Thankful Halsey, 30
- Elizabeth Brotherton, 26
- Mary Wood, 26
- Hannahette Snively, 32
- Belinda Marden, 23
- Sarah Houston, 23
- Phoebe Soper, 22
- Ann Agatha Walker, 17
- Martha Monk, 22
- Keziah Downs, 41
- Eleanor Jane McComb, 37
Parley Parker Pratt and Thankful Halsey were civilly married in Canaan, New York in 1827. In 1830, after a few years homesteading in Ohio, Parley was inspired to return to New York, where he soon learned of the Book of Mormon and was himself converted. Thankful converted shortly thereafter as well. Parley was immediately and persistently drawn into missionary activity, this time by church assignment. The couple returned to Ohio in 1831, when the church established itself in Kirtland. Thankful died in Kirtland shortly after childbirth in 1837. Parley found a mother for the infant two months later in the widow Mary Ann Frost Stearns, who also had a young child. Parley and Mary Ann’s marriage became polygamous in July 1843 when Parley was sealed for eternity to English convert Elizabeth Brotherton.
Mary Ann was born in Maine, where she civilly married her first husband Nathan Stearns in 1831 or 1832. They had a daughter shortly before he died in 1833. Mary Ann joined the church in 1835 and moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where she met and married Parley two years later. Within a year they were in Missouri and separated by the conflict: he in jail and she and the children driven from the state. Reunited in Illinois in 1839, the family went with Parley on a three-year mission to England. Upon their return they were taught Smith’s new doctrine of plural marriage and Parley was sealed to Mary Ann.
There are, however, conflicting records of these sealings. It appears that Hyrum Smith sealed Parley to Mary Ann and Elizabeth for eternity in June of 1843, but these sealings were cancelled by Joseph Smith within a month on the grounds that Hyrum lacked authority. In July, the sealing of Parley to Elizabeth for eternity was repeated. Mary Ann, however, was sealed to Parley for time and to Joseph for eternity. In addition, with Mary Ann standing as her proxy, Thankful was sealed to Parley for eternity. The July form of all these sealings was confirmed in 1846 by repetition of them in the newly completed temple.
Elizabeth Brotherton was born in Manchester, England, to a Wesleyan Methodist family. She converted and was baptized in 1840; within three months the rest of her family joined her. They emigrated to the United States in the fall of 1841. Not long after their arrival, her family became alienated from the church and moved to Warsaw, Illinois, apparently intending to return to England. Whatever the basis for this decision, it was likely aggravated by Brigham Young’s proposal of a plural marriage to Elizabeth’s sister Martha, who was so offended by the idea that she not only rejected it but also published a widely circulated expose of it. Despite family strife, Elizabeth remained Parley’s plural wife until her death in 1853. The two never had biological children, but they adopted a daughter, Abish.
Mary Ann and Parley never succeeded in creating a stable plural marriage. In 1846 Mary Ann refused to travel with the Pratt family to the West. When she did go later, she went as far as Winter Quarters to tell Parley that she was taking the children with her to Maine and her family of origin. Having maintained her association to the church, Mary Ann came to Utah in 1852 and divorced Parley the following year. She went to live with her married daughter, taking her two children by Parley with her and working as a midwife.
By the time he died in 1857, Parley had been sealed to twelve women and had thirty children. In addition to the deceased Thankful, the divorced Mary Ann, and Elizabeth, he had married three women in the fall of 1844. Belinda Marsden Hilton had recently left a husband who was hostile to the church. She had met Parley in Boston and would later publish a defense of plural marriage and bear six children. Notwithstanding her 85-year life, the historical record for Hannahette Snively appears to be limited to her life dates and identities of her four children. The foundation for her 1844 sealing to Parley may have come from having helped nurse the Pratt children during a cholera outbreak in Nauvoo. Parley met Phebe Soper while on a mission in Long Island. In September of 1845, he encouraged her to come to Nauvoo and they were sealed the following year. Mary Wood met Parley and Mary Ann while in the British mission; she later received a letter from Parley inviting her to Nauvoo and into his household.
During the preparation for the exodus from Nauvoo, three women in their early twenties were added to the family. Sarah Houston had joined the church with her family, who seem to have been socially well connected: her sister Mary was sealed to Heber Kimball and Anne, to Newel Whitney. Sarah was sealed to Parley in 1845 and was part of the Pratt family’s migration to the West. When widowed by Parley’s death in 1857, she had four children under the age of ten, which possibly prompted her marriage to A. Louis Taussig that same year. Although 18-year-old Ann Agatha Walker joined the church in England with her parents and two siblings, she came to the United States without them in 1847 and married Parley the same month she arrived. In 1857 she was widowed with five children; Ann Agatha then married Joseph Ridges and gave birth to two more children. English immigrant Martha Monk was sealed to Parley on the same day as Ann Agatha. She had one child who died within a month of his birth and she later left Pratt to live in California.
While the average age of Parley’s first several wives at the time of their marriage was in the early to mid-20s, his last two wives were somewhat closer to his age. Keziah Downs immigrated in 1851 and was sealed to Parley within two years. Keziah, like several of his other wives, had known him during his missionary service in England. Thirty-six-year-old Eleanor Jane McComb McLean was baptized in 1854 and married Parley the following year. For her this was a final separation (other attempts had been made as earlier as 1844) from a husband who not only abused her, but tried to kill her and, failing that, to have her committed to an asylum. For Scotsman Hector Hugle McLean, her marriage to Parley was an assault on his honor, which he believed allowed him to kill his wife’s seducer. Parley was traveling to a mission field in 1857 when he was ambushed and killed by Hector McLean. Eleanor returned to Utah and attempted to support herself as a schoolteacher. His death left nine widows.
“Abish Pratt (LCP5-96J),” and “Parley Parker Pratt (KWNT-GX2),” FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org/
Bergera, Gary James. “Bergera, Gary James. “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841–44,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38, no.3 (2005): 1–74, 9–10, 20–23.
Driggs, B.W. “Death of M.A. Pratt,” Deseret News, Sept. 5, 1891, p. 26. https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/desnews4/id/21393. Accessed 5 Aug 2020.
Givens, Terryl L., and Matthew J. Grow. Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (Oxford University Press, 2011), 316-338 and 366-391.
Hales, Brian C. “Olive G. Frost,” Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, https://josephsmithspolygamy.org/plural-wives-overview/olive-g-frost/. Accessed 5 Aug 2020.
Hales, Brian C. “Other Mormon Leaders Practice Polygamy,” Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, https://josephsmithspolygamy.org/history/mormon-leaders-polygamy/#BrighamYoungsFirstMarriageProposal. Accessed 5 Aug 2020.
Pratt, Elizabeth. “The incidents of my life while in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” The Woman’s Exponent 19, no.12 (1890): 94–95, as cited in Jared Pratt Family Association, “Elizabeth Pratt,” http://jared.pratt-family.org/parley_family_histories/elizabeth_brotherton_biography.html. Accessed 5 Aug 2020. For other marriages also, see http://jared.pratt-family.org/parley_family_histories/list_parley_wives_histories.html
“Pratt, Elizabeth Brotherton,” The Journal of George Q. Cannon, https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/george-q-cannon/people/elizabeth-brotherton-pratt?letter=P&lang=eng
Pratt, Parley Parker. “History of Parley P. Pratt,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 26 (1864): 822–25.
“Pratt, Parley Parker,” The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/person/parley-parker-pratt