The sacrament meeting in Santiago, Chile, was similar to most meetings held in July 1998 in LDS chapels throughout the world with one notable exception—not only the chapel was filled, but also the cultural hall, and people were standing around the edges of the seats. The ward obviously needed to be divided; however, five wards, equal in size, were already meeting in that same building. The Church simply could not build chapels fast enough to house its rapidly growing membership in Chile, one of the fastest growing LDS populations in the world. In fact, in 1999 one in every thirty-two Chileans is a member of the Church.1
The tremendous growth of the Church in this long, narrow country on the Pacific coast of South America would have undoubtedly pleased Parley P. Pratt, an Apostle and the first president of the Pacific Mission, of which Chile was a part. On November 8, 1851, Elder Pratt, his wife Phoebe, and Rufus C. Allen disembarked from a ship in Valparaiso, Chile—the first Mormon missionaries to set foot in South America. However, their sojourn in Chile was short-lived. Discouraged and without a single convert, they left four months later and returned to the United States. One hundred years would pass before the Church would again attempt an active missionary program in Chile.
There were few LDS missionaries of the nineteenth century who combined the doctrinal knowledge, proselyting ability, and charisma of Parley P. Pratt. Comparing the methods he was able to employ to proselyte and to convert hundreds during his missions in the United States and Great Britain with the proselyting means available to him in Chile, Elder Pratt concluded that the time for the gospel to be introduced to Chile and the rest of South America had simply not yet arrived.
Elder Pratt’s conclusion was probably correct. The constitutional protection afforded the Catholic Church in nineteenth-century Chile determined the fate of this first LDS mission in South America. Elder Pratt’s time in Chile became less a proselyting mission than a language-training and fact-gathering assignment. His description of the restrictions placed on proselyting in South American countries where the Catholic Church was given legal protection convinced the leadership of the Church to suspend missionary efforts in this region of the world until 1923, when another Apostle, Melvin J. Ballard, was sent to open the South American Mission in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Parley Pratt’s experience in Chile suggests how political restrictions on religious practice influenced the evolution and spread of the Church.2
Preparation for the Mission
From the time of the organization of the Church in 1830, its leaders have accepted a heavenly mandate to take the gospel to the entire world, without exception. Early Apostles traveled throughout the earth to fulfill that calling. They found that certain regions had political systems and constitutions which protected state churches by forbidding assembly and proselyting by other religions. As a result of these restrictions, LDS Church leaders focused missionary efforts in the United States, Great Britain, and other European countries where religious freedom was guaranteed. The political prohibition against religious freedom in the Catholic countries of Europe and South America caused the Church to wait until the twentieth century to expand into these regions, some as late as 1974.3
Interest in sending missionaries to Latin America was manifest in 1841 when Joseph Ball was called to go to South America.4 No known record of Ball’s completion of this mission exists. In 1849, President Brigham Young talked to Parley P. Pratt, the second-ranking member of the Quorum of the Twelve, about a mission to the Pacific Islands and coastal areas of South America and suggested that Elder Pratt go to Chile.5 Though he did not leave immediately, Elder Pratt began preparing for the mission. He worked during the winter of 1849 and 1850 to establish his families as best he could, and he began to study the Spanish language. During this time, he also led a scouting expedition into southern Utah and acted as a member of the territorial legislature.6
Elder Pratt was set apart by Brigham Young on February 23, 1851, to “open the door and proclaim the Gospel in the Pacific Islands, in Lower California and in South America.”7 Parley Pratt intended to fill his mission assignment in a Spanish-speaking South American country. Other missionaries were sent to the islands. Elder Pratt, two of his wives, Phoebe and Elizabeth,8 and Rufus Chester Allen left for California on March 16, 1851, in the company of Elders Charles C. Rich, Amasa Lyman, and a group of emigrants in 150 wagons. During the long, tedious journey, Elder Pratt wrote that he was engaged in “studying the Spanish language with all diligence.” He evidently expected to learn the language in a few short months.9
After arriving in Los Angeles on June 16, 1851, Elder Pratt and his group continued on to San Francisco, their embarkation point for South America. Upon arrival, Rufus Allen worked in the gold mines to earn money ($100 per month) for the voyage, while Elder Pratt labored with the Saints in that area. He was able to baptize several converts during his time in San Francisco, and he raised approximately $1,400 for the trip—mostly from donations by members and friends. He also borrowed $500 from a recent convert, money which he sent to Salt Lake City presumably to help care for his family.10
When he first received his call, Elder Pratt’s intent was to go to Chile; however, in California he made it clear that they had not yet decided on all the details of the mission. At the end of August, he wrote to Brigham Young:
If the Presidency wishes to make any communication on that [Church emigration to Southern California] or any other subject letters addressed to me at San Francisco, Cal. will be forwarded to me in Chili, or elsewhere. . . . I expect to leave this country for South America, soon; unless I should be able to go to New York, via. the Isthmus, to get some books printed; which does not now seem to open very favorably.11
He was excited about the adventure on which he was embarking: “I glory in my calling. I would not exchange it for any other circumstance or calling, on this earth,” he told Brigham Young at this time.12 Five months later, after his experience in Chile, his opinion may have changed.
Choosing a Country to Start the Work in Latin America
The reasons Elder Pratt chose to go to Chile are probably related to several factors: Alternative countries in Latin America presented serious problems. Mexico was geographically the closest Spanish-speaking nation. The United States, however, had just three years before won a war against Mexico, with the latter losing over one-third of its territory. As Americans, the missionaries would not have been very welcome at that time. The Mormon Battalion’s participation in the war was also known in Mexico. Wounds would have to heal before an American missionary would have success in Mexico.
Central America was the next alternative. However, after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808, Spain’s control of Central America weakened, and the region fragmented into many political divisions. As a result, the political situation in Central America was precarious. Elder Pratt had met many Americans from the eastern United States who had come to California through the Isthmus of Panama. The accounts of these trips were replete with descriptions of hardships in Central America.13
The other two South American nations on the Pacific coast were Colombia and Peru. Colombia had no adequate port facilities on the Pacific, leaving Peru as the final alternative to Chile. Peru offered a logical choice, in part, because of its large Indian population. After returning from Chile, Elder Pratt stated that he would have had better success had he gone to Peru: “Peru is tranquil. . . . The government of Peru is much influenced by England and the United States. Its constitution guarantees liberty of the press, of speech, and of worship.”14
However, Peru was not selected for missionary work. One reason may have been related to an important motivation for many of Parley Pratt’s missionary activities—a desire to preach the gospel to the descendants of the Book of Mormon people. His first mission was to the Indians in the western United States. He believed, as did a number of early Church leaders, that the Book of Mormon group under the direction of Lehi had landed on the coast of Chile;15 thus going to Chile would put him at the very heart of the Book of Mormon population. LaMond Tullis has suggested:
Since first becoming a Mormon, Pratt had focused his attention on the Indians. He had already walked 3,000 miles on the church’s first mission to them; a few thousand miles more were of little consequence if that would help to “hasten the day when evil and error should be no more.” It did not disconcert him that in South America, after a massive nineteenth-century European immigration, not everyone was a native American. Lehi had landed there, he said, and that was enough. “Red Men of the forest—Peruvians, Mexicans, Guatemalans, descendants of every tribe and tongue of this mysterious race!” he had written in the church’s Millennial Star. “Your history, your Gospel, your destiny is revealed. It will soon be made known to you and to all nations—to every kindred, tongue and people.”16
Elder Pratt’s contacts with Chileans in California may have also influenced him. The California Gold Rush affected many nations of the Americas, particularly Chile, which was the first foreign country to learn of the gold discovery. A large number of Chileans immediately went to California.17 During the year 1849, a total of 303 vessels left Valparaiso, Chile, for California. Not only did Chile provide miners, but during the gold rush, Chile was California’s main supply source for foodstuffs.18
The Chilean influence was very noticeable in California. Many locations bear names such as Chilean Bat, Chilean Gulch, and Chilean Camp. Elder Pratt may have come in contact with Chileans and found opportunity to practice his rudimentary Spanish. He mentioned that a number of foreigners were among those he baptized in California but did not specify any particular group.19
Parley P. Pratt’s companions on this mission were his wife Phoebe and Rufus Chester Allen. Phoebe Soper, the eighth wife of Parley P. Pratt, was born on July 8, 1823, in Hempstead Harbor, New York. She married Parley on February 8, 1846, at the age of twenty-three and eventually bore three children, of which only one lived to adulthood. Phoebe was twenty-eight when she accompanied her husband to Chile and was pregnant with her second child. Parley contemplated leaving her behind in California because of the pregnancy but eventually decided to take her.20
Phoebe had suffered with poor health for some time. In a letter written prior to leaving Salt Lake City, Phoebe notes, “As my health is not good I am advised to go. Whether I shall at present go further than there [California] or not, I cannot tell, but my health is a great consideration to me I hope it will be beneficial to me.”21 While in California, the Pratts made the decision that Phoebe, in the last months of pregnancy, should go on to Chile, facing a two-month journey in a sailing vessel to a strange land. Elder Pratt records from on board ship about how difficult the journey was for her: “Phebe, eats but little, vommets continually, and is getting verry poor in flesh.”22
Phoebe must have entered on this mission with a certain amount of trepidation and a great deal of faith as she faced poor health and the impending birth of a child in a strange land with no female companions and little knowledge of Spanish.
Rufus C. Allen also accompanied Parley P. Pratt as a missionary. Several missionaries traveled with the Pratts to California, but only Allen continued on to Chile. Allen was born in Delaware River, New York, on October 22, 1827, and was baptized into the Church in Caldwell County, Missouri, in 1837. During the exodus west, he joined the Mormon Battalion and upon his discharge settled in the Salt Lake Valley. He accompanied Elder Pratt on his 1850 scouting expedition to Southern Utah and then joined him on the mission to Chile. After returning from Chile, he helped organize settlements in Southern Utah, served a mission to Native Americans there, and, for much of the last three decades of his life, labored as a temple worker in St. George, where he died in 1915. His three wives bore four children.23
The Voyage and First Home in Valparaíso
On September 5, 1851, the Pratts and Rufus Allen embarked for Chile on the sailing vessel Henry Kelsey, the only passengers on the small cargo ship.24 The passage, including food, cost sixty dollars each. The voyage was not pleasant. The ship had no passenger accommodations, so they readily felt the heat and cold. They were seasick much of the trip, ,which limited their study and reading. They also suffered from the bad food served them on the ship. After a month at sea, Parley wrote:
We have a miser for a captain, who thinks more of a sixpence than he does of our lives or even of his own. He will not suffer the steward to cook potatoes, bread, pies, puddings or any other wholesome food, but keeps us on hard, mouldy bread, full of bugs and worms, and on salt beef and pork—the pork being rotten. He has flour, potatoes and good pork, but will not allow it to be used. . . . You will readily perceive that we are truly in unpleasant circumstances.25
With Phoebe in her ninth month of pregnancy and very ill, they landed in Valparaíso on November 8, glad to set foot on solid ground.26
After arriving in Chile, they stayed at the French Hotel for a few days and appreciated the change in environment from the ship. Elder Pratt specifically mentioned the “great variety of good eating” at the hotel, in contrast to their experience on the ship.27 The Sunday after their arrival, they attended a Catholic mass, which was unlike any meeting they had ever seen. When they inquired if this was the usual church service, they were informed “that this kind of worship prevailed throughout Spanish America . . . and that it is called by the dignified name of Christianity, and that it is very ancient.”28
The next week they rented a house on Victoria Street and purchased furniture. Elder Pratt was pleased with the house in particular because it offered peace and quiet and a garden with a variety of beautiful flowers and fruit trees. The neighbors were polite and kind. The area had a large number of young adults and children who soon became their friends. The missionaries devoted their time to studying the language with the help of their neighbors, who visited and talked to them often. Elder Pratt felt the missionaries’ language skills improved rapidly:
Truly Providence has opened our way, had ordered our footsteps, and cast our lot in pleasant places where we were strangers in a strange land, and among a people of a strange tongue. Truly he has opened our way to learn that tongue, and we can learn it if we are diligent.29
Then a tragic event occurred. Three weeks after their arrival, Phoebe gave birth to a son, Omner, who lived only five weeks. When she started into labor, no doctor was available, so she was assisted by two Chilean midwives who had limited medical experience. The labor was difficult, and when the birth did not occur, the two women lifted Phoebe by the armpits and shook her until the baby came. This harsh treatment was obviously hard on Phoebe and possibly weakened the baby so much so that it passed away on January 7 from consumption.30 The child was buried in a Protestant cemetery on a hill above Valparaíso. Pratt described the sad event:
On the 30th of Nov , Omner was born. He was a beautiful child. He lived one month and eight days, or, 38 days, during which he pined away, and finally died, Jan. 7, ’52.
During all the s[c]enes of his birth, life, death, and burial no female friend was near except his mother, except strangers who knew not our language. Not even a hired servant, for they in this country are worse than useless.It cost 10 dols to bury him. His mother is in her useual health, or, rather better than, in years past.31
One can only imagine how difficult the experience was for Phoebe and how lonely she must have felt. How painful it must have been to leave Chile two months later knowing she would never return to the grave of her second child.32
Valparaíso, Chile, was a bustling, vibrant commercial center for the entire west coast of South America. It was the main port of call for ships from Europe and the eastern United States voyaging to and from California via Cape Horn. The California Gold Rush had a dramatic effect on the city—Valparaíso became the supply source for most of the foodstuffs reaching the gold fields. Within a six-day period in 1849, three ships arrived in Valparaíso with about $60,000 worth of gold. A total of $2,500 was spent per day in the city by passengers on their way to California. One can imagine the disruptive economic effect on a town of 30,000.33
So large was the movement of gold into Chile that it significantly changed not only the economy of Valparaíso, but also the economy of the entire country. Farmers throughout Chile opened more land to grow additional food for the California market. Wheat production doubled, and other products such as barley, corn, beans, potatoes, and fruit were in high demand.34 Unfortunately, the boom also caused serious inflation to hit not only the Chilean coastal cities, but the entire country as well. The cost of food doubled because merchants could get four and five times the price in California. Elder Pratt found the cost of living higher in Chile than he had ever experienced elsewhere: “Rents are high here, provisions and fuel dear.”35 The high cost of living in Valparaíso was not the only economic problem facing the missionaries. In North America and Great Britain, missionaries could employ the method of traveling “without purse or scrip,” dependent on friendly people or members of the Church to take care of their physical needs. If such aid was not forthcoming, they would simply stop for a while and obtain employment, usually in some agricultural pursuit. But in Chile things were different. Work opportunities were not available, especially for Americans who could not speak Spanish well. The return of miners from California meant Elders Pratt and Allen had to compete for work, losing out to Chileans. They even had to resort to unusual activities: “There has been no employment for neither of us. We have picked up gold and silver coin in the street, but even that is becoming scarce, and is now poor picking.”36
Their precarious condition in Valparaíso, which showed no hope for improvement, persuaded the missionaries to move to a less expensive area. On January 24, 1852, they traveled by oxcart to Quillota, a small settlement of less than 10,000 people, twenty miles northeast of Valparaíso. Quillota had developed as a rest stop on the route between Santiago and Valparaíso.37 They rented rooms in a house from a widow with two daughters, fifteen and seventeen years old. The family was very sociable and helped the three North Americans with their Spanish. The missionaries liked the small village: “The people in this town seem to be a neat, plain, loving and sociable people. . . . The houses are mostly neat and comely.”38
In Quillota they were able to live much more economically, as Parley noted in a letter to his wife Agatha:
I am verry well, and as fat as you ever saw me in England. I live mostly on ripe figs, which with other causes will, I hope remove that bilious castiveness which has troubled me for so many years. . . . We are not far enough inland to live verry cheep but 75 cts. or one dollar a day supports 3 of us, including house rent, fuel and all expenses.39
As pleasant as the situation was, the missionaries stayed in the village only five weeks before returning to Valparaíso to set sail for San Francisco on March 2, 1852. The political and religious situation in Chile had convinced Parley Pratt that traditional Mormon missionary work was not possible in Chile.
Church and State in Nineteenth-Century Chile
An important aspect of colonial Spanish rule in the Americas was the prominent role of the Roman Catholic Church in all aspects of government and society. The close relationship between church and state melded lines of authority and control. One of the results was that the Catholic Church was supported financially by the state and that its religious domination was guaranteed by restrictions on all other religions. When independence came to Spanish Latin America and the political break was made with Spain, a similar break with the Church did not occur. In almost all of the constitutions of the new countries, the Catholic Church was guaranteed protection and dominance. Though its role fluctuated in each country, it was not until conservative governments were replaced by republics influenced by liberal and positivist ideas that the legal protection and support of the Catholic Church was abolished.40
Chile was not different from the rest of Latin America. The first three constitutions of Chile held as a fundamental precept the preservation of the Roman Catholic Church as the state church. As such it was supported by the state treasury and was afforded a high level of protection, including denying to other faiths the freedom of worship. With the adoption of the Chilean Constitution of 1925, freedom of worship was finally guaranteed.41 George Byam, an Englishman who lived in Chile between 1847–50, commented on the power of the Catholic Church:
But the intolerance of the Chilian clergy is not worse than in any other of the Spanish-founded republics: there is a churchyard at Valparaíso where an Englishman can be buried without any molestation; however, at Santiago, it used to be a service of danger to attend a funeral. In no place would the clergy allow the body of a Protestant to be interred in one of their churchyards.42
Non-Catholic religions were restricted from worshipping, even on private property. Furthermore, the government and supporters of the Catholic Church attempted to prohibit the printing, selling, and circulation of any religious pamphlet or book, including the Bible.43 One man who ran afoul of this prohibition was William Wheelwright, an entrepreneur living in Valparaíso. In 1835 he hoped to build a railroad from Valparaíso to the capital city, Santiago, with a stop in Quillota. In an attempt to curry favor with the local people, he printed a large number of Bibles in Spanish and distributed them throughout Quillota. The act backfired. The citizens of Quillota became so angry that they collected the Bibles and held a public burning in the central plaza.44
By the time the LDS missionaries arrived in Chile, many restrictions, though not gone, had eased. The growing number of non-Catholics in the country made the enforcement of the laws very difficult. As in all of Latin America, Protestant congregations were organized, with only occasional problems, in cities with immigrant populations. The Church of England had a congregation in Valparaíso at the time Parley Pratt was there.45 A Protestant Union Church was established by the Reverend David Trumbull in Valparaíso in 1847, and eventually the congregation erected their own building—the first Protestant meetinghouse built on the west coast of South America. However, they did not actively proselyte. The Reverend Trumbull restricted his ministry to the religious needs of Protestants already residing in Valparaíso. Trumbull told Elder Pratt that he had had no problem bringing in Spanish-language Bibles and tracts and that he had been able to place some in bookstores.46
Accustomed to working in countries with religious freedom, where he could enter into public debate, print tracts and books, and hold public meetings, Elder Pratt was frustrated with proselyting in a country with a strong state religion. Unable to do the type of missionary work commonly employed by Mormon missionaries, he was left with little he could accomplish in Chile. Most of his proselyting activities appear to have been limited to occasional talks with neighbors.
Elder Pratt was concerned that the priests made money charging for the administration of sacred ordinances, and he called this practice an abomination.47 But he was also curious about Roman Catholic worship. He was impressed with the large size of the churches. He noted that there were both rich and poor in attendance. He commented on the lack of music and preaching, and he felt there was little interaction between the priest and the participants. He believed that the focus of worship was on the images and paintings and not on the mass itself, since the mass was in Latin and was not very audible in the large churches. Not understanding the liturgy himself, he responded to a church scene with some scorn:
All seemed full of zeal and of devotion. All bowed down on their knees in silent, solemn attitudes. All their faces seemed disfigured with a painful and awe-st[r]icken solemnity. All made certain signs and motions, while they said nothing audible, and the impression of a strange observer would be that the image, to which every eye was turned with long and supplicating gaze and imploring look, had no ears to hear, but was deeply versed in the science of physiognomy, and also acquainted with the deaf and dumb alphabet.48
Since Elder Pratt was not significantly involved in open proselyting, he appears to have had only a few negative proselyting experiences. One occurred in Quillota: “The first person to whom I explained our mode of baptism, actually laughed till she laughed herself into a fit of hysterics, could not stop, went out doors, had her laugh out and came back and apologized.”49
Parley Pratt’s Proclamación
Elder Pratt’s feelings about the Catholic Church become obvious in a pamphlet he wrote in Valparaíso entitled ¡Proclamación! Extraordinaria, para las Americanos Españoles.50 This proclamation was sixteen pages long, written in two columns, the left column being the Spanish translation of the English text in the right column. Elder Pratt begins with a brief description of the restoration of the gospel and the Book of Mormon. He dwells at length on the government John the Revelator called “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth,” which he identifies as “the city of ROME, and the MYSTERY of her religion; or, of the religion of which she is the HEAD”:
Who has had power to enforce the same by law, and by military power?
Who, then, has deceived all nations as predicted in the Revelation?
No OTHER.—Because no other has had power over all. . . .
If we enquire in any part of the world; which is the Great, the Universal Church of all Nations? It will be answered readily: thus: “LA CATOLICA ROMANO [sic].”
He also demonstrates his frustration over the prohibition of proselyting in Latin America:
Should Peter, James or John, arise from the dead, and commence in Cuba, Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Buenos Ayres or Brazil, to preach or practice the Baptism, (or the immersion) of repentance, for remission of sins: or should they assemble the church, thus immersed, for public worship, to heal the sick, cast out devils, speak, sing, pray, or prophecy, they would be found transgressors of the laws and constitutions of said countries: unless there are some exceptions, by late alterations, or revolutions in some of them.
After presenting the details of the restoration of the gospel, Elder Pratt appeals to Spanish Americans as descendants of the peoples of the Book of Mormon:
Spanish Americans! a vast majority of you are the descendants of the ancient race of the Mexican, Peruviana, Chilena and other nations of original Americans.
The origin of that entire race is now revealed by Angels, and by the discovery and translation of their ancient records, (the book of Mormon.)
He concludes with a call for religious freedom and for a decrease in power of the Catholic Church: “Give entire freedom to that divine and holy principle called human intellect, liberty of conscience, of thought, of speech, and of the press.” He suggests they take the clergy off the public payroll, establish a public school system with the money that is normally given to government-sponsored religion, encourage the reading of the scriptures, stop the practice of payment for sacred ordinances, and refrain from the worship of saints and idols.51
The obstacles presented by the political situation in Chile were compounded by the missionaries’ struggle with the language. Page eight of the proclamation, as well as the title, contain what are probably examples of Elder Pratt’s difficulty with Spanish. The first eight pages of the pamphlet were likely translated by someone other than Elder Pratt, perhaps a native Spanish-speaker. While the translation is not particularly well done, it is far superior to the translation that follows, which is probably Elder Pratt’s.52 In the second paragraph of page nine, the quality of the Spanish translation drops dramatically to the level of a beginning student. For example, the Spanish translation reads, “Sobre del dia 22 de Octubre, A.D. 1827, un Angele restaurar el Evangelio llenamente a los hombre.” It should read “En el dia 22 de octubre, D.C. 1827, un angel restauró al hombre la plenitud del evangelio.”53 This poor translation might have made it difficult for a native Spanish speaker to take the information seriously, making the work even more frustrating for the missionaries.
Politics and Revolution
When the missionaries arrived in Chile, the republic of approximately two million people was a mere thirty-three years old. From the time of its independence from Spain in 1818 until 1830, Chile, like so many other South American republics, suffered as political factions in the country struggled for power. In Chile, the conflicts were between conservative groups who wanted independence from Spain but little social or political change. Ultimately, a coalition of these conservative groups, including the Catholic Church, came together and ruled Chile for over twenty years.54
By the middle of the nineteenth century, a liberal movement of businessmen, students, and intellectuals emerged and participated in the elections of 1850 without success. That failure led to frustration that erupted into fighting in April 1851. At the time the Pratts and Brother Allen were making the voyage from San Francisco to Chile, liberal rebel leader General José Maria de la Cruz y Prieto was leading a contingent of 8,500 soldiers north from Concepción. On December 8, when the missionaries were already in Valparaíso, the rebels and the loyalists fought a battle at Barros Negros, south of Santiago, and Cruz y Prieto was defeated. At the same time, another rebel group took over La Serena, about one hundred miles north of Valparaíso, and sacked the city.55
Because of the civil war, Parley Pratt’s arrival in Valparaíso was most untimely. Although the intense fighting was occurring elsewhere, waves of unrest and suspicion washed over this coastal city. He described the conflict as being violent and costing over five thousand lives, and he was not pleased that the fighting and loss of life did little to change the political situation in Chile. He noted that an amnesty was reached “without alteration of the government. But the people are sanguine in their hopes, and they think to accomplish their liberties in a few years: they are by no means crushed in Spirit by the present failure.”56
Elder Pratt’s major concern was the lack of religious freedom. He believed that the governmental protection provided to the Catholic Church essentially eliminated the possibility of doing missionary work in South America. In his extensive report to Brigham Young written shortly after leaving Chile, he focused on the problems of freedom and liberty, summarizing the constitutional restrictions on freedom in Chile, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. He described revolutionary activities then occurring that he hoped would change the political environment in the future.
He described the control held by the Catholic Church over the political activities in all of the region and focused his attention on Peru, where he felt the greatest chance for missionary success existed. He described British influence in Peru regarding the freedom of the press, speech, and religion. The right of Protestants to assemble had just been granted that year, but those freedoms were still under attack by the Catholic Church and their continuance was not assured. He had hopes for change: “Should Peru sustain her liberties, a field is opened in the heart of Spanish America, and in the largest, best informed, and most influential city and nation of South America, for the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the fulness of the Gospel to be introduced.”57
Parley Pratt’s concerns over the political restrictions on religion in Latin America were expressed in a talk he gave one year after returning from Chile. In a passionate discussion about the principles of freedom found in the American Constitution, he suggested that those same freedoms would be extended to the world. He looked forward to the day when those countries would “no longer be shackled, either by ignorance, by religious or political bondage . . . but when all will positively have the knowledge of the truth, and freely enjoy it with their neighbors.” He then described his experience in Chile and suggested that Chileans were afforded some liberty but not in the realm of religion: “They have this awful clause specifying a certain religion, that shall be the religion of the State, to the prohibition of all other religions, or public exercise of other religions.” He suggested that the situation would change, not by violent revolution, but by time: “The people are not able to throw off those fetters of bondage, and that heavy yoke. Circumstances are against them. But Providence opens the way whereby they may liberate themselves.”58 Elder Pratt believed the Church needed to be ready, specifically in language preparation, to return to South America when those changes occurred.
The Decision to Return to the United States
The inability to communicate and proselyte weighed heavily on Parley Pratt. At the beginning of the mission, he had been optimistic and eager. Because of the distances, the missionaries received no letters from home until just before leaving Chile. In a letter to his wife Agatha, written from Quillota, he expressed these feelings: “My dear girl: if you could know how I long to see you. . . . It is now eight months since I have heard one word. I almost dread to hear, lest some sickness, or want, or death has crushed some of you. But, on the other hand I realize in whose service I am.”59
By the end of February, Elder Pratt had reached a low point and had decided to return to Utah. When he went to Valparaíso to secure passage to California, he checked the post office for letters from home and found none. “I returned to my home lodgings in sorrow,” he wrote to his wife Belinda. He spent the following day reading newspapers from both South and North America and became upset that nothing was mentioned about the Church. “I went to bed the next night, and again I could neither sleep nor rest. I tried to pray but the words would hardly come I was so worn out.” His spirits improved the next day when he found that two letters from Utah had arrived; they were “like life from the dead.”60
In addition to the sense of isolation, Elder Pratt struggled with the frustration he felt in having to return home without having established the Church in South America. He felt limited in his efforts because of financial difficulties and struggles with Spanish. He studied the language intensively and occasionally had some success,61 but in the end he realized the difficulty in learning a foreign language: “I study the Language all day, and think of it, and even talk it loud in my sleep. . . . But it is no small work to become familiar with the entire grammer, words and style of a foreign tongue.” On his voyage home, he confided in his journal, “As to a foreign language, if we get it in two years more we will do well.”62 His decision not to go to Peru after leaving Chile was based on “an empty purse and imperfect tongue, which has only barely commenced to stammer in that language.” He was returning to the United States where he could study Spanish “more fully,” better direct the Pacific Mission, and provide for his family, for whom, he wrote on his journey home, “I must do something as soon as posable if God will open the way.” He planned to return to Utah, translate the Book of Mormon and other literature into Spanish, and prepare two or three others to return with him to South America.63
He expressed to Brigham Young his concerns over the outcome of his mission: “I hope I shall not be accounted a slothful servant, for I assure you I do all in my power, with all diligence, and with all the prayer of faith I possess. And my earnest desire is to be counted worthy to labor for the restoration of Israel till it be accomplished.”64 It was not an entirely satisfied Parley Parker Pratt who returned to Salt Lake City.
The Journey Home
When Elder Pratt went to Valparaíso to make arrangements for the voyage home, he found numerous vessels advertising for passengers to San Francisco. These notices in Spanish, English, and French indicated that a number of ships carrying both cargo and passengers had excellent accommodations for passengers, but it was the following notice, in English, that caught Elder Pratt’s eye: “For SAN FRANCISCO to sail on saturday the 28th of the present month, the fine fast sailing american brig DRACUT; for passage only apply to Lopez and Sartory.” He decided on the Dracut. The ship did not sail on the twenty-eighth as promised but instead sailed on the third of March.65 But a few more days did not matter when weighed against a journey that would last over two months.66
While their earlier voyage from San Francisco to Chile was merely unpleasant, the return trip was horrendous. Travelers at sea on the west coast of South America had to contend with the queasy motions of the Humboldt current. The missionaries spent over two months on these rolling seas in what today might be regarded an oversized rowboat. Unable to catch the wind, they slowed to a standstill for days at a time. As the Dracut made slow progress northward, the provisions dwindled rapidly. After fifty-five days, Elder Pratt vividly described the situation:
we live on a little poor, hard bread, probably baked some two or three years ago, and some beans, and very poor damaged salt beef and pork. We have no flour, potatoes, sugar, molasses, rice or other comforts, although we pay a good price for cabin passage.
. . . we are hungry, and weary, and lonesome, and disconsolate. But, after praying much for a fair wind and speed, we find our prayers are not answered, and we have given it up, and have asked our Heavenly Father to give us patience and reconciliation to His will.67
He also states that they were “spurned and hated because of our testimony.”68 Pratt family stories say that the sailors threatened to resort to cannibalism and that Phoebe Pratt was their target and was saved only by fast talking and prayer.69
The missionaries landed in San Francisco on May 21, 1852, in very poor condition. They were still far from Utah, but Elder Pratt managed to raise adequate funds: “Through the kindness of my brethren and friends, near twelve hundred dollars in money, mules and a wagon was contributed to assist me in my mission and for my journey home, being given at various times after my arrival from Chili.”70 It was not until September 14 that the missionaries, in company with sixteen others, were able to depart California, arriving in Utah on October 18, 1852.
Elder Pratt believed that when the time was right he would return and continue the work in South America, most likely in Peru. The constitutional ban on non-Catholic assembly and proselyting made it practically impossible for any new religion to gain a foothold in Chile. So when the money ran out, the decision to return home was not a difficult one.
While in California, even before returning to Utah, Elder Pratt started a class to teach Spanish to several young men, expecting them to go to Latin America as missionaries.71 His journal indicates that he continued to study Spanish during the months after his return to Utah. He returned to California the following year and continued to study Spanish but at that time made no mention in his journal of returning to Latin America.72 His plans to establish the Church in South America were abruptly ended with his tragic assassination on May 13, 1857, while he was serving as a missionary in the southern states. In that senseless act of violence, the Church lost one of its greatest missionaries.73
After the death of Parley Pratt, Church leaders turned their attention away from Latin America to other parts of the world, and contacts with Latin American countries were limited. In 1876 the emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, stopped in Salt Lake City on his way to San Francisco. He had stated that ‘‘if he could not see a harem in Constantinople . . . he w[ould] visit that of Brigham Young.”74 Dom Pedro wanted to travel as a private citizen and did not want any “pomp and ceremony” accompanying his visit, disappointing some officials. He toured the Tabernacle and attended a Mormon service. He also made an obvious effort to support the Catholic Church in the city. Dom Pedro did not meet with Brigham Young and rumors flew. Many of the themes Parley Pratt had talked about, including the lack of religious freedom in South America, were discussed at this time in the Salt Lake papers, possibly reinforcing among Church leaders the view of South America Parley Pratt had described over twenty years earlier.75
Missionaries did go into Mexico in 1875, but the primary interest of the Church was to find an area where Mormon colonists could settle. Mormon colonies made up of North Americans were established there in 1885, and the Church has maintained a presence in Mexico since that time, even though members have struggled through some very difficult times of revolution and persecution.
Not until 1923, however, was interest in South American missions renewed. Two events were responsible. Church members who had emigrated from Germany to Argentina wrote to the First Presidency requesting missionaries. The First Presidency also received a report from Church historian Andrew Jenson on his trip to Latin America, where he had visited, among other countries, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. In his report, Jenson discussed the issues of religious freedom and the possibility of proselyting in Latin America.
After hearing Jenson’s recommendations and receiving the requests of the German members, Church leaders sent missionaries to the European immigrants in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina.76 Melvin J. Ballard, accompanied by two members of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Rey L. Pratt and Rulon S. Wells, arrived in Buenos Aires on December 6, 1925, permanently establishing the presence of the Church in South America.77 In 1956, over one hundred years after Parley P. Pratt first entered Chile as a missionary, missionaries sent from Argentina again entered Chile. Since that time, the growth of the Church in Chile has been phenomenal. In 1998 the membership included over 430,000 members. Chile is the only major country of the world with close to 3 percent of the country’s population members of the Church.
Parley Pratt’s experience impressed upon early Church leaders the importance of knowing the history and current events of nations. They became particularly aware of constitutional changes in Catholic countries where church and state were one. Missionaries were generally not sent into new areas without the leaders examining the political situation to ensure that time would not be wasted. Church publications followed world political and constitutional history. After returning from Argentina, Elder Melvin J. Ballard stated in an article discussing revolutions in South America, “No people on the face of the globe watch the trend of world events with deeper interest than do the Latter-day Saints.”78
Mormon missionaries who experience limited baptismal success may be heartened by the Chilean experience of Parley P. Pratt, one of the Church’s greatest missionaries. Elder Ballard had a similar experience during the six months he spent in Buenos Aires, when he failed to learn Spanish and had very limited baptismal success.79 But these experiences are important in the overall evolution of missionary work throughout the world. They provide a history of work and sacrifice upon which later missionaries profit. Elder Pratt’s belief that once the political and social system in a country changed, the gospel could take firm root turned out to be true. But not even Parley Parker Pratt could have envisioned a growth of Mormonism in Chile so rapid that the Church would be unable to build chapels fast enough to accommodate its new members.