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John W. Woolley 

One example of a temple sealer who performed plural marriages after 1904 is John W. Woolley.[6]  John Woolley was the father of Lorin C. Woolley.  John holds and immensely important position in Mormon fundamentalist tradition.  Most polygamists today believe that at one point before his 1928 death, John held the keys of sealing and was the "President of the Priesthood" (a priesthood office unheard of prior to 1933).  An interesting picture of John Woolley emerges as contemporary documents are consulted and fundamentalist traditions scrutinized.

For most of his life, John W. Woolley was a monogamist.  He experienced plural marriage with two wives for only six years between 1886 and 1892.  John was sealed to Julia Seales Ensign March 20, 1851 with whom he had six children.  On October 4, 1886, he wed Ann Everington Roberts for time only and lived the principle of plural marriage until 1892 when his first wife died.  Roberts was the widow of B. H. Roberts and bore Woolley no offspring.  Ann passed away January 11, 1910 and two months later on March 23, John married 39 year old Annie Fisher for time only as well.  Despite the comparative brevity and limited plurality that John experienced in his personal polygamy, he was nevertheless a constant follower of plural marriage.

John Woolley was devout in his devotion to the Church, serving as a stake high councilman in 1877, a Salt Lake Temple worker and sealer in 1894 and was ordained a Stake Patriarch in June 1913.  However, he also secretly performed the sealings of Warren Longurst and Evan Allred in Salt Lake City, Utah, 17 November 1909 and was involved with other polygamous marriages prior to that time.  Subsequently, John W. Woolley was called into a session with the Council of the Twelve, but disclaimed any association with those who were involved with new plural marriages.[7]

As a close friend of John Woolley, President Smith performed his civil marriage in 1910.[8]  "Some time later, President Smith said to him, 'John, I am happy to know that you have not been involved in any of those so-called plural marriages.'  John W. Woolley hesitated a moment and then replied: 'President Smith, I cannot lie to you.  I am guilty.'  Then he confessed his wrongdoing."[9]  Upon learning of this, President Joseph F. Smith notified Francis Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

A Church Court was held 16 January 1914 resulting in Woolley's disfellowshipment.  In an attempt to retain his membership, he wrote: "Some months ago I met Matthias F. Cowley on the street and he asked me if I was familiar with the sealing ceremony.  I told him I was.  He said, 'If any good men come to you don't turn them down.'  I believed from that statement that it was still proper that plural marriages be solemnized, and that President Smith had so authorized Cowley to instruct me.[10]  Since that time I have married wives to Nathan G. Clark, Joseph A. Silver, Reuben G. Miller, and K. Lemmon, Jr."  All of these men were subsequently called up for Church discipline.[11]

The Quorum of the Twelve considered Woolley's case on March 30th.  Apostle James E. Talmage recorded: "It became our painful duty to take action by which Brother John W. Woolley was excommunicated from the Church for insubordination and disobedience to the regulations of the Church.  It may be here stated that Brother Woolley, according to evidence and his own confession, has been instrumental in bringing about the unauthorized and sinful pretenses for plural marriage in the cases of other brethren who have been of late visited with the extreme penalty of excommunication."[12] 

Having already excommunicated most of the men sealed by John Woolley, a letter from the First Presidency was sent addressing the status of the women who were also involved in those plural marriages.  On 11 March 1915, Apostle Francis M. Lyman was instructed: "Joseph F. Smith recommends 'disfellowship or excommunication' for plural wives and polygamous marriages performed by John W. Woolley."[13] 

During the years following his excommunication, John Woolley desired to be reinstated[14] and in 1918 he asked his half-brother, George E. Woolley[15] to assist as an intermediary with the General Authorities.[16]  John related how "he felt very keenly being on the outside of the Church" and confessed that "he had suffered very much in his feelings" as a consequence of his excommunication.[17]

George Woolley described the situation to his brother Orson who lived in Magrath, Canada: "I told him my advice to him was to go personally to Bro. [Heber J.] Grant and tell him just how he felt etc.  That if he would go to Bro. Grant in the proper spirit personally that it would do more for his cause than having other people always bothering the authorities.  He did not take kindly to my suggestion, however, stating that they were responsible for his condition (they, meaning I took it, the Twelve) and they would have to take it up and make matters right.  I felt very little humility in his attitude, but he says he is humble and could only show it more by digging a hole and getting in it and pulling the ground in on him.  To me it is a pitiable condition."[18]

George also disagreed with John regarding the writings of dissident Heber S. Bennion[19]: "Bro. Heber Bennion of our stake has written a book called Gospel Problems.  John has read it and is testifying that it is inspired and is the truth.  I have read the book and know that it breathes the spirit of apostasy and is written in the spirit of fault finding.  John has placed himself in a position to be led astray by just such writings and I fear for him."[20]

In another letter, George wrote:  "[John] had been to me and asked me to use my influence in getting him back into the church but I cannot consistently do any thing for him as long as he takes the attitude he does.  I told him when he came to me that he ought to go direct to Pres. Grant himself and put himself in their hands to do just as they might direct.  This he refused to do and I know from his spirit that he is not in the least repentant...  What I wanted was to have him conduct himself in a way to secure reinstatement."[21]

Shortly after John Woolley appealed to George for help, John was asked to dedicate the grave of his deceased sister-in-law.  This request put him in a delicate position as he did not want to further agitate Church leaders by claiming to use priesthood authority after his excommunication.  Yet, he also wanted to fulfill the petition to dedicate the grave.  George believed that "if it became known that he was doing these things after being cut off, that it would be construed as defiance of their act by the Twelve and he would be just that [much] more likely not to be reinstated than if he would lay low."[22]  

George recalled that as they were riding to the grave site:  "I asked John if he intended to dedicate the grave.  He said he did not want to but they had asked him and he didn't know what he would do.  I told him in my judgement, it would be a mistake and gave him my reason...."  George then reported: "Well, John dedicated (?) the grave.  Did not do it by virtue of any priesthood..."[23]  On that occasion, John did not assert any priesthood authority, giving only a prayer.  Despite his actions, John Woolley continued to promote and perform a few plural marriages up until his death in 1928.[24]  He died a nonmember.