The solution, however, was quite simple. The popular published version of Woodruff’s journal made a transcription error—missing one person.
The result was that the man who ran the first commercially successful steamboat, Robert Fulton, was omitted from the journal transcript. Woodruff didn’t make a mistake. The 100 men he was baptized for were all written and accounted for in his own handwriting in his original journal.
Skipping Other Men and Women
Woodruff most likely knew when he was browsing through the biographies that he had more than 46 eminent people to choose from. As he skimmed the names, he had to make choices. Inevitably, he had to skip some names.
Some of the names he skipped over, for whatever reason, were Edmund Burke, Napoleon Bonaparte, William Wilberforce, Thomas Moore, Samuel Morse, Charles Dickens, and Robert E. Lee. Other names he skipped, such as Benjamin Disraeli, Florence Nightingale, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were logical to pass over since they were still alive in 1877.
The Missing Wife
Woodruff’s vision of the Signers and his own inauguration of the temple work for them and the other eminent men has also overshadowed the fact that he prepared a list of eminent women as well, including people such as Marie Antoinette, Jane Austen, Dolley Madison, and Charlotte Bronte.
However, one of the eminent women Woodruff compiled was a mistake. After he chose Benito Juárez for one of the 100 men, he skimmed Juárez’s biography for his wife’s name. On page 125, he saw the phrase, “He had been for some years married to the Princess Charlotte, daughter of King Leopold of Belgium” and assumed this was Juárez’s wife.
She was not.
The paragraph was about Juárez’s enemy, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. Princess Charlotte was Maximilian’s wife and went by the name “Carlota of Mexico.”
Princess Charlotte died in 1927, and since she was alive in 1877, she was a poor candidate for proxy temple work.
Juárez’s real wife was Margarita Maza Juárez, whose temple work was done correctly in the Salt Lake Temple in 1921.
An expanding scope
The visit of the Signers to Woodruff began a process of changing the way Latter-day Saints thought about the scope of temple work. Not only did they begin to understand the necessity of performing all ordinances of the gospel for those who were dead, but also they began to see that the temple and its ordinances were meant for all people.
Today, the Church strongly discourages Mormons from doing similar "celebrity" baptisms, but the legacy of Woodruff’s experiences shows the importance of reaching out to all God’s children.
Visions of Freedom: Wilford Woodruff and the Signers of the Declaration of Independenceis by former Deseret News journalist Michael De Groote and photo historian Ronald L. Fox. It is available at Deseret Book in paperback, e-book, and audio book. The book examines Woodruff’s vision and its impact on temple attitudes and practice and includes appendixes of all known accounts of his vision—including a possible forgery. The bulk of the book features biographies for each of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence.