Parley P. Pratt—Defender of Truth

“Parley P. Pratt—Defender of Truth,” Friend, Mar. 1993, 38

Heroes and Heroines:
Parley P. Pratt—
Defender of Truth

And now concerning my servant Parley P. Pratt, behold, I say unto him that as I live I will that he shall declare my gospel and learn of me, and be meek and lowly of heart (D&C 32:1).

In the spring of 1844, Parley P. Pratt and most of the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were serving missions in the eastern United States. In June, Elder Pratt felt inspired to return to Nauvoo, Illinois. On the way, he heard that Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been martyred at Carthage, Illinois. “I felt so weighed down with sorrow and the powers of darkness that it was painful for me to converse or speak to any one.”*

He thought about his beloved friends who were now dead and of the many experiences they had shared, including time spent in prison together. Six years before, in November 1838, when the Saints had been driven from their homes in Missouri, fifty of their leaders, including Joseph Smith and Parley, had been arrested and jailed in Richmond, Missouri.

One night the men had been kept awake by the guards, who were vulgarly boasting about their cruel acts of violence against the Saints. It was midnight, and the imprisoned men had been listening to the guards’ filthy language for hours. Unwilling to tolerate the abusive language any longer, the Prophet Joseph rose to his feet and with a voice of thunder rebuked the guards and commanded them to be silent. Parley later wrote, “Dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri.”

Now that great leader was gone. As Parley approached Nauvoo, he was worried. He didn’t know if Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, or any of the other members of the Quorum were there. What should he tell the people? Should he tell them to flee from Nauvoo? Or should they stay and complete the temple? Parley prayed to know what to do. “On a sudden the Spirit of God came upon me and filled my heart with joy and gladness indescribable. … The Spirit said unto me: ‘Go and say unto my people in Nauvoo, that they shall continue to pursue their daily duties and take care of themselves. … Exhort them that they continue to build the House of the Lord which I have commanded them to build in Nauvoo.’”

At Nauvoo Elder Pratt found that the people had already resumed work on the temple under the direction of John Taylor and Willard Richards, two other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who had been in jail with the Prophet when he was killed. The three men worked together to keep the people united and at peace until the return of President Young and the other members of the Quorum.

Parley Parker Pratt, who helped to steady the Church during this great trial, was born April 12, 1807, in Burlington, New York, to Charity and Jared Pratt. His family attended many different churches, trying to find the truth. When he was seven years old, his mother used the Bible to teach him to read. All the rest of his life Parley had a great love for the scriptures.

By August 1830, Parley P. Pratt had moved to Ohio, married, and worked hard to turn his land into a beautiful farm. But in studying the scriptures, Parley began to feel that the Lord wanted him to become a preacher. He and his wife sold their farm and headed by boat for Albany, New York, where they had friends. While on board, Parley felt a need to leave the boat and travel by foot.

At Newark, New York, he set off, leaving his wife to continue to Albany alone. He soon met a Mr. Hamblin, who told him of a book said to have been discovered and translated by a young man named Joseph Smith. The next morning Parley went to the Hamblin home to see the book. He wrote, “I read all day; eating was a burden, … 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. … I soon determined to see the young man who had been the instrument of its discovery and translation.”

Immediately Parley went to Palmyra, New York, to find Joseph Smith. When he got there, he learned that Joseph had moved to Pennsylvania. Parley met the prophet’s brother Hyrum, however, and talked with him throughout the night about the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel. A few days later Parley P. Pratt was baptized in Seneca Lake.

In the autumn of 1830, Parley P. Pratt was called with three other brethren to take the gospel to the Lamanites. This mission was not an easy one. At one point, Parley wrote, “We travelled on foot for three hundred miles through vast prairies and through trackless wilds of snow[,] … the bleak northwest wind always blowing in our faces with a keenness which would almost take the skin off the face. We travelled for whole days, from morning till night, without a house or fire, wading in snow to the knees at every step.”

Elder Pratt declared the gospel not only verbally, but in writing. While in England on a mission, he was called to be the first editor of the Millennial Star and he served on a committee to compile a hymnal for the British Saints. He wrote fifty hymns for that book, “The Morning Breaks,” “An Angel from on High,” “Come, O Thou King of Kings,” and “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth.”

Parley P. Pratt remained a faithful and diligent member of the Church. He served as a member of the First Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, endured imprisonment on false accusations many times, and served many missions throughout the world, including one to the southern United States, where he was killed at age fifty. His life was a varied and an extraordinary one. He was indeed a courageous defender of the truth.

Illustrated by Rick Graham