The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt – Revised and Enhanced Edition
Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor
Mission in Ohio – Start to western Missouri – Incidents by the way – Discourse on board a steamer on the 4th of July – Its effect – Arrival on the frontiers – Farming – Extortion – Mission in Missouri and Illinois – Treatment by infidels – Great success in Illinois – Opposition from Baptist ministers – Outlines of Mr. Peck’s speech and my reply – Result – Return home – A voice from the dead.
May 1832-Early June 1833
I shall not attempt to describe our feelings or our joy; these things are known by experience, not by language. I found her health much impaired, and she had long suffered from complaints of the nature of consumption; but she was now reduced still further by her anxious solicitude about my long absence.1When she found herself once more in the quiet enjoyment of my society, she gradually resumed her wonted cheerfulness, and began to enjoy better health; but still she was far from being well. After spending a few weeks at home, I performed a short mission in the southeastern part of Ohio, and again resumed, having travelled on foot in the heat of summer about three hundred miles. In this mission I met with no success in the ministry, owing to the prejudice, ignorance and bigotry of the people, who either would not hear at all, or else heard in a careless manner, and went away with the same indifference as they came.2
I now determined to take my wife and our little effects and remove to Western Missouri. To bear the expenses of this long journey my wife had some sixty dollars, which she brought with her from the East, and certain men also put into my hands sums of money to be expended in lands and improvements in that country. With brother Joseph’s counsel and blessing I bade farewell to Kirtland.3
We took a stage coach for the Ohio River, thence by steamer to St. Louis, and again by steamer up the Missouri. I took a steerage passage among the poorer class, and was dressed more like a laborer than a public minister. However, the throng of passengers on the boat learned by some means that I was a preacher, and on the 4th of July they pressed me very hard to address them in the cabin in honor of our national anniversary.4
I refused for awhile; but at length complied, on conditions that steerage passengers, boat hands, firemen, and all classes, black or white, should have the privilege of assembling in the cabin to hear the discourse.5
This was readily complied with, and very soon a large assembly was convened and in waiting, consisting of ladies and gentlemen, lawyers, merchants, farmers, servants, waiters and colored gentlemen.
I presented myself before this motley assembly in a plain coat of gray satinet, and bowed respectfully. All tried to be grave, but a smile, a sneer, a look of contempt would now and then escape from some of the more genteel portion of the assembly, as if they would say, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth,” 6 or, in other words, can so plain a man be possessed of knowledge sufficient to entertain such an assembly on so important an occasion as the 4th of July, and this, too, without preparing a discourse beforehand?
I read a chapter; all was serious attention. I offered up a prayer; all was deep interest. I commenced a discourse, and nearly all were in tears. I introduced the Book of Mormon as a record of ancient America; I dwelt upon its history and prophetic declarations, now being verified by the erection of free institutions in this great country, and their growing influence. I spoke of the general prosperity and resources of the country, acknowledging the hand of Providence in the same; warned them against national pride, ambition, and injustice; exhorted them, in common with all citizens, to use the utmost diligence to preserve the general peace and the pure influence of our national institutions; and to improve in light, intelligence and love, without which we, too, might be brought down to destruction like the Israelites and Nephites of old; and our bones and ruined cities and monuments alone be left to other people, as theirs were left to us, as a testimony of our greatness which would have passed away.7
I also showed them from the Book of Mormon that we were destined to remain forever as a blessed and free people on this land, on conditions of keeping the commandments of Jesus Christ, and that our settlements and commerce would soon extend to the vast shores of the Pacific ocean, and our ensign stand out to the nations as a standard inviting them to a banquet of freedom, peace and plenty.8
After meeting I was pressed upon to come into the cabin for the rest of the passage. And even when we changed boats at Louisville, such was the influence of my fellow passengers, that the gentlemen’s and also the ladies’ cabin and board was free to me without money or price. One gentleman offered as high as ten dollars for a copy of the Book of Mormon; but, unluckily, I had none with me.9
Arriving at the Colesville branch, on the western boundaries of the State (where I had spent the previous winter in sickness and poverty), about the 1st of August, 1832, we commenced cutting hay, building, purchasing and planting land, and making every preparation to receive those who had sent funds for this purpose. During the months of August and September I had, with a little help, secured about fifteen tons of hay, and put into the ground fifteen acres of wheat, besides building a log house and doing something at fencing, etc.
These exertions in the heat of the season brought on a severe illness, in which I was nigh unto death; but I was again restored in a few days by the laying on of hands and prayer in the name of Jesus.
About this time Lewis Abbott arrived with his family from Kirtland, and having sent some money by me, partly to aid in my expenses, and partly for the purpose of making improvements, he became dissatisfied and demanded the utmost farthing. This took everything I had done; – my wheat on the ground, my hay, my cows all but one, and left me entirely destitute, after all my laborious exertions. At this brother Abbott seemed satisfied, and thought he had got quite rich, and turned his money to good advantage; but the curse of God rested upon all his property as was soon manifest.
The next winter I took a mission in company with Elder William E. McLellin10 down through the State of Missouri and into Illinois, crossing the Mississippi at Clarksville.11
As we approached Clarksville, we were told by several of the inhabitants near, not to attempt a meeting or any religious instruction there, for they were a hardened and irreclaimable set of blasphemers and infidels, given to gambling, drinking and cursing, etc.; and that many different orders of the clergy had attempted in vain to reclaim them, or even to get a hearing. Before entering the town we ascended a mountain and cried mightily unto the Lord that He would open our way, and move upon the hearts of the people to receive us and hear the Word.
We then entered the town and called at a hotel. We told the landlord that we had come in the name of Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to the people, being sent by him without purse or scrip. “Well,” said he, “you are welcome to my house and such fare as we have; and we will meet together and hear your religion, and if it proves to be better than ours we will embrace it; for we confess that our religion is to fiddle and dance, and eat and drink, and be merry, and gamble and swear a little; and we believe this is better than priestcraft.”
We replied that we would try them anyhow. So a meeting was convened; we preached, had good attention, and much of a candid spirit of inquiry was manifest, and we were treated with hospitality and friendship, and even ferried over the river free; and this was more than those religious sectaries would do, who had warned us against them.
Passing over the river, the next day we came to Green County, Illinois; and as the day drew to a close we began to circulate an appointment as we travelled along a thick settlement of thrifty farmers, for preaching in a school house in the neighborhood that evening.
As we sat by the highway side to rest ourselves, an old farmer rode past on horseback, and halted to ask if we were travellers. We replied that we were travelling to preach the gospel, and had an appointment that evening at the school house just ahead, and invited him to come and hear.
“No,” said he, “I have not attended a religious meeting this five years; I have long been disgusted and tired of priestcraft and religious ignorance and division, and have concluded to stand aloof from it all.”
“Well, we are as much opposed to these things as you can be, and, therefore, have come to preach the gospel, and show the knowledge of God in its ancient purity, being instructed and sent of Him without purse or scrip. So come and hear us.”
“O! indeed, if that is the case, I will.”
So he came; the house was crowded with Baptists, Methodists, Universalists, Non-professors, Infidels, etc.
We preached. After meeting, a Baptist minister by the name of John Russell, a very learned and influential man, invited us to tarry in the neighborhood and continue to preach; he said his house should be our home, and he called a vote of the people whether they wished us to preach more. The vote was unanimous in the affirmative.
We tarried in the neighborhood some two months, and preached daily in all that region to vast multitudes, both in town and country, in the grove, and in school houses, barns and dwellings.
All parties were our hearers and friends, and contributed liberally to our wants; and the old farmer, whose name was Calvin, who had not been to meeting before for five years, became a constant hearer, and opened his house for our home. He was very wealthy, and bade us welcome to shoes, clothing, or anything we needed; many Infidels, Universalists, etc., did the same.
In this neighborhood there lived a Baptist minister by the name of Dotson, who opposed us with much zeal, from time to time, both in public and in private, and from house to house.
He said the Book of Mormon was a fable; a silly, foolish mixture of matter, possessing no interest, and that he could write a better book himself. However, his principal objection was, that God could give no new revelation – the New Testament contained all the knowledge that God had in store for man, and there was nothing remaining unrevealed.12
We asked him to open the New Testament and read to us the history and destiny of the American continent and its inhabitants, and the origin and lineage of the same; also, the history of the ten tribes of Israel, and where they now were. We also asked him to read to us from that book his own commission, and that of other ministers of this age to preach the gospel. But he could do none of these things; but still insisted that there was no subject worthy of new revelation, and that no revelation could be given.
Said I, “Mr. Dotson, relate to me your experience and call to the ministry.”
“Well,” he replied, “I will do so, seeing that it is you, friend Pratt; for you are able to bear it, and to comprehend something about it; but I have never told it to my own members; and I dare not, for they would not believe me.”
“Well, Mr. Dotson, be particular on the manner and means by which you were called to the ministry.”
“Why, sir,” said he, “I was called by a vocal voice from Heaven.”
“Well, Mr. Dotson, there is one exception to your general rule. We come to you with a new revelation, and you reject it, because there can be no new revelation; and yet you profess to have a new revelation, God having spoken from the heavens and called you, and commissioned you to preach eighteen hundred years after the New Testament was written, and all revelation finished! How is this?
“The New Testament no where calls you by name; neither makes mention of you as a minister of the gospel; but new revelation does, if we are to believe you. And yet you would teach your hearers and us, and all the world, to disbelieve all modern revelation merely because it is new. Consequently, we are all bound by your own rule to reject your call to the ministry, and to believe it is a lie.”
He could say no more.
At another time he was at Mr. Russell’s with us, and, in presence of Mr. R. and others, was opposing the Book of Mormon with all his power.
We asked him to listen while we read a chapter in it. He did so, and was melted into tears, and so affected and confounded that he could not utter a word for some time. He then, on recovering, asked us to his house, and opened the door for us to preach in his neighborhood. We did so, and were kindly entertained by him.
But after this, he again hardened his heart, and finding his opposition all in vain, he wrote a letter to the Rev. Mr. Peck, of Rock Spring, some sixty miles distant, informing him that the “Mormons” were about to take Green County, and requesting his immediate attendance.
This Mr. Peck was a man of note, as one of the early settlers of Illinois, and one of its first missionaries. He had labored for many years in that new country and in Missouri, and was now Editor of a paper devoted to Baptist principles.
This gentleman was soon forthcoming, and commenced his public addresses among the people, to try to convince them of the great errors we had taught.
He said there were no antiquities in America; no ruined cities, buildings, monuments, inscriptions, mounds, or fortifications, to show the existence of such a people as the Book of Mormon described.13
He also said, that there were no domestic animals such as the cow, the ox, or the horse, found here when Europeans first discovered the country. He then inquired how these animals became extinct since the destruction of the Nephites.
He said further, that the fortifications and mounds of this country were nothing more than the works of Nature.
He then warned the people against the study of the prophetic parts of the Old and New Testaments, observing that these mysterious prophecies were directly calculated to lead them into delusion and bewilderment; that the best way to read and understand prophecy was, to read it backwards – that is to say, after it is fulfilled; that it was never designed to be understood before it came to pass.
He also taught that the Millennium was already commenced, and that Jesus Christ would not come, in person, till the great and last judgment; and that the Millennium must first continue a year for each day of the thousand years, spoken of by John the Revelator, etc.
A meeting was held for the purpose of replying to him; the people came out in great numbers.
I then replied in substance as follows:
“My hearers: – The Rev. Mr. Peck is a great man. He is a man of age and varied experience and learning. I am but a youth, inferior to him in all these respects.14 I reverence his gray hairs; I respect his learning; I admire his talents and ingenuity; and I feel a delicacy in replying to him; and nothing but a love for the truth and a hatred of error and falsehood, could induce me to come in contact with him before the public; but where truth and salvation are at stake I cannot shrink from duty, in consideration of age or talent; I cannot spare the man, even if he were my father.
“To do away the Book of Mormon, we are called upon to believe that the temples, statues, pyramids, sculptures, monuments, engravings, mounds and fortifications, now in ruins on the American continent, are all the works of Nature in her playful moments; that the bones of slumbering nations were never clothed upon with flesh, and that their sleeping dust was never animated with life.
“This is too monstrous; it is too marvelous, too miraculous for our credulity; we can never believe that these things are the works of Nature, unaided by human art; we are not so fond of the marvelous.
“Again, we are told that no cows or oxen were here when Europeans first came to the country. I would ask what the wild buffalo are, if they are not the cattle of the ancient inhabitants? I would ask how horse tracks came to be imbedded in the petrified rock of Kentucky, without a horse to make them? And if no race of animals could become extinct, which once existed here, I would ask Mr. Peck either to produce a living mammoth, or annihilate his bones. But, perhaps, the reverend gentleman would say that those bones, too, were the works of Nature, and that the huge animal they seem to represent never existed.
“Again, my hearers, we are warned against the study of prophecy. We are told that a careful perusal of the prophecies, which the reverend gentleman is pleased to call ‘mysterious,’ is a principal cause of our delusion and blindness; and that the prophecies were only designed to be read and understood after they were fulfilled.
“We will apply this rule, and learn its workings by practical experience.
“The people at the time of the flood adopted this rule, all save eight souls. Mr. Peck’s theology was then almost catholic.15 The universal world (save eight) were disposed to remain in ignorance as to the meaning of prophecy till after its fulfilment. The result was that they knew not until the flood came and swept them all away; then they could understand.16
“The people of Sodom were all of Mr. Peck’s faith – all save Lot and his family; they also perished unawares.17
“The Jews also were of this same school – I mean those who perished in the siege of Jerusalem, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Jesus Christ, recorded in the 21st chapter of Luke.18
“And permit me here to remind my hearers that this ancient system of theology, will certainly prevail to an almost universal extent at the time of the coming of the Son of Man. For Jesus himself testified that, as it was in the days of Noah and in the days of Lot, so should it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man.19 I would here pause and congratulate my reverend friend on the glorious and popular prospects before him. Certain it is that most of the world will, at some future day, be of his faith in this respect; they will let the prophecies of the Holy Scriptures alone, and not attempt to understand them until after their fulfilment.
“But we are of another school.
“We believe in Jesus, who said ‘search the Scriptures;’20 we believe with Peter, that we have a more sure word of prophecy, unto which we do well to take heed, as unto a light shining in a dark place; until the day dawn, and the day star arise in our hearts.21
“We believe the Apostle when he says that, ‘whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our profit and learning; that, we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.’22 We wish to be children of the light and not of darkness; that that day come not upon us unawares.23 In short we wish, like Timothy of old, to understand the Scriptures from our very childhood; considering that they are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus.24
“Again, we are told that the world is in the enjoyment of the Millennium, or thousand years of rest, spoken of by John, the Revelator.
“Of course then Satan is bound, and does not tempt any man.25 The martyrs of Jesus, and those who kept His commandments are raised from the dead, and are now present on the earth reigning with Jesus Christ.26 The nations learn war no more, none are in ignorance, none in darkness, the knowledge of God covers the earth as the waters do the seas.27 The cow and the leopard, the kid and the bear, the wolf and the lamb, the lion, the serpent and the little child, all dwell together in peace.28 For such events the prophets have described in connection with the Millennium.
“But the great announcement of all – the most important communication made to us by Mr. Peck is concerning the time of the second coming of Jesus Christ. It was now ascertained by him to be postponed till the great and last day; and that we are to have a Millennium of three hundred and sixty-five thousand years first, before Christ comes. Only think! ‘three
hundred and sixty-five thousand!’ Why, according to this calculation the world is yet in its infancy; we are early in the morning of creation. The great day of the existence of the world has only dawned; a long and glorious race is yet before the generations of man. What is the age of Adam or Methuselah! What the few fleet years of the earth’s existence, compared to the time yet to come before its end!
“O, ye holy prophets and saints of old, had you been in possession of the knowledge of the astounding facts now announced by this reverend gentleman, you would never have warned mankind so repeatedly to be ready for the great day of the Lord, for it was soon at hand.29
“And had Jesus Christ known this fact, he would never have warned the world of the danger of that day coming on them unawares.30 He and His Apostles would have said: it is yet far – very far off. The Millennium must first dawn, and then continue three hundred and sixty-five thousand years; and then, behold, I will come to judge the world.
“But, my hearers, please read the prophet Zechariah on this subject, chapter 14.
“We were there informed that ‘Jesus Christ will come, and all the saints with him,’ – that he will ‘set his feet on the Mount of Olives;’ that he will ‘deliver the Jews and Jerusalem from their enemies;’ that he will ‘destroy those who are in the siege against that city;’ and that he will ‘reign as a king over all the earth, from that time forth; and there shall be one Lord and his name one.’
“Now, if he comes and all the saints with him, it cannot be his first coming. If he comes to fight for the Jews and overthrow their enemies, it cannot be his first coming. If the Mount of Olives rends in twain at the same time, and opens so as to form a great valley in the place thereof, it has no connection with his first coming.
“Again, if he comes to reign as a ‘King over all the earth,’ it can have no allusion to the last judgment, – the end of the earth. Consequently, if Zechariah has told the truth, we are to expect the coming of Jesus Christ distinct from his first coming; unconnected with the last judgment, at the very commencement of his reign of a thousand years, which we call the Millennium; but which, Mr. Peck says, has commenced, entirely independent of any such event. But what can we expect of a man when he comments upon the prophecies, while at the same time he contends that none can understand them until after their fulfilment.
“Of course, my hearers, he himself acts upon the principle which he lays down to others; and if he does, he never studies, never searches the prophecies, acknowledges himself in darkness on all subjects connected with unfulfilled prophecy; expects to remain so, and expects his hearers to do the same.
“O, my beloved friends, have the people of this western country been led in darkness for so many years by learned and reverend gentlemen? Are they willing to remain in darkness now, when the veil is withdrawn, and his folly made manifest before all the people, and this too by his own words, uttered in presence of you all?
“If so, follow him, and cleave to him as your teacher. But if not, we exhort you to hold fast the truth as we have delivered it to you; come forward this day, and obey the ordinances of God; seek for the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth, and continue to search the Scriptures for more light, and God will bless you forever. Amen.”31
After this meeting some of the Baptists and others came forward and were baptized, and joined the Church of the Saints; and the people in general remained steadfast in the faith, and were unmoved by the exertions of Messrs. Peck and Dotson.
This filled them with envy, and they soon began to manifest a lying and abusive spirit to such a degree that all the people could see and distinguish plainly between the spirits of truth and error.
Mr. Peck soon took leave and retired home, and we continued our mission.
Hundreds of the people were convinced of the truth, but the hearts of many were too much set on the world to obey the gospel; we, therefore, baptized only a few of the people, and organized a small society, and about the first of June took leave and resumed home.
Having rested myself a few days, I now commenced again to cultivate the earth. I plowed about six acres of ground for wheat, and was busy from day to day in the woods, preparing timber to fence the same, when the following dream, or night vision, was given me:
A man came to me and called me with a loud voice: “Parley, Parley.” I answered, “Here am I.” Said he, “Cease splitting rails, for the Lord has prepared you for a greater work.” I answered, “Whereby shall I know that this message is from the Lord?” He replied, “Follow me, and I will show you.”
I followed him for some distance along a long path, and at last came to a place of ancient sepulchres, where many of the Nephites of old had been buried. One of these opened, – the flesh of the man withered away; he became like a skeleton, and passed down into the grave. I understood and knew by the spirit, that this signified that it was the voice of one from the dead which had spoken to me. I therefore exclaimed, “It is enough; I know the message is of the Lord; return unto me, that we may converse together.” He then came forth out of the grave, was again clothed upon with a body like a man, and he talked with me, and told me many things.
I awoke the next morning, and thought of my dream, but I was necessitated, as I thought, to finish my fence and sow my crop before I ceased to labor with my hands. I, therefore, continued to make and haul rails from the woods. I perfected my fence and sowed my crop, but I never reaped; I never saw the wheat after it was more than three inches high.
1. Thankful Halsey Pratt was now thirty-five years old and was suffering from the degenerative effects of tuberculosis. She died less than five years later.
2. The southern portion of Ohio at this time was much more of a frontier than the northern area.
3. Parley and Thankful likely left Kirtland about June 25, 1832.
4. July 4, 1832.
5. This was an important concession inasmuch as they were traveling through Missouri, the newest slave state.
6. John 1:45-46. A common saying in ancient Israel was, “If you want to be learned, go to Jerusalem, if you want to be rich, go to the Galilee.” Nazareth was located in the Galilee and was certainly not renowned for turning out great scholars or rabbis.
7. See Mormon 6:16-22; Ether 13:14; 15:1-3.
8. On this occasion Parley may have quoted 2 Nephi 1:5-9 and Ether 2:10-12, including these statements: “Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity” (2 Nephi 1:7); “For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God” (Ether 2:10).
9. A copy of the Book of Mormon in that day sold for about $1.25, a sum equal to about $65 in today’s money.
10. William E. McLellin had joined the Church in Jackson County, Missouri, in 1831. His conversion story is included in Lucy Mack Smith’s history (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 279-80). He was born January 18, 1806, joined Parley in the first group called to the Quorum of the Twelve (William was sixth in seniority, just ahead of Parley), and served doggedly in the Church’s early days. He later publicly opposed Church leadership. He was excommunicated in 1838, never to return to the Church (see Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 106-7).
11. Clarksville was located in Pike County, Missouri, forty-two river miles downstream from Hannibal.
12. See 3 Nephi 29:6; D&C 11:25.
13. At this early time in the Church, most people, including the Reverend Mr. Peck, were not aware of the ruins and ancient cities of Mexico and Central America. The work of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood (Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan) was not published until 1841 in New York and London. A second book, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, was published in 1843. The earlier work attracted the attention of Joseph Smith, and extracts were published in the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo in September 1842 (see Times and Seasons 3 [September 15, 1842]: 911-15; 3 [October 1, 1842]: 927-28).
14. Parley was twenty-five years old.
15. Catholic here means universal or general and has no reference to the Catholic Church or its beliefs.
16. See Genesis 6-8.
17. See Genesis 19:1-29.
18. See Luke 21:5-24.
19. See Matthew 24:36-39.
20. John 5:39.
21. 2 Peter 1:19.
22. Romans 15:4.
23. See 1 Thessalonians 5:4-7.
24. 2 Timothy 3:15.
25. Revelation 20:2-3.
26. Revelation 20:4.
27. Isaiah 2:4; 11:9.
28. Isaiah 11:6-8; 65:25.
29. See Isaiah 2:12; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:2.
30. Luke 21:34.31. Parley had been in the Church less than three years, but the Bible quotes he used in responding to the Reverend Peck’s teachings show his immense knowledge of the scriptures. Parley had carefully studied the Bible since his youth and readily drew upon his biblical knowledge.
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