The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt – Revised and Enhanced Edition
Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor
Farewell scenes – Departure of the last remnant of the exiles – Court – Release of two of the prisoners - Reflections in prison.
On the 17th of March, 1839, my wife took leave of the prison with her little children, and, with a broken heart returned to Far West, in order to get passage with some of the brethren for Illinois. 1 She tarried in Far West a month. All the Society had gone from the State, but a few of the poor and widows, and the Committee who tarried behind to assist them in removing.
About the middle of April a gang of robbers entered Far West armed, and ordered my wife, and the Committee, and the others to be gone by such a time, or they would murder them. This gang destroyed much furniture and other property.
Thus my wife was driven away according to the Governor’s previous order, while I was still detained in a filthy dungeon. 2 My family were conveyed to Quincy, Illinois, distance two hundred and eighty miles, by David W. Rogers, of New York, who is a descendant of the celebrated martyr, John Rogers, of Smithfield celebrity, England.
On the 20th of April, 1839, the last of the Society departed from Far West. Thus had a whole people, variously estimated at from ten to fifteen thousand souls, been driven from houses and lands and reduced to poverty, and had removed to another State during one short winter and part of a spring.
The sacrifice of property was immense – including houses, lands, cattle, sheep, hogs, agricultural implements, furniture, household utensils, clothing, money and grain. One of the most flourishing counties in the State and part of several others were reduced to desolation, or inhabited only by marauding gangs of murderers and robbers.
On the 24th of April our cases came before the Grand Jury of the county of Ray; which Grand Jury, the reader is aware, would be naturally composed of our persecutors and their accessories; and at whose head was the same Judge King who had presided in the former mock trial and Inquisition which committed us to prison.
Darwin Chase and Norman Shearer were dismissed, after being imprisoned near six months. This release happened just as Mr. Shearer came to visit his son for the last time before he left the country. He came into the prison and took an affectionate leave of his son, who wept as if his heart would break; but while he yet lingered in town his son was called before the Court, and, together with Mr. Chase, was told that he might go at liberty. The father and son then embraced each other, almost overcome with joy, and departed.
At the same time my brother, Orson Pratt, whom I had not seen for a year, came from Illinois to see me, but was only permitted to visit me for a few moments, and then was ordered to depart.
Mrs. Phelps, who had waited in prison for some days, in hopes that the Court would release her husband, now parted with him, overwhelmed with sorrow and tears, and, with her infant, went away to remove to Illinois.
Thus our families wander in a strange land, without our protection, being robbed of house and home. O Lord! how long?
Our number in prison were now reduced to four – one having been added about the middle of April. His name was King Follett; 3 he was dragged from his distressed family just as they were leaving the State, being charged with robbery, which meant that he was one of a posse who took a keg of powder from a gang of ruffians who were out against the Mormons. Thus, of all the Mormon prisoners first kidnapped, only two remained in the State – Mr. Gibbs having denied the faith to try and regain his liberty – these were Morris Phelps and myself.
All who were liberated on bail were forced to leave the State, together with those who bailed them, thus forfeiting many thousands of dollars to the coffers of the State.
Is it possible! Have I been recording the history of realities as the scenes transpired in the broad light of the nineteenth century – in the boasted land of liberty – and in the most renowned republic now existing on the globe? Alas! it is too true; would to God it were a dream – a novel, a romance that had no existence save in the wild regions of fancy. But the prison door yet grating on its hinges, – the absence of my wife and little ones, – the gloom of the dungeon where I yet repose, – these and ten thousand other things cause me to think that my almost incredible narrative is no fiction, but an awful reality – a fact more truly distressing than my feeble tongue or pen can find words to set forth.
How often in my sleeping visions I see my beloved wife, or my playful children surrounded with the pleasures of home in my sweet little cottage, or walk with them in some pleasant grove or flowery field, as in years past. How often I see myself surrounded with listening thousands, as in bygone years, and join with them in the sacred song and prayer, or address them with the sound of the everlasting gospel. But, alas! I soon awake, and, to my inexpressible grief and sorrow, find myself still in my lonely dungeon.
O sound once delightful to every American ear!
O sacred privilege of American citizenship!
Once sacred; now trampled under foot.
When shall I and my injured family and friends again enjoy thy sweets? When shall we repose beneath thy bower, or bask in thy boundless ocean of felicity? When shall we sit again under our vine and under our fruit trees, and worship our God, with none to molest or make us afraid?
Awake, O Americans!
Arise, O sons and daughters of freedom!
Restore a persecuted and injured people to their rights, as citizens of a free republic. Down with tyranny and oppression, and rescue your liberties from the brink of ruin. Redeem your much injured country from the awful stain upon its honor; and let the cries of helpless orphans and the tears of the sorrowing widow cease to ascend up before the Lord for vengeance upon the heads of those who have slain, plundered, imprisoned and driven the Saints. And let the news go forth to the wondering nations that Columbia still is free.
O tell it not in Britain; nor let the sound be heard in Europe that Liberty is fallen; that the free institutions of our once happy country
are now destroyed, lest the sons and daughters of Britannia rejoice and laugh us to scorn; lest the children of monarchy triumph and have us in derision.
O freedom must thy spirit now withdraw
From earth, returning to its native heaven,
There to dwell, till, armed with sevenfold vengeance,
It comes again to earth with King Messiah,
And all His marshaled hosts, in glory bright,
To tread the winepress of Almighty God,
And none escape? Ye powers of Heaven, forbid;
Let freedom linger still on shores of time,
And in the breasts of thine afflicted saints,
Let it find a peaceful retirement –
A place of rest, till o’er the troubled earth,
Mercy, justice and eternal truth,
While journeying hand in hand to exalt the humble
And debase the proud; shall find some nation,
Poor, oppressed, afflicted and despised;
Cast out and trodden under foot of tyrants
Proud; the hiss, the byeword, and the scorn of knaves –
And there let freedom’s spirit wide prevail,
And grow and flourish ‘mid the humble poor –
Exalted and enriched by virtue,
Knowledge, temperance and love; till o’er the earth
Messiah comes to reign; the proud consumed,
No more oppress the poor,
Let freedom’s eagle then (forthcoming, like
The dove from Noah’s ark) on lofty pinions soar,
And spread its wide domain from end to end,
O’er all the vast expanse of this wide earth;
While freedom’s temple rears its lofty spires
Amid the skies, and on its bosom rests
A cloud by day and flaming fire by night!
But stay my spirit, though thou fain would’st soar
On high, ‘mid scenes of glory, peace and joy;
From bondage free, and bid thy jail farewell.
Stop! – wait awhile! – let patience have her perfect work.
Return again to suffering scenes, through which
The way to glory lies, and speak of things
Around thee – Thou’rt in prison still!
But spring has now returned; the wintry blasts
Have ceased to howl through prison crevices –
The soft and gentle breezes of the South
Are whistling gaily past, and incense sweet,
On zephyr’s wing, with fragrance fills the air,
Wafted from blooming flowerets of the spring;
While round my lonely dungeon oft is heard
Melodious strains, as if the birds of spring,
In anthems sweet, conspired to pity and
Console the drooping spirits there confined.
All things around me show that days, and weeks,
And months have fled, although to me not mark’d
By Sabbaths, and but faintly marked by dim
And sombre rays of light, alternate ‘mid
The gloom of overhanging night, which still
Pervades my drear and solitary cell.
Where now those helpless ones I left to mourn?
Have they perished? No. What then! Has some
Elijah call’d and found them in the last
Extreme, and multiplied their meal and oil?
Yes, verily; the Lord has filled the hearts
Of his poor saints with everlasting love,
Which, in proportion to their poverty,
Increased with each increasing want, till all
Reduced unto the widow’s mite, and then,
Like her, their living they put in; and thus
O’erflowed the treasury of the Lord with more
Abundant stores than all the wealth of kings.
And thus supported, fed and clothed, and moved
From scenes of sorrow to a land of peace,
They live! and living still, they do rejoice
In tribulation deep –
Well knowing their redemption draweth nigh. 4
1 Mary Ann had spent a good deal of time in the Richmond, Missouri, jail with Parley. At the time, she was caring for little Parley, two; Mary Ann Stearns, six; and Nathan, seven months. In a letter written three days after his wife left the jail and addressed to his wife’s parents and family, the Frosts, Parley wrote: “Dear Parents, and Brothers and Sisters, I write to you at this time from a dark loathsome prison where the light of day shines but dimly on my paper, and having just recovered from about 7 weeks sickness my nerves are very weak, so that I can scarcely write at all … I have now been imprisoned near five months in a loathsome filthy jail in the midst of darkness and dirt such as I cannot describe, suffice it to say that a state prison would be a palace of pleasure compared with it; our food is only fit for dogs to eat; or for soap grease; and as to insults we are almost daily told that we will be hung, sacrificed, or that, and very frequently; we are told of getting fat against killing time as if they would kill and eat us; we have no prospect of getting at liberty short of some months yet” (Parley P. Pratt to Aaron Frost, March 20, 1839, Letters, 1838-1839, 1841).
2Parley composed this poem in prison on April 12, 1839:
This is the day that gave me birth
In eighteen hundred seven
From worlds unseen I came to earth
Far from my native heaven
Thirty and two long years have passed
To grief and sorrow given
And now to crown my woes at last
I am confined in prison
‘Tis not for crimes that I have done
That to my foes I’m given
But to the world I am unknown
And my reward in heaven
What troubled scenes may yet ensue
To strew my path with sorrow
Is not for me to know ’tis true
I boast not of tomorrow
One thing is sure this life at best
Is like a troubled ocean
I often wish myself at rest
From all its dire commotions
But let its troubled bosom heave
Its surges beat around me
To truth-Eternal truth I cleave
Its floods will never drown me.
(Pratt, Letters, 1838-1839)
3King Follett (1788-1844) was fifty-one years old at this time. After being released, he became a constable in Hancock County, Illinois, and lived in Nauvoo. He was killed while digging a well at Nauvoo. His funeral sermon by the Prophet Joseph on April 7, 1844, became known as “The King Follett Discourse” (see Smith, Teachings, 342-62).
4Parley often expressed his feelings to his family and friends through poetry.