|John & Celia Woodland|
John had one older sister and was born to prosperous Quaker plantation owners in Virginia who had slaves and raised cotton and tobacco. His family line goes back to Culpepers and European nobility. His mother died soon after his birth, and his father married her sister and had additional children. A cooper, shoemaker, and farmer, John heard the “call of the West” and went to Cumberland Gap, Kentucky. There he married Ruth and had two little girls; all three died of the “cold plague.” He then met teenage Celia, daughter of the local ferry owner, who was picking berries by the river to make dye. They married and had fourteen children.
John was of a mystical bent and an adherent of the Owenite movement, seeking to create utopian communities. This quest for Zion must have contributed to his interest in the gospel. He attended an LDS missionary meeting with neighbor Jefferson Hunt, and on his way home felt impressed to pray. At first an unseen power tried to overcome him, but after a struggle he gained power over the evil one and the spirit of testimony took its place. John and Jefferson both were baptized, but Brother Hunt wanted to join the Saints in Missouri, so John purchased his home. That night John had a vision where a messenger showed him where his new home would be (by tall trees and a spring) when he himself joined the Mormons in Missouri. John made preparations to depart the next morning, and to Brother Hunt’s amazement, found the grove without much difficulty, with the exact tree (twenty-six feet taller than the rest) and the spring (twenty-five steps to the west) bubbling through white sand as instructed in his vision.
After living in this new home for a year, Joseph Smith came and asked for the property to be a stake of Zion. Brother Woodland said, “If it is the will of the Lord, take it and give me another place as good even if not so beautiful.” Joseph stood thinking for about fifteen minutes with a light shining around him, and said, “Brother John, I won’t have your place for the Lord showed it to you and you had faith enough it to seek it out.” Then Joseph placed his hands on John’s head and sealed the place unto him and his posterity for life and all eternity and told him to never sell it. John was afterwards offered a great amount of money for the land but would not sell; they remained until driven away by the mob.
Due to mob persecutions, his mother-in-law and two of his children died from illness and exposure, and his son James was murdered. John prophetically said to Celia as James left, “Mother, come here and take a look at your boy for this is the last time you will see him alive.” The Prophet sent word to John to leave the state since the mob was seeking his life. John hid a wagon and team of horses in nearby trees so the family could escape, but the mob destroyed most of their belongings. The mob tried to take their wagon since they said it was the only one strong enough to haul their big cannon, but John threatened to “bust the head of the first one who came to take it.” General Clark stepped forward and forbade them to take it, then wrote the Woodlands a pass to leave Missouri, where they camped outside of Far West in the “bottoms.” There they had a vision and saw a train of chariots moving through the sky filled with people in white, and John cried, “Far West is saved!”
Their daughter, son-in-law, and son William West preceded them to Utah in order to establish a home and plant some crops, and the family settled in Willard. John and Celia traveled fifty miles by ox team to receive their endowments in Salt Lake in 1856.
John longed to realize his blessing from Joseph Smith that he would live until the Savior came to reign on the earth if he so desired. This blessing he hung to until he reached the ripe age of ninety-four, when he was carried away in a trance into the spirit world. As his family gathered to mourn his death, they placed silver coins over his eyes as was the custom. John saw the beauties of heaven and the crown that awaited him. He was escorted by a guide to a beautiful gate where a man was seated and found his name in examining the records. He saw many friends, including Joseph Smith. After several hours his spirit returned to his body and his desire to remain on earth was changed. He bore testimony to his family of the truth of the gospel and the divinity of the calling of Joseph Smith. John’s sons who had ridden all night upon the news of their father’s passing were surprised and vexed to find their supposedly dead father up and eating breakfast (and John was annoyed that they had left their work to check on him). John lived four more months after this experience and his dying admonition was a prayer for his posterity.
Another history of John can be found online here. Reading about his vision of heaven makes me realize how trivial these gift ideas are, since these ancestors are right now enjoying those bounties and beauties above. Nevertheless, I would give John an alarm system to help keep him safe from the mob.