Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt

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Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt
Bust photo of Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt sitting in chair
Born Sarah Marinda Bates
(1817-02-05)February 5, 1817
Henderson, New York
Died December 25, 1888(1888-12-25) (aged 71)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory
Spouse(s) Orson Pratt (estranged)[1]

Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt (February 2, 1817 – December 25, 1888) was the first wife of LDS Apostle and polygamist Orson Pratt and later a critic of Mormon polygamy. She was a founder of the Anti-Polygamy Society in Salt Lake City and called herself a Mormon apostate.[2][3][4][5] She was born in Henderson, Jefferson County, New York, the first daughter and third child of Cyrus Bates and Lydia Harrington Bates.

Early life and marriage[edit]

Sarah Marinda Bates lived in Henderson, New York from the time of her birth in 1817 until October 1836. While she was there, her family encountered Mormon missionaries and in the summer of 1835 she and several siblings were baptized into the faith. She also fell in love with one of the missionaries, Orson Pratt, who after continuing to preach in other areas returned to seek Sarah's hand in marriage. They were wed July 4, 1836, and Orson returned to his missionary travels after a three-day honeymoon. Sarah stayed with her family with only periodic visits from her husband until the couple moved in October to an apartment in Kirtland, Ohio.[6]

Children and migration[edit]

The Pratts' stay in Kirtland would be short-lived. Amidst the economic difficulties of 1837 and the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, Sarah gave birth to their first son Orson Jr. With few financial prospects in Kirtland, the family moved back to Henderson as soon as the infant was capable of the journey, and several months later relocated to New York City. In July 1838, Orson Pratt was called to gather with a number of other church elders at Far West, Missouri to prepare for another mission.[7]

The move to Missouri was difficult due to Sarah's pregnancy with their second child. They reached St. Louis and their daughter Lydia was born on December 17, 1838. Violence in Missouri led to the expulsion of the Mormons from that state, and the Pratts were forced to flee to the upriver settlements on the Mississippi. They eventually found a "shanty" in nascent Nauvoo, Illinois. There, baby Lydia fell ill with one of the epidemics that ravaged the swamplands and died in August 1839. Orson left eleven days later to serve a mission to Europe.[7]

With her husband in Europe Sarah had to provide for her family and she did so by taking in sewing. She was hired by Joseph Smith's family to do some sewing and Joseph referred her to John C. Bennett, a recent convert to Mormonism who had quickly become a close associate of Smith.[8]

Plural marriage proposal of Joseph Smith[edit]

In an 1886 interview, Sarah Pratt stated that, while in Nauvoo around 1840 or 1841, Joseph Smith was attracted to her and intended to make her "one of his spiritual wives."[9] According to Bennett, while Orson was in England on missionary service, Smith proposed to Pratt by claiming divine inspiration: "Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives. I have the blessings of Jacob granted me, as he granted holy men of old, and I have long looked upon you with favor, and hope you will not repulse or deny me", to which Bennett claimed Pratt replied: "Am I called upon to break the marriage covenant … to my lawful husband! I never will. I care not for the blessings of Jacob, and I believe in no such revelations, neither will I consent under any circumstances. I have one good husband, and that is enough for me."[10] Also according to Bennett, Smith made three additional proposals.[11] By Bennett's account, Pratt issued an ultimatum to Smith: "Joseph, if you ever attempt any thing of the kind with me again, I will tell Mr. Pratt on his return home. Depend upon it, I will certainly do it," [11] a warning that elicited the threat from Smith, "Sister Pratt, I hope you will not expose me; if I am to suffer, all suffer; so do not expose me.... If you should tell, I will ruin your reputation, remember that."

After Orson returned from England, Bennett reports, another incident between Pratt and Smith occurred at her home. According to Sarah Pratt's neighbor, Mary Ettie V. Smith, "Sarah ordered the Prophet out of the house, and the Prophet used obscene language to her [declaring that he had found Bennett] in bed with her."[11] Sarah told her husband about the incident; Orson took Sarah's side and confronted Smith, who denied Sarah's allegation and responded that she was Bennett's lover.[5]

The resulting estrangement between Smith and Orson Pratt, who stood by Sarah in preference to the denials of Joseph and the accusations against Bennett, brought forth a warning from Smith that "If [Orson] did believe his wife and follow her suggestions he would go to hell".[12] Wilford Woodruff stated that "Dr. John Cook Bennett was the ruin of Orson Pratt".[13]

Van Wagoner and Walker note that, on August 20, 1842, "after four days of fruitless efforts at reconciliation, the Twelve excommunicated Pratt for 'insubordination' and Sarah for 'adultery'"[14] with Bennett.

Orson soon returned to the church and denounced Bennett and his book. Van Wagoner cites a letter written by Orson's brother Parley P. Pratt,

Orson wrote a postscript to his brother's letter: "J.C. Bennett has published lies concerning myself & family & the people with which I am connected".[5]

Criticism in the local and Mormon press[edit]

Sarah Pratt was accused of having had an adulterous relationship with Bennett, and numerous affidavits printed in the local and pro-Mormon Nauvoo press (e.g., the Nauvoo Wasp), as well as by Jacob B. Backenstos, a relative of the sheriff of Hancock County, testified to these allegations. Sarah Pratt had stayed with Stephen H. Goddard and his wife, Zeruiah, while Orson Pratt was away on missionary work in England. The Goddards stated under oath that from the first night, Bennett "was there as sure as the night came," and that "he remained later, sometimes till after midnight." During this time Bennett and Pratt "sat close together, he leaning on her lap, whispering continually or talking very low." Zeruiah Goddard reported that on another occasion she "came suddenly into the room where Mrs. Pratt and the Dr. were; she was lying on the bed and the Dr. was taking his hands out of her bosom; he was in the habit of sitting on the bed where Mrs. Pratt was lying, and lying down over her." The Goddards said they visited Pratt in a home furnished to her by Dr. Robert Foster there several times late in the evening and found Bennett and Sarah Pratt together, "as if they were man, and wife."[10] Pratt claimed in 1886, when disaffected from the church, that when the testimonials were published, she went straight to the Goddard's home and Stephen ran out the back door, but that she confronted Zeruiah, who sobbed

However, Foster made the following allegation against Bennett and Pratt:

Van Wagoner has concluded that the adultery charges against Sarah Pratt are "highly improbable" and that J. B. Backenstos's affidavit stating that Bennett continued the adulterous relationship with Sarah Pratt after Orson returned from England could "be dismissed as slander."[5] In addition to Sarah, Nancy Rigdon and Martha Brotherton "also suffered slanderous attacks because they exposed the Church's private polygamy posture."[17] However, Bennett gave an affidavit clearing Smith of wrongdoing,

Bennett ultimately became a vehement opponent of Smith and the church, authoring the book The History of the Saints; or An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism,[19] of which Sarah Pratt later stated "[I] know that the principle statements in John C. Bennett's book on Mormonism are true,"[20] whereas affidavits and testimonies of church members at the time denounced Bennett.[21][22] Orson Pratt stated,

Allegation of abortions[edit]

In her 1886 interview with W. Wyl, Sarah Pratt alleged that Joseph Smith allowed Bennett, a medical doctor, to perform abortions on Smith's polygamous wives who were officially single.[23][24][25] In a public charge "that was likely true," according to author Andrew Smith, Bennett was accused by many of performing abortions,[26] including Hyrum Smith;[10] Zeruiah Goddard claimed Bennett told Sarah Pratt "that he could cause abortion with perfect safety to the mother at any stage of pregnancy, and that he had frequently destroyed and removed infants before their time to prevent exposure of the parties, and that he had instruments for that purpose."[10] If the women refused, Bennett stated that he came with Joseph's approval.[26] Sarah Pratt herself recounted an incident in which

Pratt also related her observations of Bennett's work for Joseph Smith to Smith's son Joseph Smith III,[28]

However, Smith III's own published account differed from Pratt's recollection,

Opposition to plural marriage and apostasy[edit]

Sarah Pratt ended her marriage to husband Orson Pratt in 1868 because of his "obsession with marrying younger women"[31] and condemned polygamy because:

Pratt was one of the founders of the Anti-Polygamy Society in Salt Lake City.[4] Pratt lashed out at Orson in an 1877 interview,

In 1874 she testified for Utah candidate Liberal Robert Baskin, who accused his opponent George Q. Cannon of polygamy and said that his obligation to the Mormon hierarchy was superior to national law.[34]

On her leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for which she was excommunicated on 4 October 1874,[35] Pratt declared in 1875 that,

Van Wagoner concludes, "Polygamy made her a radical....By making public Joseph Smith's overtures and resisting what she considered to be collective infidelity, Sarah Pratt was judged a threat to the safety of the Church and considered to have committed apostasy."[36]


Pratt, who resolved to "rear my children so that they should never espouse the Mormon faith while concealing from my neighbors and the church authorities that I was thus rearing them,"[37] had twelve children by husband Orson Pratt:

  • Orson Pratt, Jr.
    • Declined missionary service with Brigham Young because "I informed you of the change that had taken place in my religious views."[38]
    • Declared to church officials, "I was made a High Councillor, although I was then an unbeliever, as now...In regard to my faith...I resolved I would not accept nothing that my conscience would not receive....I have come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was not especially sent by the Lord to establish this work, and I cannot help it, for I could not believe otherwise, even if I knew I was to suffer for it the next moment."[39]
    • Excommunicated, 18 September 1863
  • Lydia Pratt
  • Celestia Larissa Pratt
  • Sarah Marinda Pratt
  • Vanson Pratt
  • Laron Pratt
  • Marlon Pratt
  • Marintha Althera Pratt
  • Harmel Pratt
  • Arthur Pratt
    • Deputy U.S. marshall
    • Reported in 1882 why he was not a Mormon, "I am the son of my father's first wife, and had a mother who taught me the evils of the system."[35]
    • Excommunicated for apostasy on 5 October 1874[35]
  • Herma Ethna Pratt
  • Liola Menella Pratt

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, p. 95
  2. ^ Newell & Avery 1994
  3. ^ Sillito & Staker 2002
  4. ^ a b Iversen 1991
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Van Wagoner 1986
  6. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 69–70
  7. ^ a b Van Wagoner 1986, p. 70
  8. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, p. 71
  9. ^ Smith 1971, Van Wagoner 1986, Bennett 1842, Sillito & Staker 2002
  10. ^ a b c d Smith 1971
  11. ^ a b c Smith 1971, Van Wagoner 1986, Bennett 1842
  12. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 77
  13. ^ Watson, E.J. (1975) The Orson Pratt Journals, Salt Lake City: 180
  14. ^ Van Wagoner, R.S. & Walker, S.C. (1982) A Book of Mormons, Salt Lake City: Signature Books ISBN 0-941214-06-0, at 212
  15. ^ Smith 1971, Van Wagoner 1986
  16. ^ Nauvoo Wasp 1 [October 15, 1842]: 2
  17. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 76–77
  18. ^ Times and Seasons 3 [August 1, 1842]:869–875
  19. ^ Bennett 1886[clarification needed]
  20. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 83
  21. ^ Times and Seasons 3 [August 1, 1842]: 868–878
  22. ^ Times and Seasons 3 [October 1, 1842]:939–940
  23. ^ Wyl, W (1886). Mormon Portraits or the Truth about Mormon Leaders. Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing & Publishing. pp. 60–63. ASIN B00089HA92. 
  24. ^ Smith 1971, link
  25. ^ Wymetal 1886, link
  26. ^ Wymetal 1886, pp. 60–61, link
  27. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 79
  28. ^ Wymetal 1886, pp. 60–61
  29. ^ Saints' Herald, January 15, 1935, 80; January 22, 1935, 109–110
  30. ^ Van Wagoner 1986. At age 57, Orson Pratt married a sixteen-year-old girl, his tenth wife, younger than his daughter Celestia.
  31. ^ Eskridge & Eskridge Jr 2002, pp. 291
  32. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 92
  33. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 95
  34. ^ a b c Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 94
  35. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 97
  36. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 89–90
  37. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 90
  38. ^ Van Wagoner 1986, pp. 91–92


External links[edit]