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

Chapter 5

Our home – New sect – Progressive religious views – Unexpected meeting – Dialogue – Forsake my home – Journey to New York – Public ministry – Strange book – First interview with a Latter-day Saint.

Spring 1829-August 28, 1830

Eighteen months had passed since our settlement in the wilderness. [1] The forest had been displaced by the labors of the first settlers for some distance around our cottage. A small frame house was now our dwelling, a garden and a beautiful meadow were seen in front, flowers in rich profusion were clustering about our door and windows; while in the background were seen a thriving young orchard of apple and peach trees, and fields of grain extending in the distance, beyond which the forest still stood up in its own primeval grandeur, as a wall to bound the vision and guard the lovely scene. Other houses and farms were also in view, and some twenty children were returning from the school actually kept by my wife, upon the very spot where two years before I had lived for months without seeing a human being.

About this time one Mr. Sidney Rigdon [2] came into the neighborhood as a preacher, and it was rumored that he was a kind of Reformed Baptist, who, with Mr. Alexander Campbell, [3] of Virginia, a Mr. Scott, [4] and some other gifted men, had dissented from the regular Baptists, from whom they differed much in doctrine. At length I went to hear him, and what was my astonishment when I found he preached faith in Jesus Christ, repentance towards God, and baptism for remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost to all who would come forward, with all their hearts, and obey this doctrine! [5]

Here was the ancient gospel in due form. Here were the very principles which I had discovered years before; but could find no one to minister in. But still one great link was wanting to complete the chain of the ancient order of things; and that was, the authority to minister in holy things – the apostleship, the power which should accompany the form. This thought occurred to me as soon as I heard Mr. Rigdon make proclamation of the gospel.

Peter proclaimed this gospel, and baptized for remission of sins, and promised the gift of the Holy Ghost, because he was commissioned so to do by a crucified and risen Saviour. [6] But who is Mr. Rigdon? Who is Mr. Campbell? Who commissioned them? Who baptized them for remission of sins? Who ordained them to stand up as Peter? Of course they were baptized by the Baptists, and ordained by them, and yet they had now left them because they did not administer the true gospel. And it was plain that the Baptists could not claim the apostolic office by succession, in a regular, unbroken chain from the Apostles of old, preserving the gospel in its purity, and the ordinances unchanged, from the very fact that they were now living in the perversion of some, and the entire neglect of others of these ordinances; this being the very ground of difference between the old Baptists and these Reformers.

Again, these Reformers claimed no new commission by revelation, or vision from the Lord, while they had not the least shadow of claim by succession.

It might be said, then, with propriety: “Peter I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?” [7]

However, we were thankful for even the forms of truth, as none could claim the power, and authority, and gifts of the Holy Ghost – at least so far as we knew. [8]

After hearing Mr. Rigdon several times, I came out, with a number of others, and embraced the truths which he taught. We were organized into a society, and frequently met for public worship.

About this time I took it upon me to impart to my neighbors, from time to time, both in public and in private, the light I had received from the Scriptures concerning the gospel, and also concerning the fulfilment of the things spoken by the holy prophets. I did not claim any authority as a minister; I felt the lack in this respect; but I felt in duty bound to enlighten mankind, so far as God had enlightened me.

At the commencement of 1830, I felt drawn out in an extraordinary manner to search the prophets, and to pray for an understanding of the same. [9] My prayers were soon answered, even beyond my expectations; the prophecies of the holy prophets were opened to my view; I began to understand the things which were coming on the earth – the restoration of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, and the glory that should follow. I was so astonished at the darkness of myself and mankind on these subjects that I could exclaim with the prophet: surely, “darkness [covers] the earth, and gross darkness the people.” [10]

I was all swallowed up in these things. I felt constrained to devote my time in enlightening my fellow men on these important truths, and in warning them to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

My brother William, [11] who journeyed to the West with me in my seventeenth year, had now been missing to the family for five years, and was supposed to be dead. About the time he disappeared and was lost sight of, he was known to leave the city of New York, where he had been employed, and to pass up the Hudson on a steamer. He was heard of no more;
and, as a notice appeared in the papers of the same date that a young gentleman by the name of William Pratt was drowned in the Hudson, on his way up the river, our parents and the family had given him up for lost.

One morning, as I was absent from home on business, about two miles distant, I heard of him; and that he was then residing about ten miles from me. On hearing this I ran nearly the whole distance on foot, and in about two hours had him by the hand. He was much surprised, although he had heard of a man of my name living in the neighborhood; but could not believe it was me. We had each of us taken our chance amid the hardships and toils of a new country for years, and at last found ourselves together about six hundred miles from our starting point.

This was a joyful and unexpected meeting of two brothers. He immediately accompanied me home, and was introduced to my wife and our little farm in the wilderness, where we spent some days together. He admired my wife; but above all my farm. “Brother Parley,” said he, “how have you done all this? When we were last together you had no wife, no farm, no house, no orchard, and now you are here with everything smiling around you.” I replied that hard work had accomplished it all. And, continued I, we are now about to leave this quiet home which we have toiled so hard to make, and perhaps, never see it again.

“How so?” said he, with much surprise, and somewhat of disappointment. I then unfolded to him the gospel and prophecies as they had been opened to me, and told him that the spirit of these things had wrought so powerfully on my mind of late that I could not rest; that I could no longer be contented to dwell in quiet and retirement on my farm, while I had light to impart to mankind, of which I knew they were in a great measure ignorant.

“But,” said he, “if I had fifty acres of land, a comfortable house, a fine orchard, a beautiful garden, with meadow land, grain, and above all, such beautiful flowers and so valuable a housekeeper as you have, and all these things the work of our own hands, I am sure I would stay and enjoy the same while I lived; and the world might go on its own jog, and its own way, for all me. Besides, how are you to get your living? This is your all; you have toiled for years to obtain it, and why not now continue to enjoy it?”

“William,” said I, “I see plainly you know but little of my circumstances – of the changes which have taken place with me since we parted five years ago, nor how vastly wealthy I have become within that time. Why, sir, I have bank bills enough, on the very best institutions in the world, to sustain myself and family while we live.”

“Indeed,” said he, “well, I should like to see some of them; I hope they are genuine.” “Certainly,” I replied, “there is no doubt of that. They are true bills and founded on capital that will never fail, though heaven and earth should pass away. Of this I will convince you in a moment.”

I then unlocked my treasury and drew from thence a large pocket book, full of promissory notes like the following: “Whoever shall forsake father or mother, brethren or sisters, houses or lands, wife or children, for my sake and the gospel’s, shall receive an hundredfold in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting.” [12] “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will in my name and I will give it you.” [13] “All things are possible to him that believeth.” [14]

“Now, William,” said I, “are these the words of Jesus Christ, or are they not?” “They certainly are,” said he, “I always believed the New Testament.”

“Then you admit they are genuine bills?”

“I do.”

“Is the signer able to meet his engagements?”

“He certainly is.”

“Is he willing?”

“He is.”

“Well, then, I am going to fulfil the conditions to the letter on my part. I feel called upon by the Holy Ghost to forsake my house and home for the gospel’s sake; and I will do it, placing both feet firm on these promises with nothing else to rely upon.”

“If I sink, they are false.”

“If I am sustained, they are true. I will put them to the test. Experiment shall now establish the truth of Christ’s promises, or the truth of infidelity.”

“Well,” said he, “try it, if you will; but, for my part, although I always believed the Bible, I would not dare believe it literally, and really stand upon its promises, with no other prop.” [15]

We parted. He to his business, I to my preparations for a mission which should only end with my life. [16]

In August, 1830, I had closed my business, completed my arrangements, and we bid adieu to our wilderness home and never saw it afterwards.

On settling up, at a great sacrifice of property, we had about ten dollars left in cash. With this small sum, we launched forth into the wide world, determining first to visit our native place, on our mission, and then such other places as I might be led to by the Holy Spirit.

We made our way to Cleveland, 30 miles. We then took passage on a schooner for Buffalo, a distance of 200 miles. We had a fair wind, and the captain, being short of hands, gave me the helm, the sails being all set, and turned in. I steered the vessel the most of the day, with no other person on deck. Of course, our passage cost us little besides my labor. Landing in Buffalo, we engaged our passage for Albany on a canal boat, distance 360 miles. [17] This, including board, cost all our money and some articles of clothing.

Arriving at Rochester, I informed my wife that, notwithstanding our passage being paid through the whole distance, yet I must leave the boat and her to pursue her passage to our friends; while I would stop awhile in this region. Why, I did not know; but so it was plainly manifest by the Spirit to me. I said to her, “we part for a season; go and visit our friends in our native place; I will come soon, but how soon I know not; for I have a work to do in this region of country, and what it is, or how long it will take to perform it, I know not; but I will come when it is performed.”

My wife would have objected to this; but she had seen the hand of God so plainly manifest in His dealings with me many times, that she dare not oppose the things manifest to me by His Spirit.

She, therefore, consented; and I accompanied her as far as Newark, a small town upwards of 100 miles from Buffalo, and then took leave of her, and of the boat. [18]

It was early in the morning, just at the dawn of day, I walked ten miles into the country, and stopped to breakfast with a Mr. Wells. I proposed to preach in the evening. Mr. Wells readily accompanied me through the neighborhood to visit the people, and circulate the appointment.    

We visited an old Baptist deacon by the name of Hamlin. After hearing of our appointment for evening, he began to tell of a book, a strange book, a VERY STRANGE BOOK! in his possession, which had been just published. This book, he said, purported to have been originally written on plates either of gold or brass, by a branch of the tribes of Israel; and to have been discovered and translated by a young man near Palmyra, in the State of New York, by the aid of visions, or the ministry of angels.

I inquired of him how or where the book was to be obtained. He promised me the perusal of it, at his house the next day, if I would call. I felt a strange interest in the book. I preached that evening to a small audience, who appeared to be interested in the truths which I endeavored to unfold to them in a clear and lucid manner from the Scriptures. Next morning I called at his house, where, for the first time, my eyes beheld the “BOOK OF MORMON” – that book of books – that record which reveals the antiquities of the “New World” back to the remotest ages, and which unfolds the destiny of its people and the world for all time to come; – that Book which contains the fulness of the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer; – that Book which reveals a lost remnant of Joseph, and which was the principal means, in the hands of God, of directing the entire course of my future life. [19]

I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. [20] After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life. I soon determined to see the young man who had been the instrument of its discovery and translation.

I accordingly visited the village of Palmyra, and inquired for the residence of Mr. Joseph Smith. I found it some two or three miles from the village. As I approached the house at the close of the day I overtook a man who was driving some cows, and inquired of him for Mr. Joseph Smith, the translator of the “Book of Mormon.” He informed me that he now resided in Pennsylvania; some one hundred miles distant. I inquired for his father, or for any of the family. He told me that his father had gone a journey; but that his residence was a small house just before me; and, said he, I am his brother. It was Mr. Hyrum Smith. I informed him of the interest I felt in the Book, and of my desire to learn more about it. He welcomed me to his house, and we spent the night together; for neither of us felt disposed to sleep. [21] We conversed most of the night, during which I unfolded to him much of my experience in my search after truth, and my success so far; together with that which I felt was lacking, viz: a commissioned priesthood, or apostleship to minister in the ordinances of God.

He also unfolded to me the particulars of the discovery of the Book; its translation; the rise of the Church of Latter-day Saints, [22] and the commission of his brother Joseph, and others, by revelation and the ministering of angels, by which the apostleship and authority had been again restored to the earth. After duly weighing the whole matter in my mind I saw clearly that these things were true; and that myself and the whole world were without baptism, and without the ministry and ordinances of God; and that the whole world had been in this condition since the days that inspiration and revelation had ceased – in short, that this was a new dispensation or commission, in fulfilment of prophecy, and for the restoration of Israel, and to prepare the way before the second coming of the Lord.

In the morning I was compelled to take leave of this worthy man and his family [23] – as I had to hasten back a distance of thirty miles, on foot, to fulfil an appointment in the evening. As we parted he kindly presented me with a copy of the Book of Mormon. I had not yet completed its perusal, and was glad indeed to possess a copy of my own. I travelled on a few miles, and, stopping to rest, I commenced again to read the book. To my great joy I found that Jesus Christ, in his glorified resurrected body, had appeared to the remnant of Joseph on the continent of America, soon after his resurrection and ascension into heaven; and that he also administered, in person, to the ten lost tribes; and that through his personal ministry in these countries his gospel was revealed and written in countries and among nations entirely unknown to the Jewish apostles.

Thus revealed, written, handed down and preserved, till revealed in this age by the angels of God, it had, of course, escaped the corruptions of the great and abominable church; and been preserved in purity.

This discovery greatly enlarged my heart, and filled my soul with joy and gladness. I esteemed the Book, or the information contained in it, more than all the riches of the world. Yes; I verily believe that I would not at that time have exchanged the knowledge I then possessed, for a legal title to all the beautiful farms, houses, villages and property which passed in review before me, on my journey through one of the most flourishing settlements of western New York.

Surely, thought I, Jesus had other sheep, as he said to his Apostles of old; and here they were, in the wilderness of the world called new. And they heard the voice of the Good Shepherd of Israel; and he brought them to his fold. Truly, thought I, he was not sent (in person) save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, as he told the woman of Canaan; [24] and here were a portion of them. Truly, thought I, the angels sung with the spirit and with the understanding when they declared: “We bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to ALL PEOPLE.” [25]

In his mortal tabernacle he confined his ministry and that of his Apostles to the land of Judea; but afterwards, released from the bonds of mortal life, or rather death, and clothed with an immortal body, and with organs strong and lasting as the immortal mind, he possessed all power in heaven and on earth; [26] he was then enabled to extend his ministry to heaven, earth or hell. He could take the wings of the morning, and, with the speed of light, make his way to the Heaven of Heavens; and converse and counsel among the sons of God; or receive counsel from his Father in Heaven; or, leaving again the starry worlds, he could descend to the dark and gloomy abodes of the spirits in prison and preach to them the gospel [27] – bursting off their shackles and unlocking their prison doors; while these once dark abodes were now brilliant with light, and, instead of prison groans, were heard joyful acclamations of deliverance to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; or coming again to visit the earth, he could soar away beyond the waves and tempests, which had before set bounds to the geographical knowledge of man, and stood up as an impregnable barrier to the intercourse of nations; and there, in other tribes and tongues, make known the riches of his grace, and his triumph over death.

And when ages had passed, and nations slumbered in the dust – when cruelty and bloodshed had blotted almost every trace of priesthood and apostleship from the earth; when saints had been worn out and overcome; times, laws and ordinances changed; the Bible itself robbed of its plainness; [28] and all things darkened and corrupted; a pure and faithful record of his ministry to other nations is forthcoming from among the archives of the dead, to reveal the “mystery of iniquity;” to speak, as with a voice of thunder, in rebuking the evil and revealing the fulness of the gospel. [29] Such was the Book of Mormon – such its effect upon the startling nations.


[1] This period was from October 1827 to the spring of 1830. Although the exact location of Parley and Thankful’s farm is not known, any of the northern third of Russia township, Lorain County, falls within ten miles of the mouth of the Black River.

[2] Sidney Rigdon was born at St. Clair Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1793, to William and Nancy Gallaher Rigdon. At this time Sidney, thirty-six years old, was preaching in Mentor, Ohio, and surrounding communities (about sixty miles east of Parley’s farm) and gaining prominence as a circuit preacher.

[3] Alexander Campbell, born in 1788 in Ireland, was trained for the ministry by his Presbyterian minister father. He helped to form an independent society in 1810 and desired to unite all believers into one church with the Bible as their standard. He preached for nearly sixty years, founded Bethany College in 1840, and passed away in West Virginia in 1866 (Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:478).

[4] Walter Scott, born in Scotland in 1796, was a preacher and religious reformer. In 1821, while living in Pennsylvania, he joined forces with Alexander Campbell, preaching and laboring to correct the evils of the day. Scott’s influence caused Campbell to veer away from Baptist creeds and form a new society called the Disciples of Christ. Scott died in 1861 (Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:512).

[5] James A. Garfield was born in 1831, just a few blocks west of the Disciples of Christ church, where Scott, Campbell, and Rigdon all preached. He later attended meetings of the Disciples and eventually preached in the same building. He became the nation’s twentieth president.

[6] See Acts 2:37-38; John 21:15-17.

[7] Acts 19:15-16.

[8] During this period Joseph Smith was in Harmony, Pennsylvania (and later Fayette, New York), translating the Book of Mormon with Oliver Cowdery acting as scribe. The translation was completed in the summer of 1829. Parley met the Prophet in September 1830; Sidney Rigdon met him in December 1830.

[9] At the beginning of 1830, the Book of Mormon was at the press in Palmyra. About one hundred days later, the Church was legally formed in western New York.

[10] Isaiah 60:2.

[11] William, Parley’s elder brother by nearly five years, was at this time twenty-seven years old.

[12] Matthew 19:29.

[13]   John 15:7.

[14] Mark 9:23.

[15] Despite William’s efforts to remain aloof from a literal belief in the promises of the scriptures, he later joined the Church (as did all but one of the Pratt brothers) and remained faithful all his life.

[16] Parley’s statement proved true.

[17] The Erie Canal was one of the most ambitious projects and, for a time, the most important national waterway of the early United States. It joined the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, was 363 miles long, had 83 locks to raise vessels 565 feet between the Hudson and Lake Erie, cost over $7 million to build, and was completed in 1825 – five years before Parley and Thankful took passage on it.

[18] Newark is just ten miles from Palmyra, New York, where the Book of Mormon had recently been published. The terminus of the Erie Canal was twenty-three miles from Thankful Pratt’s native home.

[19] Parley wrote his autobiography over twenty years after his first contact with the Book of Mormon. His perspective and insight here exemplify his years of experience and study of it.

[20] Parley later became friends with the three witnesses – Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris – and with the eight witnesses – Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith.

[21] Others were at Hyrum’s home that evening. Parley said, “He invited me to his home, where I saw mother Smith and Hyrum Smith’s wife, and sister Rockwell, the mother of Orin Porter Rockwell. We sat up talking nearly all night” (Journal of Discourses, 5:194).

[22] The official name of the Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was not revealed until April 26, 1838 (D&C 115:3-4), at Far West, Missouri. In its infancy the Church was commonly known as “The Church of Christ” or “The Church of the Latter Day Saints.”

[23] At this time Hyrum and Jerusha Barden Smith had two daughters: Lovina, nearly three years old, and Mary, fourteen months.

[24] See Matthew 15:21-28.

[25] Luke 2:10.

[26] See Matthew 28:18.

[27] See 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6; and D&C 138:18-32.

[28] See 1 Nephi 14:20-29.

[29] Joseph Smith said of this “pure and faithful record”: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Smith, History of the Church, 4:461).

2006 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.