Parley P. Pratt

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Parley P. Pratt
Parley P Pratt.gif
Pratt, ca. 1845
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
February 21, 1835 (1835-02-21) – May 13, 1857 (1857-05-13)
Called byThree Witnesses
LDS Church Apostle
February 21, 1835 (1835-02-21) – May 13, 1857 (1857-05-13)
Called byThree Witnesses
ReasonInitial organization of Quorum of the Twelve
at end of term
George Q. Cannon ordained
Personal details
BornParley Parker Pratt
(1807-04-12)April 12, 1807
Burlington, New York, United States
DiedMay 13, 1857(1857-05-13) (aged 50)
Alma, Arkansas, United States
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Parley P. Pratt
Parley P Pratt.gif
Pratt, ca. 1845
edit data
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
February 21, 1835 (1835-02-21) – May 13, 1857 (1857-05-13)
Called byThree Witnesses
LDS Church Apostle
February 21, 1835 (1835-02-21) – May 13, 1857 (1857-05-13)
Called byThree Witnesses
ReasonInitial organization of Quorum of the Twelve
at end of term
George Q. Cannon ordained
Personal details
BornParley Parker Pratt
(1807-04-12)April 12, 1807
Burlington, New York, United States
DiedMay 13, 1857(1857-05-13) (aged 50)
Alma, Arkansas, United States

Parley Parker Pratt, Sr. (April 12, 1807 – May 13, 1857) was an early leader of the Latter Day Saint movement whose writings became a significant early nineteenth-century exposition of the Latter Day Saint faith. Named in 1835 as one of the first members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Pratt was part of the Quorum's successful mission to Great Britain, 1839 to 1841. Pratt has been called "the Apostle Paul of Mormonism" for his promotion of distinctive Mormon doctrines.

Pratt explored, surveyed, and built and maintained the first road for public transportation in Parley's Canyon in Salt Lake City, Utah; the canyon was named in his honor. Practicing polygamy, Pratt was murdered in 1857 by the estranged husband of his twelfth wife. He had a total of 30 children, and his living descendants in 2011 were estimated to number 30,000 to 50,000. He was a great-great-grandfather of Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate for President of the United States.


Early life and education[edit]

Pratt was born in Burlington, New York, the son of Jared Pratt (Canaan, New York, November 25, 1769 – Detroit, Michigan, November 5, 1839) and his wife (m. July 7, 1799) Charity Dickinson (Bolton, New York, February 24, 1776 – St. Joseph, Missouri, May 20, 1849), a descendant of Anne Hutchinson.[1] He married Thankful Halsey in Canaan, New York, on September 9, 1827.

The young couple migrated west, where they settled near Cleveland, Ohio, on a plot of "wilderness" where Parley had constructed a crude home. In Ohio, Pratt became a member of the Reformed Baptist Society, also called "Disciples of Christ", through the preaching of Sidney Rigdon. Pratt soon decided to take up the Disciples ministry as a profession, and sold his property.

Early Latter Day Saint service[edit]

While traveling to visit family in western New York, Pratt read a copy of the Book of Mormon owned by a Baptist deacon. Convinced of its authenticity, he traveled to Palmyra, and spoke to Hyrum Smith at his home. Pratt was baptized in Seneca Lake by Oliver Cowdery on or about September 1, 1830, formally joining the Latter Day Saint church (Mormons). He was ordained to the office of an elder in the church. Continuing on to his family's home, he introduced his younger brother, Orson Pratt, to Mormonism and baptized him on September 19, 1830.

Returning to Fayette, New York in October 1830, Pratt met Joseph Smith and was asked to join a missionary group assigned to preach to the Native American (Lamanite) tribes on the Missouri frontier. During the trip west, he and his companions stopped to visit Sidney Rigdon, and were instrumental in converting Rigdon and approximately 130 members of his congregation within two to three weeks.

In early 1833, Pratt served as a missionary in Illinois. He then went to Jackson County, Missouri, where through the summer he headed the School of the Elders, a gathering of about 60 men who studied religious and secular subjects, similar to the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio.[2] In the fall of 1833, he served as head of the Mormon Branch number 8 in Jackson County and as a leader in the Mormon militia. He was among those Latter Day Saints driven into Clay County, Missouri by mob violence.[3] In February 1834, Pratt and Lyman Wight headed back to Kirtland to report on the events in Missouri to Joseph Smith.[4] From Kirtland Pratt traveled with Joseph Smith in Pennsylvania and western New York, preaching the gospel and also trying to recruit people to serve in Zion's Camp.[5] After traveling together for three weeks, during some of this time with Pratt serving as Smith's scribe, Smith returned to Kirtland from Geneseo, New York for a court case, and Pratt continued his missionary efforts along with Henry Brown. Pratt and Brown then went to eastern New York to give his family members money to move to Kirtland.[6] They then went to Richland, New York, where Pratt convinced Wilford Woodruff, who had been baptized three months before, to join Zion's Camp.[7]

Pratt returned to Missouri later in 1834 as a member of Zion's Camp.[8] After Zion's Camp broke up, Pratt rejoined his wife Thankful who had remained in Clay County while he had gone to report on conditions to Joseph Smith. While working as a day laborer he served on the Missouri High Council. Thankful had run up large debts in Pratt's absence, and when he returned with her to Ohio some felt this was an attempt to flee his creditors and attacked him for it.[9] Pratt then settled in New Portage, Ohio where he was the leader of the group of Latter-day Saints there.[10]


In 1835 after his call as an apostle, Pratt served a mission along with the other apostles, to New York, New England and eastern Canada.[11]

Pratt served a mission to Upper Canada, in and around Toronto, in 1836. In 1837 and 1838 he served as a missionary in New York City.[8]

Pratt later served as a missionary in the southern United States, England, the Pacific islands, and to South America. He moved to Valparaíso, Chile, to begin missionary work there. In 1852, Pratt and his family left Chile after the death of their child Omner, without having had much success.

In addition to converting his brother, Orson Pratt, and Rigdon, Parley Pratt introduced the Mormon faith to several future Latter Day Saint leaders, including Frederick G. Williams, John Taylor and his wife Leonora, Isaac Morley, and Joseph Fielding and his sisters, Mary and Mercy.


In addition to serving as a missionary, Pratt entered the leadership of the early Latter Day Saint movement; he was one of the original Quorum of Twelve Apostles. While on a mission to the British Isles in 1839, Pratt edited the newly created periodical, The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star. While presiding over the church's branches and interests in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, Pratt published a periodical entitled The Prophet from his headquarters in New York City.[12]

Missouri War[edit]

After serving as a missionary in New York City, Pratt returned to Church headquarters in Missouri in 1838. He was arrested in November 1838 along with Joseph Smith and held in prison in Richmond and then Columbia until he escaped on July 4, 1839.[8]


Pratt was a noted religious writer and poet. Pratt's first printed work was "The Mormons" So Called, a fifty-five hundred word account of the persecution of Mormons in Jackson County in 1833.[13]

Pratt produced an autobiography, which is probably his work that is most widely read at present, although it was not published until after his death.[8] He published a book of poetry in 1835, the first collection of poems by a Latter Day Saint.[8] Some of his poems have become staple Latter Day Saint hymns, some of which are included in the current LDS Church hymnal. Many of Pratt's hymns were written in 1839 while he was heading to England to serve as a missionary.[8] He was involved in compiling a hymnal with 40 hymns of his own work while editor of the Millennial Star.

Pratt's writing of pamphlets picked up also in 1835 when he published a pamphlet about his missionary efforts in Mentor, Ohio.[8] This work entitled A Short Account of a Shameful Outrage was the first pamphlet ever published by a Mormon.[14]

One of Pratt's most influential works was a book entitled A Voice of Warning, first published in New York City in 1837.[8] Givens and Grow say of A Voice of Warning that it was "a work that served the church as its most powerful proselytizing tool- after the Book of Mormon- for more than a century."[15] Pratt made substantial revisions between the first and second editions after Joseph Smith voiced some reservations about it.[16] The second edition of A Voice of Warning was published in 1839.

In 1837 Pratt along with John Goodson was a publisher of the second edition of the Book of Mormon, which included Pratt's testimony along with that of the three and eight witnesses.[17]

Near the end of 1837, Pratt published Mormonism Unveiled: Zion's Watchman Unmasked, which is the earliest surviving response by a Mormon to an anti-Mormon writer.[8]

Pratt also wrote one of the earliest Mormon works of fiction. His "A Dialogue between Joseph Smith and the Devil", published on January 1, 1844, in the New York Herald. It was a religious treatise in fictional form.[18]

Pratt's greatest theological work was A Key to Science of Theology published in 1855.[8]

Other works by Pratt included Late Persecutions, Millennium and Other Poems, at least ten tracts published while editor of the Millennial Star and Proclamation to the People of the Coasts and Islands of the Pacific, written by Pratt in the summer of 1851 in San Francisco, California, and published by W. C. Wandell in Sydney, Australia.[8]

In total Pratt is know to have written 31 published works, not including his posthumous autobiography.[19] In 1979, Deseret Book reprinted Pratt's Key to Science of Theology and A Voice of Warning in a volume containing both works, though the publication lacked some of his original theories that had come to be rejected by Mormons.[20]

Journey to Utah[edit]

After the death of Joseph Smith, Pratt and his family were among the Latter Day Saints who emigrated to Utah Territory; they continued as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) under the direction of Brigham Young. Pratt helped establish the refugee settlements and fields at both Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah, Iowa. He personally led a pioneer company along the Mormon Trail to the Salt Lake Valley.

Life in Utah[edit]

In 1849 Pratt was appointed one of the justices of the Anticipated state of Deseret.[21] He later served in the legislature of the provisional state of Deseret from 1849–1985.[timeframe?][22] During this same time, as one of the seven members of the Quorum of the Twelve in Utah he was among those who oversaw the division of Salt Lake City into wards and the organization of other wards in Utah.[23]

Sometime in the mid-1850s, working with George D. Watt, he helped develop the Deseret alphabet. In 1854, Pratt went to California to preside over the Pacific Mission of the LDS Church headquartered in San Francisco.

In 1856 Pratt served as chaplain of the Utah Territorial Legislature.[24]

Death and legacy[edit]

Parley P. Pratt's grave

In 1856 Pratt went on a mission to the Eastern United States.

At the same time troubles were brewing due to the actions of Hector McLean. McLean was the estranged husband of one of Pratt's plural wives, Eleanor McLean. Pratt had met Eleanor McLean in San Francisco, where he presided over a church mission. In San Francisco, Eleanor had joined the LDS Church and had also had her oldest sons baptized. Hector rejected Mormonism and opposed his wife's membership in the church. The dispute over the church led to the collapse of their marriage.[25]

Fearing that Eleanor would abscond to Utah Territory with their children, Hector McLean sent his sons and daughter to New Orleans to live with their grandparents.[26] Eleanor followed the children to New Orleans, where she lived with them for three months at her parents' house. Eventually, she and the children left for Utah Territory; she arrived in Salt Lake City on September 11, 1855.[26] She worked in Pratt's home as a schoolteacher. On November 14, 1855, she and Pratt underwent a "celestial marriage" sealing ceremony in the Endowment House.[26] She was the twelfth woman to be sealed to Pratt. For religious and cultural reasons Eleanor McLean considered herself unmarried at the time of her sealing to Pratt, but she had not legally divorced from Hector.[27][28][29] At the time it was very common for couples to split up and not get legally divorced, especially if one moved several states away.[citation needed]

While Pratt was serving a mission in the eastern states, Eleanor went to New Orleans to get her children. Eleanor then took the children from her parents and headed to Texas.[30] This was at the same time that Pratt was serving as a missionary in New Jersey, Pennesylvania and Ohio. In response to Eleanor taking the children, Hector McLean decided to attack Pratt.[31]

Hector McLean pressed criminal charges, accusing Pratt of assisting in the kidnapping of his children.[32] Pratt managed to evade him and the legal charges, but was finally arrested in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in May 1857.[33] Pratt and Eleanor McLean were charged with theft of the clothing of McLean's children.[34] (The laws of that time did not recognize the kidnapping of children by a parent as a crime.) Tried before Judge John B. Ogden, Pratt was acquitted of the charges because of a lack of evidence.[34] Shortly after being secretly released, on May 13, 1857, Pratt was shot and stabbed by Hector McLean on a farm northeast of Van Buren, Arkansas.[34] He died two and a half hours later from loss of blood.[34]

As Pratt was bleeding to death, a farmer asked what he had done to provoke the attack. Pratt said, "He accused me of taking his wife and children. I did not do it. They were oppressed, and I did for them what I would do for the oppressed any where."[34] Pratt was buried near Alma, Arkansas, despite his personal desire to be buried in Utah Territory.

Some writers have viewed Pratt's death as the act of a jealous husband, deeply angered by a man who had "run off" with his wife.[35] A 2008 Provo Daily Herald newspaper article characterized McLean as a man who had "hunted down" Pratt in retribution for "ruining his marriage".[36] A 2008 Deseret News article described McLean as a man who had "pursued Pratt across Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, angry that his estranged wife, Eleanor, had become Pratt's 12th wife."[37]

Many Mormons viewed Pratt's death as a martyrdom, as expressed in what were said to be his dying words.[38][39] Many today characterize his death as religious martyrdom. For example, a 2007 article in the Deseret Morning News stated that "Pratt was killed near Van Buren, Ark., in May 1857, by a small Arkansas band antagonistic toward his teachings".[40] The historian Will Bagley reports that McLean and two friends tracked Pratt after he was released by Van Buren's magistrate.[41] Brigham Young compared Pratt's death with those of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.[42] Other Mormons blamed the death on the state of Arkansas, or its people.[43]

Due to Pratt's personal popularity and his position in the Quorum of the Twelve, his murder was a significant blow to the Latter-day Saint community in the Rocky Mountains.[44] Pratt's violent death may also have played a part in events leading up to the Mountain Meadows massacre a few months later.[45] Mormons killed 120 people from the Baker–Fancher party who were traveling to Southern California along the Mormon Road (a portion of the Old Spanish Trail). After the massacre, some Mormons circulated rumors that one or more members of the party had murdered Pratt,[46] poisoned creek water that subsequently sickened Paiute children,[47] and allowed their cattle to graze on private property.[48]

In 2008, Pratt's family received permission from an Arkansas judge to rebury his remains in the Salt Lake City Cemetery,[49] but no human remains were found at what was believed his gravesite.[50] No further search efforts for Pratt's burial site have been planned.[51]


Pratt practiced plural marriage and had 12 wives, 30 children, and 266 grandchildren. In 2011, Pratt's living descendants were estimated to number 30–50,000.[52] His first wife, Thankful Halsey Pratt, died following childbirth in March 1837. Thankful was a widow ten years older than Pratt.

On May 14, 1837 Pratt married his second wife, Mary Ann Frost Sterns, a widow with a daughter. The marriage was performed by Frederick G. Williams.[53] Mary Ann was a native of Maine whose first relative to join the church was Patty Bartlett Sessions, later a prominent midwife in Utah. Mary Ann was baptized by David W. Patten. She had come to Kirtland as a widow in 1836.[54] Joseph Smith later condemned Latter Day Saints for "marrying in five or six weeks, or even in two or three months, after the death of their companion."[53] Pratt may have married Mary Ann so quickly to get back his infant son, although he remained in the care of Mary Ann Young for nearly a year after Pratt remarried.[53] Mary Ann and Pratt at times demonstrated a deep companionship in their marriage, most fully shown by her joining her husband in prison in Missouri.[55] After Pratt began practicing plural marriage, they became estranged. Pratt suggested his falling out with Mary Ann was "stung by falsehoods which are circulated in the Church".[56] Pratt made several attempt to get Mary Ann to join him in traveling west in 1846 and 1847, but after spending the winter of 1846–47 in an abandoned Nauvoo, she chose to return to Maine. Pratt provided her with clothes and money upon her return to Maine. She received some of the proceeds from the sale of Pratt's home to a Roman Catholic priest; his Nauvoo home is to this day used as a residence for Catholic priests.[55] In 1852 Mary Ann came to Utah Territory, but she and Pratt did not see eye to eye on how to raise their children. Mary Ann received a divorce decree issued by Brigham Young in 1853.[57] Mary Ann then settled in what is now Pleasant Grove, Utah. Mary Ann would work as a midwife, remain in the LDS Church and be a leading advocate for Mormon women against the attacks of those opposed to polygamy.[58]

In the fall of 1853 Pratt had seven living wives. Elizabeth, Mary Wood, Hannahette, Belinda, Sarah, Phoebe and Agatha. These wives were:

Other wives of Pratt:

Pratt's constant missions left him little time with his family. The longest period after he started practicing polygamy that he was able to remain with his family were the 18 months following his return from serving a mission to Chile.[61]

According to the authors Terry L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, Pratt's "highest happiness was to be surrounded by a teeming domestic world of multiple wives and offspring",[20] though they also noted that he had an “antisocial bent".[62]

One of Pratt's grandsons, William King Driggs, was the father of the King Sisters.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor (2003–2007) and the 2012 Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency is one of Pratt's great-great-grandsons.[63]

One of Pratt's great-great-great-grandsons is Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and Ambassador to China, and an unsuccessful candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.[64]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reitwiesner, William Addams. "The Ancestors of Mitt Romney". William Addams Reitwiesner Genealogical Services ( Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  2. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 59–60.
  3. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 61–63.
  4. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 65.
  5. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 66–67.
  6. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 67.
  7. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 68.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Crawley, "Parley P. Pratt", in Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan (eds) Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000) pp. 941–42.
  9. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 70–71.
  10. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 71.
  11. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 77–80.
  12. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 172.
  13. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 64.
  14. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 74–75.
  15. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 90.
  16. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 167.
  17. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 90–91.
  18. ^ Richard H. Cracroft and Neal E. Lambert (eds), A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1974) pp. 331, 333
  19. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 398–400.
  20. ^ a b Givens & Grow 2011, p. 396.
  21. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 275–76.
  22. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 276–77.
  23. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 277.
  24. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 367.
  25. ^ Bagley 2002, p. 8.
  26. ^ a b c Bagley 2002, p. 9.
  27. ^ Millennial Star 19:432.
  28. ^ New York World, 23 November 1869, p. 2
  29. ^ Pratt 1975, pp. 6, 9, 24.
  30. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 373.
  31. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 372–73.
  32. ^ Pratt 1975, p. 241
  33. ^ Bagley 2002, p. 69.
  34. ^ a b c d e Bagley 2002, p. 70.
  35. ^ Capurro, Wayne Atilio (2007). White Flag: America's First 9/11. AuthorHouse. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-4259-9565-2. OCLC 169899686. 
  36. ^ "No remains found in dig for Parley P. Pratt". Daily Herald (Utah). 23 April 2008. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  37. ^ Smith, Robert J. (4 April 2008). "Relatives get OK to disinter, move Parley P. Pratt". Deseret News. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  38. ^ Pratt 1975, p. 248 ("I am dying a martyr to the faith").
  39. ^ John A. Peel, "Dying Remarks of Parley P. Pratt," Church Archives. "Peel was in Van Buren at the time of the murder, but his statement was not taken down by Frank Poneroy until 1895."
  40. ^ Moore, Carrie A. (14 April 2007). "LDS-tied events to bisect in Arkansas". Deseret Morning News. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  41. ^ Bagley 2002, p. 70.
  42. ^ "Reminiscences of Mrs. A. Agatha Pratt", January 7, F564, #16, LDS Church Archives (stating that Young said, "Nothing has happened so hard to reconcile my mind to since the death of Joseph.").
  43. ^ Brooks 1950, pp. 36–37; Linn 1902, pp. 519–20 ("It was in accordance with Mormon policy to hold every Arkansan accountable for Pratt's death, just as every Missourian was hated because of the expulsion of the church from that state.").
  44. ^ Church leaders learned about the death on June 23, 1857 (Wilford Woodruff Journal). The murder was first reported in the Deseret News on July 1, 1857.
  45. ^ Bagley 2002.
  46. ^ Bagley 2002, p. 98 (identification by the widow Pratt).
  47. ^ Bagley 2002, pp. 105–10.
  48. ^ Bagley 2002, p. 102.
  49. ^ "Ark. judge: Remains of early LDS leader can be moved to Utah". KSL-TV (AP). 3 April 2008. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  50. ^ "No remains found in dig for Parley P. Pratt". Daily Herald (AP). 23 April 2008. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  51. ^ "Search for Parley Pratt's remains yields nothing but Arkansas clay". The Salt Lake Tribune (AP). 25 April 2008. Article archive ID: 9050460. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  52. ^ Givens 2011, p. 342.
  53. ^ a b c Givens & Grow 2011, p. 95.
  54. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 94.
  55. ^ a b Givens & Grow 2011, p. 318.
  56. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 317.
  57. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 317–18.
  58. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 318–19.
  59. ^ a b Givens & Grow 2011, p. 323.
  60. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, pp. 277–78.
  61. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 316
  62. ^ Givens & Grow 2011, p. 237.
  63. ^ Romney is descended from Helaman Pratt, a son of Pratt's fourth wife, Mary Wood (Glasgow, 18 June 1818 – Salt Lake City, Utah, 5 March 1898). She was the daughter of Samuel Wood (baptized Dumfries, 8 July 1798) and wife (m. Mungo, Dumfriesshire, 18 July 1816) Margaret Orr (baptized Inverchaolin, Argyllshire, 15 August 1793 – 1852.)Dobner, Jennifer; Johnson, Glen (25 February 2007). "Polygamy was prominent in Romney's family tree". Deseret News (AP). Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  64. ^ Dobner, Jennifer (June 23, 2011). "Romney, Huntsman compete in Mormon primary". Associated Press. 
  65. ^ The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, chapter 32, pp. 274–89
  66. ^ Israelson, Craig (17 July 1999). "Freedom run commemorates Parley P. Pratt's escape from jail". Church News. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  67. ^ Stroup, Megan (6 July 2010). "Parley P. Pratt memorial run". Columbia Missourian. 


External links[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
William E. M'Lellin
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
February 21, 1835 – May 13, 1857
Succeeded by
Luke S. Johnson