The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt – Revised and Enhanced Edition
Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor

Chapter 6

Interesting meetings – Second interview with Hyrum Smith – Visit to the Church in Seneca County – Baptism, confirmation, and ordination – Ministry among my kindred – Baptism of my brother Orson – Wonderful sign in the heavens – Return to western New York – First interview with Joseph Smith – Description of his person and abilities.

August 28, 1830-September 26, 1830

Having rested awhile and perused this sacred book by the roadside, I again walked on.

In the evening I arrived in time to fill my appointment. I met a crowded house, and laid before them many interesting truths, which were listened to with deep interest. [1]

The next evening I had another appointment, and the people came out in great numbers, and were filled with the spirit of interest and inquiry.

They urged me very much to continue my discourses among them; but I felt to minister no more till I had attended to some important duties for myself. I had now found men on earth commissioned to preach, baptize, ordain to the ministry, etc., and I determined to obey the fulness of the gospel without delay. I should have done so at the first interview with Elder Hyrum Smith; but these two appointments were already out, and thirty miles’ travel required all the time I had.

I now returned immediately to Hyrum Smith’s residence, and demanded baptism at his hands. I tarried with him one night, and the next day we walked some twenty-five miles to the residence of Mr. Whitmer, in Seneca County. [2] Here we arrived in the evening, and found a most welcome reception.

This was the family, several of whose names were attached to the Book of Mormon as witnesses – Mr. Joseph Smith having translated much of the book in Whitmer’s chamber.

I found the little branch of the Church in this place full of joy, faith, humility and charity. We rested that night, and on the next day, being about the 1st of September, 1830, I was baptized by the hand of an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, by the name of Oliver Cowdery. [3] This took place in Seneca Lake, a beautiful and transparent sheet of water in Western New York. [4]

A meeting was held the same evening, and after singing a hymn and prayer, Elder Cowdery and others proceeded to lay their hands upon my head in the name of Jesus, for the gift of the Holy Ghost. After which I was ordained to the office of an Elder in the Church, which included authority to preach, baptize, administer the sacrament, administer the Holy Spirit, by the laying on of hands in the name of Jesus Christ and to take the lead of meetings of worship. [5]

I now felt that I had authority in the ministry.

On the next Sabbath I preached to a large concourse of people, assembled at the house of a Mr. Burroughs. The Holy Ghost came upon me mightily. I spoke the word of God with power, reasoning out of the Scriptures and the Book of Mormon. The people were convinced, overwhelmed in tears, and four heads of families came forward expressing their faith, and were baptized.

My work was now completed, for which I took leave of my wife and the canal boat some two or three weeks previous.

I now took leave of the little branch of the church with which I had been associated, and pursued my journey to the land of my fathers and of my boyhood.

I found my wife in health and spirits, enjoying herself with her friends. I also found my father and mother, friends and kindred, and, among others, my good old aunt and cousins, at the old homestead, where I always found a welcome reception.

This was a pleasant and retired mountain valley, consisting of a beautiful farm and a small and convenient house, out-buildings, orchard, meadow, etc., encircled on the south, west and north with a curve of hills, consisting of farming lands and pasture, and their summits and bosoms partially clothed with a beautiful forest of pine and chestnut; while the scene opened to the southeast in a descending landscape to a beautiful vale of some miles in extent, filled with flourishing farms and dwellings, and watered by a winding stream; while far beyond stretched other hills and pine-clad mountains, and the spire of a church and a small town were seen nestling among the hills at two miles distance.

This was the residence of my aunt Van Cott, and the place where I had spent some of the happiest seasons of my youth. My aunt had three children – an only son, and two daughters. These were now in the bloom of early youth, and were fast advancing to a state of maturity. Her husband had died at an early day, after an illness of seven years; and here lived the widow and orphans, surrounded with peace and plenty, blooming with health, and smiling with innocence and joy. Retired from the throng of busy, boisterous life, and strangers to most of its woes, ills and corruptions, the stranger who happened there was welcome; the hungry were fed, the naked were clothed, and, above all, the kindred found a hearty reception. In short, it was a spot, in all respects, adapted to retirement and contemplation, where the poet and the novelist would find a thousand things to please the imagination, and to swell their favorite volumes.

In this visit to my native place, there was one family greatly missed by me. I felt keenly the disappointment at not seeing them – that of my old employer, Wm. S. Herrick. He had moved to the West, and his house was occupied by strangers.

I now commenced my labors in good earnest. I addressed crowded audiences almost every day, and the people, who had known me from a child, seemed astonished – knowing that I had had but little opportunity of acquiring knowledge by study; and while many were interested in the truth, some began to be filled with envy, and with a lying, persecuting spirit. My father, mother, aunt Van Cott, and many others, believed the truth in part; but my brother Orson, a youth of nineteen years, received it with all his heart, and was baptized at that time, and has ever since spent his days in the ministry. [6]

It was during my labors in these parts, in the autumn of 1830, that a very singular and extraordinary sign was shown in the heavens, which I will here describe.

I had been on a visit to a singular people called Shakers, at New Lebanon, about seven miles from my aunt Van Cott’s, [7] and was returning that distance, on foot, on a beautiful evening of September. The sky was without a cloud; the stars shone out beautifully, and all nature seemed reposing in quiet, as I pursued my solitary way, wrapt in deep meditations on the predictions of the holy prophets; the signs of the times; the approaching advent of the Messiah, to reign on the earth, and the important revelations of the Book of Mormon; my heart filled with gratitude to God that He had opened the eyes of my understanding to receive the truth, and with sorrow for the blindness of those who lightly rejected the same, when my attention was aroused by a sudden appearance of a brilliant light which shone around me, above the brightness of the sun.  I cast my eyes upward to inquire from whence the light came, when I perceived a long chain of light extended in the heavens, very bright, and of a deep fiery red. It at first stood stationary in a horizontal position; at length bending in the center, the two ends approached each other with a rapid movement, so as to form an exact square. In this position it again remained stationary for some time, perhaps a minute, and then again the ends approached each other with the same rapidity, and again ceased to move, remaining stationary, for perhaps a minute, in the form of a compass; it then commenced a third movement in the same manner, and closed like the closing of a compass, the whole forming a straight line like a chain doubled. It again remained stationary for a minute, and then faded away.

I fell upon my knees in the street, and thanked the Lord for so marvelous a sign of the coming of the Son of Man.

Some persons may smile at this, and say that all these exact movements were by chance; but, for my part, I could as soon believe that the letters of the alphabet would be formed by chance, and be placed so as to spell my name, as to believe that these signs (known only to the wise) could be formed and shown forth by chance.

Renewed in spirit and filled with joy I now pursued my way, and arrived at my aunt Van Cott’s, not weary, but refreshed with a long walk, and deep communion with myself and God.

Having lifted a warning voice to multitudes in all this region of country, I now took leave, and repaired again to the western part of New York, and to the body of the Church.

On our arrival, we found that brother Joseph Smith, the translator of the Book of Mormon, had returned from Pennsylvania to his father’s residence in Manchester, near Palmyra, and here I had the pleasure of seeing him for the first time.

He received me with a hearty welcome, and with that frank and kind manner so universal with him in after years. [8]

On Sunday [9] we held meeting at his house; the two large rooms were filled with attentive listeners, and he invited me to preach. I did so, and afterwards listened with interest to a discourse from his own mouth, filled with intelligence and wisdom. We repaired from the meeting to the water’s edge, and, at his request, I baptized several persons.

President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active; of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself, on which the eye naturally rested with interest, and was never weary of beholding. His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint or affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with the serene and steady penetrating glance of his eye, as if he would penetrate the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heavens, and comprehend all worlds. [10]

He possessed a noble boldness and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar; his rebuke terrible as the lion; his benevolence unbounded as the ocean; his intelligence universal, and his language abounding in original eloquence peculiar to himself – not polished – not studied – not smoothed and softened by education and refined by art; but flowing forth in its own native simplicity, and profusely abounding in variety of subject and manner. He interested and edified, while, at the same time, he amused and entertained his audience; and none listened to him that were ever weary with his discourse. I have even known him to retain a congregation of willing and anxious listeners for many hours together, in the midst of cold or sunshine, rain or wind, while they were laughing at one moment and weeping the next. Even his most bitter enemies were generally overcome, if he could once get their ears. [11]

I have known him when chained and surrounded with armed murderers and assassins who were heaping upon him every possible insult and abuse, rise up in the majesty of a son of God and rebuke them, in the name of Jesus Christ, till they quailed before him, dropped their weapons, and, on their knees, begged his pardon, and ceased their abuse. [12]

In short, in him the characters of a Daniel and a Cyrus were wonderfully blended. The gifts, wisdom and devotion of a Daniel were united with the boldness, courage, temperance, perseverance and generosity of a Cyrus. And had he been spared a martyr’s fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endued with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world in many respects, and to have transmitted to posterity a name associated with more brilliant and glorious acts than has yet fallen to the lot of mortal. As it is, his works will live to endless ages, and unnumbered millions yet unborn will mention his name with honor, as a noble instrument in the hands of God, who, during his short and youthful career, laid the foundation of that kingdom spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever. [13]

But I will not forestall the reader. I have yet to speak of him in my history, under many and varying circumstances, in which I have necessarily been associated with him, up to the latest year of his life.


[1] This meeting was held the evening of August 28, 1830.

[2] This was likely the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York.

[3] Parley’s baptism, if his memory is correct, took place on a Wednesday. It was the habit of the Saints at that time to meet together on Tuesdays. Therefore Parley might have inserted his observation about the little branch being “full of joy, faith, humility and charity” because he had just met for the first time with branch members the day before his baptism.

[4] Parley identifies the place where he had been with the Saints as “the house of Jacob Whitmer, near Waterloo, Seneca, New York” (Pratt, Family Record). Lucy Mack Smith, however, often referred to the Whitmer home as in Waterloo (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 195, note 1). The branch of the Church at this place was meeting regularly in the home of Peter Sr. and Mary Whitmer in Fayette, New York.

[5] See D&C 20:38-45.

[6] Orson Pratt, younger brother of Parley, recorded: “From the age of ten to nineteen I saw much of the world, and was tossed about without any permanent abiding place; but through the grace of God, I was kept from many of the evils to which young people are exposed; the early impressions of morality and religion, instilled into my mind by my parents, always remained with me; and I often felt a great anxiety to be prepared for a future state; but never commenced, in real earnest, to seek after the Lord, until the autumn of 1829. I then began to pray very fervently, repenting of every sin. In the silent shades of night, while others were slumbering upon their pillows, I often retired to some secret place in the lonely fields or solitary wilderness, and bowed before the Lord, and prayed for hours with a broken heart and contrite spirit; this was my comfort and delight. The greatest desire of my heart was for the Lord to manifest His will concerning me. I continued to pray in this fervent manner until September, 1830, at which time two Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, came into the neighborhood, one of which was my brother Parley. They held several meetings which I attended. Being convinced of the divine authenticity of the doctrine they taught, I was baptized September 19, 1830… I was the only person in the country who received and obeyed the message” (The Orson Pratt Journals, 8-9; emphasis added.) Orson was ordained an apostle in 1835, serving in that position for forty-six years. (He was excommunicated in August 1842 but was rebaptized and ordained again to the apostleship in January 1843.)

[7] Parley grew up just a few miles from the villages of New Lebanon, Canaan County, New York, and Pittsfield, Hancock County, Massachusetts, the foundation of the Shaker religion. He was called to fill a mission to the Shakers in March 1831 (see chapter 8 and D&C 49).

[8] Parley and Joseph became close friends, associating together in the great work of the kingdom for thirteen and a half years.

[9] September 26, 1830.

[10] Gilbert Belnap recorded of Joseph Smith: “I was introduced to the Prophet whose mild and penetrating glance denoted great depth of thought and extensive fore thought. While standing before his penetrating gaze he seemed to read the very recesses of my heart” (Belnap, Autobiography, 30). William Appleby recorded: “His deportment is calm and dignified. His manners are condescending, gentle, humane, affable and free. He converses with the meekness of a Christian, and breathes the spirit of a pious man. A Servant and Prophet of the Most High: no ostentation, no affection, of address or manners, but candor, veracity, humility, and all the requisites that adorn a Seer, a Revelator, appears to govern and direct his actions. You may ask him any question you please, in a becoming manner, concerning his private history, his revelations, the dealings of the Lord towards him, his politics, faith, hope, or whatever else that is consistent or reasonable to propose, and he will answer you as becomes a gentleman and a Saint” (Appleby, Autobiography, 70).

[11] Lucy Mack Smith recorded this story that took place in Far West, Missouri: “I was standing at the door of the room where [Joseph] was sitting, and… I saw a large company of armed men advancing toward the city… The officers dismounted and eight of them came up to the house. Thinking that they wanted refreshment or something of that sort, I set chairs. But instead, they entered and placed themselves in a menacing line like a rank of soldiers across the room… ‘We do not choose to sit. We have come here to kill Joe Smith and all the Mormons…’ ‘Then you are going to kill me with the rest, I suppose,’ said I. ‘Yes, we will.’ Having finished his letter, [Joseph] asked me for a wafer to seal it.” Lucy continued: “‘Gentlemen, suffer me to make you acquainted with Joseph Smith the Prophet.’ He looked upon them with a very pleasant smile and, stepping up to them, gave each of them his hand in a manner which convinced them that he was neither a guilty criminal nor yet a cowering hypocrite…. Joseph sat down and entered into conversation with them and explained the views and feelings of the people called ‘Mormons,’ what their course had been, and the treatment which they had received from their enemies since the first… After this he rose and said, ‘Mother, I believe I will go home. Emma will be expecting me.’ At this, two of the young men sprang to their feet, saying, ‘You shall not go alone, for it is not safe. We will go with you and guard you'” (Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 361-63).

[12] See chapter 26.

[13] See Daniel 2:44-45.


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