Wednesday, February 22, 2023

A Record Setter

Many ancestors in our family tree were parents of numerous children. For example, I was one of six children. Other parents in our larger family brought even more children into this world. My Grandmother Bura Davis was one of 7 children. My Grandfather Leroy Gower was one of 13 children. It was common for our ancestors in the 19th century to have large families. They were pioneer people, moving ever westward, driven to populate this young country of ours.

Ancestor Sarah Bates
A Charismatic Missionary. Recently I discovered an ancestor who sets the record -- at least in our family tree -- for having the most children. This particular story begins with Sarah Marinda Bates (1817-1888), who was a distant cousin of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower. Sarah was born and raised in Henderson, New York. As a young adult she met and married a charismatic missionary named Orson Pratt (1811-1881) who introduced Sarah to Mormonism which she practiced wholeheartedly for many years. Rev. Pratt, an accomplished and capable religious leader, was also an historian, a civic leader, a world traveler, a scientist, a mathematician and an author. He was chosen to be one of the original 12 Apostles of the Latter Days Saints movement. As such Orson Pratt embraced polygamy. For many it was a repulsive, anti-Family and un-American practice, but it had its day in the history of Mormonism. Since Sarah's husband embraced the practice, it meant that Sarah was just the first of Mr. Pratt's numerous wives. 

With Sarah, Mr. Pratt had 14 children. He went on to gather around him 9 other women whom he married and with whom he fathered children. In the early years of Mormonism polygamy was not uncommon. It was encouraged, as a way of increasing the numbers of this new sect. To her credit, our ancestor Sarah Bates refused to be married to anyone besides her one husband. Other men sought to make her one of their "spiritual wives," but she refused.  Among her suitors was the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith himself, according to a reputable article regarding Mormon history on Wikipedia. 

Rev. Orson Pratt (1811-1881)
The Man Who Fathered 38 Children. Sarah Bates' husband Orson Pratt fathered 38 children by his 10 wives between 1834 and 1877. How does a father bring 38 children into the world and give them the attention they deserve? He doesn't. Because he can't. Mr. Pratt obviously was not motivated by any sense of family love but simply from a base desire to procreate, regardless of the consequences. Because of its detriment to healthy families, the Mormons finally repudiated polygamy publicly in 1890. The practice became a felony in 1935.

Yet the historical record remains clear about Mr. Pratt's 38 offspring. What is also clear is Sarah Bates' refusal to accept Polygamy, despite her husband's full embrace of it. She even became an outspoken critic of the Mormon practice. As you might expect it created a serious rift between her and her husband leading to the end of their marriage. 

Sarah later became a founder of the Anti-Polygamy Society in Salt Lake City. In 1874 she was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. The following year she described herself by saying, "I am the wife of Orson Pratt. I was formerly a member of the Mormon church. I have not been a believer in the Mormon doctrines for thirty years, and am now considered an apostate." 

The full story of our family's history includes the feel-good episodes as well as the head-scratching stories of people whose actions we rightly call into question. Like most families, our history is a checkered one, including people we can be proud of, as well as others whose stories we might not want to repeat. But even from them we can nonetheless learn valuable lessons. Wisdom comes from discernment.
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Steve Shepard

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