Henry Barrington Pratt

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Rev. Henry Barrington Pratt [26 May 1832 – 11 December 1912]Henry Barrington Pratt, Presbyterian missionary and teacher, son of Rev. Nathaniel A. and Catherine Barrington (King) Pratt, was born near Darien, Georgia, on May 26, 1832. He attended Oglethorpe University, graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1855, and was ordained by the Cherokee Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States on September 27, 1855. On November 7, 1860, he married Joanna Frances Gildersleeve, with whom he had three children. He served for ten years as a missionary in Bogotá, Colombia, and had other brief assignments in Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. He translated religious materials into Spanish for the American Tract Society and the American Bible Society, including the Versión Moderna, published in 1893, a Bible still widely used by Hispanic Protestants.

In 1896 Pratt settled in Laredo, Texas, as an “evangelist to Mexicans” for the Presbyterian Executive Committee of Home Missions. With other missionaries, he conducted numerous revivals throughout South Texas that produced several hundred converts to the Presbyterian Church. Pratt’s major contribution to Presbyterianism in Texas, however, derived from his Bible Training School for Christian Workers, which he conducted in Laredo between 1896 and 1899. The school, designed to train converts to become effective evangelists, combined intensive Bible study and preaching lessons with such practical and physical chores as housecleaning and gardening. Pratt based his educational theory on economic as well as theological and pedagogical grounds. He thought that to give “native workers” a general education in addition to simple biblical training was self-defeating. Because they were to work primarily with impoverished and uneducated people, Pratt believed that Bible Training School graduates should not have a broad general education lest they become disaffected with their congregations or be lured into secular vocations by the temptation of high salaries and good working conditions. Pratt considered the students sufficiently trained after a two-year course to serve small Spanish-speaking congregations in Texas. Although his program produced a number of successful evangelists, such as Reynaldo Ávila, Abraham Fernández, and Elías Treviño, it also established the pattern for the typical Presbyterian Hispanic pastor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-underpaid, poorly trained, and dependent on denominational financial support. A smallpox epidemic forced the Bible Training School to close in 1899, and Pratt left Laredo to become pastor of a Hispanic congregation in Brooklyn, New York. He resigned that position in 1902 and retired to Hackensack, New Jersey, where he continued to write biblical commentaries and to translate theological works until his death, on December 11, 1912.

pratt_MrsHB_ladies_album_and_family_manual_1852Pictured at right: The February 1852 issue of The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual. Henry Barrington Pratt was but one member of an accomplished and distinguished family. His father, the Rev. Nathanael Alpheus Pratt, came from good circumstances, and had as well married into some measure of wealth. His father-in-law was the founder of the town of Roswell, Georgia and brought Rev. N.A. Pratt there to pastor the Roswell Presbyterian Church; he served there from 1840 until his death in 1879. It was apparently when Henry was approaching adulthood that his mother, Catherine Barrington Pratt, began to serve as the lead editor of The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual. Following is an article excerpted from the February 1852 issue of this magazine:—


The importance of family government is seen in its relations to domestic happiness, to common schools, to civil government, and to the Divine government.

It is essential to the peace and happiness of a home, that children be kept under proper restraint. One child, ungoverned, often disturbs the tranquility of an entire household. We are told that among the Hindoos, in the houses of some of the rich, having several apartments, one room is called the room of anger, or of the angry ; and when any members of the family are angry, they shut themselves up in this room. Perhaps it would be well for us to imitate the Hindoos in this respect; at all events, one angry or unruly member of the family ought not to be allowed to destroy the peace and comfort of all. We are wont to sing —

“ Home, sweet home,
There’s no place like home.”

And this sentiment is fully true of every home worthy of the name. But the sweet may be made bitter, yea, so bitter, by the want of parental government, that, in a melancholy sense, there shall be no place like home. What can be more offensive than a household in disorder ?• Each member, instead of laboring to promote the comfort of all, seeking, at the expense of others, his own gratification, and none happy !

The family relation is sometimes spoken of as a relic which has survived the ruin of the Fall. To prove this representation true, there must be, now, in the family, that same observance of law, and that same love which prevailed in Eden. If the husband would find his wife happy when he goes home,— if the wife would have her husband love his home,— if they would have their children grow up as olive plants around their table, to beautify their home and render it blessed,— they will sustain family government in the fear of the Lord.

Government in the family is essential to proper discipline in the school. Great attention has been bestowed of late to the education of the young. While, through the influence of a board of education, normal schools, &c., there has been, in some respect, decided improvement in our common schools ; in one respect there is reason to fear that these schools have degenerated. They are not so well governed as formerly. This may be attributed, in part, to the to influence of a few prominent individuals, who have radically wrong to views of human nature and of moral government; but. to a great extent, it arises from the fact that children are not governed at home.

If a teacher is a good disciplinarian, much of his time, which ought to be spent in teaching, is consumed in direct efforts to sustain his authority; much of which effort would not be necessary, did the parents teach their children to obey at home ; and were their influence, at all times, in favor of good government in school. Thus, the community lose much of the advantage which they would gain, could the teacher devote himself, unreservedly, to teaching. If the teacher is not a good disciplinarian, the children, not being in the habit of obeying at home, will be sure not to obey at school; hence, but little advantage is gained to any one from the school. Parents ought to feel that a large part of the responsibility of this rests with themselves, and, for the sake of the rising generation, see that their children are taught at home to obey in school.

Family government derives importance from its relation to the State. When we inquire why it is so easy in this country to raise a mob, and why there is in our community so much violation of law, a satisfactory answer may be found by entering the family circle. The first lessons of disobedience and disloyalty are learned there. If a child does not learn to yield to the authority of his parents, when he becomes a man he will not be ready to regard the power of the civil authorities.

The cause of popular liberty is injured and retarded in the Old World by the want of loyalty in the New. Our faults are greatly exaggerated, but would we take away the occasion of the misrepresentations of royalists, and would we prove ourselves the true friends of good government, we must begin at home, and each one rule his own house well.

The importance of family government appears transcendently in its relation to the government of God. Children are committed to parents, not only to be trained for the home and the school, not only to be made good citizens, but also, and above all, to be made the loyal subjects of the King of kings. Yes, the child is to be trained for God and for heaven. But if he never learns to submit to the authority of his parents, what reason is there to hope that he will bow submissively to the authority of God 1 If, when he perceives the relation of the parent to himself, he does not regard that relation, when recognizing the Divine existence, he perceives the relation which God sustains to himself, why will he any more regard this higher relation 1 If, when his parents know more than he does, and are disposed to make a right use of their knowledge in training him, he will not heed their guiding hand,’ what will he care for the statutes of Him who is infinite in wisdom and love ? If his parents are able and disposed to govern him better than he can govern himself, and yet he is allowed to trample on their authority, the perfection of God’s government will not prevent his rebellion against it. Here is a relation of paramount importance, for it is endless. The rebellion of the child against God will, if persisted in during this life, fix his eternal destiny. This view should take the deepest hold upon the Christian parent. That children may be trained for heaven is the great end for which they are committed to the parent. Herein is involved a vast responsibility. It is not enough to minister to the physical wants of the child; indeed, this is but a small part. We are to consider his wants as an immortal being, and make the family government subservient to the Divine. It is a solemn fact, that it will be subservient to, or subversive of, the Divine government. The influence of the parent upon the child will be to make him submissive to God, or to strengthen him in his rebellion. And parents must render an account to God for this influence by which they indirectly sustain, or subvert his authority. Parents should feel that the relation of their children to themselves will have an important influence upon their relation to God.

The training of an immortal mind is a momentous work ! “When Bacon, the sculptor, was retouching the statue of Chatham, in Westminster Abbey, a divine, who was a stranger, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “ Take care what you are doing. You work for eternity.” To parents it may well be said, In family government, take care what you do. In the highest sense, you work for eternity. When the sculptured stone shall have crumbled into dust, the souls of your children will show the work of your hands.

[excerpted from The Ladies’ Album and Family Manual, 18.2 (February 1852): 58-60.]

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