Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1807-1898), was deeply devoted to vicarious temple work and the redemption of the dead.
He served as president of the St. George Temple, for instance, where, in response to a dream or vision, he famously performed temple rituals on behalf of the founders of the United States and other prominent historical figures. He issued the Manifesto ending the practice of plural marriage within the United States — under inspiration, he said, but expressly motivated, in part, by a desire to preserve the temples of the Church. Again in response to revelation, he established the Genealogical Society of Utah, which, over the decades that have ensued, has become one of the major resources for genealogical data in the world. And he dedicated the Salt Lake Temple.
Wilford Woodruff was born in Farmington, Connecticut.
While he was still a young man there, he had a notable experience with a devout “seeker” there by the name of Robert Mason (to whom, notably, Wilford Woodruff refers as a “prophet”):
“Father Mason did not claim that he had any authority to officiate in the ordinances of the gospel, nor did he believe that such authority existed on the earth. He did believe, however, that it was the privilege of any man who had faith in God to fast and pray for the healing of the sick by the laying on of hands. He believed it his right and the right of every honest-hearted man or woman to receive light and knowledge, visions, and revelations by the prayer of faith. He told me that the day was near when the Lord would establish His Church and Kingdom upon the earth with all its ancient gifts and blessings. He said that such a work would commence upon the earth before he died, but that he would not live to partake of its blessings. He said that I should live to do so, and that I should become a conspicuous actor in that kingdom.
“The last time I ever saw him he related to me the following vision which he had in his field in open day: ‘I was carried away in a vision and found myself in the midst of a vast orchard of fruit trees. I became hungry and wandered through this vast orchard searching for fruit to eat, but I found none. While I stood in amazement finding no fruit in the midst of so many trees, they began to fall to the ground as if torn up by a whirlwind. They continued to fall until there was not a tree standing in the whole orchard. I immediately saw thereafter shoots springing up from the roots and forming themselves into young and beautiful trees. These budded, blossomed, and brought forth fruit which ripened and was the most beautiful to look upon of anything my eyes had ever beheld. I stretched forth my hand and plucked some of the fruit. I gazed upon it with delight; but when I was about to eat of it, the vision closed and I did not taste the fruit.’
“‘At the close of the vision I bowed down in humble prayer and asked the Lord to show me the meaning of the vision. Then the voice of the Lord came to me saying: “Son of man, thou hast sought me diligently to know the truth concerning my Church and Kingdom among men. This is to show you that my Church is not organized among men in the generation to which you belong; but in the days of your children the Church and Kingdom of God shall be made manifest with all the gifts and the blessings enjoyed by the Saints in past ages. You shall live to be made acquainted with it, but shall not partake of its blessings before you depart this life. You will be blest of the Lord after death because you have followed the dictation of my Spirit in this life.”’
“When Father Mason had finished relating the vision and its interpretation, he said, calling me by my Christian name: ‘Wilford, I shall never partake of this fruit in the flesh, but you will and you will become a conspicuous actor in the new kingdom.’ He then turned and left me. These were the last words he ever spoke to me upon the earth. To me this was a very striking circumstance. I had passed many days during a period of twenty years with this old Father Mason. He had never mentioned this vision to me before. On this occasion he said he felt impelled by the Spirit of the Lord to relate it to me.
“The vision was given to him about the year 1800. He related it to me in 1830, the spring in which the Church was organized. Three years later when I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, almost the first person I thought of was this prophet, Robert Mason. Upon my arrival in Missouri with Zion’s Camp, I wrote him a long letter in which I informed him that I had found the true gospel with all its blessings; that the authority of the Church of Christ had been restored to the earth as he had told me it would be; that I had received the ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands; that I knew for myself that God had established through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the Church of Christ upon the earth.
“He received my letter with great joy and had it read over to him many times. He handled it as he had handled the fruit in the vision. He was very aged and soon died without having the privilege of receiving the ordinances of the gospel at the hands of an elder of the Church.
“The first opportunity I had after the truth of baptism for the dead was revealed, I went forth and was baptized for him in the temple font at Nauvoo.”
(Quoted in Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, 16–18.)
So it’s gratifying to know that the Hartford Connecticut Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, currently under construction, will stand at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Melrose Drive, backed up against the Farmington River, and that it won’t actually be in Hartford proper, but in Farmington, Connecticut.
I expect that President Woodruff is gratified, as well.