Parley Parker Pratt was the third son out of five born to Jared and Charity Pratt on April 12, 1807 in Burlington, New York. Jared was a weaver by trade, but due to the changes caused by the Industrial Revolution, he worked on a farm as an unskilled laborer and made very little money. Charity taught Parley scripture lessons which became his first introduction to religion. Parley mostly worked on a farm to contribute to his family’s finances and had very little formal schooling. At the age of fifteen, Parley left home for good.
Parley became a Baptist missionary. Through his preaching he met a deacon who introduced him to the Book of Mormon which transformed his life. Parley became an elder of the Mormon Church the same night that he was baptized. He was good at giving sermons and had a great command of the scriptures. He started by preaching to family and friends and spent most of his life being a missionary for the Church. Pratt also became one of the first Twelve Apostles of the Church along with Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. The Mormons were persecuted for their beliefs in Missouri and Parley was imprisoned there for some time.
The Mormons started moving west to find a place they could call their own. While the first groups were trying to settle in Salt Lake City, Parley and Jacob Workman tried to find an easier way through the canyons and built a toll road. People who were coming in for the gold rush needed to pay the toll, and the money from the toll road enabled the settlers to start and finish some projects which were needed to help the economy. The toll road is now Route 80 and goes through what is known as Parley’s Canyon. They named an area they found nearby in the mountains Parley’s Park City, which is now in the Synderville Basin. Parley also built a sawmill (which was later sold to Samuel Snyder) and sold wood lots in the canyon.
Parley married a widow who was ten years older named Thankful Halsey in 1827. She was always in delicate health and died in 1837 after giving birth to their first child. After her death, Parley practiced polygamy because some of the leaders of the Church decided to follow Joseph Smith’s lead. He had twelve wives including Thankful, thirty children, and two hundred and sixty-six grandchildren. Most Mormon polygamist families had only two or three wives; the Church leaders were the ones who sometimes had many wives. Parley was shot and killed by the husband of his last wife named Eleanor McLean.
Upon incorporating in 1884, Parkites decided to drop Parley’s name from the town, but kept the latter half of the name, officially becoming Park City.
Learn more about Parley Pratt, Parley’s Canyon, and early Park City with Matthew Grow on Wednesday, May 19th from 5-6 p.m. in our next virtual Museum lecture. Register here.