Is Sarah Pratt Reliable?

         Both Orson and Sarah Pratt became entangled in dramatic events initiated by John C. Bennett. At the heart of the controversy was Sarah’s involvement with Bennett and/or Joseph Smith.  Born on February 5, 1817 as Sarah Marinda Bates, she accepted the restoration, being baptized on June 18, 1835.  In the months thereafter, she fell in love with one of her missionaries, twenty-four year old Apostle Orson Pratt and they were married the next year.[1]  By the early 1840s, Sarah lived the role of a church widow in Nauvoo as her husband, Orson, served a mission from August 1839 to July, 1841 to the British Isles.  Two contradictory stories regarding Sarah Pratt in 1840 and 1841 (prior to her husband’s return from England) are chronicled in the historical record.[2]

Story One: Joseph Smith Attempted to Make Sarah Pratt a “Spiritual Wife”

         In a letter published in the Sangamo Journal on July 15, 1842, John C. Bennett asserted that Joseph Smith had confidentially requested Bennett’s assistance in securing Sarah Pratt as a “Spiritual Wife”:

            Joe Smith stated to me at an early day in the history of that city, that he intended to make that amiable and accomplished lady one of his spiritual wives, for the Lord had given her to him, and he requested me to assist him in consummating his hellish purposes, but I told him that I would not do it -- that she had been much neglected and abused by the church during the absence of her husband in Europe, and that if the Lord had given her to him he must attend to it himself. I will do it, said he, for there is no harm in it if her husband should never find it out. I called upon Mrs. Pratt and told that Joe contemplated an attack on her virtue, in the name of the Lord, and that she must prepare to repulse him in so infamous an assault… accordingly in a few days Joe proposed to me to go… We then proceeded to the house where Mrs. Pratt resided, and Joe commenced discourse as follows: "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 deny me." She replied: "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."… Three times afterwards he tried to convince Mrs. Pratt of the propriety of his doctrine, and she at last told him: "Joseph, if you ever attempt any thing of the kind with me again, I will tell Mr. Pratt on his return home. I will certainly do it.”[3]

         An 1884 document purportedly associated with Sarah Pratt recounts a similar message:

Workings of Mormonism related by Mrs. Orson Hyde \Pratt/

Salt Lake City


As the wife of Orson Hyde \Pratt/ the Apostle, Mrs. Hyde \Pratt/ was very familiar with the workings of Mormonism for many years.  Mrs Emma Smith and Mrs Heber C. Kimball were among her most intimate friends; specially intimate as she was left without any relative but her infant son while her husband was off on his missions to England…

In Joseph Smith she had implicit confidence. in.  She accepted his inspired revelations; her husband had written many at his dictation.  He appeared much interested in her affairs and brought Dr. John C. Bennett once or twice with him when he called:  At first his calls were made upon her in her home where she was living with another family; then when she moved into a little house by herself his attentions became more frequent.  He told her at one time that his wife Emma had become jealous of her; she at once called upon Emma and assured her of the folly of such an idea; she told her that she was thoroughly bound up in her husband, Mr. Hyde [sic], and had no thought for any one else.  At one of his calls with Dr. Bennet, Joseph told Mrs. Hyde [sic] that there was something he wanted to say to her but dare not for fear she would lose respect for him.  That seemed impossible to her, but \as/ she told him; he however postponed the announcement…

Sometime after this Joseph called again and said that now he should tell her what he meant to have told her before.  He said it that he knew she must be lonely now that her husband was away, and that it was not at all necessary that it should be so.  She needed the company of some man, and he would stay with her when the she wished it; that there was no sin in it as long as she kept it to herself; that the sin was wholly in making it known to herself or to her husband or any one else.  She replied to Joseph’s proposal most indignantly; she told him she loved her husband most devotedly, and upbraided him \sharply/ for what he had suggested.  He replied that if she told of it he had it in his power to ruin her character.  From that time she discontinued her habit of going to his house to sew, and asked Emma Smith to send the work to her instead.

After he had left her she Mrs. Hyde [sic] was in \great/ distress of mind.  Here she was friendless and alone scarcely more than twenty years of age, with one who was almost as a god to her counselling her in this way…  There was nothing said then as to Celestial Marriage or revelation.

One day Dr. Bennet, who knew of Smith’s proposal to Mrs. Pratt and its rejection, and who in consequence confided to her some of Smith’s iniquities, one day he called upon her, and told her that a revelation was to be made five days later, to Joseph Smith, authorizing polygamy; that Smith had been so general in his attentions that to the women that he was obliged to shield himself by these means.[4]

          The author of this document is unknown.  The level of input given by Sarah Pratt, if she was involved at all, is also unclear.  The writer mistakenly substitutes the surname “Hyde” for “Pratt” in six different places, three times correcting it and three times not, an error Pratt herself would not have made and would have quickly rectified in the document if she had been given the opportunity.  In addition, it contains numerous unsubstantiated claims and factual errors.[5]  Nevertheless, Gary Bergera characterizes it as “accurate in many details.”[6]

          In 1886, Sarah was quoted by anti-Mormon writer Wilhelm Wyl.  Reportedly she described her version of the events:

         When my husband went to England as a missionary, he got the promise from Joseph that I should receive provisions from the tithing-house.[7] Shortly afterward Joseph made his propositions to me and they enraged me so that I refused to accept any help from the tithing-house or from the bishop. Having been always very clever and very busy with my needle, I began to take in sewing for the support of myself and children, and succeeded soon in making myself independent. When Bennett came to Nauvoo, Joseph brought him to my house, stating that Bennett wanted some sewing done, and that I should do it for the doctor. I assented and Bennett gave me a great deal of work to do. He knew that Joseph had his plans set on me; Joseph made no secret of them before Bennett, and went so far in his impudence as to make propositions to me in the presence of Bennett, his bosom friend. Bennett, who was of a sarcastic turn of mind, used to come and tell me about Joseph to tease and irritate me.[8]

These three reports are not corroborated by other witnesses other than the two participants, John C. Bennett and Sarah Bates Pratt, but are generally consistent with each other and claim, among other things, that Joseph Smith sought an illicit relationship with Sarah.  The dating of this encounter, as related by Bennett and Sarah Pratt, is prior to July of 1841, but curiously, the entire episode as described was evidently kept entirely secret for over a year.

Story Two: John C. Bennett and Sarah Pratt Engaged in a Sexual Relationship

          Accounts from several other witnesses describe a very different situation concerning Sarah Pratt and John C. Bennett in 1840 and early 1841.  Nauvoans Stephen and Zeruiah Goddard signed the affidavit quoted above stating that on October 6, 1840:  “from the first night, until the last, with the exception of one night it being nearly a month, the Dr. was there as sure as the night came, and generally two or three times a day–for the first two or three nights he left about 9 o’clock–after that he remained later, sometimes till after midnight.”[9]   They also claimed that she later moved into a separate house and they were seen there “together, as it were, man and wife.”[10]

          Zeruiah Goddard also swore out her own affidavit:

            Dr. Bennett came to my house one night about 12 o’clock, and sat on or beside the bed where Mrs. Pratt was and cursed and swore very profanely at her; she told me next day that the Dr. was quick tempered and was mad at her, but gave no other reason. I concluded from circumstances that she had promised to meet him somewhere and had disappointed him; on another night I remonstrated with the Dr. and asked him what Orson Pratt would think, if he should know that you were so fond of his wife, and holding her hand so much; the Dr. replied that he could pull the wool over Orson’s eyes…

My husband and I were frequently at Mrs. Pratt’s and stayed till after 10 o’clock in the night, and Dr. Bennett still remained there with her and her little child alone at that late hour.

On one occasion I 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.

I would further state that from my own observation, I am satisfied that their conduct was anything but virtuous, and I know Mrs. Pratt is not a woman of truth, and I believe the statements which Dr. Bennett made concerning Joseph Smith are false, and fabricated for the purpose of covering his own iniquities, and enabling him to practice his base designs on the innocent.


Subscribed before me one of the alderman of the City of Nauvoo, and sworn to this 28th day of August 1842.


Alderman of the City of Nauvoo.[11]

          As discussed in chapter eighteen, Sarah attempted to discredit the Goddard’s testimonies years later by claiming that Hyrum Smith approached with documents that were “all written out” and that they were “forced us to sign them.”[12]  However, as with the jointly signed affidavit, Zeruiah’s own affidavit contains numerous specific details only the Goddards would have been privy to.

          In August of 1842, Hancock County Sherriff J. B. Backenstos, signed the following affidavit:

                                   AFFIDAVIT OF J. B. BACKENSTOS.

State of Illinois }

Hancock County.} ss.   Personally appeared before me Ebenezer Robinson an acting Justice of the Peace, in and for said county, J. B. Backenstos, who being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith, that some time during last winter, he accused Doctor John C. Bennett, with having an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt, and some others, when said Bennett replied that she made a first rate go, and from personal observations I should have taken said Doctor Bennett and Mrs. Pratt as man and wife, had I not known to the contrary, and further this deponent saith not.


Sworn to, and subscribed, before me this 28th day of July,

1842.ROBINSON, J. P.[13]

          Richard Van Wagoner discounts this testimony:  “Backenstos’s statement may be dismissed as slander – during the winter mentioned, Orson was in Nauvoo, and Sarah sick and pregnant with their daughter Celestia Larissa.”[14]  Van Wagoner’s willingness to label this document as “slander” and thereafter ignore it is surprising.  A closer reading shows that Backenstos made the accusation “last winter,” accusing Bennett of some previous sexual involvement (date unspecified) with Sarah Pratt.  Nothing in the historical record would have prevented Backenstos from making the accusation during the previous winter.  Backenstos, as one of Bennett’s former followers claimed “personal observations” of impropriety and he was clearly positioned to have had such a conversation with the Doctor.[15]

          Ebenezer Robinson reported in 1890:  “In the spring of 1841 Dr. Bennett had a small neat house built for Elder Orson Pratt’s family [Sarah and one male child] and commenced boarding with them.  Elder Pratt was absent on a mission to England.”[16]  John D. Lee recalled:  “He [John C. Bennett] became intimate with Orson Pratt’s wife, while Pratt was on a mission.  That he built her a fine frame house, and lodged with her, and used her as his wife….”[17]

          Mary Ettie V. Coray Smith, a sometimes confused informant, related:

            Orson Pratt, then, as now [1858], one of the “Twelve,’ was sent by Joseph Smith on a mission to England.  During his absence, his first (i.e. his lawful) wife, Sarah, occupied a house owned by John C. Bennett, a man of some note, and at that time, quartermaster-general of the Nauvoo Legion.  Sarah was an educated woman, of fine accomplishments, and attracted the attention of the Prophet Joseph, who called upon her one day, and alleged he found John C. Bennett in bed with her.  As we lived but across the street from her house we heard the whole uproar.  Sarah ordered the Prophet out of the house, and the Prophet used obscene language to her.[18]

          Other witnesses provided additional testimony that a close relationship existed between John C. Bennett and Sarah Pratt, a relationship that exceeded the bounds of propriety.  Curiously, in 1886 Sarah Pratt described Bennett as “full of low cunning and licentiousness.” [19]  Precisely how she gained that knowledge is a point of dispute.  After reviewing available evidence, historian D. Michael Quinn concluded it to be a sexual union by referring to her as “Sarah M. Bates (Pratt, Bennett, Pratt).”[20]


Orson Pratt’s “Mind Temporarily Gave Way”

          Returning from England on July 19, 1841, Orson Pratt apparently heard little concerning Sarah’s alleged involvement with Joseph Smith or John C. Bennett or he was unimpressed by the accusations.[21]  Whether Orson was then personally introduced to the restoration of plural marriage by Joseph Smith, as had occurred with Brigham Young, John Taylor, and other apostles, is not known.[22]  Biographer Breck England wrote:  “If he [Orson Pratt] did hear it [plural marriage] that summer, his reaction is unknown.  He was not at that time required to enter the plural marriage covenant.”[23]  Joseph Smith may have chosen to deal with Orson Pratt differently than the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve.

          The first sign of discontent with Orson Pratt occurred ten months after finishing his English mission, on May 11, 1842 when his signature was not included on a documented withdrawing the hand of fellowship from General John C. Bennett.[24] Orson’s name is conspicuously absent, but the precise reason is not known.  The schism widened in the ensuing weeks, though details are unavailable.  A July 5th letter to John C. Bennett from William M. Allred,[25] the husband of Sarah Pratt’s sister, Orissa, stated:  “Mr. Pratt would write, but he is afraid to.  He wishes to be perfectly still, until your second letter comes out – then you may hear.”[26]

          John C. Bennett’s story of Joseph Smith seeking Sarah as a spiritual wife was published in the July 15th issue of the Sangamo Journal.[27]  Unsurprisingly, Bennett painted himself as a noble and virtuous gentleman.  Sarah sided with Bennett against Joseph Smith, creating a profoundly distressing situation for Orson.  On that day, Joseph Smith diary records:

This A.M. early a report was in circulation that O.P. [Orson Pratt] was missing.  A letter of his writing was found directed to his wife stating to the effect that he was going away.  Soon as this was known Joseph summoned the principal men of the city and workmen on the Temple to meet at the Temple Grove where he ordered them to proceed immediately throughout the city in search of him lest he should have laid violent hands on himself.  After considerable search had been made, but to no effect a meeting was called at the Grove where Joseph stated before the public a general outline of J.C. Bennetts conduct and especially with regard to sis P [Sarah Pratt]…O. P. [Orson Pratt] returned at night.  He was seen about 2 miles this side Warsaw, set on a log.  He says he has concluded to do right.[28]

          In 1890, Ebenezer Robinson recalled: “Under these circumstances his [Orson’s] mind temporarily gave way, and he wandered away, no one knew where.... He was found some five miles below Nauvoo, sitting on a rock on the bank of the Mississippi river.”[29]  At some point, Orson captured his turmoil in poignant prose:

The accompanying letter was wrote by Orson Pratt in the Printing office in presence of Geo. W. Thatcher on the evening of July 14th 1842 and found in the road in Munson St a little east of HC. Kimballs on the following morning—by Wm. Felshaw.

I am a ruined man! My future prospects are blasted! The testimony upon both sides seems to be equal: The one in direct contradiction to the other—how to decide I know not neither does it matter for let it be either way my temporal happiness is gone in this world if the testimonies of my wife and others are true then I have been deceived for twelve years past—my hopes are blasted and gone as it were in a moment—my long toils and labors have been in vain. If on the other hand the other testimonies are true then my family are ruined forever. Where then is my hope in this world? It is gone—gone not to be recovered!! Oh God, why is it thus with me! My sorrows are greater than I can bear! Where I am henceforth it matters not.[30]

          On July 17th, Brigham Young wrote to Orson’s brother Parley:

Br Orson Pratt is in trubble in consequence of his wife, his feelings are so rought up that he dos not know whether his wife is wrong, or whether Josephs testimony and others are wrong and due Ly and he decived for 12 years or not; he is all but crazy about matters, you may aske what the matter is concirning Sister P.—it is enoph, and doct. J. C. Bennett could tell all about it if he himself & hir- - - - - -[31]

          Just five days later Wilson Law presented a resolution to which Orson Pratt dissented.  The Times and Seasons recorded on August 1st:

Gen. Wilson Law then rose and presented the following resolution.

(Resolved) That, having heard that John C. Bennett was circulating many base falsehoods respecting a number of the citizens of Nauvoo, and especially against our worthy and respected Mayor, Joseph Smith, we do hereby manifest to the world that so far as we are acquainted with Joseph Smith we know him to be a good, moral, virtuous, peaceable and patriotic man, and a firm supporter of law, justice and equal rights; that he at all times upholds and keeps inviolate the constitution of this State and of the United States.

A vote was then called and the resolution adopted by a large concourse of citizens, numbering somewhere about a thousand men.  Two or three, voted in the negative.

Elder Orson Pratt then rose and spoke at some length in explanation of his negative vote.  Pres. Joseph Smith spoke in reply

Question to Elder Pratt, `Have you personally a knowledge of any immoral act in me toward the female sex, or in any other way?'  Answer, by Elder O. Pratt, `Personally, toward the female sex, I have not.'

Elder O. Pratt responded at some length.[32]

          Church leaders sought to assist their troubled apostle during the ensuing weeks. Brigham Young recorded that on August 8, 1842:  “Assisted by Elders H. C. Kimball and Geo. A. Smith, I spent several days laboring with Elder Orson Pratt, whose mind became so darkened by the influence and statements of his wife, that he came out in rebellion against Joseph, refusing to believe his testimony or obey his counsel. He said he would believe his wife in preference to the Prophet. Joseph told him if he did believe his wife and follow her suggestions, he would go to hell.”[33]  Apostle John Taylor similarly recalled:  “When I saw that he was very severely tried, as I had always held pleasant relations with him, I took every pains that I possibly could to explain the situation of things, to remove his doubts, and to satisfy his feelings, but without avail. At one time I talked with him for nearly two hours, to prevent, if possible, his apostasy or departure from the church. But he was very sorely tried, and was very self-willed and stubborn in his feelings, and would not yield. His feelings were bitter towards the Prophet Joseph Smith and others.”[34]

          Caught between two stories, one from his wife whom he loved and the other from his Prophet, whom he had followed for years, Orson initially believed Sarah’s allegations.  Both were excommunicated on August 20, 1842, him for “insubordination,” and her for “adultery.”[35]  Orson’s turmoil and fluctuation is further evidenced by a note in Joseph Smith’s diary for the very next day:  “Orson Pratt has also signified his intention of coming out in defence of the truth and go to preaching.”[36]   This did not immediately occur.

          Rumors concerning Orson Pratt’s possible collaboration with John C. Bennett prompted him to respond via a letter to The Wasp in Nauvoo on September 3, 1842:

I hereby certify, that I have not been absent from Nauvoo during twenty four hours, at any one time, since I returned from my English Mission, which was upwards of one year ago.  Neither have I renounced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but believe that its doctrine, which has been extensively published in both America and Europe, is pure and according to the scriptures of eternal truth, and merits the candid investigation of all lovers of righteousness…[37]

          One month later Orson wrote another letter to The Wasp informing Nauvoo that he was not assisting John C. Bennett:  “We have never at any time written any letter or letters to Dr. J. C. Bennett, on any subject whatever.  Neither are we ‘preparing to leave and expose Mormonism’ but intend to make Nauvoo our  residence and Mormonism our motto” (emphasis in original).[38]


Sorting Through the Conflicting Claims

          Gary James Bergera observed that Bennett’s “mixture of fact and fantasy makes it difficult to know when he is telling the truth.”[39]  The observations, discussed in the last chapter that Bennett did not learn about eternal marriage in Nauvoo lessen the likelihood that the Doctor might have participated in confidential conversations with Joseph Smith wherein the Prophet would have divulged his secret plans to marrying Sarah polygamously or to get her as a “spiritual wife”.

          Lawrence Foster suggested that possibly it was Sarah that made advances to Joseph Smith:  “Allegations that Smith asked married women to become his wives may be instances of what might be called the ‘Potiphar’s wife syndrome,’ in which women to whom Smith refused his attentions alleged that he had attempted to seduce them.”[40]

          Joseph Smith, III, visited with Sarah Pratt in 1876 and recorded still another version of uncertain accuracy:

She [Sarah Pratt] told me to proceed and the following conversation took place.

“Did you know my father in Nauvoo?”

“Yes, I knew him well.”

Were you acquainted with his general deportment in society, especially towards women?”


“Did you ever know him to be guilty of any impropriety in speech or conduct towards women in society or elsewhere?”

“No sir, never.  Your father was always a gentleman, and I never heard any language from him or saw any conduct of his that was not proper and respectful.”

“Did he ever visit you or at your house?

“He did.”

Did he ever at such times or at any other time or place make improper overtures to you, or proposals of an improper nature – begging your pardon for the apparent indelicacy of the question?”

To this Mrs. Pratt replied, quietly but firmly, “No Joseph; your father never said an improper word to me in his life.  He knew better.”

“Sister Pratt, it has been frequently told that he behaved improperly in your presence, and I have been told that I dare not come to you and ask you about your relations with him, for fear you would tell me things which would be unwelcome to me.”

“You need have no such fear,” She repeated.  “Your father was never guilty of an action or proposal of any improper nature in my house, towards me, or in my presence, at any time or place.  There is no truth in the reports that have been circulated about him in this regard.  He was always the Christian gentleman, and a noble man.”

That I thanked Mrs. Pratt very warmly for her testimony in these matters my readers may be very sure.[41]

           The scenario is further complicated by the possibility that the Prophet may have discussed celestial marriage with Sarah, but not according to the timeline declared by Bennett.  She later complained that Joseph made an offensive “proposal” to her.[42]  In a meeting of the Twelve Apostles dated January 20, 1843, Joseph Smith told Orson that Sarah “lied about me.” The Prophet continued: “I never made the offer which she said I did.”[43]  Whatever discussion occurred between Sarah and Joseph Smith, she might have sensationalized it as she endeavored to deflect attention away from her activities with Bennett.


Orson and Sarah Pratt are Rebaptized

          On January 10, 1843, John C. Bennett continued his hostilities with the Prophet by sending a letter addressed to both Sidney Rigdon and Orson Pratt, assuming they would assist him.[44]  Bennett wrote:

Dear Friends: - it is a long time since I have written you, and I should now much desire to see you; but I leave tonight for Missouri, to meet the messenger charged with the arrest of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight and others, for murder, burglary, treason, etc., etc., who will be demanded in a few days on new indictments, found by the grand Jury of a called court, on the original evidence and in relation to which a nolle prosequi was entered by the district attorney.  New proceedings have been gotten up on the old chares and no habeus corpus can then save them.  We shall try Smith on the Boggs case[45] when we get him into Missouri.  The war goes bravely on; and, although Smith thinks he is now safe, the enemy is near, even at the door.  He is a murderer, and must suffer the penalty of the law…

P.S.  Will Mr. Rigdon please hand this letter to Mr. Pratt after reading.[46]

          Sidney Rigdon received the letter first and rather than warn Joseph Smith of Bennett’s latest tactic, he turned the letter over to Orson who immediately informed the Prophet.  Orson’s behavior signaled a change of heart and he and Sarah were rebaptized on January 20th.[47]  The Prophet then counseled Orson: “I will not advise you to break up your family--unless it were asked of me. Then I would council you to get a bill from your wife and marry a virtuous woman.”[48]

          In May, Orson wrote to his friend John Van Cott saying:  “J. C. Bennett has published lies concerning myself & family & the people with which I am connected.  His book I have read with the greatest disgust  No candid honest man can or will beleive it.  He has disgraced himself in [the] eyes of all civilized society who will dispise his very name.”[49]  Years later he recalled “his own trial in regard to this matter in Nauvoo, and said it was because he got his information from a wicked source, from those disaffected, but as soon as he learned the truth he was satisfied.”[50]

          In 1845, Orson Pratt was interviewed by Sidney Rigdon who reminded Orson of his comments in 1842 where he insulted the Prophet: “Pratt resented the insult offered his wife, and on the public stand, called Smith a liar, and said he knew him to be a liar.”[51]  Rigdon questioned Orson further about the episode:  “When Pratt was interrogated about this, he said that he had got a bad spirit when he said so, and that he had repented of it.”  Rigdon concluded that Orson was “literally telling the people that all Smith said about his wife was true…” and added:  “He has left on the character of his wife a stain, by this degraded condescension, that he can never wash out…  Pratt is determined to make us believe it, by virtually declaring it was true; for if he was wrong when he called Smith a liar, then his wife was guilty of the charges preferred.”[52]

          In the spring of 1848, Sarah accompanied her husband as he presided over the European mission for over a year.  They returned in July 1849.  Other than this time together, Orson served alone in numerous other “mission calls” between 1839 and 1868.  By the 1870s Sarah identified herself as an unbeliever, being excommunicated in 1874 for “apostasy.”  The following year she reported:  “I have not been a believer in the Mormon doctrines for thirty years and am now considered an apostate, I believe.”[53]

          In 1886 Sarah Pratt was interviewed by Salt Lake Tribune editor Wilhelm Wyl.[54]  Her recollections are still of interest to researchers today, but many (or most) have been shown to be inaccurate or grossly exaggerated.  On March 31, 1886, Sarah Pratt signed a statement affirming:  “This certifys that I was well acquainted with the Mormon Leaders and Church in general, and know that the principle [sic] statements in John Bennetts Book on Mormonism are true.”[55]  This affirmation tends to either validate the truthfulness of The History of the Saints or to diminish Sarah’s credibility as a reliable witness.  In 1877 she admitted that when she arrived in Salt Lake City she was going to teach her “children so that they should never espouse the Mormon faith.[56]  Only one of her six children remained active in the Church.[57]



          John C. Bennett’s ability to generate confusion and strife was illustrated in his interactions with Sarah Pratt.  Bennett said Joseph sought Sarah as a spiritual wife.  Sarah accused the Prophet of making an indecent proposal or even a seduction attempt.  In response, Joseph and several other witnesses accused both the Doctor and Mrs. Pratt of an adulterous relationship.  Orson’s initial reaction was turmoil and rejection of Joseph Smith’s description of the events leading to the Pratts’ excommunications.  Within a few months, however, he and his wife returned to the Church where Orson became a staunch defender of the principle of plural marriage and of Joseph Smith’s prophetic role.  Years later, Sarah left the Church for the second and last time.


[1] While serving as a missionary, Orson Pratt recorded a polygamous proposal to Sarah M Bates from a Church member who was excommunicated for his efforts:  “the 10th  Elder Luke Johnson who had been labouring a few weeks in those parts came to Bro Bates' we held a meeting about 3 miles distant in afternoon  in the evening  Elders Johnson & Dutcher & myself & Bro. Bates come together in order to deal with Elder Blakesly who was also present who was guilty of some verry improper conduct towards \one of the/ Sisters Sally M. Bates such as telling her that she had won his affections & that he loved her as much as he did his own wife; requesting her [to] break her engagements with me \a young man with whom she had had some acquaintance/ & remain single saying that he did not think that his own wife would live a great while— those the above I learned from \the/ Sister's [illegible name] own mouth who felt much disgusted at his conduct & desired that he should be dealt with.  Elder Blakesly did not deny the above but at first said his motives were pure but afterwards afterwards after acknowledged that he had done very wrong Sister [written over Sally] we told him that his conduct had been such that we considered him unworthy to hold a license for a period of time & that it was necessary for him to make his acknowledgments to Sally \we &[?] the/ family \he had offended/ & also to the church & some individuals who did not belong to the church who resided in Mexico at which place he had not been sufficiently reserve[d] in his conduct towards \the/ Sister [illegible] \mentioned/ (  ) & in other branches where his conduct had not been such as becomes an Elder  he agreed to do as was required & the same evening made his confessions to the [name erased] family \whom he had offended/  we took his license from him until he should \make/ satisfaction among the different Branches of the church where he had offended and also until he should be sufficiently chastened.” (Orson Pratt, “Journal for1835-1837,” MS 587, LDS Archives, entry dated June 10, 1836.)

[2] See Oliver Olney journal, July 30, 1842, Yale Special Collections, document 17, microfilm at CHL.

[3] John C. Bennett, “Bennett’s Second and Third Letters,” Sangamo Journal, July 15, 1842; italics in original.  An edited version is found in The History of the Saints: Or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842, 228-31.

[4] [Unknown author], “Workings of Mormonism related by Mrs. Orson Pratt,” holograph, Ms 4048, pages 1-3. CHL.

[5] No manuscript documentation has been found corroborating that Sarah Pratt was an “intimate friend” of “Mrs. Emma Smith and Mrs. Heber C. Kimball.”  No secondary witness of Joseph Smith’s “frequent” visits to Sarah Pratt’s home has been found.  That Emma might have been jealous of Sarah is undocumented.  No credible historical data has been located supporting Joseph Smith teaching that adultery, if kept secret, was not sinful.  That Sarah Pratt was in the “habit of going to his [Joseph Smith’s] house to sew” is unsupported.  At the time the Smith’s lived in the small four-room Homestead with a one room upstairs, hardly space for visitors to come and labor.  Chronologically the discussion of a “revelation was to be made five days later” is problematic.  The alleged interaction between Joseph and Sarah occurred prior to July of 1841; the revelation of celestial marriage was not written until two years later.  Other problems can be identified.

[6] Gary James Bergera, “John C. Bennett, Joseph Smith, and the Beginnings of Mormon Plural Marriage in Nauvoo,” Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association, 25 (2005) 60fn50; see also Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 16.

[7] The Twelve apostles left for England on April 26, 1839 from Far West, Missouri (D&C 118:5).  At that time, there was no functioning tithing office in the Church and the city of Nauvoo had yet to be chosen as the next gathering place.

[8] W. Wyl, pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 61.

[9] Letter of Stephen H. Goddard to Orson Pratt, July 23, 1842, published in Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett's Letters. Nauvoo, Nauvoo, Illinois, Aug. 31, 1842.

[10] Letter of Stephen H. Goddard to Orson Pratt, July 23, 1842, published in Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett's Letters. Nauvoo, Nauvoo, Illinois, Aug. 31, 1842.

[11] Letter of Stephen H. Goddard to Orson Pratt, July 23, 1842, published in Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett's Letters. Nauvoo, Nauvoo, Illinois, Aug. 31, 1842.

[12] W. Wyl, pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 62-63.

[13] “Affdavit of J. B. Backenstos,” Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett's Letters. Nauvoo, Nauvoo, Illinois, Aug. 31, 1842.  Catherine Fuller testified J. B. Backenstos had approached her along with Bennett.

[14] Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989, 34.

[15] Catherine Fuller named Backenstos and several others of Bennett’s followers in her testimony before the Nauvoo High Council, May 25, 1842; copy of holograph in Valeen Tippetts Avery Collection USU, MSS 316, bx 24, fd 14.

[16] Ebenezer Robinson, The Return, St. Louis, vol. 1, no. 11 (November 1890) 362.

[17] John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, St. Louis: Byron, Brand, 1877, 148.

[18] Nelson Winch Green, Fifteen Years Among the Mormons: Being the Narrative of Mrs. Mary Ettie V. Smith, New York: D.W. Evans, 1860, Kessinger Publishing reprint, 31.

[19] W. Wyl, pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 133.

[20] D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1994, 503, 536.

[21] See Elden J. Watson, The Orson Pratt Journals, Salt Lake City: Elden Jay Watson, 1975, 143-77.  The first sign of discontent may have occurred on May 11, 1842 when Orson’s name was withheld from a documented withdrawing the hand of fellowship from General John C. Bennett.  (“Notice,” Times and Seasons, 3 [June 15, 1842] 830). Orson’s signature is conspicuously absent.

[22] Gary Bergera wrote:  “Nor did Pratt reveal the extent of his own knowledge, if any, of ‘the new and everlasting covenant’ of marriage before mid-1842.”  (Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 15.

[23] Breck England, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt, Salt Lake City University of Utah Press, 1985,77.

[24] “Notice,” Times and Seasons, 3 (June 15, 1842) 830.

[25] Born December 24, 1819 near Nashville, Tennessee, William Moore Allred, was baptized in 1832 and  married Sarah Pratt's sister Orissa Bates, January 9, 1842.

[26] Printed in John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints: Or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842, 46.

[27] John C. Bennett, “Bennett’s Second and Third Letters,” Sangamo Journal, July 15, 1842; see also The History of the Saints: Or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842, 226-32.

[28] Dean C. Jessee, ed. The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume 2, Journal, 1832-1842, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992, 398-99.

[29] Ebenezer Robinson, "Items of Personal History of the Editor--Including Some Items of Church History Not Generally Known." The Return Davis City, Iowa, vol. 2, no. 11 (November 1890): 363.  See also History of the Church, 5:60-61.

[30] D. Michael Quinn Papers—Addition—Uncat. WA MS. 244; Accession 19990201-h, Box 1—Quinn, card file "Mormon Polygamy Chronology, 1829-1902" Yale library. Gary James Bergera quotes the second paragraph in Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 23; see also “Seniority in the Twelve: The 1875 Realignment of Orson Pratt,” Journal of Mormon History, 18 (Spring 1992) 1:30. Bergera clarifies its source as " Uncatalogued Orson Pratt Papers, CHL, date unknown" saying “This document, apparently in Pratt’s hand, is in the uncatalogued Orson Pratt Papers, CHL.  It is has been in the possession of the LDS Church History Department since at least the early 1970s when historian D. Michael Quinn examined it.” (Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 23fn52.)  I have been unable to relocate this at the Church History Library and am grateful for Bergera’s research.

[31] Brigham Young to Parley P. Pratt, Nauvoo, July 17, 1842, in Van Wagoner Papers, MS 597, Box 9, Fd. 6; typescript; original in Brigham Young Papers, LDS CHL.

[32] “John C. Bennett,” Times and Seasons, (August 1, 1842) 3:869.  The Prophet’s diary for July 22nd records:  “A.M. at the stand conflicting with O.P. and correcting the public mind with regard to reports put in circulation by Bennett & others.”  (Dean C. Jessee, ed. The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume 2, Journal, 1832-1842, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992, 400.)

[33] Brigham Young,  Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801-1844, ed. Elden Jay Watson (Salt Lake City: Smith Secretarial Service, 1968, 120-121.

[34] John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, Compiled by G. Homer Durham. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987, p.193.

[35] Richard S. Van Wagoner, and Steven C. Walker. A Book of Mormons. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1982, 212.  I have been unable to document in primary manuscript sources the Church disciplinary action described by Van Wagoner and Walker against Sarah Pratt.  Michael Marquardt explained:  “As far as I know there is no actual record that Sarah Pratt was excommunicated. She was rebaptized, along with Orson Pratt and Lydia Granger on January 20, 1843. It is possible that there were no minutes taken of the meeting when Orson Pratt was cut off from the church by three members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Willard Richards was out of town and would not have recorded the meeting.”  (Email to the author October 3, 2008.)  Gary James Bergera wrote that Orson Pratt was “cut off from the church… Surprisingly, no mention is made of any action against Sarah..”  (Conlfict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 27.)

[36] Dean C. Jessee, editor. The Papers of Joseph Smith—Journal, 1832-1842. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992, 2:421.

[37] Orson Pratt, “For the Wasp,” The Wasp, 1 (September 3, 1842) 20: 4.

[38] Orson Pratt, “For the Wasp,” The Wasp, 1 (October 1, 1842) 24: 3.

[39] Gary James Bergera, “’Illicit Intercourse,’ Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, 23, 2003, 70fn55.  See also Andrew F. Smith, The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997, 80-83.

[40] W. Lawrence Foster, “Between Two Worlds: The Origins of Shaker Celibacy, Onedia Community Complex Marriage, and Mormon Polygamy. Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1976, 254.  This view is supported by two accounts, one from Alexander Neibaur (Alexander Neibaur diary, CHL, May 24, 1844) and a second from Bathsheba Smith, (deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony [part 3], page 318, questions 564-77).

[41] Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, ed., “The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith (1832-1914),” Independence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1979, 33-34.

[42] W. Wyl, pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 61.

[43] Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835-1893, Salt Lake City: Privately Published [Smith-Pettit Foundation], 2010, 15 (entry for January 20, 1843); see also New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library. CD-ROM. Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998; Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate." Dialogue 19 (Summer 1986):80.

[44] See the discussion in Elden J. Watson, The Orson Pratt Journals, Salt Lake City: Elden Jay Watson, 1975, 177-88.

[45] See Morris A. Thurston, “The Boggs Shooting and Attempted Extradition: Joseph Smith’s Most Famous Case,” BYUS, 48 (2009) 1: 5-56

[46] John C. Bennett to Sidney Rigdon and Orson Pratt, letter erroneously dated 10 Jan. 1842, but was undoubtedly penned one year later.  Typescript in Journal History, CHL, filed under the date10 Jan. 1842.  See also History of the Church, 5:250-51.

[47] Scott H. Faulring, ed. An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989, 294-95.

[48] Minutes of the Quorum of the Twelve, 20 Jan.1843, CHL.  See also Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate." Dialogue 19 (Summer 1986): 80. Reportedly visitors heard Joseph Smith refer to Sarah Pratt on July 14, 1842 as a “[Whore] from her mother’s breast” (Sangamo Journal, July 29, 1842).  If true, the Prophet did not hold Sarah Pratt and her moral standard in high esteem at that time.

[49] Letter, Parley P. Pratt to his cousin John Van Cott, May 7, 1843, with a postscript by Orson Pratt; MS 5238, LDS CHL.

[50] Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt, “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star 40 (December 16, 1874) 788.

[51] Sydney Rigdon, “Tour East,” Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ, (Pittsburgh) 2 (December, 1845) 2: 1.

[52] Sydney Rigdon, “Tour East,” Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ, (Pittsburgh) 2 (December, 1845) 2: 1.

[53] Journal History, CHL, January 22, 1875; Salt Lake Herald, “Delegate Cannon’s case,” on Richard E. Turley, Jr. Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Provo, Utah: BYU Press, vol. 2, DVD #6.

[54] See W. Wyl, pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, or the Truth About Mormon Leaders From 1830 to 1886. Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 10.

[55] Sarah Pratt, Handwritten statement, March 31, 1886, Mormon Collection, Chicago Historical Society; copy in D. Michael Quinn Papers, Yale University, Special Collections, Uncat WA MS. 98, 881028, bx3, fd 3.

[56] Sarah Pratt quoted in “The Utah Theocracy,” New York Herald, May 18, 1877.

[57] Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate." Dialogue 19 (Summer 1986): 90 fn5.