From the Archives: Wilford Woodruff Correcting Church History “Mistakes” (Huntington Journal)

By September 20, 2012

By friend of the JI Joseph Stuart

Whilst transcribing portions of the Oliver Huntington journals for a paper to be presented at the Utah State Historical Society, I stumbled upon this gem in Oliver’s stake conference notes. The conference’s visiting authority was apostle and Church Historian Wilford Woodruff, who made considerable efforts to address certain rumors/falsehoods circulating about LDS Church History in his address. From Huntington’s diary, March 3, 1883:

Apostle Woodruff [spoke] upon the wonderfulness of this work & the peculiarity of this people during which I received from God by inspiration a remarkable view of the wonderful peculiarity of this people & their remarkable difference from the majority & nearly all of the world–Whilst the whole civilized and enlightened world, from the midst of whom we were  gathered, is corrupt and full of diseases arising from their corruption, and are unbelieving in God we as a people are pure and clean–full of faith in God even to the performing of many mighty miracles. I can’t give the faintest idea of this view I got in that respect and with regard to our oneness our union which is so different from the condition of the peoples we can from among.

In the evening meeting Bro. Woodruff spoke most of the time and corrected 3 mistakes in the history this people. First–it is stated in print somewhere by Orson Pratt that Joseph Smith received the plates from Nephi when in truth it was Moroni–simply a typographical error.

This “typographical error” apparently would not go away; it was addressed in an apologetic article by Richard Lloyd Anderson 97 years later.

Second.–The revelation on Melchisedek [sic] Priesthood was given in 1831 and some people suppose that that was the time that Joseph and Oliver was ordained to the Apostleship by Peter, James and John thereby inferring that the Church was organized before the Melkisedek [sic] Priesthood was given; which is all wrong simply because some people want to criticise [sic] and find something wrong. The Melkisedek Priesthood was given before the Church was organised, in 1829 or March 1830.

Third. The revelation on Celestial Marriage was written by William Clayton in Nauvoo 1841 but it was given first in 1831 but not written. He being a revelator and seer could reproduce it whenever necessary to be written. He commenced the practice over a year before the revelation was written. Some people think that is a fatal error, not knowing all the facts in the case.

There is an allusion made in a letter by W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young in 1861, recounting Joseph Smith’s explanation of how Native Americans would become “white and delightsome”:

About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph, privately, how “we,” that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the “natives” as we were all married men? He replied instantly “In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.”

Historians disagree over whether or not this is definitive proof of a revelation on plural marriage.

If an apostle were visiting a stake conference in 2012, what 3 items in Church History do you think they would most likely address as incorrect?

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period From the Archives Race


  1. Fascinating stuff, Joey; thanks for sharing with us. It’s amazing how long we have dealt with these same exact issues.

    It’s also fascinating that he gives March 1830 as a possible date for the Mel. priesthood ordination. I wonder what he was basing that on.

    And count me as one who puts no credence in Phelps’s reminiscence of an 1831 revelation on plural marriage.

    Comment by Ben P — September 20, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

  2. Yes, thanks Joey. I wonder if the March 1830 date was simply to date it before the April 6, 1830 founding.

    On the alleged 1831 revelation on plural marriage, it’s likely that Phelps’ 1861 was highly colored by BY’s 1850s injunctions for white missionaries to marry Native women. There is, however, contemporary evidence in Ezra Booth’s letters that the Saints in 1831 were talking about intermarrying with Native women in order to get back into Indian Territory, suggesting there’s a kernel of truth in Phelps’ late statement. Whether that confirms that there was an 1831 revelation or that JS even thought of marrying Indian women in terms of polygamy is another matter, however.

    Comment by David G. — September 20, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

  3. Let’s see… In September, Elder Oaks said we should store food, not ammunition. In April, Elder Packer said the Second Coming was not imminent, and next month, the Brethren will (again) correct the notion that conservative Republicanism is the One True Political party.

    Comment by The Other Clark — September 27, 2012 @ 12:19 pm


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