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Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism 1st Edition
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"The authors have done a remarkable job in presenting the story of this unique and essential character." - Publishers Weekly
"Beautifully written, keenly intelligent, and thorough in its research, this is a book to be savored. . . an excellent example of how meticulous scholarship illuminates lives and events long forgotten." - Neal W. Kramer, By Common Consent
"Hopefully, Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism will restore Pratt to the prominence he enjoyed during Mormonism's first 100 years. . . Givens and Grow have provided readers with a biography worthy of their subject's talents." - Doug Gibson, Ogden Standard Examiner
Best Book of 2011, Mormon History Association
Best Biography of 2011, Association of Mormon Letters
About the Author
Terryl L. Givens is the author of several acclaimed books, the most recent of which are When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Life in Western Thought and The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction.
Matthew J. Grow is the author of "Liberty to the Downtrodden": Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer.
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However, as I consider how to write a brief review and convey to you the nature of this man, I am at a loss. His personality, life, activity, and complexity are far beyond my ability to capture in just a few hundred words. Of course, I must try.
After I finished the book and thought about what I had read, I have to admit that while he was a most charismatic writer and speaker, he was also a rather difficult personality for those who had to live with him. And his devotion to the Church and his mission as an Apostle caused him to ask a tremendous amount of sacrifice from his family. His first wife died young and his second wife eventually divorced him. He was one of the early apostles to practice plural marriage and eventually had a total of twelve wives, thirty children, and two hundreds and sixty-six grandchildren (appendix 2). These women and children were mostly devoted to him and when he was with them he worked hard to provide for them. However, he was much less successful in providing for his family than he was in reaping a harvest of converts for the Church. Being a wife and child of Parley P. Pratt was deemed an honor by most of them and they were devoted to him, and he to them. But the work of the Gospel demanded more sacrifice than many of us of the present day can fathom or consider making.
At one point, he was even going to sign over the royalties from his magnum opus to the Church, but Brigham Young refused the offer and told him that his family needed the money. This is the level of commitment, devotion, and consecration Elder Pratt had to the Gospel. He sometimes had to be protected from himself.
He was also a man of tremendous physical strength and courage. Travel in the mid-19th Century was not easy. And he travelled so much it would be shocking even with today's comparatively easy travel. He served missions for more than half of his adult life with only 18 months in Utah with his wives and children. His missionary journeys were far-flung. His early missions were the Eastern Seaboard and mid-west. But he soon went to Canada, to the United Kingdom (Liverpool and Manchester), San Francisco, and even Valparaiso, Chile! He also ran Winter Quarters after Brigham and the lead band left for the Great Basin. And among his most amazing feats was leading fifty men in a survey of vast area that later became Utah. They were trapped in horrible weather conditions and would likely have perished without his stamina, drive, courage, and leadership.
Pratt did have a fiery nature that led to him breaking with the leaders twice. The first was with Joseph during the 1837 banking crisis and land speculation collapse in Kirtland and the other with Brigham over the reorganization of the First Presidency (Parley wanted all the Apostles to be equal in authority an independent agents, but he eventually fell in line). But these were brief and otherwise he was utterly devoted to the Gospel, the Restoration, and the Keys of the Priesthood.
The authors make the case that Pratt's writing contributed to the development of Joseph's Smith's thinking and writing. Not that Smith got his revelations using Pratt's words, but that Smith's concept of Eternal Progression was furthered by Pratt's writings. I do not know one way or the other. My fundamental belief and testimony is in the mission Jesus Christ and that Joseph was the chose Prophet of the Restoration. I do not think there is anything Joseph preached that wasn't in his revelations before Pratt wrote about the topic. But if Pratt's writing helped Smith see things in a clearer way, more power to him, I guess. There seems little doubt that Smith's writing of the Articles of Faith were based, in part, upon the earlier writings of Pratt.
While Pratt's two principle works are seldom used today ("A Voice of Warning" and "Key to the Science of Theology"), both are available online, as are most of his other writings. You can also find some of them on Amazon in various editions including Kindle.
The recounting of Pratt's murder is important because the story is so often garbled. I cannot recount all of its ins and outs and twists and turns here, so I encourage you to read the story of how Pratt became acquainted with Eleanor McLean and how they later decided to marry and the disaster that followed. Essentially, she was in a terrible marriage to a violent drunk named Hector McLean. They had come to California during the Gold Rush to try and salvage their marriage, but he went back on the drink. She found the Mormon Church and wanted to be baptized, he would not allow it and exposed her to even greater cruelties. Finally, the reached an agreement where she could join the Church, but the cruelties increased and culminated in him sending their three children, unchaperoned, by ship (via the overland track through Nicaragua!) back to New Orleans. After she had been baptized and after the marriage was in deep freefall, Pratt arrived in San Francisco. They became acquainted. She finally left Hector and went to Salt Lake City. She and Pratt were married there by Brigham Young in November 1855.
In 1857, Pratt was going on a mission to the East, but felt uneasy about it. Eleanor accompanied him part of the way and then separated so she could go to attempt to retrieve her children in New Orleans. She was successful and fled with them. But Hector learned of this and followed, swearing vengeance. When he learned where Pratt and Eleanor were going to attempt to join each other, he had her arrested for stealing the children's clothes (valued at $10) and had her during her trial attempted to shoot Pratt. Her charges were dismissed and Pratt was allowed to escape early in the morning. He was offered weapons to defend himself but he refused them. McLean and his associates had been watching and chased Pratt, waylaid him in a thicket of trees and after missing with gunfire, stabbed him three times in the heart. Everyone thought Pratt was dead, but when they went to him an hour later he was still alive and asking for water. He soon died. He asked that his gold and effects be sent to his family and that his body be retrieved by the Saints and taken back to Utah. He died affirming his testimony of the Gospel. Instead, his effects were stolen and when the saints came for his body it was not found were it was supposed to be. A monument was erected, but his body was never found.
News of his death flashed around the world and got to Utah before Eleanor could struggle back home. His descendants are many are prominent members; including Mitt Romney!
He was a great man and a legendary servant of Christ. His life should be remembered and studied by every person interested in the History of Religion in America and especially by every Latter-day Saint.
A very good book. I did find that the authors did not write in a way that made Pratt particularly engaging or inviting. Maybe that was their way of being objective, but it made the book a tad less satisfying a read as it might have been. And the chronology jumps around a bit as it covers various topics and periods. So, do not expect the story told as a straight chronology.
Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Saline, MI
This book provides a very different and very valuable perspective on the life and work of this revered ancestor. I've read it twice and will read it several more times before I join him.