The Pratt Family in England
by Robert J. Grow
President, Jared Pratt Family Association
The Pratt family has a rich history in England, dating back to the 14th century. As the process of assigning names developed, people were often named for where they worked or what they did. The name “Pratt” comes from the word that means “meadow.” So, John Pratt would be John “of the meadow” or John “from the meadow.” Earlier forms of the Pratt name are spelled ending with an “e,” or with one “t” or as “Pratellis,” with an ellis on the end. The first time we find the name Pratt in England is about 400 years before our 14th century ancestors.
In 1864, Rev. William Chapman published a book about the Pratt family, with a wonderful introduction which I believe was written, at least in part, by Orson Pratt. In that introduction, Orson writes of the research that he did about the family while serving as a missionary in England. For example, there were Pratts who were Knights of the Temple, or “Templars”, who were crusaders that kept the way to the Holy Land open for pilgrims who went to Jerusalem in the 11th and 12th centuries. In addition, there are great battles from the 10th and 11th centuries, in which Pratts were leaders.
One of our first documented ancestors in England is William Pratt, who we also call the “Reverend” William Pratt. He was born in Baldock, a small country town in England, in 1562.
William Pratt lived in interesting times. In the early 1600s, there was a religious movement in England to reform the Anglican Church back to its original, simpler and Christian roots. These people who wanted to “purify” the Church were called the “Puritans”. Many of them were persecuted, some were killed and tortured, while others were silenced, and fled to the new land of America, which they believed to be their new “Zion.”
Rev. William Pratt was a Puritan, and two of his three sons, Lt. William Pratt and John Pratt sought out a new home on this continent with many other English Puritans. Rev. William Chapman and Orson Pratt, in the introduction to their book about the early Pratts, looked back seven generations to these first American Pratt ancestors, who were the roots from which they sprang. This is what they said about them:
“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.”
I was surprised to learn about the tremendous esteem and respect that our early pioneer ancestors had for these even earlier English Puritans, many of whom stayed in England and others who came to America, that as Nephi said, were wrought upon by the Spirit of the Lord and were brought forth out of captivity to lay the foundation for this nation. Jared Pratt and his five sons revered these early colonists and their courage in settling America, even as we today hold in honor those who laid the foundation of the restoration and their courage in seeking to secure their own right to worship God.
Reverend William Pratt was born in Baldock, was trained at Cambridge University, and settled in Stevenage, England where he was the parish priest for thirty years.
Today, Baldock is still a relatively small English town. In Baldock, you find St. Mary’s Church where Rev. William Pratt attended as a child as he grew up. This beautiful church is made out of flint, and may date back to the 1200s.
The inside of St. Mary’s Church is probably much the same today as it was when Rev. William Pratt attended there as a boy. In the church is a very old baptismal font where William was likely baptized as a child.
Behind and surrounding St. Mary’s Church is a cemetery. Although many headstones have survived, none date back to the period of our ancestor William. Some of the graves are well-preserved, with not only a headstone, but also an outline in stone and a footstone at the end.
Unfortunately, because most of the early headstones have not survived, we don’t know where William’s parents would have been buried.
As a young man, Rev. William Pratt went to Cambridge University. Cambridge was then the center of education in all of England and the most prestigious of all the houses of learning. At Cambridge, there were many colleges that all offered essentially the same courses, but each college emphasized one or more fields of learning. William Pratt attended Emmanuel College, which was the hotbed of the Puritan revolution. And it is no doubt the case that William became a Puritan and joined those working to reform the Anglican Church, seeking to recapture the beliefs and ordinances of an earlier, purer form of Christianity.
Unlike the little country churches where Rev. William grew up and later served for many years, the Cambridge where Rev. William Pratt came as a student was a place of impressive architecture and serious scholarship. Rev. William Pratt commenced his education at Cambridge at the lowest of three levels of students. If you came in at this lowest level, it meant your family was poor and you had to work your way through Cambridge, serving the students who were sons of the royalty. So, Rev. William Pratt not only went to school here, but also worked here for almost a decade, as he received his bachelor’s degree, his master’s degree, and became a Fellow at Cambridge.
Try to imagine young Rev. William in one of these spectacular churches studying in his long black flowing robes at Cambridge University.
After Rev. William Pratt left Cambridge, he had two brief appointments as a priest in other places. Then he settled in Stevenage, a few miles from Baldock, with his wife Elizabeth. There Elizabeth bore six children, who they raised together as he served the people. Stevenage was a small town in the early 1600s, with probably five hundred to a few thousand people.
On the outskirts of Stevenage is St. Nicholas’ Church where Rev. William Pratt was the priest or rector for thirty years. It’s a beautiful church, set in the beautiful English countryside. It was in fact built in sections, with an ancient Norman tower or fortress built in the 1100s to protect the town.
Inside the nearly 1000 year old tower are what may be original stairs that go up to a second level bell tower. A rope hangs down from the bell tower into the center of the main floor much as it would have done 400 years ago. What do you think one of your jobs was if you were the son of the rector of the church? Probably to ring the bells of the church. Can you imagine Rev. William Pratt’s young sons, William, John and Richard, wreaking noisy havoc on the town by swinging on the bell rope.
St. Nicolas is surrounded by a vast cemetery. The headstones that remain today are also not old enough to be those of our ancestors, though Rev. William Pratt, his wife Elizabeth and some of their children are certainly buried here.
Inside the church on one wall is a plaque which lists the names of all the rectors, starting in the 1200s, down to the present. Rev. William Pratt is right in the middle, as he served from December 1598 to 1629. He was obviously very beloved by his people. Off all of the good men listed there, he is the only one with a special plaque situated near the altar of the church. The plaque is in Latin, and is essentially translated as:
“In the hope of a resurrection:
Here lies William Pratt, Bachelor of sacred theology and most experienced rector of his church for thirty years. He had three sons, John, William, and Richard and just as many daughters, Sarah, Mary, and Elizabeth from his most dear wife, Elizabeth.
Finally, with the course of his life having run and having already grown old to the age of 67, he has departed to his Heavenly Father in the year 1629.
His most beloved wife, Elizabeth, has erected this memorial as an eternal witness of love and grief. Soon thereafter, she also fell asleep peacefully in Christ.”
When the Chapman book was published in 1864 about our American Pratt family, including Lt. William Pratt’s descendants, a significant issue was raised concerning whether John and William Pratt who helped settle Connecticut were John and William Pratt, sons of Rev. William Pratt of Stevenage, England. The issue centered around the fact that John’s birth date in the parish record was shown as 1620. There was no record or birth date for William in the parish record available in the 1860’s when the research was done, but it was assumed, since he was listed second to John on the plaque in the Church, that he was younger. Researchers, therefore, estimated 1622 for his birth. Yet John and William Pratt were prominent citizens in Connecticut in 1636 when William would have been only 14 years old—a fact that caused most researchers to assume that the John and William of Stevenage, England were not the John and William of early Connecticut.
On our trip to England in 1992 with my wife Linda, while visiting St. Mary’s church in Baldock, we met a wonderful woman, who led us around and helped us research the Pratt ancestors for an entire day. Initially, she gave us directions to a different Stevenage church but after we left St. Mary’s she had a feeling we were headed the wrong direction. She tracked us down on the streets of Baldock to tell us, and then drove us to Stevenage and to the Hartford County records office. We saw the original parish record and realized it had been badly damaged by fire and the pages had been accidentally rebound out of order. When we examined the back of the page on which John’s birth was listed, we found the year 1606 even though the surrounding pages were more than 10 years later. We began to match the dates correctly and we found that John had in fact been born much earlier than before believed.
Unfortunately, we could not locate William’s birth date in the parish record because the years after John’s birth had been destroyed. However, the archivist suggested we look at the Bishop’s Record, an official church record that was not available to Orson and other missionaries in the 1800s. A few moments later, she emerged from the archives with beautiful original handwritten sheets which Rev. William Pratt had penned and signed each year and sent to the Bishop, listing all the parish baptisms. On those records, we found William Pratt, son of William Pratt, baptized in June, 1609. Now we knew that these two boys were really our Connecticut ancestors.
John and William Pratt also grew up amidst the Puritan Revolution and became attached to a famous Puritan teacher named Thomas Hooker, who also came from Cambridge and was like a friend of their fathers. Hooker was driven from his pulpit, despite the fact that forty other ministers wrote to the Bishop requesting that he be allowed to teach. Soon, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and Thomas Hooker fled to Holland. While he was there, his followers decided to come to American and asked him to meet them in Boston.
We do not know what ship John and William Pratt came on, though it was probably the “Griffin”, which made numerous voyages bringing Puritans to America. The “Griffin” weighed thirty tons, and was perhaps only 50 feet in length, not very big for 150 passengers. It is likely they sailed the ocean in that ship and that some of the passengers died at sea. Rev. William Pratt, the longest serving rector of Stevenage Parrish died in 1629, a few years before his sons sailed for America, after a lifetime of service to God and his children. His two sons, John and our ancestor William, followed their hearts and religious convictions to the new land of America only a few years after the Pilgrims. These were indeed adventurers who were willing to leave behind their country, their home and their family, to start over in their “new Zion.”
Earlier I referred to the 1864 book about our early American ancestors who settled in Connecticut. In closing, let me read a description of these early settlers:
“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 upon their family altars. 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 and women of the Pratt family, who helped settle this land of America, four hundred years ago, with energy and faith. So also were the men and women of our family who, two centuries later, helped lay the great foundation of the Restoration of the Gospel. May we remember them and also keep the flame of faith burning on our family altars in our generation as they did in theirs.