Nelson E. Pratt
May 26, 1815 – May 8, 1889
by Paul DeBry
Nelson was the youngest brother of Anson, William, Parley P., and Orson Pratt. He was close to his brothers and would have loved to have lived nearer to them. His four brothers were all converts to the newly organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Parley and Orson were very prominent in the church and served as two of the first Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Nelson was a religious man who read and contemplated the Bible and its teachings. He eventually became disenchanted and estranged from the Protestant church to which he belonged, but never joined his brothers’ church.
Nelson’s life story can be told by looking at his life with his wives. He was married to four women. Here are their stories:
1. Finetta Delano (1818-1839) Finetta was barely 17 years old when she married 20 year old Nelson on the day after Christmas, 1835, in northern Ohio. Their joyful marriage was not to last, however, as Nelson sorrowfully laid her in her grave before they had been married 4 years. She was only 21 years old when she died. She left one son for Nelson to raise alone. He was named Edwin Delano Pratt and was born in February 1837. Little Edwin was only 2 ½ years old when his mother died.
Finetta is buried in the Boughton Cemetery, Norwich Township, Huron County, Ohio. Fifty years later when Nelson died, he was buried in the same cemetery, on the next row. Finetta?s posterity is carried on today through Edwin. Though Finetta lived only 21 years and had only one child, she now (2005) has over 80 living descendants. All of the living descendants of Nelson that we are aware of today are through Finetta and subsequently Edwin. Today this posterity lives mostly in Ohio, Texas and Florida.
2. Azuba H. Spaulding (1820-1847) After being a widower with a small son for 2 years, Nelson married again. Azuba was 21 years old when they married, the same age that Finetta was when she died. Two daughters were born to this union. Both had posterity, but I have only been able to trace them for 2 generations, down to the beginning of the 20th century. I know of no living descendants of Nelson and Azuba today. I would be surprised if there are any but hope someday to find out that I am wrong.
Their first daughter, Hellen Orissa Pratt married John Wesley Felton in 1861. About 1905 the family packed up their wagon and moved from Ohio to California. They settled in the Berkeley area in northern California. Helen and John had seven children. Five of the seven lived to maturity, but only two ever married. Only one of the two had any posterity.
Nelson and Azuba’s second daughter, Aurilla F. Pratt, married Dr. Henry C. Bowen. They had four children together — Lilly Elene Bowen, Henry Nelson Bowen, Hellen J Bowen and Zetus Elwin Bowen. Henry died in 1906. Aurilla lived with Lilly, in Ohio, until Lilly died. Aurilla then went to St. Petersburg, Florida and lived with her son Zetus Elwin Bowen. In about 1920, Zetus and Aurilla moved to Beloit, Wisconsin. Aurilla died at age 78 in Beloit, Wisconsin on May 14, 1923. Her four children are all buried next to her in the same plot. Zetus lived in Wisconsin for forty years. In the 1930 census he was living with his widowed sister, Lilly Bowen Burnap. He died there at age 80, never having married.
Nelson and Azuba were married for 6 years when she died in 1847, at age 27 years, 3 months and 7 days. She left Nelson with Finetta?s son, Edwin, age 10, and her two own daughters, Hellen (age 3) and Aurilla (age 5) to care for. Forty-three years later when Nelson died, he was buried next to Azuba in the Boughton Cemetery, Huron County, Ohio.
3. Marietta Ensign (1824-1862) Nelson was a widower for the second time. He was raising three small children, the oldest being Edwin at age 12. After another two years Nelson married again. This was Nelson’s longest marriage, 13 years. He and Marietta were married from 1849 until 1862 when death took Nelson’s third wife. She had been in poor health for a good part of their marriage.
Marietta was 25 years old when they married. Nelson was then 34. Marietta inherited the three children. She and Nelson had only one child of her own in those 13 years of marriage, a son. Orson Ensign Pratt was born after three and a half years of marriage. He was named after Nelson?s brother Orson Pratt, the Mormon Apostle. His middle name was his mother?s maiden name. Little Orson only lived 36 days. Nelson was now only 38 years old, but had now buried two wives and an infant child.
In March of 1853, after Nelson and Marietta had been married for about 4 years, Nelson wrote to his brother Orson about their situation and about Marietta. "I have but little to do with world drink(,) nothing stronger than tea and coffe I have a kind companion and find the greatest source of enjoyment at home in the society of my family my farm consists of 65 acres …, Marietta and the children all send their love to you I must bid you adieu for the present" Signed Nelson Pratt. In another letter to Orson written 8 months later in November 1853, Nelson had this to say about Marietta, "Dear Brother with pleasure I sit down to scratch a few lines to you to let you know that we are still a live and well except Marietta her health is very poor though she is able to be about the house at present sickness and death have visited us since we wrote you last we had a son born July 22 who lived but five weeks we named him Orson so you see that we have not forgotten you …" Later in the letter he says, "…I think of my family here and the poor health of my wife and that in all probability I shall never go but were it not for the care of my family I would certainly go and come to Washington to make you a visit but my family require all my attension at home dear Brother I feel that aside from my own family I am alone in a world of speculation; and strife where there are but few real friends."
The cause of this sickness of Marietta’s is not known, but if it was a serious illness it could have been the reason they had no more children. She lived 9 more years after this letter was written. These letters, now in the archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, give us great insight into the feelings of Nelson. Any letter preserved from that period is a treasure. Letters were very rare in those days. Most people were not well educated and writing was difficult for them. They knew little about sentence structure and spelling was mostly phonetic. Nelson said in the first letter mentioned above, that it was the first letter he had written in 10 years. Nelson also wrote that his father had been dead for five years before he heard about it.
Not a lot is known about Marietta. She died in 1862 in Garden Grove, Iowa. That is a strange place for her to die, because Garden Grove was a settlement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was established by the Church in 1846. Nelson?s brother Orson Pratt recorded on May 10, 1846, "A large amount of labour has been done since arriving in this grove: indeed the whole camp are very industrious. Many houses have been built, wells dug, extensive farms fenced, and the whole place assumes the appearance of having been occupied for years, and clearly shows what can be accomplished by union, industry, and perseverance."
Nelson’s brother Parley also helped settle Garden Grove. When the church members were driven by mobs from Nauvoo, Illinois, they settled in Garden Grove and in many other towns in Iowa. The church abandoned these towns in 1852 as they moved westward to find a permanent home in the barren deserts of the west where they would not be persecuted for their religion. The Saints came and went from this place long before Nelson and Marietta moved there from northern Ohio. After her death he apparently returned to northern Ohio. There is a small town of Garden Grove today, but the town of Garden Grove settled by the Saints no longer exists. No house, building or fence can be seen. There only exists a silent reminder of the past in the form of plaque dedicated to those whose lives were ended or disrupted as they were driven from their comfortable homes in Nauvoo, in the middle of the winter of 1846. Thousands of the Saints died from malnutrition, exposure and hardship. Those who lived moved to the Salt Lake valley in Utah over the next few years.
The only way you can find the site of this once busy place of industry is a stone marker on a grassy field. There is also the outline of a cabin that once stood on that spot.
4. Mary Ann Chandler (1817-1872) For the third time Nelson was left a widower. His son Edwin was married in 1862, the year Marietta died. Nelson’s oldest daughter, Hellen had married a year before Marietta’s death so she was gone also. Aurilla, age 22 when her step-mother Marietta died, married Dr. Henry C. Bowen in March, 3 months before Nelson took his 4th and last wife, Mary Ann Chandler Felton in June 1866. Thus, Nelson?s nest was bare when he married Mary Ann.
Mary Ann was a widow; the mother 3 children of her own and was raising four more children who were the children of her husband’s first wife, Mary Melissa Gibson. Ephraim Felton had died in 1864. Mary Ann was 34 years old when she and Nelson married. He was 51. Mary Ann had been a widow for two years and he four years. They were neighbors. The 1860 Census for Norwich, Ohio, shows the two families were living next door to each other. In that census, Nelson was married to Marietta and Mary Ann was married to Ephraim Felton. Ten years later, the 1870 census of Norwich shows Nelson and Mary Ann married to each other with three of Mary Ann?s step-children and one of her own children living with them. Mary Ann only lived 6 years after marrying Nelson. She died in 1872.
Nelson lived the last 17 years of his life single, as a four time widower. He died in 1889 while living in the home of Edwin, son of his first wife, Finetta.
Ephraim Felton is buried next to his first wife, Mary Melissa in the Boughton Cemetery in Norwich, Ohio, Mary Ann is buried in the same cemetery but in a different section. Nelson is also buried in that cemetery.
It is apparent that Nelson had a hard life. Farming was difficult physical labor in those days with no mechanization. Everything had to be done by horse or by hand. He had four wives and one child die. He lived much of his life alone or with motherless children. His letters to Orson tell of his loneliness. He was interested in religion, but could not find what he wanted in his church. He wanted to be with his family. Twice he went looking for his brothers, Orson and Parley. Once he went to Kirtland and another time to New Portage to find them. He was disappointed both times. Orson and Parley were seldom home, always away doing missionary work. Parley visited Nelson just a few months before Parley was martyred. Parley mentioned in his autobiography what an affectionate time they had together.
Today Nelson is with his wives, his children and his family. Baby Orson has been restored to him. All his sorrows and tears are behind him, and I am certain that he now looks down on his posterity with love and concern for their happiness and well-being.
Nelson’s children must have kept in contact with their Pratt cousins, most of who lived in Utah. In 1911 there was a Pratt Family Reunion in Salt Lake City for the descendants of the five brothers; Anson, William, Parley, Orson and Nelson. All had passed on by then. Nelson, the youngest, was the last to go. When he died in Norwich Township, Ohio, on May 8, 1889, the brothers were all together again in a better world. Their descendants were left to carry on their name and their legacy, which continues today. All three of Nelson’s living children were in attendance at the reunion in 1911; in fact, all three were members of the Reception Committee. It must have been a memorable and enjoyable reunion to renew old acquaintances and to form new ones. The printed program says that it was held the day after the October General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. At that conference the Church honored Orson Pratt (who was deceased). The Church reserved seats in the front of the Tabernacle for all the Pratt relatives. The next day, on Monday, October 9 at 2 p.m., the reunion commenced in the Granite Stake Tabernacle on 1400 South and State Street. Everyone was told to bring a picnic. There was a banquet, addresses by family members, and an interesting program, after which they danced the evening away. These were the last of the horse and buggy days. With few cars, no radio, television, movies, computers, or other distractions, this would have been a splendid occasion; one to be remembered by all.
Summary of the descendants of Nelson Pratt:
Nelson has 93 descendants that have been identified. His descendants look like this:
1. 4 children, (the last of whom only lived 36 days.)
2. 15 grandchildren, (only 4 of these 15 grandchildren had children of their own.)
3. 11 great-grand children, (we only know of 3 of these great-grand children that had children.)
4. 9 great-great-grand children.
Nelson’s posterity decreased during generations 2 through 4. This is unusual. Today there are about 56 living descendants. Nelson has the smallest posterity of any of the brothers, so far as they have been identified to January 2002.
Anson, the oldest brother, has 2,305 descendants.
William, the second oldest, has 1,495.
Parley P. has the largest posterity of 18,129.
Orson has 4,857 descendants.
Nelson has only 93 descendants.
Sources: "The Pratt Family: or the Descendants of William Pratt, One of the First Settlers of Hartford and Say-Brook"; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Archives; Huron and Seneca County Ohio birth and marriage records, Alameda County California death records; RB Hayes Obituaries for Northern Ohio, other newspaper obituaries, Florida and Wisconsin death certificates; Helen Barber Murray descendant of Nelson Pratt and Finetta Delano; Joan Hamilton, historian and wife of a descendant of Nelson Pratt and Finetta Delano; Huron County, Ohio Marriage 1815-1900 (3 vols.); Huron, County Ohio Birth Index 1867-1908; Seneca County Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions; Omar, Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions; Tiffin-Seneca Public Library Obituaries; US census records 1850 – 1930. Lucas County Marriage records; World War I Draft Registration records; Social Security Master Death Index; Lucas County Probate Court marriage certificates; Iowa Soldiers in the Civil War; Toledo, Ohio births, burials and obituaries. One World Tree (Ancestry.com); History of Jackson County, Iowa; California Death Index 1910-1997; ?The Felton Family: Descendants of Nathaniel Felton Who Came to Salem, Mass. In 1633, p. 191;