by Jayne Fife and Roselyn Kirk

Parley and Mary Pratt were newlyweds of six weeks embarking on a mission for the Mormon Church when they traveled from the village of Kirtland, Ohio to the teeming port of New York City. In their two week journey, they moved through an eon of change from the recently settled Ohio countryside to cosmopolitan New York City. For about one dollar a day each, they boarded with the sister-in-law of the only church member in the city, Elijah Fordham. Parley immediately began writing the first missionary tract, The Voice of Warning, which outlined the history and doctrine of the Church.

In her autobiography, daughter Mary Ann wrote, “Brother Pratt would write a few pages, read it aloud, then Brother Fordham would copy it and prepare it for the press. During those times I would have to sit down and keep very still. I must not make noise to disturb them, but I could walk around and mother would entertain me with patchwork, cutting paper, drawing thread in pieces of cloth. Mother and I got along very well together.  We were so used to each other that a little quiet sign language answered in most cases.”  

Boarding became too expensive, so they moved into one large room that became living and meeting place. Mary Ann wrote that her mother “being an orderly, natural housekeeper, and not afraid of work, that room was always neat and presentable at the proper hours, the large closet being a great help to that end.” Of that time, Parley later wrote, “Of all the places in which the English language is spoken, I found the City of New York to be the most difficult as to access the minds or attention of the people. From July to January (1838) we preached, advertised, printed, published, testified, visited, talked, prayed and wept in vain. To all appearances there was no interest or impression on the minds of the people in regard to the fullness of the Gospel…We had hired chapels and advertised, but the people would not hear, and the few who came went away without being interested.”  They had baptized about six members, and organized a small branch that met in their rented room. Occasionally two or three others met with them.

 Nearing the end of November, Mary and her daughter traveled to Maine to visit her family. After their return just before Christmas, Parley, filled with discouragement, met in their living quarters with a few members to hold a last prayer meeting in preparation for their leaving. They had prayed all around when suddenly David Rogers, a chair maker and new member, offered to spread out chairs in his warehouse and invite people to hear Parley preach. It was an immediate success; the space was crowded with people. Additional breakthroughs occurred. Parley later recorded in his autobiography, “A clergyman came to hear me, He invited me to his house to preach, near East River; he and household were obedient to the faith, with many of the members of his society. While preaching a lady solicited me to preach in her house in Willett street; ‘for,’ she said, ‘I had a dream of you and of the new Church the other night.’ Another lady wished me to preach in her house, in Grant street.

“In the meantime I was invited by the Free Thinkers to preach, or give a course of lectures, in Tammany Hall. In short, it was not three weeks from the meeting in our upper room till we had fifteen preaching places in the city, all of which were filled to overflowing. We preached about eleven times a week, besides visiting from house to house. We soon commenced baptizing, and continued doing so almost daily during the winter and spring.”

Parley and his family left New York City for Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, a new gathering place, in April of 1838, accompanied by a group of new converts. His younger brother, Apostle Orson Pratt, was left in charge of the now growing branch.

They arrived in Far West on May 7. By this time thousands of church members were spread out into Caldwell, Daviess and Ray Counties, even though it was initially thought that leaders had agreed to remain in Caldwell County which had been set aside specifically for their development. Collectively, they were becoming a strong political force, even the determining factor in some state and local elections. Parley and his family moved into an empty log cabin about nine miles from Far West. He immediately bought and began developing a farm on a piece of land about a mile west of the cabin.

In an 1896 autobiographical sketch, daughter Mary Ann wrote that every morning, her mother would prepare food for the day and then join Parley who had left earlier to work on the cabin or clear the land.  Mother (about six months pregnant when they arrived) and daughter then walked to join him, and stayed to help pull and pile the tall grasses and brush to be burned during the afternoon. In the early evening, they returned to their temporary dwelling. 

Finally, “the house of hewed logs was up to the square, a story and one half high, with a cellar beneath. We had moved into it thinking the roof would soon go on, but bro Pratt was called on a mission to some distant settlement for a week or two so my mother and I were left there alone. The first night we were quite comfortable. Our bed was made on boxes and a chest, with sheets tacked up slanting over head, a few boards laid down to walk on, but the second night there came a deluge. The water came down in torrents and it thundered and lightened as though the Heavens and Earth were coming together. Our nearest neighbor was over three miles away so there was no chance of getting shelter with them. But we were alive in the morning, and the sun came out bright and shining and with hope of better times mother put the bedding out to dry and made the best of the situation.

“About 9 o’clock our good friend father Isaac Allred, knowing that Bro Pratt was away came over to see how we had fared during the storm and when he saw the cellar half full of water and our situation he said you are not going to stay here another night like this – fix up your things – pack up what you need to take with you and this afternoon I am coming to take you to my house to stay till bro Parley comes home. I was a very timid child and the joy his words gave me it would be hard for me to describe even now. Accordingly he came with a gentle horse (there were no wagon roads at that time to our place) and placing my mother on it – he walking by the side, they made a very fine  representation of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem.” [Note: Mary Pratt was now about eight months pregnant]

“Bro Pratt returned in about ten days, but decided not to return to his house as a  mob had threatened to burn all the houses outside of Far West.”  Already simmering political election issues had exploded when a fight broke out at a voting poll in Gallatin, Daviess County on August 6. It was ignited by a group of Mormon men being prevented from voting by supporters of a particular candidate who was not favored by the Mormon settlers. The extent of the fight was greatly exaggerated, giving disgruntled non-Mormons an excuse to begin persecuting indiscriminately.

 Parley and Mary’s son, Nathan, was born August 31 in the Allred family’s log smoke house. When Nathan was only a few days old, they discovered that their partially built cabin had been destroyed by angry marauders. As soon as Mary was able, the family moved into a ten foot square log cabin in Far West that had been intended for a stable.

Having been forcibly removed from their homes in Independence, Missouri in 1833, the Mormons were determined to fight for their rights as citizens of the United States. Now, apart from the regular hit and run burning of homes, scattering of animals and  destruction of Mormon crops, three Mormons, including Apostle David Patten, as well as one Missouri militiaman, were killed during a skirmish at a Crooked River encampment in which Parley was involved.  Soon after, a vengeful mob attacked the tiny town of Haun’s Mill near Far West, killing seventeen Mormon men and boys.

Missouri Governor Wilburn Boggs issued an order demanding that the Mormons leave the state or suffer the consequences. Four days later, seven Mormon leaders, including Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Parley Pratt, who thought they were going to the state militia camp to discuss a peace settlement, were arrested and sentenced to be shot the next morning. Missouri General Alexander Doniphan refused to carry out the order and the detained men were taken to Independence, Missouri instead.

Before leaving Far West, the captives were allowed to get clothing and bid farewell to their families. Parley later wrote, “I went to my house being guarded by two or three soldiers, the cold rain was pouring without, and on entering my little cottage there lay my wife sick of a fever, with which she had been for some time confined. At her breast was our son Nathan, an infant of three months and by her side a little girl of five years.” According to his account, Mary began to cry as he tried to comfort her while praying for her to live for his sake and that of the children. He “expressed hope they would meet again though years might separate us. She promised to try to live. Then I embraced and kissed the little babes and departed.”

 The prisoners were taken to Independence and then to Richmond, Missouri where, after a court of inquiry, Joseph, Hyrum and four others were charged with treason for leading the defense of Far West and transferred to the Liberty Jail. Parley and four others were charged with the murder of Moses Rowland during the Crooked River skirmish and sent to the Richmond Jail.

Mary had few resources for food and fuel. She did have several cows and some stored corn, but had to depend on others, many of whom were preparing to flee. She soon received a letter from Parley inviting her to come and live in the jail with him. He wrote, “the Jail is somewhat Open and cold; But the Sheriff has promised to furnish us with a good Stove and plenty of wood, and we have plenty to Eat, – and drink; It is now at your Choice to come and spend the winter with me  Or to live a lonely widow on a desolate prairie, where you are not sure of a Living or protection; If you Choose to come and winter with me, you will please Bring your Bed and Plenty of Bedding So that we can hang a plenty of Curtains all round our Bed. Bring a Chest of Clothing Such as you need, Bring our table and 2 or 3 plates, a few Basons [sic] and a wash bole [sic]; Bring all my interesting Books and Especially my Big Atlas. Bring all the wrighting [sic] paper and my Steel pens; In Short Bring Every thing that you think we Shall need. I can pay your Board and mine is found for me; You will have nothing to do but to Sit down and study with me and nerse your little one: and as oft as you want to wash our Clothing you can go out to some of the Nebours [sic] here [to] do our washing. I think it will be much cheeper [sic] and Easyer [sic] and more comfortable for you to winter In jail with me than to live where you do…you need not Be a fraid [sec] of the old jail for it is better than the hut where you now live.”

In early December1838, Mary later wrote, “As soon as my health was sufficiently restored I took my children and went to him…and was permitted to remain with him. I shared his dungeon, which was a damp, dark, filthy place, without ventilation, merely having a grating on one side.”   

On December 9, Parley and Mary wrote to her parents in Bethel, Maine. She expressed her positive concern that they would be worried about them, “do not Give your selfs [sic] any trouble about us. [We] are in the hands of an all wise God and he will do with us as he pleases  he will do us no injustes [sic]. I feel firm in the faith of the fullness of the Gospel; and I am determined by the help of God to endure to the end that I may have a share in the Celestial kingdom of God. I am Glad that I am Counted worthy to suffer afflictions for the Gospel sake…my health is improving. The Children are well. Mary Ann never so harty [sic] as she is now as lively as ever…my little Nathan is a lovely child he has blue eyes and looks like Mary Ann…dear Mother I am Glad to hear that you are in Good health and I trust you will be faithful and never give up the faith but endure to the end; Oh how I long to hear that my Father and the rest of the family have embraced the fullness of the Gospel.”

 After Mary arrived with Parley’s quills, ink and paper, he began writing about the Missouri persecutions. Observed by the guards, he was warned that his suspicious writings would be confiscated. Notified one day that the Sheriff was on his way, he and Mary hid them in a pillowcase sewn inside a straw mattress in the basement dungeon. Reclimbing the steep ladder, he stepped out and held the thick wooden trap door for his five year old step daughter who had followed him up, but he lost his grip, causing it to fall on her head and arm. Quick thinking took Mary, who was just behind the child, back down to retrieve the manuscript and hide it in her clothing. While doing so, Parley comforted little Mary Ann, advised his guards that the seriously injured child must be taken immediately for treatment, and at the same time devised a plan to get his manuscript to safety. He suggested that as long as they were out, Mary should take his seriously worn out shoes to a shoemaker who was not known in the town to be a Mormon. After tending to the child, Mary was able to get the manuscript to safety without its being discovered and destroyed.

On March 17, Mary and children were forced to leave the Richmond Jail to rejoin the few remaining Saints in Far West. Three days later, in a letter to Mary’s parents, Parley wrote, “Mary left the prison 3 days ago and is gone to Far West from thence she will go to Quincy…” He continued, Mary “is all kindness and goodness and is a pattern of patience enduring all her afflictions with a cheerful meekness and resignation and acting as an angel of mercy to her husband in bonds and imprisonment…”            

 After being threatened with death if they did not depart Far West at once, Mary, Mary Ann, and Nathan were rescued by David Rogers, one of Parley’s New York City converts. Their destination was Quincy, Illinois, a small city of several thousand built on limestone bluffs on the east side of the Mississippi River.

Upon reaching the Illinois side, they were faced with a swollen muddy stream with a firm bank on the other side. To lighten the load, Mary used a nearby crude foot bridge, leaving the children in the wagon. As she reached the other side, she turned and saw her little girl’s bonnet floating down the stream. At the same time David Rogers, driving the horses up the bank, looked back and saw what he perceived as a bundle of clothing that had just fallen off the wagon. He called out, “There is something lost in the water.” Mary Pratt screamed, “It is Mary Ann.”

David instantly dropped the reins and jumped into the swiftly moving water. At that instant the horses, being high spirited and active, began to run. “The wagon and its occupants would have been dashed to pieces but for the timely interference of a large prong of a tree, which caught the carriage with such a strong hold that all was brought to a stand [still].”

Tiny Mary Ann later wrote that as they moved through the deep stream she “pitched head foremost out of the carriage and into the water. One of the wheels ran over her and crushed her fast into the mud at the bottom of the stream. But as it moved she caught a spoke with her hand. By this means the same wheels that crushed her down brought her to the surface and saved her life. On examination, the marks of the wheel were distinctly seen on both her thighs, which were seriously injured and nearly broken.”  Years later she told her grandchildren that as she felt the crush of the wheel, she heard a voice say, “Hold onto the spoke, Hold onto the spoke.”

Finally safe in Quincy, Mary and her children rented a portion of a small house, and by selling some books and using her cows that had been brought from Missouri for her, she was able to take care of her family. She despaired of ever seeing Parley again.

On May 30, 1839, Parley wrote from the Columbia, Boone County, Missouri jail where he had been transferred for trial. The charge had been changed from murder to treason. He wrote that the new jail was twice as large as that in Richmond. He added that he prayed that she would “never part from me while we live. I Know not how to Express my feelings Concerning this Lon[g] absence from you and our Little ones. I hardly dare to trust my fingers with a penn [sic] to write on the Subject Lest I should Express feeling which would Increase your sorrow – or Lest I Should ask that of you which would influence you to again suffer with me In prison; which request I Know would be more than I have a right to ask of you, and more than you are bound to fulfill, – you have already had more Trouble and affliction in your union with one whose whole life has been Little else but a constant round of Misfortune, Grief and Suffering. [It is more] Than most persons have to Endure during a long Life. And I am far from wishing you to suffer more for my sake. If I had forseen [sic] the Troubles which you would be called to Endure for my sake I would niver [sic] have asked your hand nor Clasped you to my fond bosom, as my Lovely Brode [sic].”

Parley escaped from the Columbia Jail on July 4, 1839 with the help of his brother Orson Pratt. He had been incarcerated for eight months without a trial.


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