Life and Labors of Orson Pratt

Ancestry and Genealogy

A few centuries ago, when the old world groaned under the hand of tyranny and oppression, when persecution raged against those who desired to be the humble followers of Christ, the great western refuge of the New World was discovered; to which a few hardy, brave pioneers sailed and commenced the colonization of New England. Among these humble pilgrim fathers were William Pratt, the ancestor of Orson Pratt, and his older brother John. In February, 1639, these two brothers received a portion of land, in the first distribution made to the colonists, located at Hartford, Connecticut. This colony was founded in June, 1636, which was a little less than three years before they drew their portion of land. It is supposed that they accompanied the Rev. Thomas Hooker and his congregation, about one hundred in number, from Newtown, now called Cambridge, Massachusetts, through a dense wilderness, inhabited only by savages and wild beasts, and became the first settlers of Hartford. The ancient records at Newtown show that John Pratt owned land in that town. This is the first reliable information concerning them, though it is believed, on circumstantial and probable evidence that these two brothers—John and William Pratt, were the two sons of the Rev. William Pratt, of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England, as the names of John and William appear in a Latin inscription on his monument, against the north wall of the church dedicated to St. Nicholas, in Stevenage, from which the following translation is taken:

"Here lies William Pratt, Bachelor of Sacred Theology, and most illustrious rector of this church during thirty years. He had three sons, John, William and Richard, and the same number of daughters, Sarah, Mary and Elizabeth, by his renowned wife, Elizabeth. At length the course of his life being run, and his age becoming burdensome, he emigrated to the celestial country in the year of salvation, 1629, aged 67."

John and William are not recognized in their father’s will, and for the probable reason that they had left for America, or signified their intention of leaving, and had received their portion, as they were at the right age to be the settlers of that name in this country.

Rev. William Pratt of Stevenage, the supposed father of John and William Pratt of Hartford, Connecticut, was the son of Andrew Pratt, who was the son of Thomas and Joan Pratt, who resided at Baldock, Hertfordshire, England, (also Simon Pratt of London, brother of Thomas) about the time of the discovery of America by Columbus.

Having thus traced the line of ancestry of Orson Pratt, Sen., some four generations, from the time the two brothers, John and William, emigrated to America, and appeared among the first band of adventurers who settled Hartford, Connecticut, one of the oldest if not the very oldest town in the State, it may not be deemed entirely irrelevant to speak of the causes which led to the settlement, and the character of those who laid the foundations of society, and planted in the wilderness, the germ of those civil and religious institutions, whose benign influence has made New England what it is, the cradle of liberty and the pride and glory of all Protestant lands.

It was the desire to enjoy a more simple and unostentatious mode of worship, than that which was required by the majority of the English Church, which caused the settlement of New England. Forbidden to serve God in a manner which they regarded in the highest degree subservient to their spiritual welfare, the Puritans left their native land and sought for themselves a home where they might worship God, "under their own vine and fig tree," with none to molest them or make them afraid. It was not until every expedient for the reformation of the church in their own country had failed, that they resolved on a removal. They loved their native land, and it was with the deepest regret that they bade a final farewell to the homes of their childhood, to encounter the perils of the ocean, and expose themselves to unseen dangers, in the midst of a waste, howling wilderness.

Actuated, like the ancient patriarch, by what they deemed, no less than he, the will of God, they left their own land and went out, not knowing whither. All of the circumstances attending their emigration to this western world, unequivocally demonstrate that the undertaking, from first to last, was inspired by strong religious principle. It was that unwavering steady faith in God, which was "the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen," that sustained the little persecuted remnant, that fled over the stormy wave to a land of religious tolerance; while their less favored brethren, unable to make their escape, were surrounded by the emissaries of ecclesiastical domination. It was the same divine principle that bound the exiled flock together in holy love, in a land of strangers, and kept them in the midst of foreign customs and habits, a distinct and separate people; and it was the same precious faith that led them to look beyond themselves and their own generation, that their children after them might remain the same peculiar people. It was faith that led them to bid adieu to the comforts and refinements of civilized life in the old world, and to seek their future abode beyond the waste of waters, in a land uncleared, untilled, and unpeopled by civilized man. We have every reason to believe that in this momentous enterprise they took no step without their eye fixed on God for light, guidance and direction. In their congregations, besides their private duties of devotion, they observed special seasons of fasting and prayer, in which they unitedly laid their cause before Him, from whom all good counsels and holy desires proceed. On these occasions their beloved pastor, previous to their embarkation, addressed them from the word of God and strengthened their faith. Soon after the congregation, of which Robinson was the pastor, led the way, other bands from different parts of England embarked for this land of promise, bringing their pastors with them.

It was in 1630 that the Rev. Thomas Hooker, whom Cotton Mather styled, "The Light of the Western Churches," a distinguished divine and influential preacher at Chelmsford, in the county of Essex, was silenced for non-conformity, after four years’ exercise of the ministry in that place. In order to escape the fines and imprisonments, he fled into Holland. Forty-seven ministers of his vicinity, after he was ejected from the Chelmsford pulpit, petitioned the Bishop of London in his favor, and while they were conformists, they esteemed him, and knew him "to be, for doctrine, orthodox; for life and conversation, honest; for disposition, peaceable and nowise turbulent or factious." But being a non-conformist, no personal or acquired excellencies, nor testimonies of his good conduct, nor solicitations of his friends, could save him from prosecution and deposition. Such had been his popularity that not only the people of Chelmsford, but others from all parts of the county of Essex came to hear him. The Earl of Warwick, though he resided at a great distance, was a frequent attendant upon his ministry. Great numbers of those who flocked to hear him, were savingly benefited by his instructions. When, therefore, he was driven from them, they turned their eyes to New England, hoping that when they should form a settlement there, he would be induced to become their spiritual guide. Accordingly, in 1632, a large body of them came over and settled at Newtown, Massachusetts.

Mr. Hooker, near the close of a little more than a two years’ residence in Holland, "understanding that many of his friends in Essex were on the wing for a wilderness in America, where they hoped for an opportunity to enjoy and practice the pure worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, in churches gathered according to his direction, readily answered their invitation to accompany them in their undertaking."

He, therefore, left Holland, embarked for the New World in the Griffin, a ship of three hundred tons, and arrived at Boston, September 4th, 1633. Soon after his arrival in Boston he proceeded to Newtown, where, finding himself in the midst of a joyful and affectionate people, he was overwhelmed with gratitude, and embracing them with open arms, exclaimed: in the language of the Apostle: "Now I live, if ye stand fast in the Lord." These were the company who afterward settled Hartford, to which William Pratt and his brother John are supposed to have belonged.

Mr. Hooker was chosen pastor of the church soon after his arrival at Newtown, and Mr. Stone their teacher. On the 11th of October, 1633, the church was gathered, and after solemn fasting and prayer, the pastor and teacher were ordained to their respective offices. But Mr. Hooker and his congregation were not satisfied with Newtown as a place of residence. So many emigrants had arrived that they began to be straightened for lands, and from representations which had been made in regard to the lands on Connecticut River, they resolved on a removal. Accordingly, about the beginning of June, 1636, not quite three years after the organization of their church, "Mr. Hooker, Mr. Stone and about an hundred men, women and children, took their departure from Cambridge, and traveled more than a hundred miles, through a hideous, trackless wilderness, to Hartford. They had no guide but their compass, and made their way over mountains, through swamps, thickets and rivers which were not passable but with great difficulty. They had no cover but the heavens, nor any lodgings but those which simple nature afforded them. They drove with them a hundred and sixty head of cattle, and by the way subsisted on the milk of their cows. Mrs. Hooker, (being in feeble state) was borne through the wilderness upon a litter. The people generally carried their packs, arms, and cooking utensils, being nearly a fortnight upon their journey." These were the men who founded Hartford, and such were the circumstances under which they began the settlement. They were men of sound hearts, firm and fixed resolution, and persevering effort. Their faith in God never wavered. They kept constantly in view the grand design of their coming to this wilderness. Their notions of religious liberty were far from being mere speculations. Their views were intelligent and rational. Their purposes were strong; their aims high; their principles were not to be shaken by any temporal consideration; their consciences were not to be swayed by flatteries or frowns. They were determined to obey God rather than man. They never lost sight of their main object, to worship God according to his word, without the dictation of man, and to train up their families in the way they should go. To carry out their designs, they brought with them their pastor, and among the first of their acts were those which made provision for the support of Christian institutions, and of universal education. They had faith in the instructions of the Great Teacher, and were resolved to obey them; to deny themselves and seek first the Kingdom of God. The fire never went out on their family altars. From their dwellings the morning and evening incense never ceased to ascend an acceptable offering to Jehovah. They followed the example of faithful Abraham, not only in leaving their native country, but in commanding their households to keep the way of the Lord; and their precepts were enforced, as were his, by their own pious example. The Sabbath was a day of rest from worldly cares and labors, and from amusements and sports which they left their native country to avoid. It was their great concern to imbue the minds of their children with sound religious instruction, and to hand down to succeeding generations those Christian principles and virtues, which sustained them in all their trials and persecutions, and rendered them cheerful and happy amidst all their hardships and sufferings. Such were the men who were the early settlers of Connecticut. Similar to them were those who settled other portions of New England. From such men none need be ashamed to have derived their origin. The pride of ancestry, so far as it relates to birth and wealth and honor, is not, perhaps, justifiable. It is of little consequence whether we are descended from a prince or a peasant; whether royal blood flows in our veins, or our origin is humble and obscure. But it is surely of no trifling importance to be descended from pious ancestors; for in addition to the divine promise, that the blessing of the father shall descend upon the children, we may rationally expect much from the prayers, instructions and examples of godly progenitors. The compiler of this work is happy to bear his testimony to the fact, that, with few exceptions, the descendants of that one of the first settlers of Connecticut, so far as his history and that of his numerous progeny is written, have been men of industrious habits. A goodly number of them have honored the learned professions, and left behind them monuments of their perseverance, their industry, and their devotion to the present and future happiness of their race. Among them all stands prominent and honored the late Apostle Orson Pratt.

His ancestor, William Pratt of Hartford, and of the fourth generation so far as his ancestry is now known, was a member of the Connecticut Legislature some twenty-five or thirty sessions: and the General Court gave him one hundred acres of land in Saybrook, Connecticut, for service performed as Lieutenant in the Pequot war. He was one of the judges of the First Court in New London County. He married Elizabeth Clark, daughter of John Clark, of Milford, Connecticut, (who was formerly of High or Great Munden, Hertfordshire, England) by whom he had eight children. The third child, Joseph, of the fifth generation, was born August 1st 1648, at Saybrook, Connecticut, married a wife, name unknown, by whom he had five children. Among them was William Pratt the second son, whom we shall call of the sixth generation. He married Hannah Hough, October 8th, 1700, by whom he had six children, of the seventh generation. Among these was Christopher, the fourth child, born November 4th, 1712, who married Sarah Pratt, June 14th, 1739, by whom he had six children, of the eighth generation. Obadiah Pratt, being the second son among their number, was born September or October 14th, 1742, at Saybrook, Connecticut. He married Jemima Tolls, daughter of Ebenezer Tolls, by whom he had eleven children, of the ninth generation. Among their number was Jared Pratt, their first child, born November 25th, 1769, in Canaan, Columbia County, New York. He married Polly Carpenter, daughter of Samuel Carpenter, of New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York, by whom he had one child. His wife having died, he married Charity Dickinson, July 7th, 1799. She was the daughter of Samuel and Huldah Dickinson, of Bolton, Warren County, New York, and Samuel was the son of Christopher and Mary Dickinson. Charity was born February 24th, 1776. Jared Pratt had five children by her. The following are the names of his six children, of the tenth generation:

1. Mary Pratt, born February, 1793. 2. Anson, born January 9th, 1801. 3. Wm. D. born September 3rd, 1802, at Wooster, Otsego County, N. Y. 4. Parley Parker, born April 12th, 1807, at Burlington, Otsego County, N. Y. 5. Orson, born September 19th, 1811, at Hartford, Washington County, N. Y. 6. Nelson, born May 26th, 1815, at Hartford, Washington County, N. Y.

Jared Pratt, of the ninth generation, died November 5th, 1839, and was buried some three or four miles north or north-east from Detroit, in Michigan. Charity, his wife, died of cholera, in the town of St. Joseph, Missouri, May 20th, 1849, and was buried in the graveyard of that town, and a tombstone erected to her memory. Her oldest son Anson Pratt, died of cholera, May 26th, 1849, and was buried by her side, and a tombstone also erected to his memory. William D. Pratt died September 15th, 1870, at Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, aged sixty-eight years. Parley Parker Pratt was assassinated by a mob near Van Buren, Arkansas, May 13th, 1857, aged fifty years.

Nelson Pratt died at the home of his son Edwin D. Pratt, of Norwich, Huron County, Ohio, May 8th, 1889, aged seventy-three years eleven months and twelve days. He was the last of a family of six children, four brothers and one sister having preceded him.

To rejoice in the happiness of others is to make it our own; to produce it is to make it more than our own.

[The Contributor, Nov. 1890]

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