Wilford Woodruff moved from his hometown of Farmington, Connecticut to Oswego County, New York in 1832. He had managed mills for several employers and he and his brothers, Azmon and Thompson, decided to buy their own mill on Grindstone Creek, near Lake Ontario. It was there Wilford first heard the Elders preach and where he was baptized on December 31, 1833.
The Woodruff family asked me if I could help them locate the original property and determine if there were any remnants of the old mill, the homestead, or even the schoolhouse where Zerah Pulsipher and Elijah Cheney introduced the restored gospel to Wilford and Azmon Woodruff.
an 1829 map of Oswego County, lined it up with a current detailed map of the area and - by using calculations based on the length of a chain (old surveyor measurement that equals 66 feet) - determined the approximate boundaries of their 1832 property. (Of course Grindstone Creek has changed its course in the past 80 years, but the roads are remarkably similar.) Add a dash of luck ... and we found it!
The old buildings burned and the property had remained undeveloped for decades. But serendipitously the current owners of the Woodruff property just happened to be building a house. In the process of digging their foundation, they uncovered original masonry! They also found large metal parts (of the mill? or farm equipment?), pieces of pottery, and even what may have been a small medicine bottle. They had no idea they were uncovering important pieces of Woodruff family history.
An excerpt from my book gives the historical context of the significance of this property in Wilford Woodruff's life:
Wilford described the events of December 1833 in these words: “Zerah Pulsipher ... told me that he was inspired of the Lord. He was threshing grain in his barn when the voice of the Lord came to him and told him to arise and go to the north; the Lord had business for him there. He called upon Brother [Elijah] Cheney, his neighbor and a member of the Church. They traveled sixty miles on foot ... in deep snow, and the first place they felt impressed to call upon was the house of my brother and myself. They went into the house and talked with my brother’s wife, and they told her who they were and what their business was. ... When they told her their principles, she said her husband and her brother-in-law both were men who believed those principles, and they had prayed for them for years. They appointed a meeting in the schoolhouse upon our farm.”[i]
When Wilford returned home that evening, his sister-in-law Elizabeth told him about the meeting and, without stopping to eat dinner, he headed for the schoolhouse to find his brother Azmon. On his way Wilford prayed that the Lord would bless him with the Spirit, so “if these men were the servants of God [he] might know it, and that [his] heart might be prepared to receive the divine message they had to deliver.”[ii] He arrived in time to hear Elder Pulsipher’s prayer and wrote that he simply knelt down and asked the Lord for what he wanted. Elder Pulsipher's manner of prayer and the power which accompanied it impressed Wilford greatly. Wilford said the Spirit of the Lord rested upon him and bore witness that Zerah Pulsipher was a servant of God.[iii]
After singing, Elder Pulsipher preached for an hour and a half of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Elder Cheney then added his witness of the truth of the restored gospel. At the conclusion of their testimonies, when the two Elders asked if anyone in the congregation wanted to speak, both Wilford and Azmon stood to share with their friends and neighbors their conviction that Elders Pulsipher and Cheney were preaching the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.
Following the meeting the Woodruffs invited the Elders to stay at their home, and Wilford sat up all night reading the Book of Mormon. In his journal Wilford wrote that as he read, he “felt much of the Spirit of God bearing witness to the Book of Mormon.” He believed it was "light out of darkness and truth out of the ground.”[iv] In the morning he told Elder Pulsipher that he wanted to be baptized because he had a testimony for himself that the principles were true. Wilford's prayers had been answered. As God promised, Wilford had been blessed with the guidance of the Spirit. He had found the Church of Christ with the same principles taught through the ages by God's prophets, and the priesthood power manifested in the gifts of the Spirit.
Understanding the need to not just be baptized in the proper manner, but to be “born of the water and of the Spirit” by those who had the authority to act in God's name, Wilford and his brother Azmon were baptized and confirmed members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ on December 31, 1833. Of his baptism Wilford wrote: "The snow was about three feet deep, the day was cold, and the water was mixed with ice and snow, yet I did not feel the cold."[v]