[This is third post in the Perspectives of Parley Pratt’s Autobiography series. Matt Grow has a PhD in History from Notre Dame University, where he studied under George Marsden. His first book, a biography on Thomas L. Kane, was published with Yale University Press. He is currently co-authoring a biography of Pratt, tentatively titled Parley Parker Pratt: The Saint Paul of Mormonism, to be published with with Oxford University Press. Matt is an assistant professor of history and director of the Center for Communal Studies at the University of Southern Indiana.]
In late 1853, Orson Pratt, then in Washington, D.C., excitedly wrote to his brother Parley about an effort to publish genealogical information on the descendants of their ancestor William Pratt, a Puritan who migrated from England to Connecticut in the 1630s. Orson had already pledged his assistance to the project’s compiler, Congregationalist minister Frederick W. Chapman. Learning that Parley and Orson were “prominent men in this Church,” Chapman asked them to write autobiographical sketches for his planned volume. Parley replied that “a mere sketch of the outlines of [my] truly eventful life would occupy several hundred pages” and speculated that Chapman would not publish it “if it ‘contained the truth as it is in Jesus.'” Orson encouraged Parley to “Try them and See” and praised his brother’s “interesting, easy, flowing stile.” Working together and with the “dictations of the Holy Spirit,” Orson hoped they might “write something that shall hereafter prove a blessing to our brethren.” Parley refused or ignored Orson’s entreaties, and Chapman’s book, published in 1864, contained biographies of the brothers written by Orson after Parley’s death.
Within a few months of this correspondence, Parley embarked on a project to narrate his “truly eventful life” in “several hundred pages.” In July 1854, after Parley arrived in San Francisco to preside over the Church’s Pacific Mission, he began writing his autobiography. Within a month, he had written an impressive 250 manuscript pages, bringing the story “up to the prison, in Boon Co. Mo. 1839” (roughly half of the published autobiography). He described the project to Church Historian George A. Smith as “A Lean, megre sketch of Church History. As my hurried life, and hurried manner of writing, prevents my branching out on many interesting items.” He further told Smith, “I am determined to complete it now if the Lord will. If I miss this opportunity I have my doubts whether it will be writen at all.” Perhaps, he thought, his autobiography might be published in California.
To accomplish this goal, Pratt hired George Q. Cannon, a talented missionary returning from Hawaii, as his scribe. Cannon, who copied 300 pages over the next six weeks for $50, relished the work (perhaps because his three companions dug potatoes to earn money for their trip home). By mid-November, Pratt had completed an additional 100 manuscript pages, bringing his history “up to the begining of the year 41. it is neetly revised and chapters and headings all finished up to that time ready for the press, or to leave to my children; or to the archives of the church.” Without Cannon’s assistance and with mounting responsibilities in California, Pratt’s pace slowed, though he continued to work intermittently on it. In addition, a financial crisis in San Francisco dried up any funds that Pratt might have raised from local church members to fund its publication.
In writing his autobiography, Pratt relied heavily on his previous writings. After extensive analysis, Pratt family historian Steven Pratt concluded that almost ninety percent of the text is either based on or copied from earlier works, which he generally revised and condensed, particularly his books about the Missouri Persecution and articles from the Millennial Star. The autobiography also includes items from his book of poetry, The Millennium; his earliest pamphlet, Shameful Outrage; his manuscript family record; various letters and journals; and other newspaper articles. For instance, the most famous episode of the autobiography–Pratt’s account of Joseph Smith’s rebuking of the guards in Richmond Jail in November 1838–first appeared in the Deseret News in 1853, spurred by Pratt’s reading part of the “History of Joseph Smith” in the newspaper. Pratt also described the event in an 1854 play, the “Mormon Prisoners,” and included his Deseret News article verbatim in his autobiography. Pratt generally avoided or minimized controversial subjects; the published autobiography also contains little information on his wives and children.
Pratt returned to Utah in the summer of 1855, where he spent about a year before embarking on a mission to the eastern states in September 1856. While in Utah, Pratt’s wife Keziah Downes copied additional sections of his autography manuscript. Access to eastern printing presses, Pratt hoped, might give him the opportunity to publish his autobiography. Isaiah Coombs, one of his traveling companions to the East, recorded, “Br Pratt has read 13 chapters of his history to me. . . It is very interesting; so much so that I could have listened to it all day without tiring. I am sure no saint will be without a copy of it when it is printed.
Financial problems, however, prevented Pratt from publishing his autobiography in the East. He told his family in January 1857, “My history is now Complete up to 1851 where my Journal Commences. It will probably not be published in my days. Should any thing happen to me, & the record be preserved I wish it Carefully Compiled, Coppied & taken Care of.” (As Pratt stated, he had revised his autobiography up to 1851, at which point he inserted his later journals.)
In addition, Eleanor McComb, Pratt’s twelfth wife, accompanied Pratt on the initial part of this mission, intent on retrieving her children from her parents in New Orleans, where her estranged husband Hector McLean had sent them following her conversion. When she succeeded, McLean tracked Pratt to avenge himself. Knowing of McLean’s pursuit and fearing for his life, Pratt entrusted his autobiography manuscript to George A. Smith while the two were in St. Louis in March 1857, with instructions to return it to his family. Within two months, McLean killed Pratt in rural Arkansas.
When George A. Smith arrived home in late May 1857, he gave the manuscript to Parley Pratt Jr., Pratt’s oldest son, then twenty years old. Between 1872 and 1874, Apostle John Taylor, whom Pratt had converted, assisted Parley Jr. in preparing the autobiography for publication. Taylor minimized their role, claiming they made few changes “and preserved intact” Parley’s original manuscript “so far as possible.
Because the manuscript has not survived, it is not clear to what extent Taylor and Parley Jr. edited the autobiography, particularly the pre-1851 section. Some information on the amount and type of editing done by Parley Jr. and Taylor can be gained from a comparison of Pratt’s journals in the 1850s with his published autobiography. For the last six years of Pratt’s life, the autobiography contains journals (including the journal of his final mission), letters, and newspaper articles. In preparing the autobiography for publication, Pratt’s journals were first copied (in a document known as the “After Manuscript”) and then edited. In general, passages from his journal and letters about Pratt’s family, both positive and negative, as well as references to financial difficulties and controversial events were excised. (Parley Jr. was also apparently conscious of his own image. His father’s journal recorded that on August 18, 1855, Parley Jr. met him riding on a mule. In the “After Manuscript,” Parley Jr. crossed out “mule” and inserted “horseback,” though the section was eventually cut from the autobiography.)
In seeking subscriptions for the forthcoming book, published in 1874 by the New York publishing firm Russell Brothers, Parley Jr. promised that his father had not emphasized “dull, stale, and uninteresting events,” but had written on “the most noted and striking incidents of, as he says himself, a truly eventful life . . . with an originality, a force and beauty of style peculiar to himself.” At the end of his short editor’s preface to the autobiography, Parley Jr. quoted his father’s Voice of Warning: “Should the author be called to sacrifice his life for the cause of truth, he will have the consolation that it will be said of him, as it was said of Abel, ‘He being dead yet speaketh.'”
 Orson Pratt to Parley P. Pratt, 4 April 1854, Parley Pratt Collection, LDS Church Archives.
 Parley P. Pratt to Family, 22 August 1854, Parley P. Pratt Collection, LDS Church Archives.
 Parley P. Pratt to George A. Smith, 23 August 1854, Parley P. Pratt Collection, LDS Church Archives.
 George Q. Cannon Journal, September 1854.
 Parley P. Pratt to Mary Wood Pratt, 21 September 1854, Parley P. Pratt Collection, LDS Church Archives.
 R. Steven Pratt, “The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt: A Study of the Sources,” unpublished paper.
 Isaiah Coombs Journal, 11 October 1856, LDS Church Archives.
 PPP to Family, 3 January 1857, PPP Collection, LDS Church Archives.
 Taylor, “To the Public,” Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt.
 Pratt, “”The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt: A Study of the Sources.” The “After Manuscript” is at the LDS Church Archives.
 Parley P. Pratt, Jr., “Prospectus to the Life and Writings of the Late Elder Parley Parker Pratt,” Deseret News, 5 February 1873, 15.