“Richard Ballantyne,” Friend, Mar. 1989, 48
The young Scot looked one more time at his homeland. Besides his country, he would be leaving his friends, the church that he had served in, and his thriving bakery. Yet, he felt that he had to join the Saints in America. He yearned to hear the Prophet Joseph Smith and to feel of his spirit.
Richard Ballantyne was born August 26, 1817, in Whitridgebog, Roxburg County, Scotland, to David and Ann Ballantyne. To help support his family, he worked as a cowherd, a gardener, and a farm laborer.
When he was fourteen, Richard was apprenticed to a baker. He quickly learned the trade and was promoted to foreman. Several years later he had saved enough money to buy his own bakery.
During this time, Richard became active in the Relief Presbyterian Church. When he was twenty-one, he was ordained an officer in that church. Concerned about the religious instruction of children, Richard organized a Sunday School. However, questions about the Bible and Presbyterian doctrine plagued him. He spent long hours walking, meditating, and praying. The answer to his questions came when two young elders from a newly organized church across the ocean taught him the fulness of the gospel. In December 1842 Richard Ballantyne was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Elder Henry McCune in the Firth of Forth near Leith.
With his mother, two sisters, and an invalid brother, Richard boarded a ship with a large company of Saints and set sail for New Orleans. From there they traveled by riverboat to Nauvoo, a beautiful, growing city crowned by the nearly completed Nauvoo Temple.
Richard was to spend only a few years in Nauvoo. After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844, the Saints prepared to leave their homes and travel to the Great Salt Lake Valley. In charge of building wagons and carriages, Richard was among the last to leave Nauvoo. In September of 1846 he prepared to cross the Mississippi River.
As an officer in one of the companies of pioneers, Richard made rounds every night to see that all was well. One night he met Huldah Meriah Clark. He was attracted to her immediately. On February 18, 1847, they were married by Heber C. Kimball in Winter Quarters. Two years after leaving Nauvoo, the Ballantynes arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley.
Richard set about building a home and planting a field of wheat. A hailstorm destroyed his crop, however, and he and his wife and infant son faced a winter with no income and little food. Despite these hardships, Richard was inspired with an idea, one that he could not ignore. He wanted to start a Sunday School for the children in the valley. With his bishop’s approval, Richard began construction on an adobe building in which to hold Sunday School. He worked long hours hauling sandstone and logs, plastering walls, and making benches.
At last it was finished. On December 9, 1849, the first Sunday School in Salt Lake Valley was held. Richard led the children in a song, said a prayer, read a short scripture, then began to tell the story of Jesus. Years later he declared, “I was early called to this work by the voice of the spirit, and I have felt many times that I have been ordained to this work before I was born, for even before I joined the Church I was moved upon to work for the young. Surely no more joyful nor profitable labor can be performed by an elder.”
For four years Richard planted crops, and for four years the crops failed. He resolutely continued with the Sunday School, though, and found peace and satisfaction in teaching the children.
Then a call came for Richard to serve a mission in Hindostan (India.) Though it meant leaving his wife and three small children, he accepted the call immediately. With Huldah’s support, he prepared to make the long journey.
Richard’s mission was to last three years. During all his travels and proselyting, he was always concerned for his children and their welfare.
After his return to Salt Lake, Richard again answered a call from President Brigham Young to serve a mission—this time to the Saints in his own valley. He and his companions visited the homes of the members, held special meetings, and taught repentance.
His love for children led him to organize the Eden School District. He helped build the log schoolhouse there and served as one of its first teachers. Richard became Weber County Commissioner and later served as a member of the Ogden City Council. As always, his work centered on helping children. Under his direction, more schools were built, educational standards were improved, and public health facilities were expanded.
He continued his work in the Sunday School, organizing programs in Salt Lake, Juab, and Weber counties. He urged training for teachers, and he helped develop music especially for children. From just thirty children in 1849, Sunday School membership had grown to over 116,700 in less than fifty years. Records and statistics were kept, study courses written, and music festivals held.
A highlight of Richard’s later years was his founding of a Sunday School for the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind. Watching a child read the scriptures in Braille gave him a special thrill. On his eightieth birthday, three thousand Sunday School children and teachers and four brass bands marched in a parade to honor him.
Richard Ballantyne had been farmer, baker, miller, carriage maker, publisher, merchant, lumber dealer, and teacher. Teaching, however, remained his first love. He believed that the greatest teaching would be done within his own family. Love of God and love of children had ruled his life and influenced the lives of thousands of children.