The younger brother of the powerful Parley
P. Pratt, it would have been easy for Orson Pratt to stand in his brother's
shadow, but he was a giant in his own right and stood in no man's shadow
save it be possibly in Joseph's and Brigham's.
Orson Pratt was born September 19, 1811 in Hartford,
Washington County, New York, the son of Jared Pratt and his wife Charity
Dickinson Pratt. Parley had a fairly extensive education for the day, studying
arithmetic, bookkeeping, geography, grammar, and surveying. All of these
would prove invaluable to him on various church assignments.
Orson was introduced to the Church by his older brother,
Parley P., who baptized him on his nineteenth birthday, September 19, 1830
in Canaan, Columbia County, New York. He was ordained an Elder three months
later by the Prophet Joseph Smith and
immediately set out for Colesville, New York, his first mission. This was
the first of a number of short missions in which Orson visited New York,
Ohio, Missouri, and the Eastern States.
On February 2, 1832, he was ordained a High Priest
by Sidney Rigdon and as a High Priest
he continued his missions, preaching in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey,
Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Orson added theology to his educational pursuits
by attending the School of the Prophets in the spring of 1833, then left
again on another series of short missions. Orson and his companions were
quite sucessful in their missionary efforts, baptizing several hundred
In 1834, Orson was appointed a recruiter for < HREF="zionscamp.htm">Zion's
Camp and when the troop departed Kirtland, the young High Priest was with
them. It was from Zion's Camp that the Twelve and the Seventy were selected,
and Orson was ordained an Apostle and took his seat with the Twelve on
April 26, 1835.
On July 4, 1836, Orson married Sarah Marinda Bates
by whom he would father twelve children. Later Orson would practice plural
marriage. He had a total of forty-five children on record.
From 1839 to 1841 Elder Pratt participated
in the very successful mission of the Twelve to the British Isles, spending
much of his time in Scotland. At Edinburgh in September 1840, he published
his first missionary tract, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable
Visions. This pamphlet contained the first public recording of Joseph
Smith's first vision and also summarized basic LDS beliefs. It contained a
list somewhat resembling the "Articles of Faith" in the Wentworth Letter
authored by Joseph Smith.
His return to Nauvoo in 1841 came at an inopportune
time for Orson personally. He was caught in the cross-currents of the controversy
and rumors surrounding the recently revealed revelations concerning plural
marriage. Unable to understand and accept, he found himself in a state
of rebellion against Joseph Smith as a result of which he was excommunicated
August 20th 1842. After several months of seeking the truth regarding
both Joseph Smith's revelations and the newly introduced practice of plural
marriage, Pratt accepted both with such assurance that he spent the rest
of his life in their defense. He was reinstated in the Quorum of the Twelve
Apostles January 20,1843.
Following the Martyrdom of the Prophet, Orson Pratt
supported the Twelve and participated in their governance of the Church.
Orson travelled with the Saints in the evacuation of Nauvoo. He moved ahead
of the Pioneer Company and with Erastus Snow
entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake on July 21, 1847, three days
ahead of the main body. But Orson was not long to live the pioneer's life
of early Utah. The next year he was appointed to preside over all branches
of Church in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. While in England, he
authored fifteen pamphlets and edited the Millennial Star.
Returning to America, he was elected to the Territorial
Legislature of Utah, serving several times as Speaker. In 1852 he was appointed
president of all branches of the Church in United States and Canada. When
he returned to Salt Lake City, the man who was excommunicated because of
his opposition to plural marriage was assigned by President Brigham Young to publicly preach a sermon announcing the doctrine of plural marriage
at a special missionary conference in August 1852. Following the meetings
he was assigned by Brigham Young to publish in Washington, D.C., a periodical
in defense of plural marriage. The twelve-month run of The Seer in 1853
provides the most detailed defense of the doctrine in LDS literature.
In April 1864, Elder Pratt was appointed to open
up gospel in Austria, but the Mission proved unsucessful. He was sealed
to Margaret Graham December 28, 1868, then published the Book of Mormon
in the Deseret Alphabet in New York in 1869. He was appointed "Historian
and General Church Recorder" in 1874. Under the direction of Brigham Young,
Elder Pratt prepared the 1876 edition of Doctrine and Covenants and in
1878 at President John Taylor's direction edited
and rearranged the Pearl
of Great Price. In 1879 he divided the Book of Mormon for the
first time into chapters and verses and added references.
By June 1875, Elder Pratt had risen in seniority
in the Twelve to number two behind Orson Hyde. President Brigham Young took note that this placed these two men ahead of the men who had replaced
them during the time they were excommunicated. President Young then ruled
and the Twelve ratified that the proper order was based on the date of
their readmission, not the date of their original ordination. Thus it was
that John Taylor and not Orson Hyde became the third President of the Church
and Orson Pratt never served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Throughout his life Orson Pratt pursued his strong
interest in mathematics and astronomy. In 1866 he published his major mathematical
work, New and Easy Method of Solution of the Cubic and Biquadratic Equations,
and in 1879 issued Key to the Universe. In these works and in various lectures
to many early LDS audiences, he was a positive force in the scientific
education of the American pioneers. By the time his last scientific work
was published, he was suffering from diabetes. He preached his last public
discourse on September 18, 1881, and died on October 3 in Salt Lake City.
He had married seven wives and fathered forty-five children.