by Jayne Fife and Roselyn Kirk

After his dramatic rush to freedom, Parley headed immediately for Mary in Quincy, Illinois. Having been informed of his escape, she kept the table set for five days and nights and a candle burning in the window. She agonized that he had been recaptured, but on the fifth night she heard a sound at the door and there he stood. She flew into his arms – both weeping tears of joy and relief.

Parley wrote that he spent the first days of liberty in “the enjoyment of the society of family and friends…After a few days spent in this way, we removed to Nauvoo [Commerce], a new town about fifty miles above Quincy…It had been appointed as a gathering place for the scattered Saints and many families were on the ground, living in the open air, or under the shade of trees, tents, wagons, etc., while others occupied a few old buildings, which had been purchased or rented.” Additional members had settled in abandoned log buildings on the opposite side of the Mississippi, in a place called Montrose, Iowa that had formerly served as barracks for soldiers.

Parley and Heber C. Kimball cut logs and each built a small cabin on individual five acres of wilderness purchased from a local landowner. On July 21, a remarkably and typically positive Mary, typical of her nature, wrote to her parents in Bethel, Maine: “Our healths [sic] are good, the children grow and are very play ful. [sic] I hope you will not give your selfs [sic] so much trouble about us as you have done. I presume you have more trouble about us than we have for ourselves. These light afflictions which are but for a moment will work out for us a far more exeding [sic] and Eternal wait of glory. I am as well off as to property as I was when I came into these upper cuntryes [sic] we still have our oxen and Cows, the Lord has blest us.” She again suggests they come west and concludes with “it is towards eve and I must attend to my little babes.”

By August 29, there was a complete change in plans. Parley, along with his brother Orson and Hiram Clark, left Nauvoo to join other apostles on a mission to England. Mary, their three children, Mary Ann (six), Nathan (one); as well as two and a half-year-old Parley Jr., brought to her before Parley’s escape by a woman who had cared for him since the death of his mother, accompanied the three missionaries in a two-horse drawn carriage. They were headed to New York City where other missionaries were gathering to sail to England. After visiting Parley’s parents and brother in Detroit, they sold the horses and carriage and steamed down Lake Erie to Buffalo, then the Erie Canal to Albany and finally down the Hudson River to New York City, a journey of about 1,400 miles.

 Mary Ann later remembered that they first traveled over “flower decked prairies. Best of all we were free and happy―not afraid of mobs and violence―in a land of friendliness, meeting sympathy at every hand.” As the apostles and other missionaries gathered in New York City, Mary took care of them in their rented home on Mott Street.

On March 9, 1840, Parley sailed for Liverpool, England with Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Orson Pratt, as well as two others. He later wrote, “We were accompanied to the water by my family, and by scores of the congregation…We bade them farewell amid many tears, and taking a little boat were soon on board ship―which lay at anchor a short distance from the shore.”

Mary and children then traveled to Bethel, Maine to visit her parents, returning to New York City to conduct Parley’s book selling business, including the collection of money owed and the payments due to publishers.

On April 6, 1840, Parley penned a letter to Mary giving her advice about preparing to join him by June or July. He wrote, “Here is a boundless harvest for the next 15 to 20 years…if the Lord will I expect to spend five or ten years at least.” He continued, “I wish you as soon as you get this letter, to sell every thing except beding [sic] and wearing apparel and fill two chests and a trunk and get ready to come to England the first opportunity.” He advised her to collect what was due on books and pay the printer. “Do not let the Books go without the pay in hand, for they have cost me much money and I owe for them; and I need the remainder after the debt is paid, to support my family.” If this plan didn’t work out, he suggested that she borrow money from “some good friend…Courage Mrs. Pratt, you have performed more difficult journeys than this, and if you will take hold with Courage the Lord will bless and prosper you and our Little ones and Bring you over in Safety.”

 In England, Parley’s major assignments were to edit and publish a monthly periodical, the Millennial Star, as well as a hymn book and the Book of Mormon. Brigham Young had borrowed 350 British pounds from two converts to finance the printing of 2000 Millennial Star periodicals, 3000 hymn books, and 5000 Books of Mormon.

While attending a general church conference in Manchester on July 6, 1840, Parley was given a letter from Mary informing him that she and the children were seriously ill with scarlet fever. He wrote back to her, “Behold your Letter comes with the sad news of your Sickness; and that you were not coming. This is more than I can bear. Here I must live alone, my Chamber desolate. And you still confined at home where I Could assist and comfort you and aid you continually in the care of our little ones, if I only had them here…Why must we live separate? Why must I forever be deprived of your Society and my dear little Children? I cannot endure it.” He ended by writing that he had no prospect of coming to America for years.

Then conditions changed. His colleagues, knowing that he was slated to remain in England for several years as editor, publisher and leader, decided he should go back to the United States and return with his family. Brigham Young gave Parley 60 British pounds to cover the cost. By the time he arrived in New York, Mary and the children had recovered. And before they set out for England, they journeyed to Maine to visit Mary’s family.

An unusual experience occurred before the arrival of the Pratt family in Maine. Mary’s sister, Lucretia Bean, told her family one day that Parley and his family would arrive at their home the next evening. In response, the next day, she changed the bedding in the best room. Her family laughed at her. They reminded her that Parley was in England and Mary in New York, but just as they were preparing for bed, the Pratts knocked on their door. As a gift, they presented a quilt that Parley had brought from England. It is now at the Bethel Historical Society.

When they left, they took Mary’s sister Olive Frost, age 24, with them to help care for the children. They arrived in Manchester, England in mid October 1840. Their home at 47 Oxford Street became the meeting and lodging place for those coming and going to preach the Gospel, as well as the Church bookstore and distribution center. Parley resumed his editorship and publishing duties, as well as the organization and directing of the emigration activities, with Mary’s capable, encouraging help. When the other apostles returned to the United States, he presided over the Church in Great Britain. Mary and Olive also assumed missionary responsibilities.

In a letter to Church leaders in Nauvoo just after the first British edition of the Book of Mormon was published in January 1841, Parley wrote, “The work is increasing in every step. It is now prospering in Ireland and in Wales, as well as in Scotland and England.” Although he missed the Saints in Nauvoo, he wrote, “I can truly say that I was never more contented, or more happy than of late.”

On April 2, 1841, at a conference held in Manchester it was reported that there were now 8,000 to 9,000 converts, 5,000 just in the last year. A thousand new members had already emigrated to the United States. Passage costs were from 3 pounds, 15 shillings to 4 pounds, including provisions. Passengers were to take their own bedding and cooking utensils. All their luggage was free. On arrival in New Orleans, a passage up the Mississippi River, fifteen hundred miles by steamboat, cost fifteen shillings, freight free.

In June 1841, Olivia Thankful Pratt was born, named after her aunt Olive and Parley’s first wife, Thankful. In early 1842, the Pratt family moved to Liverpool to supervise the emigration process more closely. Then, on October 29, 1842, they left with 250 converts for Nauvoo.

It was a challenging journey with “difficulties, murmurings and rebellions.” Parley wrote, “We then humbled ourselves and called on the Lord, and he sent us a fair wind and brought us into port in time to save us from starvation.” Daughter Mary Ann reported that water was so scarce that she learned to “take a bath in a teacup.”

They arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River about January 1, 1843 where they transferred to a steam-powered tugboat for the 100 mile journey to New Orleans where Parley and Mary shopped for goods for a store they were planning to build in Nauvoo. From there, a chartered steamboat carried the immigrants to St. Louis, dropping off the Pratt family at Chester, Illinois, about 80 miles south of St Louis, where they rented the bottom portion of an old warehouse as they waited for the icy river to open up to Nauvoo. Parley had been threatened with arrest if he should be caught on Missouri soil.

Near the middle of March, Parley and family took a steamer to St. Louis, gathered their group of immigrants, and boarded a small steamboat for the final 300 miles to Nauvoo. Unfortunately, they still had to wait before the ice on the river was sufficiently broken up to travel north. Finally starting, it took almost two more weeks. Mary gave birth to a daughter, Susan, on the little steamboat full of converts on April 5. They arrived at Nauvoo at 5 pm on April 12. The Prophet met their boat and invited Parley, Mary and the baby to his home. Olive and the other children went to Patty Bartlett Sessions’ home. 

On April 15, Parley wrote in an article for the local newspaper, “I had been absent about three years and a half during which all the improvements had been made and that by a people almost without means. Judge my feelings then, in riding through a regular town, for some three or four miles, with streets opened, lots fenced out and buildings almost innumerable, many of them were neatly built of frame or brick. I gazed, I wondered, I admired. I could hardly refrain from tears.”

In late June Aaron and Susan Frost, Mary’s parents, arrived from Bethel, Maine with their daughters, Sophronia and Huldah, all now members. Aaron, a skilled carpenter, began to work on the Pratt’s new home, including laying the floors, building the stairs and fashioning the woodwork along with an English builder and carpenter, Nicholas Silcock, who had recently arrived with the Pratts. The large two story, nine room, home, which included a store, was built of red brick with stone base caps and window sills which trimmed the twenty-seven large windows. Four foot square stone pillars supported a stone cornice at the entrance of the store. There was a deep cellar in the basement. It was considered one of the finest homes in Nauvoo. It still exists on the southeast corner of Young and Wells Street, with significant revisions implemented by the Catholic Church clergy that purchased the property after the Nauvoo exodus. Mary Ann later wrote, “before the roof was quite finished we commenced moving in and kept going from one part to the other until it was all completed.” The now large family had been living in a one room log cabin across the street.

 Shortly after their arrival, Joseph Smith introduced Parley and Mary to the relatively new plural marriage principle which included the concept of marriage for Time and All Eternity. Joseph’s restoration of ancient Church doctrine included the renewing of the traditions of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Solomon, who, he said, were commanded by God to marry plurally. He had introduced, with varying degrees of acceptance, this principle to selected leaders during the Pratt’s absence.

 Joseph had already chosen Elizabeth Brotherton, an English convert, to be Parley’s plural wife. Before finalizing the arrangements, he left Parley and Mary to struggle with this very troubling new practice when he went to visit relatives. According to Pratt family history, Parley begged Joseph before he left to not insist on his entering into a polygamous marriage, but the Prophet was adamant, saying it was his duty to be an example to other leaders. He was told to pray about it. In a dream, his first wife, Thankful, came to him and indicated that by having more wives, he would be adding to his stature in the next world and she would be over the other wives, thus elevating her stature as well.

Mary “raged,” as had many others before and after her, about plural marriage, but not the sealing of couples for time and all eternity. After praying, she reported to a friend, Vilate Kimball, that “the devil had been in me [,] until within a few days past, the Lord had shown it [plural marriage] is all right.”

In the meantime, Joseph Smith had been arrested by two deputies, one Missourian, one from Illinois, for the reinstatement of the 1838/39 Missouri charges of treason. He had previously escaped from Missouri with the complicity of his guards who felt him innocent― which he was― but the vengeful governor wanted him back. During this time, Hyrum Smith, thinking he had the proper authority, sealed Parley and Mary for time and eternity.

After Joseph outmaneuvered the deputies and returned to Nauvoo about a week later, he canceled the sealing, recorded his revelation on plural marriage and gave Hyrum his approval and the proper authority to reseal Parley and Mary. So, on July 24, 1843, at the home of Brigham Young, Hyrum sealed Parley to his first wife, Thankful, for eternity with Mary acting as proxy. She was then sealed to Parley for time and eternity. and finally she “gave” (a term signifying a first wife’s acceptance), to Parley 26 year old Elizabeth Brotherton as his plural wife, also for time and eternity. Joseph Smith was not present.

Little Nathan Pratt, age five years and four months, died on December 21 of “fever on the brain.” He was buried in the yard near the south fence of the Pratt home just seven months after the family returned to Nauvoo. His death caused a painful conflict concerning Mary’s first beloved husband, Nathan Stearns. Parley now had three women sealed to him for eternity; what of Nathan? His eternal progression might be curtailed.

In the spring of 1844, Parley and other church leaders left to proselyte and electioneer for Joseph’s candidacy for President of the United States. His decision to run was partly due to President Van Buren’s refusal to help church members obtain compensation for the violation of their rights as American citizens and the seizure of their extensively developed land two times in Missouri. He informed church representatives, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”

On June 27, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in the Carthage Jail. They, and the citizens of Nauvoo, had been promised protection by the governor of Illinois if Joseph surrendered. The charges made against him were later proven illegal, as other charges against him over the years had been.

The night of their funeral, June 29, the people of Nauvoo were horrified by rumors of a mob thought to be gathering a short distance away with the intent of terrorizing them and destroying their city. Parley and many of the leaders were absent.  The remaining men had few weapons to protect the city because Governor Thomas Ford had forced them to give up their state issued weapons to his army when Joseph surrendered in Carthage. Now, the Governor and his promised protective forces were nowhere in sight.

Mary and her family, plus other neighborhood women and their children, huddled together in her home. All were fearful that the horrific agony experienced five years previously in Missouri was about to be repeated. Then, they had been driven into the freezing countryside in the middle of the winter after having been robbed, beaten, crops and homes destroyed and some murdered. Mary Ann later recorded that her Mother softly said, “If we have to be killed, let us all die together.”

One Nauvoo woman later wrote about the drum beat [signifying danger] emanating from the temple that penetrated the night, “Every blow seemed to strike to my heart,…the women…were weeping and praying.”  Near midnight, there was a sudden flash of lightning and a crash of thunder followed by a violent storm, clearing the surrounding area of potential danger.

Amidst all the tumult occurring at that time, little eighteen month old Susan Pratt died on August 28 and was buried next to her brother, Nathan, who had died just eight months previously. Mary’s sister Sophronia had died unexpectedly in May. The murders of Joseph and Hyrum in June had also taken its toll on her. Mary, her parents, and her two remaining sisters, were in deep mourning.

On September 9, only twelve days after Susan’s death, Parley married his second plural wife, Mary Wood. For whatever the reason, Mary is not known to be present at this or any of Parley’s other plural marriages, only that of Elizabeth Brotherton in July 1843. Could Parley have decided that Thankful Halsey Pratt held the position of “first wife” even though she was deceased, and he therefore did not need Mary’s approval and participation? Although the approval of the first wife was common in Nauvoo, it was not firmly established by Brigham Young until the Saints arrival in the Salt Lake valley.

In November 1844, Parley married twice more without Mary’s knowledge and took his fourth plural wife, Belinda Marden Hilton, in secret, with him on a mission centered in New York City. Mary gave birth to her last child, Moroni, five days after he left. About a week later she received a letter from him: He wrote, “I never left home with more intense feelings, Nor under more trying Circumstances than the present, except the time I went to prison and to death Leaving you Sick of a fever with a babe 3 months old and to the mercy of Savages with Scarce Shelter or food. I was Sorry to Go and your tears quite over Came me. But I tore myself away and here I am. And where I go I hope you will Soon be also. I Shall then be happy; So Cheer up. The time will soon pass with you, surrounded as you are with Mother, Children, and friends. But with me it is far different. I not only have to part with one but all. Time drags slowly and Solitude is Sickening to me…”

After nearly nine months, Parley and Belinda returned. She later wrote, I “went to Mr. Bench’s tavern to board while Parley went home. After a little time it was arranged for his wife Mary (Wood) and me to commence keeping house in a room upstairs in Mr. Pratt’s house.” 

This was a tumultuous time in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith had discussed searching  for an additional gathering place in the West several years before his death; now the prospect was imminent. In September enemies set fires to settlements surrounding Nauvoo, causing refugees to stream into the city. Parley became active in planning for an exodus. At a meeting, he provided a list of necessary items for a family of five to cross the plains. In early October, a formal document drawn up at the Quincy Convention demanded that the Saints leave Nauvoo by May 1846. On October 6, 1845, at the first church conference held in the Nauvoo Temple, those attending were given instructions for a spring departure. Several companies were also organized.

During that harried time, Mary had other things on her mind. Her closest, most supportive sister, Olive Frost, a plural wife of Joseph Smith, died. She had never been strong and her health had deteriorated while she was in England with Parley and Mary. On September 25, she became ill with malaria and after two weeks, of chills and fever, she died of pneumonia on October 6.

Parley married his fifth plural wife, Sarah Huston, on October 15, nine days after Olive’s devastating death, without Mary’s knowledge or participation.  

On December 10, leaders and their wives, including Parley and Mary, received their sacred ordinances given to worthy members in the Temple. Even though they would have to leave soon, receiving these blessings were of great importance. Mary was one of the women who supervised the preliminary ordinances in the women’s area.

On December 26, a Marshal appeared in Nauvoo with warrants for the arrests of the Twelve Apostles. On January 1, Parley’s plural wife Belinda delivered his second son by a plural wife, Nephi, in an upstairs bedroom of the Pratt home. Mary, who had only recently been informed by Sarah Pratt that her husband Orson had observed Parley and Belinda living together in New York City when he had arrived to take over the Eastern States Mission, confronted Belinda. This was Mary’s introduction to the extent of Parley’s plural marriages. Stunned by his disrespect and deception, she severed their close personal relationship.

Ten days later, an obviously distraught Parley spoke out against Sarah Pratt at a meeting of church leaders and their wives in the temple, accusing her “of influencing his wife against him, and of ruining and breaking up his family” etc. Orson defended his wife so vigorously, that the two brothers were “voted” out of the temple and Orson was  disfellowshipped, until able to explain himself to Brigham Young the next day.  

On January 17, word was received that Governor Ford was intending to place Nauvoo under martial law and about ten days later state troopers arrived in Nauvoo seeking to arrest Church leaders, precipitating a decision to start westward immediately. Boats were organized and their families were told to be ready to leave within four hours of notification. The first family exodus group crossed the Mississippi on February 6.

On that same day, a deeply saddened Mary Pratt told her husband that she wished to have the blessing of being sealed for eternity in the temple before it closed. Parley told her that it was her choice as to whom she would be sealed.  She replied that “she wanted to know the mind and will of the Lord.” They walked to the temple together to consult with Brigham Young, the senior apostle and accepted leader, who, understanding their current situation, advised them that, “If Joseph had lived he would have had Mary Ann [Mary] sealed to him.” Then he turned to Parley and said, “Take sister Mary Ann [Mary] and her children, take good care of them and take them to Joseph and it will do more for your exaltation than any thing you can do in this matter.” Mary was then sealed by Apostle Heber C. Kimball to Joseph Smith for eternity, and to Parley for time only. She had not been sealed to Joseph Smith during his lifetime, as some historians have speculated.  

Two days later, February 8th, Parley was secretly sealed by John Taylor to Phoebe Sopher, his sixth plural wife. They were later angrily chastised by Brigham Young for doing so without his permission. Five days later, on the afternoon of February 13th,  with his family of seven wives and six children: Nephi, (6 weeks), Alma (6 months), Mary Ann (13), Parley Jr. (9), Olivia (4 1/2) and Moroni (14 months), Parley left  Nauvoo. The group included three teamsters, one with his wife and two children. Along with the three oxen driven covered wagons, they had a one-horse drawn carriage managed by Parley Jr. After crossing the river on ice, they slept for several nights in a tent or their wagons. There were two to three inches of snow on the ground.

They then moved a few miles further into a log granary which had been used for  tithing collection. There was a bin full of corn at one end and a pile of potatoes in the basement that supplied needed food for them and their animals. The main group was located more than a mile ahead at Sugar Creek where Brigham Young was waiting for more members in order to organize traveling companies. Parley traveled back and forth for meetings. It was bitter cold, alternating between rain and snow. Most people slept in tents and wagons or under wagons.

Almost a week out, Parley decided to return to Nauvoo for some metal wagon fittings he thought that he might need for the long journey. He invited Mary and little Moroni, who had been suffering with a bad cold, to go with him for a last visit with her parents and sister who remained in the their home. Aaron was still laboring on the interior of the temple. When it was finished, what was left of the Frost Family were intent on returning to Maine.

The blacksmiths were too busy to fill Parley’s request that day, so he left Mary and Moroni with her parents and returned to camp. Two days later he attempted to return for her, but the melting river was full of icy mush and impossible to cross by the ferry. As there were many people going to and from Nauvoo at that time, when river conditions improved Mary was able to return to their camp. Gathering Mary Ann and Olivia, she returned to Nauvoo, informing Parley that they would catch up when the frigid weather was over. Having lost two children and two sisters to illness in the past two years she was taking no chances. Her surviving children were her main concern now. One might also assume that living in such close quarters with six other wives, most of whom she had only recently discovered, proved a difficult, if not unbearable situation for her.

By the end of May, according to her daughter Mary Ann’s autobiography, “The main body of the Church had left Nauvoo and for a time peace and quiet reigned in the city. We individually were waiting for our house to be sold that we might pursue our journey…”

On September 10, 1846, a group of hundreds of angry, impatient men advanced to the outskirts of the city determined to drive out the last remnants of the Mormon population. The city was lightly fortified with only about one hundred and fifty possible defenders. For safety, a group of women and children gathered at the Pratt home. Parley’s brother Anson asked Mary to supervise the baking of bread for the defenders to last throughout the crisis. Two days later there was a battle, during which three male residents were killed. Finally, on September 14/15, the remaining Mormon leaders were forced to agree to leave within three days. Only three men, with their families and clerks, were allowed to remain to continue to continue to try to sell property, but, as in Missouri, most residents received nothing. After they left, people came in and took what they wanted.

On the third day, Mary and children were picked up and deposited on the edge of the Mississippi River where they spent the night. As they were preparing their camp, they heard a martial band that was leading members of the group who had assaulted them marching their way. Mary Ann later recorded, “just as they were opposite our camp, they halted an instant, and the Captain shouted, ‘You’re a d—d pretty looking set, ain’t you?’…My Mother took a step forward and replied, ‘Gentlemen, it is your day now, but it will be ours by and by.’ He called back ‘Shut up that, or we will have you under guard.’  She returned, ‘I do not fear you, Sir,’ just as they were passing.”

The next day they crossed the river to Iowa on a flat boat where they camped, in a tent that Mary’s foresight had made possible, on the riverbank a mile above Montrose, joined by Parley’s mother, Charity, his two brothers, Anson and William, their families, and about 600+ other refugees.

Supplies were scant. A flock of birds landing nearby provided immediate relief and eventually a boat with flour, sugar, coffee, rice, dried apples and bacon came up the river from St Louis, kind people there having been alerted to their dilemma. Word had also reached Brigham Young who quickly dispatched teams, wagons, tents and provisions. 

William Pratt’s little daughter, Martha, was ill and soon died. Mary comforted the devastated mother by suggesting that they sneak back into Nauvoo to bury her in Parley and Mary’s yard with the other children. When William and friends did this, they were amazed at how quiet Nauvoo was. The victors, having accomplished their intent, had disappeared.  


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