Parley P. Pratt’s Conversion Story

Parley P. Pratt was a great missionary for the LDS Church in it’s early days. He was one of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in these later days. Due to his extensive missionary travels and voluminous writings in the early days of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Parley P. Pratt has often been called “the Apostle Paul of Mormonism.” His conversion story is an inspiring tale one of diligently seeking for the truth and embracing the gospel once found.

Interest in Religion from an Early Age

Parley P. Pratt was born in Burlington, New York, April 12, 1807. From an early age, Parley had a keen interest in religion. Early in his autobiography he made note of conversation where he asked his father why modern churches were so different than the church established by the Savior and his apostles when they were on the earth. “To these inquiries my father could give no satisfactory answer; but observed that times and circumstances had changed. With this I was not satisfied, of course; for who had a right to change the ordinances, transgress the law, or break the covenant of the everlasting gospel? Such were my thoughts.”

“I still continued to ponder upon these things, and to search the Scriptures to learn how to be saved. I found the same principles and practice throughout [the Scriptures]… all were baptized when they believed in Jesus Christ and repented of their sins; and this as an ordinance connected with remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. What, then, should I do? Where find one who was commissioned from heaven, and would administer salvation to me?”

A Holy Retreat: Winter Alone Reading the Scriptures

During the winter of 1826 to 1827, Parley had a profound spiritual experience studying the scriptures. He was 19 years old and he had left his friends and family to go west. He had used most of his money to buy a small pocket Bible, so he made his way west by walking or working on a steam ship. Eventually he made it to a small settlement 30 miles west of Cleveland, Ohio where he stopped for the winter. This is what he records next in his journal:

“Alone in a land of strangers, without home or money, and not yet twenty years of age, I became discouraged, and concluded to stop for the winter; I procured a gun from one of the neighbors; worked and earned an axe, some breadstuff and other little extras, and retired two miles into a dense forest and prepared a small hut, or cabin, for the winter. Some leaves and straw in my cabin served for my lodging, and a good fire kept me warm. A stream near my door quenched my thirst; and fat venison, with a little bread from the settlements, sustained me for food. The storms of winter raged around me; the wind shook the forest, the wolf howled in the distance, and the owl chimed in harshly to complete the doleful music which seemed to soothe me, or bid me welcome to this holy retreat. But in my little cabin the fire blazed pleasantly, and the Holy Scriptures and a few other books occupied my hours of solitude.”

Marriage to Thankful Halsey

At the end of the winter, Parley decided to go back to his native land where he grew up. For, said, he, “There was one there whom my heart had long loved, and from whom I would not have been so long separated, except by misfortune.” When he got back to his home town in New York, he went straight to the home of his childhood sweetheart, Thankful Halsey. “With a quick step, a beating heart, and an intense, indescribable feeling of joy, sorrow, hope, despondency and happiness, I approached the door of Mr. Halsey, and knocked.”

“I spent the day and evening with her; explained to her all my losses, my poverty and prospects, and the lone retreat where I had spent the previous winter; and the preparations I had made for a future home. I also opened my religious views to her, and my desire, which I sometimes had, to try and teach the red man. “In view of all these things,” said I to her, “If you still love me and desire to share my fortune you are worthy to be my wife. If not, we will agree to be friends forever; but part to meet no more in time.” “I have loved you during three years’ absence,” said she, “and I never can be happy without you.”

Sidney Rigdon

Parley and Thankful were married a short time later.

Meeting Sidney Rigdon and Joining the Reformed Baptists

Parley and Thankful returned to where Parley had spent the previous winter and made a home for themselves there. The cabin was replaced with a frame house. They planted a garden, an orchard of apple and peach trees, and vast fields of grain. About this time, reports Parley, “one Mr. Sidney Rigdon came into the neighborhood as a preacher, and it was rumored that he was a kind of Reformed Baptist… At length I went to hear him, and what was my astonishment when I found he preached faith in Jesus Christ, repentance towards God, and baptism for remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost to all who would come forward.” Though Sidney Rigdon had yet to learn about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, like Parley, he was searching.

“After hearing Mr. Rigdon several times, I came out, with a number of others, and embraced the truths which he taught. We were organized into a society, and frequently met for public worship. About this time I took it upon me to impart to my neighbors, from time to time, both in public and in private, the light I had received from the Scriptures concerning the gospel, and also concerning the fulfilment of the things spoken by the holy prophets. I did not claim any authority as a minister; I felt the lack in this respect; but I felt in duty bound to enlighten mankind, so far as God had enlightened me.”

Meeting His Brother and Leaving on a Mission

About this time when the spirit of missionary work and a desire the share the gospel had descended upon Parley P. Pratt, he heard that his long lost brother William might be living nearby “residing about ten miles from me. On hearing this I ran nearly the whole distance on foot, and in about two hours had him by the hand.”

This was a joyful and unexpected meeting of two brothers. He immediately accompanied me home, and was introduced to my wife and our little farm in the wilderness, where we spent some days together. He admired my wife; but above all my farm. “Brother Parley,” said he, “how have you done all this? When we were last together you had no wife, no farm, no house, no orchard, and now you are here with everything smiling around you.” I replied that hard work had accomplished it all.”

Parley explained to William that though he was prospering from a material standpoint, he felt inspired by the Spirit of the Lord to leave it all behind and go preach the gospel. Parley “told him that the spirit of these things had wrought so powerfully on my mind of late that I could not rest; that I could no longer be contented to dwell in quiet and retirement on my farm, while I had light to impart to mankind.”

Parley reports “In August, 1830, I had closed my business, completed my arrangements, and we bid adieu to our wilderness home and never saw it afterwards. On settling up, at a great sacrifice of property, we had about ten dollars left in cash. With this small sum, we launched forth into the wide world, determining first to visit our native place, on our mission, and then such other places as I might be led to by the Holy Spirit.”

Discovering The Book of Mormon

Old Book of MormonWhen Parley and Thankful arrived in Rochester, New York, Parley felt inspired to linger longer. He sent his wife ahead and said to her, “I will come soon, but how soon I know not; for I have a work to do in this region of country, and what it is, or how long it will take to perform it, I know not; but I will come when it is performed.” Parley didn’t know it at the time, but he was about to encounter a life changing book, The Book of Mormon.

A man named Hamlin “began to tell of a book, a STRANGE BOOK, a VERY STRANGE BOOK! in his possession, which had been just published. This book, he said, purported to have been originally written on plates either of gold or brass, by a branch of the tribes of Israel; and to have been discovered and translated by a young man near Palmyra, in the State of New York, by the aid of visions, or the ministry of angels. I inquired of him how or where the book was to be obtained. He promised me the perusal of it, at his house the next day, if I would call. I felt a strange interest in the book. …Next morning I called at his house, where, for the first time, my eyes beheld the “BOOK OF MORMON” that book of books-that record which reveals the antiquities of the “New World” back to the remotest ages, and which unfolds the destiny of its people and the world for all time to come; that Book which contains the fulness of the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer; that Book which reveals a lost remnant of Joseph, and which was the principal means, in the hands of God, of directing the entire course of my future life.

“I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

“As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life. I soon determined to see the young man who had been the instrument of its discovery and translation.”

Meeting Hyrum Smith

Parley went immediately to Palmyra, New York to find Joseph Smith. When he arrived he spoke with Hyrum Smith, who informed him that Joseph was away in Pennsylvania.

“I informed him of the interest I felt in the Book, and of my desire to learn more about it. He welcomed me to his house, and we spent the night together; for neither of us felt disposed to sleep. We conversed most of the night…He also unfolded to me the particulars of the discovery of the Book; its translation; the rise of the Church of Latter-day Saints, and the commission of his brother Joseph, and others, by revelation and the ministering of angels, by which the apostleship and authority had been again restored to the earth. After duly weighing the whole matter in my mind I saw clearly that these things were true; and that myself and the whole world were without baptism, and without the ministry and ordinances of God; and that the whole world had been in this condition since the days that inspiration and revelation had ceased–in short, that this was a new dispensation or commission, in fulfillment of prophecy, and for the restoration of Israel, and to prepare the way before the second coming of the Lord.”

Of the Book of Mormon, Parley P. Pratt said, “This discovery greatly enlarged my heart, and filled my soul with joy and gladness. I esteemed the Book, or the information contained in it, more than all the riches of the world. Yes; I verily believe that I would not at that time have exchanged the knowledge I then possessed, for a legal title to all the beautiful farms, houses, villages and property” in the whole state of New York.

Baptism of Parley P. Pratt

Parley demanded that Hyrum Smith baptism him, so the next day they walked 25 miles to the Whitmer residence where they received “a most welcome reception.” The Whitmer family had been instrumental in supporting Joseph Smith in the translation and publishing of the Book of Mormon.

“We rested that night, and on the next day, being about the 1st of September, 1830, I was baptized by the hand of an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, by the name of Oliver Cowdery. This took place in Seneca Lake, a beautiful and transparent sheet of water in Western New York.

“A meeting was held the same evening, and after singing a hymn and prayer, Elder Cowdery and others proceeded to lay their hands upon my head in the name of Jesus, for the gift of the Holy Ghost. After which I was ordained to the office of an Elder in the Church, which included authority to preach, baptize, and minister the sacrament, administer the Holy Spirit, by the laying on of hands in the name of Jesus Christ and to take the lead of meetings of worship.

“I now felt that I had authority in the ministry.”

Immediately, Parley P. Pratt became a zealous missionary for the newly restored Church of Jesus Christ. On the day after his baptism, he preached to a large group of people (investigators, we might call them today), teaching by the Spirit. Said Parley, “The Holy Ghost came upon me mightily. I spoke the word of God with power, reasoning out of the Scriptures and the Book of Mormon. The people were convinced, overwhelmed in tears, and four heads of families came forward expressing their faith, and were baptized.”

May each of us be as diligent as Parley P. Pratt in seeking out the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And my we all catch the vision of the purpose of missionary work as he did, and do our best to share the light of the gospel with others.

2 replies
  1. Eileen White
    Eileen White says:

    Over 50 years ago I read Parley’s autobiography, which was astonishing to me…considering how easily my own conversion came. Parley was an example of being “all in” and willing to pay whatever price necessary to find truth. I especially appreciated his declaration that you could give him all the wealth of the State of New York and the Book of Mormon would stand as being far more precious…no comparison, really. His appreciation of what Elder Christopherson just recently declared the BEST tool our missionaries have was important to me, because I have a grand daughter newly called to preach in the New York City Mission.


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