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Parley P. Pratt: The Man Who Loved the Book More Than Riches

Q: Parley P. Pratt is mentioned in D&C 32:4; D&C 50:37; D&C 52:26; D&C 97:3-5; D&C 103:30, 37; D&C 124:129. What were the words spoken by the Prophet Joseph in the Richmond, Missouri jail that Parley recorded in his journal? Was Parley P. Pratt killed while on a mission?

A: Parley P. Pratt was born in 1807 in New York. His early schooling was limited, but he loved books. When he learned about a new book called the Book of Mormon, he “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…I esteemed the Book, or the information contained in it, more than all the riches of the world.”

Parley was baptized in September 1830 by Oliver Cowdery and was ordained an elder shortly thereafter. He immediately began to preach and converted his brother Orson Pratt. In October 1830 Parley was called to be one of four missionarys to the Lamanites on the western frontier. Parley served many missions before becoming a recruiting officer for Zion’s Camp in February 1834.

Parley was ordained an Apostle on February 21, 1835. Parley then served successive mission to several places before settling in Missouri in 1838. Parley was imprisoned with the Prophet Joseph in Far West, Independence, and then Richmond. In November 1838, after listening to the guards in Richmond recount their deeds of rape, murder, and robbery against the Mormons, Parley heard the Prophet speak “in a voice of thunder, or as a roaring lion, uttering… ‘Silence, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still. . . Cease such talk or you or I die this instant!’” The guards were instantly contrite and begged his pardon.

Parley P. Pratt Nauvoo Homestead and Storefront
Parley P. Pratt Nauvoo Homestead and Storefront

Parley was able to escape the prison in Richmond on July 4, 1839, and made his way to Illinois building a home and store north of the Temple that still stands and is used as a residence for Catholic priests.

He was finally able to see the Prophet Joseph again: “Neither of us could refrain from tears as we embraced each other once more as free men. . . He blessed me with a warmth of sympathy and brotherly kindness which I shall never forget.”

In the 1840s Parley served a mission in England, where he was editor and publisher of the Millennial Star. The first edition of the periodical contained his hymn “The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee.” While serving another mission in the United States, he learned of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum: “I felt so weighed down with sorrow. . . I had loved Joseph with a warmth of affection indescribable.”

Parley wondered how he could face Joseph’s family members if he returned to Nauvoo. His answer came, “Lift up your head and rejoice; for behold, it is well with my servants Joseph and Hyrum. . . Go and say unto my people in Nauvoo that they shall. . . make no movement in Church government to reorganize or alter anything until the return of the remainder of the Quorum of the Twelve.” Because of this divine answer, Parley was instrumental in blessing the people in Nauvoo and England and the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley.

Pratt explored and surveyed Parley’s Canyon in Salt Lake City, Utah (named in his honor), and subsequently built and maintained the first road for public transportation in the canyon.

Parley, not wanting to waste any time, made a study of the Spanish language. He was then called on a mission to the islands of the Pacific as well as South American countries. Pratt’s constant missions left him little time with his family. After he started practicing plural marriage, the longest period of time he had with his family were the 18 months following his return from a mission to Chile.

Parley is known to have written 31 published works, not including his posthumous autobiography.

His final mission was back to the States once again. It was near Van Buren, Arkansas, that fifty-year-old Parley was murdered in May 1857. He is buried in Alma, Arkansas.

Source: Who’s Who in the Doctrine & Covenants by Susan Easton Black; Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt

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