I’ve recently been reading the autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. I know some of his descendants quite well. One, in particular, is a dear friend and is willing to go deep with me and to be “honest” about polygamy. He truly believes in the principle as one taught by Joseph Smith. He believes his grandfather was only doing as he was taught and commanded by Joseph.
Yet, as I have now read and analyzed the whole book, I have found NOTHING in Parley’s account that links the teaching of polygamy to Joseph Smith.
I was struck, I must say, by the many accounts Parley shares of healings and miracles and baptisms. He was truly a fierce and loyal force for good at the time of Joseph. He converted many! In fact, some could argue that he even neglected his first wife Thankful as he served mission after mission, leaving her home, unhealthy, childless, poor, and alone for years at a time.
But, no one could argue that there was any contemporary of Joseph who was more sincere and more faithful than he was. Parley was about Joseph’s age and was one of the original twelve apostles of the Church. He was killed on May 13, 1857 by Hector McLean, at the age of 50, for having taken McLean’s wife Eleanor from him. She was Pratt’s 11th wife.
I decided to read Pratt’s autobiography in part because I thought surely if anyone would be honest about polygamy and its origins, it would be him. If anyone would have first-hand information about Joseph teaching polygamy it would be him.
I was surprised that I did not get to the topic of polygamy until page 407. Although I should mention that there is a footnote on page 369. Footnote 20. This footnote references a paragraph from pages 361 and 362 where it says:
In Philadelphia I had the happiness of once more meeting with president Smith, and of spending several days with him and others, and with the Saints in that city and vicinity. During these interviews he taught me many great and glorious principles concerning God and the heavenly order of eternity. It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the very foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness. Til then I had learned to esteem kindred affections and sympathies as appertaining solely to this transitory state, as something from which the heart must be entirely weaned, in order to be fitted for its heavenly state. It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter. It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore. It was from him that I learned the true dignity and destiny of a son of God, clothed with an eternal priesthood, as the patriarch and sovereign of his countless offspring. It was from him that I learned that the highest dignity of womanhood was, to stand as a queen and priestess to her husband, and to reign for ever and ever as the queen mother of her numerous and still increasing offspring. I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved — with a pureness and intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean. I felt that God was my heavenly Father indeed; that Jesus was my brother, and that the wife of my bosom was an immortal, eternal companion; a kind of ministering angel, given to me as a comfort, and a crown of glory for ever and ever. In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, page 361-362.)
Notice, not a mention of polygamy. And this is in 1839 and 1840. The footnote, however, which was added by either Parley P. Pratt Jr. many years later, or more likely by Scot and Maurine Proctor, the most recent LDS editors, tells a very different story. They conclude that in the above paragraph:
Parley is referring to marriage for time and all eternity and to what would be later referred to as “the principle,” or plural marriage. As in all things in the gospel, Parley was obedient to this teaching. Less than three years later, he married the first of his ten plural wives. (Page 369)
Did you read the preceding paragraph on page 361 and 362 as the teaching of polygamy from Joseph Smith? I did not.
I am amazed that someone so close to the original source of this foundational eternal teaching is in need of 20th-century assistance in making sure the attributions and definitions are correct.
And so we go to page 407, footnote 9:
…We learn of Parley’s first plural marriage at this period from the family record: “Elizabeth Brotherton, daughter of Thomas and Sarah Brotherton, born March 27, 1816 in Machester, England, sealed to Parley P. Pratt for time and all eternity, June (then overwritten with July) 24, 1843. Done at the house of Brigham Young in Nauvoo, by the hand of Patriarch Hyrum Smith… (Pratt, Family Record, my emphasis added).
Why would the Family Record have written over the date of Parley P. Pratt’s first plural wife? Especially given that Parley’s own record in his autobiography that this footnote is created from says nothing of any marriage with anyone. In fact, it simply says:
My time, from arrival until the last of the year, was spent in the ministry, and in building, travelling, etc. (Page 406).
And yet, the footnote added over one hundred years later seems to want to establish the precise date of Parley’s first plural marriage although he himself, an ardent believer and later preacher of the polygamy, does not think it important to mention when he actually begins to practice the Celestial Law in his own autobiographical account. In fact, he was so busy in the ministry and in building and in traveling that he literally did not even have 30 minutes to return a letter:
Although it may seem strange to you I have not seen 1/2 hour which it was in my power to devote to that purpose (returning a letter) till now on account of business, building, visiting and receiving company etc. (page 407, footnote 9).
And yet we’re to believe that during this time he HAD time to court a woman in addition to his wife and propose marriage to her.
Furthermore, why write over Parley’s original date of June 24, 1843? (Or whoever’s…) Well, it’s important to note that Joseph Smith did not receive the revelation on polygamy until July 12, 1843, according to the LDS Church. So, if Parley did in fact enter into plural marriage before that date (i.e. in June) then he would have done so before the actual revelation was even received, let alone taught by Joseph.
Another relevant question is why is it important that Hyrum performed the ceremony, rather than say Brigham Young, IF it was in July of 1843, when it was “approved”? That’s also an important and interesting detail. The appendix of Parley’s autobiography spells out why. According to this appendix (added by who we cannot be sure) the “Twelve” did not receive the Keys from Joseph until April of 1844. So Brigham would not have had the authority to seal and to bind or to perform this plural marriage.
So although it was conveniently at Brigham’s home, the attribution of who married them, needed to be Hyrum or Joseph. Both of whom were prophets and co-presidents of the Church.
As important as this event would be in Church History, I can find nothing in the actual Joseph Smith Papers or in the History of the Church regarding the plural marriage of this prominent apostle during Joseph’s lifetime. This, however, is conveniently added to the footnotes of the JSP during that timeframe:
Less than a month before this revelation was dictated, Hyrum Smith sealedParley P. Pratt to his wife, Mary Ann Frost Pratt, without authorization from JS. Upon finding out about this sealing, JS criticized Hyrum and reaffirmed his sole authority to perform or to grant authority to others to perform such sealings. Following the dictation of this revelation and with JS’s approval, Hyrum Smith sealed Pratt to his deceased first wife, Thankful Halsey Pratt; his second wife, Mary Ann; and a third wife, Elizabeth Brotherton. Since 1832, JS had dictated revelations that identified himself as the person holding the “keys of the Kingdom.” (Givens and Grow, Parley P. Pratt, 204–205; Mary Ann Frost Pratt, Life Sketch of Olive Frost, ca. May 1887, in “Miscellaneous,” Historical Record, May 1887, 6:234–235; Revelation, 15 Mar. 1832 [D&C 81:2].)
How strange indeed that Hyrum would perform an eternal sealing without Joseph’s consent.
Like many of these footnotes, they don’t lead to any solid sources. Look at the last link above — it’s to a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1832. Yet, we’re in 1843 supposedly. No actual corroborating sources to verify JS’s anger, either… The Church and its apologists yet again, wish to stack the footnote narrative to fit their story.
I find it amazing that in one of the few autobiographies of one of the original LDS apostles, Parley Pratt does not help the LDS Church clear up the issue of whether Joseph Smith taught and practiced polygamy or not. Without footnotes in Parley’s record, Joseph cannot be tied to the teaching.