[This is another installment of the Perspectives on Parley Pratt’s Autobiography series. BiV is a legend around the ‘nacle, blogging at Hieing to Kolob and Mormon Matters, and a common contributor to JI.]
Searching the Parley P. Pratt autobiography for clues about his love and marital experiences is a fascinating enterprise, both because of what he includes, and what he purposely leaves out. The book is taken primarily from writings which Parley commenced in and before 1851. At this point, plural marriage was still considered unmentionable. George Smith places the first public defense of the practice in the year 1852, through the discourse of Parley’s brother, Orson Pratt. Later additions to the autobiography become more and more forthright concerning Parley’s twelve wives. In this work the reader becomes acquainted with the realities of separation from home and family due to religious responsibilities, the disconnect between public and private conjugal relations, and the severing of spousal ties by death and divorce—all of which were present in so many of the family arrangements of the early Latter-day Saints.
Parley’s first wife, Thankful, died in childbirth in 1837 in Kirtland. Not a month and a half passed before his marriage to Mary Ann Frost in May of that year. Surprisingly, in his autobiography, he leaves her out of the narrative which has, to this point, been sequential. He passes over the marriage date, devoting an entire chapter to his subsequent return to Canada and activities in the state of New York in 1837 and 1838. At the end of the chapter appears the brief notification: “On May 9th I received the hand of Mary Ann Frost, daughter of Aaron Frost, of Bethel, Oxford County, Maine, in marriage. She was the widow of Nathan Stearns, and had one daughter, about four years of age.” He then resumes the narrative in April of 1838. It seems an attempt to place a respectful distance between Thankful’s death and his remarriage.
A chronology of Parley’s encounters with Mary Ann from the Autobiography alone is difficult to reconstruct. He left for Canada in the spring of 1837, leaving a brief window for a courtship and marriage. He describes returning to Nauvoo for a short time before leaving again for New York in July. He never mentions that Mary Ann and her daughter accompanied him on his mission in New York from July 1837 to April of 1838. Nor does he tell of the birth of his son Nathan on the 31st of August in 1838, three months after their return to Far West.
The Autobiography in general is quite vague, even duplicitous concerning Mary Ann. We learn some curious details from other sources about their relationship, where this particular account is silent. Though Mary Ann was deeply in love with her first husband and seemed to retain tender feelings for him for quite some time after his death and into her marriage with Parley, and it took some time for the two to become close, there are sources that indicate that Parley became quite solicitous of his new bride. In the autobiography, we see this but rarely. He passes off the almost four months she lived with him in prison in a sentence, and though she and the rest of the family accompanied him on his mission to England in 1840, he is absolutely silent about her after their arrival. By the time Parley’s autobiography was penned, the two had gone their separate ways, and perhaps this accounts for the reticence exhibited in his descriptions. The one exception is of special note.
At an encounter with Joseph Smith in Philadelphia in 1839, the Prophet taught some “great and glorious principles” about the “eternal family organization” and the “heavenly order of eternity.” These phrases used by Pratt seem to indicate that he was being taught about celestial plural marriage. Joseph spoke of “the eternal union of the sexes in those expressibly 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,” wrote Parley. During this period of time Joseph was transitioning from theory to the practice of polygamy, and it is probable that he would have promoted the principle among his most devoted followers. The teachings had such an effect upon Parley that he includes some fairly rapturous thoughts:
“It was from him [Joseph] 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–an 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 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.
Yet, at that time, my dearly beloved brother, Joseph Smith, had barely touched a single key; had merely lifted a corner of the veil and given me a single glance into eternity.”
These are especially striking thoughts, and most likely did not refer to Mary Ann, as later events will show. Not only were Parley and Mary Ann estranged during the time that he was putting together his reminiscences, she had been sealed for eternity to another man. I am inclined to believe that as he wrote these words, Parley was beginning to imbue the words “my wife” with the concept of his family kingdom, which would eventually include twelve women in all. To explore this hypothesis, let us consider the backstory of polygamy which is conspicuously absent in most of the autobiography.
At the beginning of 1843, Parley Pratt and his family returned from their mission to England. Though Parley only states here that it was “a tedious passage,” in fact, his wife Mary Ann was about to deliver her fourth child, Susan, and his eldest daughter had the whooping cough when they arrived in St. Louis. Reading from his autobiography, Parley seems to bound from the ship, riding on horseback to Nauvoo and gallivanting to and fro preaching and speaking, until late in the spring, when the frozen river opens up enough to allow the family passage. Susan is born on the Mississippi River aboard the steamer “Maid of Iowa.” The autobiography doesn’t mention the child’s birth, but Parley writes that five days later, “April 12th, we landed in Nauvoo, and were kindly welcomed by President Smith and scores of others, who came down to the wharf to meet us.” It is even reported in one source that Joseph Smith himself carried Mary Ann ashore in his arms. Now commences one of the longest and most portentous silences which appears in the autobiography. For one year Parley writes only that his time, “was spent in the ministry, and in building, travelling, etc.” The curious researcher is left to sift through other sources which indicate that in July an eternal sealing to Mary Ann by Hyrum Smith was canceled by the prophet Joseph, who then sealed her to himself for time and eternity. The same day, Parley married a plural wife, Elizabeth Brotherton, starting a chain of events which would result in an alienation of affection and Parley and Mary Ann’s eventual divorce years later in Utah.
Parley continues to hold back information concerning his conjugal affairs throughout the next several years. He writes of additional mission work, returning to Nauvoo following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, and his appointment to the Eastern States on December 2, 1844. He neglects to mention the three additional wives he married in September and November. When he returns to Nauvoo the following August, he finds “my family mostly in health, and was rejoiced to meet them.” But the reader is not informed that by this time his family includes:
- Mary Ann Frost and her children Mary Ann Stearns, Nathan Pratt, Olivia Pratt, Susan Pratt (who died that month), and Moroni Pratt
- Elizabeth Brotherton
- Mary Wood
- Hannahette Snively and her son Alma (who had just been born)
- Belinda Marden (who is pregnant)
While in Nauvoo attending to the business of the Quorum of the Twelve and administering the Endowment to the Saints in the Temple, he marries two additional wives:
- Sarah Huston
- Phoebe Soper
Days after his marriage to Phoebe, the Saints are driven out of Nauvoo. They camp in tents and vacant log cabins for more than a year while Parley is sent to scout trails, helps to organize the Mormon Battalion, and is finally sent on another mission to Liverpool, England. During this time, whenever Parley refers to his “family,” the unsuspecting reader would assume he meant Mary Ann and her children. But in fact, he is speaking of the rest of his growing kingdom, for Mary Ann has taken her children and returned to Nauvoo, where she will live until the spring of 1847. From there she goes to Maine to live with her family and then to St. Louis for some time, before finally coming back to Iowa. While Parley and his other wives reach Salt Lake City with the second company of pioneers in September of 1847, Mary Ann will not cross the plains for six years, finally departing in June of 1852 with the Harmon Cutler Company.
But all of this is completely unbeknownst to the reader. So what is one to make of the poem, included in Chapter 44, sent from England, and addressed to “my dearest wife”? To which wife does he refer? Or is he speaking of his family kingdom? The poem reads, in part:
I love thee, for thyself, O land of Zion!…
There dwell my family,– my bosom friends,–
The precious lambs of my Redeemer,– my
Best of Heaven’s gifts to man,– my germs of
Life and immortality,– my hope of Heaven,–
My principality on earth began,–
My kingdom in embryo, big with thrones
Of endless power and wide dominion.
Ye kindred spirits from worlds celestial!
Offsprings of Deity…
Other references Parley makes to his wife or his family in chapters 44-49 include his description upon his return to Winter Quarters after his mission in Liverpool:
“I found my family all alive, and dwelling in a log cabin. They had, however, suffered much from cold, hunger and sickness. They had oftentimes lived for several days on a little corn meal, ground on a hand mill, with no other food. One of the family was then lying very sick with the scurvy disease which had been very prevalent in camp during the winter, and of which many had died. I found, on inquiry, that the winter had been very severe, the snow deep, and, consequently, that all my horses (four in number) were lost, and I afterwards ascertained that out of twelve cows I had but seven left, and out of some twelve or fourteen oxen only four or five were spared.”
Here Parley eunumerates his cattle far better than the 14 persons which now constitute his family. During his short stay at Winter Quarters, as he prepares wagons to take his family West, Parley marries two more wives on April 28, 1847.
- Martha Monks 
- Ann Agatha Walker
The reader might suspect that Parley has added to his family, but with no more evidence than this paragraph describing their hardships in settling in Utah:
“During this spring and summer my family and myself, in common with many of the camp, suffered much for want of food. This was the more severe on me and my family because we had lost nearly all our cows, and the few which were spared to us were dry, and, therefore, we had no milk to help out our provisions. I had ploughed and subdued land to the amount of near forty acres, and had cultivated the same in grain and vegetables. In this labor every woman and child in my family, so far as they were of sufficient age and strength, had joined to help me, and had toiled incessantly in the field, suffering every hardship which human nature could well endure.” 
Parley Pratt died in May of 1857 with his narrative nearly completed. By the time any mention is made in the autobiography of plural wives and children, the account is taken from letters, articles and journal entries and dated after the year 1852. This was the year that the Latter-day Saints, most of whom had now emigrated to the West, began to admit and defend their practice of polygamy. Still, much information is missing, such as the fact that during his mission to Chile, Parley was accompanied by his wife Phoebe, and a child was born to them in Valparaiso. In October 1852, upon his return from this mission, a short note is included constituting the first and only intimation the reader has had concerning Parley’s separation from Mary Ann.
“On my arrival home I found my wife, Mary Ann Frost, and my two children, Olivia and Moroni, who had arrived from Maine, where they had been for several years. The two children were glad to see me, but their mother had for several years been alienated from me. I, however, supported her until the following spring, when she applied for and obtained a bill of divorce; after which, with the two children, she removed to Utah County.” 
Two final wives will be added to the family; again, without mention in the account, namely
- Keziah Downs
- Eleanor McComb
In the final 30 pages of the Parley P. Pratt autobiography, there are several included references in defense of plural marriage. Here, at last, are mentions of each of Parley’s plural wives. Oh his 48th birthday, he gives gifts “to each of my wives.” He spends time in the San Jose Valley with his wife Elizabeth. One Monday he “visited my wife Sarah and her two children, Julia and Teancum, who resided on my farm.” He makes a trip to Ogden with his wife Belinda, rides in a carriage with his wife Mary, goes to Fillmore with his wife Agatha, and writes his family history with his wife Keziah. A letter is included addressed to his wife Hannahette. It seems that each wife gets one scant mention before Parley’s life history is complete. A final appendix recounts his murder “by three bloodthirsty wretches,” understandably excluding the name of his final spouse and the part she played in his death.
Parley P. Pratt’s autobiography has been described as “revisionist history” because as he looked back on his life, he made reinterpretations of events. As he did this, he revealed motivations and decision-making processes that the reader can learn from. This is especially seen in the presentation of his conjugal affairs. The reader is able to sympathize and glimpse the difficulty of the early Mormon leaders as they struggled to incorporate Joseph Smith’s instructions to live the principle of plural marriage in the restrained Victorian era. The shift which takes place as the Mormon Church began to publicly advocate polygamy is clearly seen. The Autobiography is important documentation of Pratt’s establishing his place in the foundation of early Mormonism.
 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “…but we called it celestial marriage”, (SLC: Signature Books, 2008), p. 4. “…Brigham Young took the institution of polygamy with him to the new territory, officially disclosing Mormon marriage practices for the first time in 1852, eight years after [Joseph] Smith was killed. He did it through a spokesperson, Orson Pratt, who was one of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Pratt delivered a forthright explication of Utah’s family arrangements and affirmed on August 29 that ‘the Latter-day Saints had embraced the doctrine of a plurality of wives, as a part of their religious faith.'”
 Autobiography, p. 188. (all citations to the autobiography are from the first edition)
 Autobiography, pp. 183-189.
 A short timeline from the Autobiography illustrates the difficulty in Parley’s recitation of events. Events in brackets are left out of the account.
- Spring 1837/p. 183
Return to Kirtland
Strife, Apostasy, Confession to Joseph
- July 1837/p. 184/Arrived in NYC
- [Nov or early Dec 1837/Son Nathan conceived]
- Jan 1838/p. 186/Spirit keeps him in NY
- 1838/p. 188/Organized branches in surrounding towns–Sing Sing, Jersey, Brooklyn, Long Island, and Holliston, Mass.
- May/p. 188/Married Mary Ann Frost
[This actually took place the previous year, in May of 1837 in Kirtland]
- Apr 1838/p. 189/Left NY
- May 1838/p. 189/Settled in Caldwell co. MO
- [31 Aug 1838/Son Nathan born]
- Oct 1838/p. 203/Extermination order
- Nov 1838/p.203/Taken to prison in Independence
Bids farewell to family
First mention of his son Nathan, 3 months old
 Mary Ann’s daughter by her first husband, Nathan Stearns, wrote: “My father and mother were lovers in the true sense of the meaning and she often said that she never received a cross word from him or saw a cross look on his face when turned to her, but always a smile of love and approbation.” Additionally, she wrote that the thought of the redemption of the dead was one of the most treasured doctrines of the gospel for her mother, who deeply mourned the death of her beloved Nathan and found consolation in the thought of being reunited with him. (Autobiography of Mary Ann Stearns Winters, cited in Jayne W. Fife with Roselyn Kirk “Western Maine Saints,” The Courier, Volume 30, No. 3 (2006).
 On 30 May 1839, Parley wrote from the Columbia, Boone County, Missouri jail, where he had been transferred for trial. The charge had been changed from murder to treason. He wrote that the new jail was twice as large as that in Richmond. He added that he prayed that she would “never part from me while I live. I know not how to express my feelings concerning this lon[g] absence from you and our little ones. I hardly dare to trust my fingers with a penn [sic] to write on the subject lest I should express feeling which would increase your sorrow—lest I should ask that of you which would be more than I have a right to ask of you, and more than you are bound to fulfill,—you have already had more trouble and affliction in your union with one whose life has been little else but a constant round of misfortune, grief and suffering. [It is more] than most persons have to endure during a long life. And I am far from wishing you to suffer more for my sake. If I had forseen [sic] the troubles which you would be called to endure for my sake, I would niver [sic] have asked your hand nor clasped you to my fond bosom, as my lovely brode [sic].”(Letter to Mary Ann from Parley P. Pratt in jail, 1 Dec 1838. In Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dec. 1, 1838, 2-3.)
 Autobiography, p. 234. “My wife and children soon came to me in prison, and spent a portion of the winter in the cold, dark dungeon…”
 Autobiography, chapters 38-40.
 There are mixed conclusions as to whether Joseph Smith actually contracted marriage with Fanny Alger in 1835, however, five primary accounts narrate his intimacy with her in Kirtland. (see Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 42; D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, (SLC: Signature Books, 1997), p. 189; and Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. xxx.)
 Autobiography, pp. 329-330.
 Obituary of Olivia Pratt Driggs, Deseret News, June 15, 1906.”As the family returned to Nauvoo not long afterward, and while passing up the Mississippi on the steamer Maid of Iowa, another daughter was born to them. They were met by the Prophet Joseph, who carried the missionary mother ashore from the steamer.”
 Autobiography, p. 366.
 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, pp. 208-209, citing Parley P. Pratt Family Record, and Gary James Bergera, “The Earliest Eternal Sealings For Civilly Married Couples Living and Dead.”
Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 591 does not find enough evidence to support this, though he lists her as one of the wives who was sealed posthumously to Joseph, on Feb. 6, 1846, with Parley as proxy.
 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 208.
 Autobiography, pp. 388-389.
 Autobiography, p. 397.
 Martha Monks became the wife of Apostle Parley P. Pratt in 1847, and came to Utah the same year with the family. Her first home in Salt Lake Valley was in the Fort where on January 30, 1849, she gave birth to her first child whom they named Ether. She was deeply hurt when, on February 22, the child died and was buried in or near the Fort. Martha later was separated from Apostle Pratt and soon afterward left for Califor nia where she died. (Arthur D. Coleman, “Pratt Pioneers of Utah.”)
 Autobiography, p. 405.
 Autobiography p. 455.
 Autobiography, p. 474.
 Autobiography, p 458.
 Autobiography, p 478.
 Autobiography, p 479.
 Autobiography, p. 480.
 Autobiography, p 483.
 Autobiography, p 497.
 Autobiography, appendix, p. i.