Letter from Parley P. Pratt, 23 May 1837

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

, May 23, 1837.
Pres’t J Smith Jr Deare Brother as it is dificult to obtain a personal interview with you at all times By reason of the multitude of Buisiness in which you are engaged you will Excuse my saying In writing what I would otherwise say By word of mouth.
Haveing Long Pondered the Path in which we as a people have been led in regard to our temporal management, I have at Length Become fully convinced that the whole scene of Speculation in which we have Been Engaged is of the Devel; I allude to the covetous Extortionary Speculating Spirit which has reigned in this place for the Last season; which Has given rise to Lying deceiveing and takeing the advantage of ones Nabour [neighbor] and In Short to Every Eavle [evil] work:
And Being as fully convinced that you and ; Both By presept and Example have Been the principle means In Leading this people astray in these particulars and haveing myself Been Led astray and Caught in the same snare By your Example and By false Prophesying and preaching from your mouths; yea haveing done many things Rong [wrong] and plunged myself and family and others well nigh in to distruction, I have awoke to an awful sense of my situation and now resolve to retrace my steps, and to get out of the snare and make restitution as far as I can And now Dear Brother If you are still determined to persue this wicked course untill your self and the shall sink down to hell; I Beseach you at least to have mercy on me and my family and others who are Bound with me for those certain 3 lots which you sold to me at the Extortionary price of $2;000 which never cost you $1:00; for if It stands against me it will rewin [ruin] Myself and a helpless family as well as those Bound with me for yesterday came to me and Informed me that you had drawn the money from the Bank on the obligation you hold against me and that you had Left it to the mercy of the Bank and could not help what ever course they might take to collect it: notwithstanding the most sacred promise on your part that I should not Be ingured [injured] By giveing these writings; I offered him the 3 lots for the writings But he wanted my house and home also; now deare Brother will you take those Lots and give me up the writings and pay me the seventy-five dollars which I paid you on the same or will you taake the advantage of your Nabour Because he is in your Power if you will receive this admonition from one who Loves your Soul and repent of your Extortion and covetiousness in this thing, and make restitution you have my fellowship and Esteem as far as it respects our dealings Between ourselves; But if not I Shall Be under the painful necessity of prefering charges against you, for Extortion, covetousness, and takeing advantage of your Brother By an undue religious influence for it is this kind of influence which Led us to make such kind of trades, in this society, such as saying it was the will of God that Lands Should Bear such a price and many other Prophesyings Preachings and Statements of a like nature.
Yours with respect,
P. S. Do not suppose for a moment that I Lack any Confidence in the Book of Mormons or Doctrine and Covenants Nay It is my firm belief in those Records that hinders my Belief In the course we have Been Led of Late. [p. 4]


  1. 1

    TEXT: Between the date and the body of the letter is a paragraph by Deming: “The following letter is an exact copy of the original, which is in the possession of the Lake County Historical Society at Painesville, Ohio. P. P. Pratt was a brother of Orson, and was killed in the Indian Territory in 1857 by a man whose wife he had seduced.” For information on Pratt’s murder by Hector McLean, former husband of Eleanor Jane McComb McLean Pratt, one of Parley P. Pratt’s plural wives, see Givens and Grow, Apostle Paul of Mormonism, 361–383.  

    Givens, Terryl L., and Matthew J. Grow. Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

  2. 2

    The Zion’s Watchman instead has “scheme.” (“Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman, 24 Mar. 1838, 46.)  

    Zion's Watchman. New York City. 1836–1838.

  3. 3

    Engaging in uncertain land investments in hopes of making a profit was a reality for most of the western frontier, including Ohio in the mid-1830s. Church members were involved in frequent land transactions, some of which were likely risky investments made to turn a profit. Warren A. Cowdery’s May 1837 editorial in the Messenger and Advocate detailed speculation and inflation in Kirtland: “Real estate rose from one to eight hundred per cent and in many cases more. Men who were not thought worth fifty or an hundred dollars became purchasers to the amount of thousands. Notes, (some cash,) deeds, and mortgages passed and repassed, till all, or nearly all, vainly supposed they had become wealthy.” In April 1837, JS, Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon each emphasized the need for church members outside of Kirtland to move there and buy the lands for which JS and other church members had gone into debt to acquire for the Saints. Since no records indicate the amounts for which this land was sold, it is impossible to know if the prices were significantly inflated. (Editorial, LDS Messenger and Advocate, June 1837, 3:520–522; Historical Introduction to Mortgage to Peter French, 5 Oct. 1836; Discourse, 6 Apr. 1837. For accounts of speculation occurring among church members in this period, see JS History, vol. B-1, 761; Kimball, “History,” 77–78; Fielding, Journal, 12–13; and Cyrus Smalling, Letter, Kirtland, OH, 10 Mar. 1841, in “Banking and Financiering at Kirtland,” 669.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

    Kimball, Heber C. “History of Heber Chase Kimball by His Own Dictation,” ca. 1842–1856. Heber C. Kimball, Papers, 1837–1866. CHL. MS 627, box 2.

    Fielding, Joseph. Journals, 1837–1859. CHL. MS 1567.

    “Banking and Financiering at Kirtland.” Magazine of Western History 11, no. 6 (Apr. 1890): 668–670.

  4. 4

    Referencing how the spirit of speculation had led members to exploit their neighbors, in a May 1837 editorial, Warren A. Cowdery warned new arrivals in Kirtland to beware of those who would take advantage of their inexperience to sell them land at much higher rates. (Editorial, LDS Messenger and Advocate, May 1837, 3:505–506.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  5. 5

    The word “hell” is italicized in Zion’s Watchman. (“Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman, 24 Mar. 1838, 46.)  

    Zion's Watchman. New York City. 1836–1838.

  6. 6

    In Zion’s Watchman this amount is written as $100. Pratt considered JS’s treatment of him to be extortion because JS had originally paid much less for the land. The exact lots mentioned by Pratt are not known, but if these were lands for which JS had received the title from Frederick G. Williams or John Johnson, JS may have paid very little. However, if they were sections of land from more recent purchases, JS may have still been paying off the high costs of land and may not have inflated the price as significantly as Pratt claimed. During the height of land transactions in late 1836 and early 1837, the price of lots around the House of the Lord in Kirtland were driven up by demand, and JS may have asked $2,000 for the property due to the inflated land values. The deeds for the three lots mentioned here were not recorded in the deed books for Geauga County. The land transaction may have been voided when Pratt was unable to pay his obligations on the land. (“Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman, 24 Mar. 1838, 46; Historical Introduction to Revelation, 23 Apr. 1834 [D&C 104]; Balance of Account, 23 Apr. 1834; Hyrum Smith, Kirtland, OH, to Charles C. Rich, [Pleasant Grove, IL], 5 Feb. 1837, Charles C. Rich, Collection, CHL; see also Historical Introduction to Notice, ca. Late Aug. 1837.)  

    Zion's Watchman. New York City. 1836–1838.

    Rich, Charles C. Collection, 1832–1908. CHL. MS 889.

  7. 7

    The Kirtland Safety Society.  

  8. 8

    This likely refers to a promissory note or something similar Pratt gave JS for the debt on the land.  

  9. 9

    In Zion’s Watchman, this is rendered as “SACRED PROMISES.” (“Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman, 24 Mar. 1838, 46.)  

    Zion's Watchman. New York City. 1836–1838.

  10. 10

    “These writings” refer to promissory notes or other financial obligations held by JS.  

  11. 11

    Charges such as those Pratt refers to here against a member of the First Presidency would have been addressed not to the high council but to the bishop’s council for possible action.  

  12. 12

    This postscript was not printed in the Zion’s Watchman version of the letter. (“Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman, 24 Mar. 1838, 46.)  

    Zion's Watchman. New York City. 1836–1838.