Orson Pratt in Nauvoo

By Rick J. Fish

Prepared under the direction of Robert Grow,
President of the Jared Pratt Family Association

May 1993



Jan. 1, Brigham Young, Parley, and John Taylor attended a conference in Liverpool.  The DHC also notes that Orson was in Edinburgh at this time.52

Feb. 3, The Nauvoo City Council created the University of the City of Nauvoo.53  Orson will be teaching courses as early as August 1841.

Feb. 27, Orson is listed as a member of the Nauvoo agricultural and Manufacturing Asso.54

Mar. 30, Orson leaves Edinburgh for the upcoming conference in Manchester.55

Apr. 2-7, The Council of the Twelve assembled in Manchester, in the Carpenter’s Hall.  Nine members of the Quorum were present including Parley and Orson Pratt.  All of the members of this Quorum decided to conclude their missions and return to Nauvoo except for Parley.  He thought he should remain in England so the publishing and printing work could continue.56  It was also resolved that the day appointed to leave Liverpool for America would be the 17th day of April.57

Apr. 11, Parley and Orson both preach on this day in Manchester.58

Apr. 15, Parley and Orson were among the nine members of the Twelve who sign an epistle to the saints in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Isle of Man.59  Following this letter, several members of the Twelve, including Orson, left Manchester, and journey to Liverpool.60

Apr. 16, Orson writes to Parley in Manchester.  He informs his brother that on March 30, he left George D. Watt in charge of upwards of 200 members in Edinburgh.61

Apr. 18, The Twelve met with the saints in Liverpool and preach to them.62

Apr. 19, The Twelve load their baggage on board the ship Rochester.63

Apr. 20, “Elders Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, George A. Smith and Willard Richards and family, went on board of the ship Rochester, at Liverpool, Captain Woodhouse (who delayed his sailing two days, to accommodate the Elders), bound for New York with a company of 130 Saints.”64

May 20, The Twelve arrive in New York City and unload their baggage.65

May 23, The Twelve meet in council in the Columbian on Grand Street.66

June 4, Heber C. Kimball wrote a letter to Parley saying that the Twelve started home to Nauvoo this day.  He said that Orson would remain in New York to republish his Edinburgh pamphlet.  Heber also said that “Your brother William is well.”67

July 1, “Elder Orson Pratt publishes in New York, the second edition of his ‘History of the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon,’ first printed in Edinburgh.”68

July 19, By July 19, Orson is back in Nauvoo, because on this day he met in council with several members of the Twelve.69  Some time after Orson returns, he begins to hear disturbing rumors about his wife Sarah, Joseph Smith, John C. Bennett, and plural marriage.  Orson learns that his wife had become a focus of both Joseph and Bennett’s interest.  While Orson was away, Sarah had occasionally boarded with Joseph Smith and his family, and several other families as well.

One side of the story said that Joseph had proposed marriage to Sarah while Orson was in Scotland.  She apparently became so upset with Joseph that she moved out of Joseph’s home and into the home of Stephen and Zeruiah Goddard, and later with Dr. Robert D. Foster.  Joseph denies any relationship with Sarah and says that Bennett and Sarah had feelings for each other.

Sarah made shirts and other clothing for John Bennett, in addition to washing Bennett’s clothes while Orson was away.  During the upcoming summer, Orson will get to know Bennett very well as they worked together to make the university a success.  Orson will also be a member of the city council with Bennett as the Mayor, and they will become close friends, neighbors, and house guests.  Consequently, Orson will believe Sarah and Bennett’s version of the story over Joseph’s.70

July 25, Elders Orson Pratt and George A. Smith preach in the grove before noon.71

Aug. 1, Orson places an ad in the Times and Seasons noting some of his and Parley’s pamphlets for sale.72

Aug. 10, “I [Joseph Smith] spent the day in council with Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Orson Pratt, and George A. Smith….”73

Aug. 10, “The department of English literature and mathematics, of the University of the City of Nauvoo, is in operation under the tuition of Professor Orson Pratt.”74  This is a little premature since Orson doesn’t even get elected to teach until Sept. 4.

Sept. 4, “Orson Pratt was elected professor of mathematics in the University of the City of Nauvoo, and the degree of master of arts conferred on him by the chancellor and board of regents.”  Orson will spend the autumn teaching classes mostly out of his home.  Sometimes classes were held in the Masonic Hall and unfinished rooms in the temple.75

Oct. 1-5, Orson Pratt is in attendance at the General Conference of the Church held in the Grove in Nauvoo.  He takes part on several occasions during the five days.76

Oct. 7, Orson Pratt meets with other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, assembled in the house of Elder John Taylor.77

Oct. 12, Orson signs an epistle by the Twelve on this day.78

Nov. 16, Orson signs an epistle, with the Twelve, to the saints in the British Isles and on the eastern continent.79

Nov. 30, “[Joseph Smith] attended a council of the Twelve Apostles at President Brigham Young’s home.  President Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Orson Pratt, Lyman Wight, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff were present.80

Dec. 1, All twelve members of the quorum of the Twelve [including Parley & Orson Pratt- sign a letter condemning stealing.81

Dec. 4, Orson votes “no” on a petition to remove the City Marshall.82

Dec. 13, Nine members of the Quorum of the Twelve, including Orson Pratt, sign a letter discussing Baptism for the Dead.83

Dec. 15, The Times and Seasons records the names of the board of regents and all the professors at the University of the City of Nauvoo.  Orson is listed as one of the three professors along with Sidney Rigdon and Orson Spencer.84

Dec. 25, On Christmas Eve, several members of the Quorum of the Twelve spent the evening with Hiram Kimball.  Mr. Kimball was a wealthy land owner who lived in Nauvoo prior to the Mormon’s arrival.  As a gift, Mr. Kimball gave each member of the Quorum “a fractional piece of land lying on the west side of his second addition to Nauvoo.”85 It appears that Parley was given Block 13 Lot 1, while Orson Pratt was given Block 13 Lot 4, which lies directly south of Parley’s allotment.

Dec. 30, Orson’s petition to become a member of the Masonic order in Nauvoo, is recorded.86



Jan. 1, “I [Joseph Smith] again have the pleasure to report the location of the Twelve Apostles.  Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards are in Nauvoo.  George A. Smith, in Zarahemla, Ohio.  Orson Hyde in quarantine at Trieste, Italy.  Parley P. Pratt in Liverpool.  Lyman Wight in Ohio.  William Smith in New Jersey.  John E. Page somewhere in the Eastern States.”87

Jan. 17, “In the evening, I [Joseph Smith] attended a council of the Twelve at my office; present, Elders Young, Kimball, Orson Pratt, Taylor, Woodruff, George A. Smith and Richards….”88

Jan. 22, Orson is appointed as one of five committee men on the Nauvoo Committee of Municipal Laws.89

Jan. 31, “After dinner [Joseph Smith] visited Brother Chase who was very sick, and in the evening was in council with Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards concerning Brother Snyder and the printing office; spent the evening very cheerfully, and retired about ten o’clock.”90

Feb. 17, Orson’s petition to become a member of the Nauvoo Masonic Order is cleared.91

Mar. 20, Ten members of the Twelve, including Orson Pratt, sign an epistle to the members of the Church in Europe.92

Apr. 12, Joseph Smith attends a meeting of the [Masonic] lodge.  “The Twelve, namely Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, William Smith, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, John E. Page, and Willard Richards, clerk, assembled in the lodge room at four o’clock p.m.,….Also voted that the Twelve units their influence to persuade the brethren to consecrate all the old notes, deeds, and obligations which they hold against each other to the building of the temple in Nauvoo, and that Willard Richards write an epistle in the name of the Twelve on that subject, and publish it in the Times and Seasons….”93

Apr. 12, Ten members of the Twelve, including Orson Pratt, sign a letter or epistle to the members of the Church in America.94

May 10, Celestia Larissa Pratt is born to Orson and Sarah M. Pratt.  She is their third child and the second child living after the death of Lydia.

May 11, The Times and Seasons reports the withdrawal of fellowship from John C. Bennett.  Orson is the only member of the Twelve living in Nauvoo at the time, who doesn’t sign the document.95

May 17, Orson opposes Joseph Smith and the Twelve in the excommunication of John C. Bennett.96

May 24, Orson and Sarah Pratt purchase the southern 1/3 of Lot 1 (Block 8 Lot 1) from Daniel H. Wells.97

July 13, Orson withdraws himself as a candidate for the state legislature.  This unquestionably has reference to Orson’s feelings towards the controversy between Joseph Smith, John C. Bennett, and his wife Sarah Pratt.98

July 14, Joseph publicly denounces Sarah Pratt in a speech, without using her name.  However, everyone knew who he was referring to.99

July 15, A letter by John C. Bennett against Joseph Smith and his activities with Sarah Pratt makes a splash in Nauvoo.  Consequently, Joseph calls for a public meeting at the Grove where he exposes Bennett and his affair with Sarah Pratt.100

July 15, It was reported that Elder Orson Pratt was missing.  “I [Joseph Smith] caused the Temple hands and the principal men of the city to make search for him.”  Later that evening, Orson returned to the city.101

It appears that Orson had become so despondent over the rumors concerning his wife Sarah and polygamy, that he had wandered five miles south of Nauvoo, along with the Mississippi River.  It is remotely possible that Orson might have been contemplating suicide as he walked alone down the riverbank.102

July 17, Brigham Young writes a letter from Nauvoo, to Parley in Liverpool, explaining Orson’s difficulties.  “Br. Orson Pratt is in trouble in consequence of his wife [Sarah].  His feelings are so wrought up that he does not know whether his wife is wrong, or whether Joseph’s testimony and others are wrong, and do lie, and he [Orson[ deceived for 12 years or not; he is all but crazy about the matter.  You may ask what the matter is concerning Sister P[Pratt].  It is enough, and Doct. J.C. Bennett, could tell all about himself and his *** enough of that.  We will not let Br. Orson go away from us.  He is too good a man to have a woman destroy him.”103

July 22, In a large meeting intended to present a public reply to Bennett’s attacks against Joseph and the Church, Orson voted against Joseph, then responded with his reasons in front of the large assembly.  “Pres. Joseph Smith spoke in reply—Question to Elder Pratt, ‘Have you personally a knowledge of any immoral act in me toward the female sex, or in any other way?” Answer, by Elder Orson Pratt, ‘Personally, toward the female sex, I have not.’”104

Aug. 8, Brigham Young records that he had spent several days with Orson laboring to get him to change his mind and retract some of his statements against Joseph Smith.105

Aug. 20, The Twelve met in council, and ordained Amasa Lyman to replace Orson Pratt as a member of the Twelve Apostles.  Amasa Lyman had received the gospel through the ministry of Orson Pratt on April 27, 1832.106

It appears that the other members of the Twelve in Nauvoo had spent the last five weeks attempting to persuade Orson that John Bennett was a charlatan and that Joseph smith was a true Prophet of God.  Unfortunately, Orson and Sarah were not convinced and were both excommunicated on this same day.

For the next five months, Orson will remain in Nauvoo and seek inspiration regarding Joseph Smith’s calling and the doctrine of plural marriage.  During these five months and probably long before and after, Orson says he spent, “Much of my leisure time in study, and made myself thoroughly acquainted with algebra, geometry, trigonometry, conic sections, differential and integral calculus, astronomy, and most of the physical sciences.  These studies I pursued without the assistance of a teacher.”107

On Jan. 20, Orson and Sarah will be allowed to rejoin the Church and Orson will be reinstated into the Quorum of the Twelve.108

July-Aug., Following Bennett’s attacks and Orson’s apostasy, a flurry of affidavits began to circulate in Joseph’s defense.  “Stephen H. Goddard and his wife, Zeruiah, published a letter accusing John C. Bennett of an adulterous relationship with Sarah Pratt.  Goddard testified that he wanted to have kept ‘forever in silence’ but felt it was his duty to report what he had witnessed between Bennett and Sarah while she stayed in his house during the autumn of 1840: ‘I took your wife into my house because she was destitute of a house, Oct. 6, 1840, and from the first night until the last, with the exception of one night, the Dr. [Bennett} was there as sure as the night came…sometimes till after midnight; what his conversation was I could not tell, as they sat close together, he leaning on her lap, whispering continually or talking very low.  One night they took their chairs out of doors and remained there as we supposed until 12 o’clock or after; at another time they went over to the house where you now live and came back after dark, or about that time.  We went over several times late in the evening while she lived in the house of Dr. [Robert D.] Foster, and were most sure to find Dr. Bennett and your wife together, as it were, man and wife, lying on the floor and the bed apparently reserved for the Dr. and herself.’

“Goddard’s wife corroborated this in greater detail.  Zeruiah Goddard testified that Bennett often cursed and swore at Sarah in the middle of the night.  ‘Their conduct was anything but virtuous, and I know Mrs. Pratt is not a woman of truth, and I believe the statements which Dr. Bennett made concerning Joseph are false, and fabricated for the purpose of covering his iniquities, and enabling him to practice his base designs on the innocent.’  Mrs. Goddard’s statement added information which must have pained Orson Pratt: ‘I remonstrated with the Dr. and asked him what Orson Pratt would think, if he should know that you were so fond of his wife, and holding her hand so much; the Dr. replied that he could pull the wool over Orson’s eyes.  Mrs. Pratt stated to me that Dr. Bennett told her, that he could cause abortion with perfect safety to the mother…On one occasion I came suddenly into the room where Mrs. Pratt and the Dr. were, she was lying on the bed and the Dr. was taking his hands out of her bosom; he was in the habit of sitting on the bed where Mrs. Pratt was lying, and lying down over her.’”109

Aug. 29, “Orson Pratt has attempted to destroy himself, and caused almost all the city to go in search of him.  It is not enough to put down all the infernal influences of the evil, what we have felt and seen, handled and evidenced, of this work of God?…I [Joseph Smith] have the whole plan of the kingdom before me, and no other person has.  And as to all that Orson Pratt, Sidney Rigdon, or George W. Robinson can do to prevent me, I can kick them off my heels, as many as you can name; I know what will become of them.”110

Sept. 2, Orson writes to the editor of The Wasp concerning stories of him renouncing Mormonism.  Orson refutes these ideas.  In addition, he states that he has not been absent from Nauvoo during 24 hours since his return to Nauvoo nearly a year ago.111

Sept. 17, Orson puts an ad into the Hancock County paper (The Wasp) announcing that his university courses will start on Sept. 26, “at a building situated a few rods north of the Temple” (probably his own dwelling or Parley’s store).  The tuition for the quarter ranged from $2.50 for reading and writing to $10.00 for differential and integral calculus.”112

Sept. 26, The following is a letter of Elder Orson Pratt which he wrote in Nauvoo, dated Sept. 26, 1842 and published Oct. 1.  “Mr. Editor:  DEAR SIR:–I have noticed in the last week’s Wasp a letter from Dr. R.D. Foster, written from New Work City, which states that Dr. John C. Bennett had declared in said city that he had received a letter from me and from my wife, and that we were preparing to leave and expose Mormonism.  I wish through the medium of your paper to say to the public that said statements are entirely false.  We have never at any time written any letter or letters to Dr. J.C. Bennett, on any subject whatever.  Neither are we ‘preparing to leave and expose Mormonism,’ but intend to make NAUVOO OUR RESIDENCE, AND MORMONISM OUR MOTTO.  Respectfully, ORSON PRATT.”113

Nov. 5, The Wasp reports Orson’s classes and tuition.114


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52 DHC, vol. 4, 256.

53 Times and Seasons, vol. 2, 321.


54 “Laws of the State of Illinois, passed by the Twelfth General Assembly,” Springfield: Wm. Walters, Public Printer, 1841, 139.

55 Millennial Star, vol. 2, 10-12.

56 DHC, vol. 4, 324.

57 DHC, vol. 4, 326.

58 Journals of Orson Pratt, 132.

59 DHC, vol. 4, 344-8.

60 Journals of Orson Pratt, 138.

61 Millennial Star, vol. 2, 10-12.

62 Journals of Orson Pratt, 138.

63 Journals of Orson Pratt, 138.

64 DHC, vol. 4, 352.  The Orson Pratt Journals, page 138, says they left England, April 15, 1841.

65 Journals of Orson Pratt, 141.

66 Journals of Orson Pratt, 142.

67 Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, 312-6.

68 DHC, vol. 4, 382.

69 DHC, vol. 4, 389.

70 England, Orson Pratt, 74-7.

71 DHC, vol. 4, 389.

72 Times and Seasons, Aug. 2, 1841, 502.

73 DHC, vol. 4, 400.

74 DHC, vol. 4, 400.

75 DHC, vol. 4, 414.

76 DHC, vol. 4, 423.

77 DHC, vol. 4, 429.

78 DHC, vol. 4, 438.

79 DHC, vol. 4, 453.

80 DHC, vol. 4, 463.

81 DHC, vol. 4, 466.

82 NRI Records.  This was recorded on Feb. 12, 1842, for the Committee on Municipal Laws.

83 DHC, vol. 4, 475.

84 Times and Seasons, Dec. 15, 1841, 630.

85 DHC, vol. 4, 484.

86 NRI Records.

87 DHC, vol. 4, 490.

88 DHC, vol. 4, 494.

89 Times and Seasons, Feb. 1, 1842.

90 DHC, vol. 4, 509.

91 NRI Records.

92 DHC, vol. 4, 564.

93 DHC, vol. 4, 589.

94 DHC, vol. 4, 593.

95 Times and Seasons, vol. 3, 830.

96 Times and Seasons, vol. 3, 830, and Lyon, Orson Pratt, 174.

97 NRI Collection.

98 The Wasp, July 23, 1842.

99 Sangamo Journal, July 29, 1842.  John C. Bennett had previously used the Sangamo Journal (Springville, Illinois), as the paper to defraud Joseph smith’s character.  Bennett placed four letters between July 8-22, in the journal, to expose Joseph.  These letters included the supposed story of Joseph’s secret conversations with Sarah Pratt.  Numerous other editorials in the journal attacked Joseph and the Church in Nauvoo on a continual basis for several months.  In addition, John C. Bennett will expound on many of his arguments first published in the Sangamo Journal, in a book published this same year.  See John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints: An Expose of Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842.

100 DHC, vol. 5, 60-61.

101 DHC, vol. 5, 60-61.

102 Times and Seasons, vol. 2, 363.  Also see David J. Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” A Dissertation Presented to the Department of History, Brigham Young University, 1982, 101.

103 Journals of Orson Pratt, 561-2.

104 England, Journals of Orson Pratt, 80.  Also see the Times and Seasons, vol. 3, 869.

105 Journals of Orson Pratt, 180.

106 DHC, vol. 5, 120.

107 Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” 101.

108 Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” 101.

109 England, Orson Pratt, 81-2.  Sarah will later say that these affidavits were concocted, and that she went to a few of the people who signed the testimonials, and they confessed to her that they were forced to sign them.  See Wilhelm Ritter Von Wyl [Wymetal], Joseph Smith, the Prophet, his Family and his Friends, (LDS Historical Dept.), 60-68.  In addition, Sarah will again tell her side of the story more than forty years after the event, and a few years after Orson’s death.  See her manuscript in the LDS Church Archives, “The Workings of Mormonism as related by Mrs. Orson Pratt, Salt Lake City, 1884.”

110 DHC, vol. 5, 138-9.

111 The Wasp, Sept. 2, 1842.

112 The Wasp, Sept. 17, 1842.

113 The Wasp, Oct. 1, 1842, vol. 1, #2.  Also see DHC, vol. 5, 167.

114 The Wasp, Nov. 5, 1842.