulties, that same month, the Church’s Printing Office was set on fire and burned to the ground. This was particularly troubling to Elder Woodruff because he had been working to enlist subscribers to the Elders’ Journal. “The most trouble I now have is the stopping of the papers,” Woodruff wrote. “I have forwarded about 30 subscribers with the money, and now the press is burnt down. . . . 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.”[95] Woodruff now had the daunting task of explaining to his new converts the situation of the Church in Kirtland and the destruction of the press. On March 12, he and Elder Ball met a congregation of the Saints at the home of a Brother Luce, and laid before the Saints the situation in Kirtland. Woodruff recorded that the meeting went well and that “these things did not move the faith of the Saints.”[96] He advised his converts to prepare to leave the islands to gather with the Saints in Zion (Missouri) and afterward reported to Kirtland that many were preparing to go the following season.

Woodruff pleaded with Church leadership to continue the publication of the Elders’ Journal soon so the Saints would have “one weapon to cut away some of the deep gloom that [would] be cast upon the minds of thousands of the Saints” by wicked men such as Parrish and other false brethren. The traveling elders felt the weight of falsehood and persecution “equally, if not more than those who are in Zion, for we are naked targets of the press and tongue, as we pass through the midst of the Gentiles,” he wrote. Could the Elders’ Journal be continued, it would be a great relief to the faithful, “for while our enemies are publishing against us, even in Kirtland, we should also know what God is doing for his Saints.” Woodruff closed his letter to the Church in Kirtland by reaffirming the faith of the Saints on the Fox Islands, “We say to you before God that we are in full fellowship with Joseph Smith, Jr. and the first presidency 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.’”[97]

In late March 1838, Elder Ball departed for Boston, leaving Woodruff once again without a priesthood companion on the islands. His mission now changed from not only proselytizing and preaching, but also to preparing the Saints to sell their property and leave for Missouri. His call for the Saints to prepare to leave for Missouri was heard on April 4, 1838, when Justus Eames became the first to sell his farm. Woodruff recorded that “others are striving to follow his example.”[98]

Within weeks of being cut off from the Church, Warren Parrish’s efforts to lead the Saints astray reached the Fox Islands. Parrish “had now made ship reck of faith,” Woodruff wrote, as Parrish and others were writing letters “teeming with falsehood against Joseph & the Church” to the new converts on the Fox Islands.[99] “Mr. Kent, the postmaster, showed me a letter containing two sheets of foolscap, signed by Warren Parrish and several of the Twelve, who had apostatized and been cut off from the Church,” he recalled later. “The communication was full of slander and falsehood against Joseph Smith and all that stood by him. It was sent with the intention of breaking up the work upon these islands.”[100] Woodruff did not hold back his feelings as he wrote in his journal on April 5, 1838: “O Warren Parrish how art thou fallen. Thy former letters will stare thee in the face make thee blush & pierce thy soul. The letter is believed by our opposers & causes persecution to rage.”[101]

In April 1838, Woodruff again had the companionship of Milton Holmes, James Townsend, and others who had come to the Fox Islands to attend a conference appointed in February. “How sweet it is for Brethren in tribulation to meet together & bear each others bur[d]ens,” Woodruff recorded.[102] The conference met in the home of Justus Eames on April 13. Woodruff was appointed chair for the conference, and Stephen Luce of the North Island was chosen to be secretary. The conference included twenty-five members from the North Island, three from Camden, Maine, and eleven from New Rowley, Massachusetts. Although the conference minutes do not indicate the number of Saints attending from the South Island, Woodruff noted that the congregation included several Saints from that island.[103] During the three-day conference, anti-Mormon activity and false reports from Warren Parrish, John F. Boynton, and others began to be manifest among the Saints, causing a few of the Saints to question their faith. At the conclusion of the conference, Holmes, Townsend, and Brother Thomas departed the North Island for the South Island to strengthen the Saints there.

To add to these difficulties, in early May 1838, a response to a letter written by Gideon Newton to Levi Tucker, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Cleveland appeared in the Zion’s Advocate, published in Portland, and later in the Christian Mirror. Tucker opened his letter by apologizing that Newton “should be tormented with that most foolish and blasphemous system of Mormonism.” He continued, “Of all ancient and modern ‘isms’ or impostures,’ [Mormonism] is the most strikingly absurd. It combines within itself all the elements of the most vulgar and heartless depravity, as well as certain dissolution.” Tucker also discussed topics such as the Kirtland temple, the leadership of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, and the Kirtland Safety Society Bank.[104] By the time Tucker’s letter arrived, Newton had already received his “dissmission from [the Baptist Church at North Haven] to join with some other Sister church of the same faith and orders.”[105] While other factors could have contributed to Newton’s dismissal, the success of the Mormon missionaries should not be underestimated as a major contributing factor.

“Western Mission” to the Mainland

In April Woodruff made plans to proselyte for a short time in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. He first made arrangements for his wife to return to her father’s home in Scarborough, and then informed the Fox Island Saints that the Spirit of God had manifested to him that he should proselyte for a short season on the mainland. He instructed them to exercise their faith in the interim by selling their property and preparing to gather to Zion. This they would have to do while the wicked were contending against them and while “some were disposed to take [their] lives if they had the power.” Before leaving, he went from house to house visiting the Saints, praying with them, and bearing them up for the trials and perils they would continue to face from anti-Mormons on the Islands and apostates from abroad. On April 28, 1838, Woodruff, accompanied by Holmes and Townsend, returned to the mainland where, after a brief visit to Scarborough, Woodruff began his “western mission.”[106]

Woodruff’s “western mission” included stops at Portsmouth, Maine; New Rowley, Boston, and Cambridge, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; New York; New Jersey; and Farmington and Avon, Connecticut.[107] He later referred to this part of his mission as a return to his “native lands” because he delivered the message of the restored gospel to his father’s household in Farmington, Connecticut. In Farmington, he was blessed to be able to baptize his father and mother, his sister Eunice, Anna Cosett (an aunt), Seth Woodruff (a cousin), and Daniel Webster (a Methodist class leader).[108] The blessing of leading his family into the new and everlasting covenant was promised to him in his patriarchal blessing, which he received under the hands of Joseph Smith Sr. on April 13, 1837.[109] “It was truly a day of joy to my soul. . . . I felt that this day’s work alone amply repaid me for all my labors in the ministry,” he later wrote.[110]

With the baptism of his father’s household, followed by the establishment of a branch in Farmington, Woodruff felt it was his duty to return to the Fox Islands. En route, he stopped briefly at his in-laws’ home in Scarborough, where, on July 14, Phebe gave birth to their first child, Sarah Emma. On July 30, after three months on the mainland, he left Scarborough to make his way to the Fox Islands for the last time to fulfill his mission to gather the Saints from the islands of the sea unto Zion.[111]

Call to the Apostleship

On August 9, two days after Woodruff arrived on the North Island, Justus Eames presented him with a letter from Thomas B. Marsh, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, dated July 14, 1838, from Far West, Missouri, notifying Woodruff of his calling to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Sir; a fiew days since Prest. Joseph Smith jr. and some others were assembled to attend to some Church business when it was thought proper to select those who was designed of the Lord to fill the places of those of the twelve who had fallen away namely Wm. E Mclellin, Lyman E. Johnson, Luke Johnson and John F. Bointon. The persons selected were John E. Page, John Taylor, Willford Woodruff and Wilard Richards. . . .

Know then brother Woodruff by this that you are appointed to fill the place of one of the twelve apostles; and that it is agreeable to the word of the Lord given vary lately that you should come spedily to far west, And on the 26 of April next to take your leave of the Saints here and depart for other climes across the mighty deep! Yours in the love of God.

Marsh closed this historical letter with a postscript pleading that Woodruff “bring all the Subscribers and come with speed.”[112] In his autobiography, Woodruff wrote, “The substance of this letter had been revealed to me several weeks before, but I had not named it to any person.”[113]

historical letterThomas B. Marsh to Elder Wilford Woodruff, July 14, 1838. In this letter, Wilford Woodruff was called to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and was instructed to bring converts from the Fox Islands and “come with speed.” (Courtesy of Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

On Sunday, August 12, 1838, in a meeting at Ephraim Luce’s home, Elder Woodruff gave his farewell address to the Saints on the Fox Islands, exhorting them to sell their property and accompany him to Missouri. “It was a day of decision with the saints,” he reported. For some, there was no question regarding what they should do, but for Justus and Betsy Eames, the decision was a painful one. “Justus Ames Concluded to stay because some of his Children were against him [going],” Wilford wrote.[114] So, despite having already sold their property, one of Woodruff’s strongest convert families resolved to stay on the islands instead of gathering with the main body of the Saints. Woodruff later recorded:

The time having now come for me to prepare for leaving the islands, I had a desire to take with me all the Saints I could get to go to Zion. There had already been a line drawn upon the islands between the Saints and those who had rejected the gospel, and the enemies were very bitter against me and the work of God I had labored to establish. . . .

I spent four days with the Saints visiting them, holding meetings and encouraging them, while the devil was raging upon every hand.

I had baptized and organized into the Church nearly one hundred persons while upon the islands, and there seemed a prospect of gathering about half of them with me, but the devil raged to such an extent that quite a number were terrified.[115]

The following day, August 13, Woodruff, in company with Nathaniel Thomas, set sail for the mainland to make the necessary preparations for the anticipated relocation in Missouri. It was expected that the Saints would settle their affairs shortly and rendezvous on the mainland at the Carter property in Scarborough on September 1 to begin the overland journey.[116]


Woodruff’s immediate concern was outfitting the company. Not surprisingly, the island Saints knew little about outfitting a team. Not surprisingly, “the inhabitants of the islands had but little acquaintance with the management of horses and wagons; in fact, most of them knew more about handling a shark than a horse,” Woodruff wrote.[117] With the help of Brother Thomas, who personally provided fifteen hundred of the two thousand dollars needed to outfit the company, Woodruff purchased ten new wagons, ten sets of harnesses, and twenty horses.[118]

Little is known about any other preparations made for their journey Westward. Woodruff corresponded with Thomas in an effort to coordinate plans for their departure. Woodruff waited with great anxiety for the anticipated September 1 arrival of the Fox Islands Saints. In the meantime, he made preparations for his family by buying goods, building boxes, packing barrels, collecting seeds, and even gathering “sea shells to carry to the land of Zion for domestic use.”[119] By September 15, two weeks past the deadline, he became anxious. “My mind is in some suspens because the Camp does not arive from the Islands. Neither do I hear any thing from them by letter. . . . However I am looking for them daily,” he wrote.[120] Three days later, he received a letter from Thomas indicating that the Saints had not yet departed because some were still not ready.[121] On September 21, he received another letter from Thomas informing him that the Saints would soon be ready to start on their journey.[122]

During this time Elder Woodruff followed newspaper reports of the situation of the Mormons in the West. On September 24, 1838, Woodruff reported reading an antagonistic article in the Portland Transcript. The article reported the some of the disturbances reported to have taken place in Daviess County, Missouri, in early August. The report said in part:

We learn from the Columbia (Boone county) Patriot, that a gentleman of that town has received a letter from Livingston county, stating that some cutting and stabbing was perpetrated by the Mormons of Davies county, on the day of election, and that some companies had been raised in Livingston with a view of going over and assisting in drubbing the Mormons. . . . The Astoria, from Rialto, (Platte county,) brings word that Joe Smith (Mormon) had surrendered himself to the civil authorities. This implies some further movements against the Mormons.[123]

“All these reports & stories have a tendency to dampen & discourage the minds & feelings of many [of] the Saints that are gathering to Zion,” Woodruff wrote. But none of these things moved Woodruff, as he was “determined to overcome, keep the faith & go to Zion.” The next day, a report from the Portland Transcript began making rounds among the Carters’ neighborhood, which said that if Woodruff carried out his plans to go to Missouri he would be killed there.[124] During the first week of October, another article about the Mormon Missouri problems appeared in the Portland Daily Evening Advertiser. The article, entitled “The Mormon War,” stated that “if [a] war [between the Mormons and Missourians] should break out, it must become a war of extermination, as the Mormons are desperate, and rendered more so by the fanatical spirit infused into them by that arch deceiver, Jo Smith.”[125]

In addition to the newspaper reports about the Mormon problems in Missouri, several newspapers carried articles about the anticipated departure of the Fox Islands Saints. On October 4, 1838, the Mechanic and Farmer, printed in Bangor, Maine, reported:

We learn that a company of about fifty Mormons are soon to start for the land of promise, in the West, from Camden, in this State. They have comfortable covered wagons, and intend to take their provisions and working apparatus along with them, and board themselves on the road. They have expended about three thousand dollars for the outfit, which, perhaps, ought to be taken as an evidence, so far, at least, of their sincerity in the belief of the doctrines of Joe Smith and his book of Mormon.[126]

Several days later, the Daily Evening Advertiser republished this article under the title “Mormons Bound from the East to the West,” with a congratulatory conclusion by the editor: “We congratulate Joe Smith and his society upon the acquisition of this new recruit from down east, and we especially congratulate the State of Maine upon their departure from its borders. We wish them nothing worse than a long absence.”[127] This article was subsequently copied and republished in multiple newspapers around the country.[128]

A poem found in a Bible owned by a family living on the South Island represents perhaps the only surviving contemporary account of the anti-Mormon sentiments on the Fox Islands:

good bye to Mr. Hale, Good by to Mr. Ball,

good bye to Mr. Woodruff, the greatest one of all.

good bye to all the Deacons good bye to all their Church

they Can not get their money, they’ve left them in the lurch

good bye their Book of mormon, good bye their Revelation,

good [bye] to all their fools, and all their Botheration—

good bye to Elder Luce, good bye to Deacon Thomas,

Look not to right or left, till you see the land of promise

good bye to all the Ladies that like this thievish Band

goe taste their milk and honey in the promise land

weil Eat our fish and taters, and tell the same old story

While you travel on, to the great Missouria

Remember old lots wife, was turned into Salt

for looking found Behind her, Commanded not to halt

To now you are pondering right between two Schools

good Bye to all your nonsense, for listening unto fools

Iv’e Bid you all good Bye, for forming Such a lie

the time is soon a Coming we surely all must Die

suppose I should die here and you die in Missouria

which do you Suppose, would be the nearest [to] Glory[129]

Poem containing anti-Mormon sentimentsPoem containing anti-Mormon sentiments found in a family Bible at Vinalhaven, Maine. The authorship is uncertain, however, it may have been written by Stephen Thomas Delano. Based on the names and information contained in the poem, it was written between 1838 and 1841. (Courtesy of the author.)

By the last week of September, the Fox Islands Saints still had not arrived at Scarborough, and further delay would mean traveling in colder weather. “We have a dreary journey of two thousand miles before us with no other expectation but to Camp upon the ground,” Woodruff lamented. “I have a sick infant of two month’s old to take with us & a wife whose spirits at times are much depressed under such severe trials. But thank God she stands the shock like a brave soldier which is great consolation to my soul.”[130] September 27 was a cold, gloomy, and rainy day, “& what makes it more so the Camp of the Saints do not get along from the east yet, & I have not heard any thing from them for several days.”[131] Finally, on October 3, over a month delayed, fifty-three Saints arrived in Scarborough. The next afternoon, October 4, with Wilford Woodruff in charge, the camp departed.

The journey took the company through New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois (seven states). The trip was an arduous one, and they never reached Missouri. On December 19, after having arrived at Rochester, Illinois, a few miles south of Springfield, the company learned that the Mormons had been ordered to remove from the state under the extermination order of Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs. Not knowing where the main body of the Church would move, Woodruff and the Fox Islands Saints chose to winter in Rochester. “Thus ended my journey of two months and sixteen days leading the Fox Island Saints to the west, through all the perils of a journey of nearly two thousand miles in the midst of sickness and great severity of weather.”[132]

The departure of Wilford Woodruff and the emigrating Saints in the fall of 1838 was not the end of the Church on the Fox Islands. Many Saints (about two-thirds of those converted during Woodruff’s 1837–38 missions to the Fox Islands) remained on the islands with their families and familiar surroundings. Other missionaries are known to have taken successful missions to the Fox Islands in the years that followed Woodruff’s departure. Woodruff returned to the islands in later years and frequently mentioned his experiences there in sermons. While waiting to board a steamboat for the Fox Islands in July of 1844, Woodruff learned of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum. Several years later, Woodruff returned to the islands while serving as a mission president to find members of the Church “strong in the faith.”

The faith of these early converts from the Fox Islands can be summed up in the words etched into two granite tombstones. Thomas Pierce’s gravestone says, in part: “I know that my redeemer liveth & because he lives I shall live also being a member of the Church of the later days saints, through [the] proper order of the gospel of Christ & the lineage of Ephraim claim the privilege of adoption in the seed of Abraham & heir according to promise.” A tombstone erected in memory of Thomas’ wife, Elizabeth, and her son, James, echoed similar testimony, adding specific language regarding James’s conversion: “Being a regular member of the Church of Jesus Christ being led to repentance went forward and obeyed the commands and ordinances of the gospel of Christ died in full assurance that God requireth the same obedience to the Gospel of Christ as he did when the church of Christ was first organized on the earth in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Gravestone of Thomas PierceGravestone of Thomas Pierce, Vinalhaven, Maine. (Courtesy of the author.)

Gravestone of Elizabeth PierceGravestone of Elizabeth Pierce, Vinalhaven, Maine. (Courtesy of the author.)

Over a century and a half later, Fox Islanders, descendants, local clergy, and historians recalled Woodruff’s influence and the dynamic changes religion brought to the Fox Islands and Maine during the early to mid-nineteenth century. Locally printed recent publications on the history of this time period briefly include insights into the chapter that Woodruff, his companions, and the early converts from the Fox Islands wrote about the religious history of the Fox Islands. In memory of President Woodruff’s 1837–38 missions to the Fox Islands, local youth from Augusta and Bangor Maine stakes erected a plaque that reads in part:

January 1st 1838 found me upon one of the islands of the sea. A minister of the gospel of life and salvation unto the people. Laboring alone, yet blessed with the society of Mrs. Woodruff as my companion, I had been declaring the word of the Lord through the islands many days. The spirit of God was working among the people. Prejudice was giving way and the power of God was manifest by signs following those who believed. . . . Dedicated in memory of the missionary efforts of Wilford Woodruff and others, 1837–38, upon this, an isle of the sea, in fulfillment of scriptural prophecy.

Plaque memorializing Wilford Woodruff's missionsPlaque memorializing Wilford Woodruff’s 1837–38 missions to the Fox Islands. (Courtesy of Lester Dickey, former patriarch in the Augusta Maine Stake.)


[1] Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes: Contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells by Englishmen and others (Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1906), 323. Other European explorers are known to have visited the area off the coast of modern-day Maine beginning in 1520. The first recorded visit to the area can be found in Andre Thevet, Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique, autrement nommée Amerique (1556). However, modern scholars are skeptical about the validity of Thevet’s claims (Bert Salwen, “The Reliability of Andre Thevet’s New England Material,” Ethnohistory 10, no. 2 [Spring 1963]: 183–85; Bill Caldwell, Islands of Maine: Where America Really Began [Portland, ME: Guy Gannett, 1981], 168).

[2] SC1/Series 228, Passed Resolves, Resolves 1785, February Session, Chapter 97 (March 13, 1786), Petition, Massachusetts Archives, Boston Massachusetts, copy in author’s possession. I wish to express appreciation to Jennifer Fauxsmith and John Hannigan of the Massachusetts Archives for copying and making available early records pertaining to the Fox Islands. See also Norwood P. Beveridge, comp., The North Island: Early Times to Yesterday (North Haven, ME: North Haven Bicentennial Committee, 1976), 21–27. Until the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which established Maine as a free state, Maine was a province of Massachusetts and was governed by the legislature in Boston.

[3] SC1/Series 228, Passed Resolves, Resolves 1785, February Session, Chapter 97 (March 13, 1786), Petition, Massachusetts Archives, Boston Massachusetts. See also Beveridge, The North Island, 21–27.

[4] Beveridge, The North Island, 44.

[5] Ivan E. Calderwood, Uncle Dave’s Fish House (Rockland, ME: Courier-Gazette, 1969), 57, as quoted in Seward Beacom, Silent Fingers of Faith: A History of the Churches of North Haven, Maine, 17841981 (Rockport, ME: Archimedes Press, 1981), 12. Since the incorporation of Vinal Haven in 1789, the Fox Islands have been part of four counties: Lincoln County, Massachusetts (1789–1820); Hancock County, Maine (1820–38); Waldo County, Maine (1838–60); and Knox County, Maine (1860–present).

[6] Joshua Millet, A History of the Baptists in Maine (Portland, ME: Charles Day & Company, 1845), 189.

[7] Isaac Case, “The Isles Shall Wait for His Law,” Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine, May 1805, 102.

[8] “Maine Missionary Society,” Boston Recorder, November 6, 1819, 182; “Ordinations,” American Baptist Magazine and Missionary Intelligencer, September 1, 1820, 412.

[9] William D. Williamson, The History of Maine from Its Early Discovery, A.D. 1602 to The Seperation, A.D. 1820 Inclusive (Portland, ME: Hallowell, Glazier, Masters & Company, 1832), 691–99; quoted in Paul Edwards Damron, “The Narrative of the Saints in Maine from 1831 to the 1900s” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University), 8.

[10] Beacom, Silent Fingers of Faith, 63.

[11] Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 18331898, Typescript, 9 vols., ed. Scott G. Kenney (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983–84), 1:175, September 5, 1837.

[12] Wilford Woodruff, “Autobiography of Wilford Woodruff,” in Tullidge’s Quarterly Magazine, (October 1883), 11 (hereafter cited as “Autobiography”). Several scholars have previously written on Wilford Woodruff’s Fox Islands missions. Donald Q. Cannon has perhaps done the most extensive research on these missions. See Donald Q. Cannon, “Wilford Woodruff’s Mission to the Fox Islands,” in Donald Q. Cannon, ed., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: New England (Provo, UT: Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1988), 85–99. In addition to Cannon, Paul E. Damron has worked tirelessly for years compiling the history of the Church in Maine. Finally, I acknowledge Lester Dickey, LDS patriarch of the Augusta Maine Stake for his interest, research, guidance, and hospitality while I visited Maine to conduct my research.

[13] Wilford Woodruff, “History of Wilford Woodruff,” Millennial Star, May 6, 1865, 279 (hereafter cited as “History”).

[14] Deseret Weekly News (Salt Lake City), November 7, 1896, 643.

[15] Jonathan Hale, Journal, 2, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, copy in author’s possession. Although Hale titled the document a journal, it is actually a reminiscence. For biographical information on Hale, see Heber Q. Hale, Bishop Jonathan H. Hale of Nauvoo: His Life and Ministry (Salt Lake City: privately printed, 1938).

[16] Hale, Journal, 3. See also Donald Q. Cannon, “Fox Islands,” in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, ed. Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 394.

[17] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:149, May 31, 1837.

[18] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:149–50, June 4–5, 1837.

[19] See Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:150–56, June 5–26, 1837.

[20] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 13.

[21] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 13.

[22] Woodruff, “History,” 280.

[23] Wilford Woodruff, “To Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Church of the Latter day Saints in Kirtland,” September 18, 1837, in Elders’ Journal, October 1837, 1.

[24] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:165, July 23, 1837.

[25] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:169, August 20, 1837.

[26] Woodruff, “To Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Church,” 1–2.

[27] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 14; also Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:169, August 19, 1837.

[28] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:169, August 20, 1837.

[29] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:169, August 20, 1837; Hale, Journal, 28.

[30] Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–86), 18:36. See also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 15.

[31] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 14.

[32] Gideon J. Newton, “Revivals,” Zion’s Advocate, October 25, 1837, 170.

[33] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 14.

[34] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 15. Galatians 1:8–9 reads, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

[35] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 15.

[36] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:170, August 20, 1837.

[37] Woodruff, “History,” 281; see also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 15.

[38] Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 18:36.

[39] Woodruff, “History,” 281.

[40] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:173, August 27, 1837.

[41] Hale, Journal, 32.

[42] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:174, September 3, 1837.

[43] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 15.

[44] Hale, Journal, 35.

[45] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:174, September 4, 1837.

[46] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed., rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 2:503.

[47] Woodruff, “History,” 281.

[48] Newton, “Revivals,” 170.

[49] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 15.

[50] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:174, September 4, 1837.

[51] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:175, September 5, 1837. In Woodruff’s autobiography compiled years later, he paraphrased the journal entry for this day, adding two significant words, “unto Zion.” This addition was likely based on his recollection of his second mission to the Fox Islands, which became a mission to gather the islands Saints unto Zion. See Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 16.

[52] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:175, September 5, 1837.

[53] Woodruff, Letter, September 18, 1837, in Elders’ Journal, 2.

[54] Hale, Journal, September 4, 1837 and September 6, 1837.

[55] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:176, September 8, 1837.

[56] In his published history Woodruff wrote: “I followed Mr. Douglas to his own island, and commenced preaching to his church, and baptized a good share of his members, among whom were several sea captains.” Woodruff, “History of Wilford Woodruff,” Millennial Star, May 13, 1865, 294.

[57] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:176–77, September 10, 1837.

[58] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:177, September 11, 1837.

[59] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 15.

[60] Woodruff, Letter, September 18, 1837, in Elders’ Journal, 3.

[61] Newton, “Revivals,” in Zion’s Advocate, 170. See also Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:178, September 19, 1837. Reverend Amariah Kalloch was the pastor of the Baptist Church in Rockland, Maine, from 1834–1847 where he is known to have preached against Mormonism. Reverend Whitehouse has not been identified, but was likely from another church on the mainland.

[62] Rev. A. Kalloch, A Sermon Preached to the Baptist Church and Society in East Thomaston, July 7, 1844, on the Characteristics of the Present Generation, their injurious influence upon Religion, and the means of Preservation to the Church (Portland, ME: Charles Day and Co., 1844), 9–10 (hereafter referred to as Kalloch, Sermon).

[63] Kalloch, Sermon, 10.

[64] Newton, “Revivals,” 170. After reading Newton’s report in Zion’s Advocate, Woodruff wrote that “it is a well-known fact that the two mentioned persons were his own son and daughter.” Woodruff continued: “Now what can Mr. Newton think by presenting such a ‘sentiment’ before the public, for it is a truth too notorious to be denied, that not only his son and daughter, but some, if not all of the other converts of which he speaks as well as himself attended our meetings from time to time.” Wilford Woodruff to Don C. Smith, November 20, 1837, in Elders’ Journal, November 1837, 18.

[65] Newton, “Revivals,” 170.

[66] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 16.

[67] Baptist Church Records, North Haven Historical Society, North Haven, Maine.

[68] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:179, September 28, 1837.

[69] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:180, October 2, 1837. Valentine (Woodruff spells his name “Voluntine”) was probably a relative of Justus and Ebenezer Eames, whom Woodruff had baptized.

[70] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:181, October 6, 1837; see also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 16.

[71] Woodruff, “Autobiography” 16; see also Hale, Journal, October 9, 1837, 49.

[72] Hale, Journal, October 28, 1837, 50–51.

[73] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:184, November 2, 1837.

[74] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:186, November 15, 1837.

[75] Woodruff, “History,” 295.

[76] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:192, December 25, 1837.

[77] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:192, December 28, 1837; see also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 17.

[78] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 17.

[79] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:193, December 31, 1837.

[80] See Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:184, 211, November 2, 1837 and January 13, 1838.

[81] Wilford Woodruff to Don C. Smith, November 20, 1837, in Elders’ Journal, 18.

[82] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 18.

[83] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:221, January 13, 1838; see also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 18. It appears that Ball labored on the North Island for about a week before meeting Elder Woodruff on January 13, 1838.

[84] Baptist Church Records, North Haven, Maine, January 17, 1838. The names of the three other individuals baptized by Ball were Malatire, Nancy, and Stephen Luce. See Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:221, January 13, 1838.

[85] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:221, January 15, 1838.

[86] Woodruff, “History,” 295.

[87] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:221–22, January 15, 1838.

[88] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:222, January 15, 1838; see also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 18; and Woodruff, “History,” 295.

[89] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:222, January 17, 1838; Woodruff, “History,” 295; Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 18.

[90] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:224, January 29, 1838; also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 18.

[91] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:224–25, February 1, 1838.

[92] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:225, February 4, 1838.

[93] Wilford Woodruff, James Townsend, and Joseph Ball, letter, March 9, 1838, in Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 35.

[94] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:231, March 8, 1838.

[95] Woodruff, Townsend, and Ball, letter, 35.

[96] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:232, March 12, 1838.

[97] Woodruff, Townsend, and Ball, letter, 36.

[98] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:236, April 4, 1838.

[99] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:236–37, April 5, 1838.

[100] Woodruff, “History,” 296.

[101] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:237, March 5, 1838. Before being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835, John F. Boynton served a mission to Maine, where he faced very similar circumstances to those faced by Wilford Woodruff on the Fox Islands in 1837–38. Boynton found great success among the people, reportedly baptizing about 130 converts between January 1833 and January 1834, including James Townsend who, as noted, served with Woodruff on both the mainland and on the Fox Islands. And just as Woodruff received strength and encouragement from the publication of the Elders’ Journal in 1837–38, Boynton received support from the newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star. Furthermore, like Woodruff, Boynton felt “painful emotions” as he heard of the persecution of the Church in the West and aspired to gather his converts unto Zion. In an 1834 letter to Kirtland, Boynton declared: “O! that God would rend the heavens and come down to deliver his saints; that the mountains might give way before him, and flow down at his presence; that the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ might roll forth till it fills the whole earth!” John F. Boynton, letter, January 20, 1834, in The Evening and the Morning Star, February 1834, 134. Sadly, in 1837, Boynton set aside his earlier feelings about building and gathering the kingdom of God and united with Parrish to counter missionary efforts and destroy the Church.

[102] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:238, April 11, 1838.

[103] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:239, April 15, 1838.

[104] “Mormons,” Christian Mirror (Portland, Maine), May 10, 1838. Concerning Tucker’s letter, the editor of Zion’s Advocate wrote: “We have thought that our friends in Vinalhaven were giving too much attention to a system so perfectly absurd and ridiculous—but they can judge better as they witness its effects.”

[105] Baptist Church Records, North Haven Historical Society, North Haven, Maine.

[106] Woodruff, “History,” 296; Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 20; Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:243, April 28, 1838.

[107] The one-year anniversary of Woodruff’s departure from Kirtland for the Fox Islands occurred while Woodruff was on his “western mission.” On May 31, 1838, Woodruff, for the first time, entered the state of New Jersey. He recorded: “This is the first time my feet ever pressed the soil of New jersey. This adds another state to the list that I have visited in my Peregrinations. (Seventeen States). O time how swift thou art. One year ago this morning I left Kirtland in company with Elder Hale to go to the Islands of the Sea. The Lord hath prospered our way & blessed be his name. Whare will another May day find me? O, LORD thou knowest” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:256, May 31, 1838).

[108] Wilford Woodruff to Asahel Woodruff, August 25, 1838, in Robert H. Slover, “A Newly Discovered 1838 Wilford Woodruff Letter,” BYU Studies 15, no. 3 (Spring 1975): 355; also Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 22.

[109] The blessing states: “Thou art of the Blood of Ephraim if thou will claim it by faith thou mayest bring all of the relatives into the Kingdom of God for they are of the Blood of Ephraim” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:143, April 15, 1837). It is important to note that in his journal, Woodruff recorded that his patriarchal blessing was received on April 15, 1837. However, the Patriarchal Blessings Book in the Church History Library dates the blessing as having been received on April 13, 1937. See Patriarchal Blessings Book 1, 118, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; and H. Michael Marquardt, comp., Early Patriarchal Blessings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2007), 155–56.

[110] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 22.

[111] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 22; and Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:274, July 30, 1838. Woodruff arrived back on the islands on August 7, 1838.

[112] Thomas B. Marsh, to Wilford Woodruff, July 14, 1838, Church History Library, copy in author’s possession. See also Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:277, August 9, 1838.

[113] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 23.

[114] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:278, August 12, 1838.

[115] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 23. For a list of persons baptized during Woodruff’s Fox Island mission see Appendix A.

[116] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:279, August 13, 1838; and Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 23.

[117] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 23.

[118] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:279, August 13, 1838; and Woodruff, “History,” 311.

[119] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:282, August 31, 1838.

[120] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:289, September 15, 1838.

[121] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:289, September 18, 1838.

[122] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:289, September 21, 1838.

[123] “The Mormons,” Portland Transcript (Portland, Maine), September 22, 1838. See also “The Mormons,” Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine) September 19, 1838. The report of Joseph Smith being taken into custody was probably associated with charges issued against him by Adam Black, a justice of the peace. On August 8, two days after the election-day skirmish in Gallatin, some 150 Mormon men came to Black’s home in Daviess County and compelled him to sign a statement indicating he would keep the peace. Two days later, on August 10, Black charged Joseph Smith with threat and intimidation. The Mormon leader submitted to the authorities and a preliminary hearing was held on September 7 in Daviess County, wherein he was ordered to appear in circuit court on November 29. However, on October 30, the Prophet was taken into custody by state authorities for his involvement in the Mormon-Missouri War, so the November 29 hearing was never held. See Alexander L. Baugh, A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2000), 47–53.

[124] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:290, September 24, 1838.

[125] “The Mormon War,” Daily Evening Advertiser (Portland, Maine), October 5, 1838.

[126] Mechanic and Farmer (Bangor, Maine), October 4, 1838.

[127] “Mormons Bound from the East to the West,” Daily Evening Advertiser (Portland, Maine), October 8, 1838. The article was subsequently copied and republished in several newspapers around the country. See The Christian Mirror (Portland, Maine), October 11, 1838; New York Spectator (New York, New York), October 18, 1838; Daily Herald and Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio), October 23, 1838; The New Yorker (New York, New York), October 27, 1838; and the Daily Commercial Bulletin (St. Louis, Missouri), October 29, 1838.

[128] See The Christian Mirror (Portland, Maine), October 11, 1838; New York Spectator (New York, New York), October, 18, 1838; Daily Herald and Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio), October 23, 1838; The New Yorker (New York, New York), October 27, 1838; and Daily Commercial Bulletin (St. Louis, Missouri), October 29, 1838.

[129] Pierce Family Bible, copy in author’s possession.

[130] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:291, September 25, 1838.

[131] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:292, September 27, 1838.

[132] Woodruff, “Autobiography,” 25.