Parley P. Pratt

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(This is an excerpt from the book Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion by Dennis Largey.)

Birth: 12 April 1807, Burlington, Otsego County, New York

Death: 13 May 1857, near Van Buren, Van Buren County, Arkansas

While preaching his Christian faith in western New York, Parley P. Pratt visited an aged Baptist deacon who told him of a new book. The next day he read the book—the Book of Mormon. Pratt wrote: “I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. . . . I esteemed the Book, or the information contained in it, more than all the riches of the world” (2, 20, 22).

Pratt was baptized on 1 September 1830 by Oliver Cowdery and ordained an elder shortly thereafter. He immediately began to preach and converted his brother Orson Pratt (34, headnote). After his call to be a missionary to the Lamanites (32:1–2), he journeyed to Buffalo and from there to Ohio, and on to Independence, Missouri. Pratt was then called to preach to the Shakers in North Union, Ohio (49:1), to strengthen Church members in Ohio (50:37), and again to preach in Missouri (52:26). In August 1833 Pratt was called to “preside over the school in the land of Zion” and promised “a multiplicity of blessings, in expounding all scriptures and mysteries to the edification of the school, and of the church in Zion” (97:4–5). He became a recruiting officer for Zion’s Camp in February 1834 (103:30).

On 21 February 1835 Pratt was ordained an apostle (Smith, 2:187; cf. 124:129). After his ordination, he served missions successively in Pennsylvania, New England, Canada, and New York. These missions, along with his missionary labors previous to his call as an apostle, yielded a great harvest of souls that subsequently provided much leadership to the Church.

Of particular interest is Elder Pratt’s mission to Canada and his fulfillment of prophecy there. In early 1836, Heber C. Kimball had given Pratt a blessing in which he was promised: “Thou shalt go . . . to the city of Toronto, . . . and there thou shalt find a people prepared for the fulness of the gospel, . . . and from the things growing out of this mission, shall the fulness of the gospel spread into England, and cause a great work to be done in that land” (Pratt, 110). Among those Pratt taught in Canada were John Taylor (third president of the Church) and Mary Fielding (mother of the sixth president of the Church). The converts he taught in Canada also provided necessary contacts in England, along with some of the first missionaries, to fulfill Kimball’s prophecy there.

During his mission to New York, Pratt wrote A Voice of Warning, perhaps the most influential missionary tract aside from the Book of Mormon. First published in 1837, by the end of the century it was reprinted in more than thirty English editions and in seven additional languages (Givens and Grow, 119).

Pratt left New York to settle in Missouri in April, 1838. Tensions had escalated there, and in November, he was arrested and imprisoned in Independence, Richmond, and Columbia jails before escaping eight months later to freedom in Illinois.

Pratt served a mission to Great Britain with other members of the Twelve from 1839 to 1841 and then served as president of the British Mission from 1841 to 1842. While there he was founding editor and publisher of the Millennial Star. With Brigham Young, he oversaw the publishing of a British edition of the Book of Mormon and a hymnal emphasizing themes of the Restoration, thus setting the standard for LDS hymnbooks that would follow. Pratt’s “The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee,” originally published in the Star, opened the hymnal that included fifty of his hymns. He eventually became “the most prolific Mormon writer of his age, as editor, pamphleteer, essayist, historian, hymnist, and theologian” (Givens and Grow, 114). Pratt’s missionary and publishing labors did not end with his return to Nauvoo. He was on a mission to the eastern states when he was “constrained by the Spirit to start prematurely for home” (Pratt, 292). While en route, he learned of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

Under the leadership of Brigham Young, Pratt continued his missionary work in the United States and the Pacific Islands and became the first LDS missionary to South America.

Shortly before leaving on another mission, on 7 September 1856 he wrote in his journal, “I preached my farewell discourse in the Tabernacle, in which I bore testimony to the Book of Mormon and of the calling of Joseph Smith, and of his Presidency and Apostleship” (400). Taking leave of family and friends, he journeyed to New York City, Philadelphia, and other areas. Near Van Buren, Arkansas, fiftyyear- old Parley P. Pratt was murdered by an anti-Mormon antagonist. An observer recalled his dying words: “‘I die,’ said he, ‘a firm believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I wish you to carry this my dying testimony. I know that the Gospel is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Living God’ and then added, ‘I am dying a martyr to the faith’” (Givens and Grow, 383).

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