The First Sunday School in Utah

Richard Ballantyne

Richard Ballantyne 1817 - 1898

Richard Ballantyne 1817 – 1898

Richard Ballantyne, convert to the Church, pioneer of Utah and founder of the first Latter-day Saint Sunday School, was born in Whitridgebog, Scotland, on August 26, 1817.

When Richard was eleven years of age, his father died, and the boy had to find employment to assist in supporting the family. At fourteen he was apprenticed to a baker at Earlston; he learned the trade and then established his own business, which prospered.

It was during this time that Richard became an active member of the Presbyterian Church in Earlston. He organized a Sunday School class “of upwards of seventy-five boys and girls” and acted as its teacher.

When the first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in Scotland in 1839, they met with almost immediate success. Branches of the Church were established in several of the small towns near Edinburgh, and in this manner Richard Ballantyne heard the Gospel and accepted it. He was baptized by a local elder, Henry McEwan, in December, 1842. The following year, he and his family, all of whom had joined the Church, emigrated to America. They arrived in Nauvoo on November 11, 1843.

In Nauvoo Richard became acquainted with the Prophet and the Patriarch and other leaders of the Church. He was active in Church work and was ordained to the offices of elder, seventy, and high priest.

After the death of the Prophet, he followed the leadership of President Brigham Young and joined the Saints in their migration to the West. At Winter Quarters on February 18, 1847, he was married to Huldah Clark. He was twenty-nine years of age and she was twenty-one.

Richard and his wife arrived in Salt Lake Valley in September, 1848. The first winter they lived in the Old Fort, but in the summer of 1849 he began to build a home in the Fourteenth Ward, “about a half mile southwest of the Temple Block.” The home, which was made of adobes, was finally completed, and on Sunday, December 9, 18490, Richard Ballantyne invited the children of the neighborhood to attend a Sunday School in his new home—the first Sunday School held in the valleys of the mountains.

Of this Sunday School, Conway B. Sonne, a great-grandson of Richard Ballantyne has written: “On Sunday morning, at eight o’clock, about thirty children, between the ages of eight and thirteen, trooped into the class room that Richard had built. They stamped their feet on the threshold, shook the snow off their coats and hats, and took their places on the simple benches . . . Richard’s eyes shone as he called the Sunday School to order. He led the boys and girls in singing, and then, with arms upraised, he gave a quiet but fervent prayer, dedicating this room to the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His voice was rich and the words rolled forth as words do under the spell of reverence and emotion.” (Knight of the Kingdom, by Conway B. Sonne.)

The first lesson was a brief story of the life of Christ.

Richard Ballantyne continued to teach his Sunday School class in his home for about one year, until the membership grew too large to be accommodated. He then transferred the class to the Fourteenth Ward school room, where he continued to act as teacher, until he was called on a mission to India in August, 1852.

To go on a mission to India, in pioneer times, was a tremendous undertaking, as it was a strange land, thousands of miles from Salt Lake Valley, but nothing could deter this determined Scotsman from doing his duty. He joined thirty-seven other missionaries, who had been assigned to the Pacific Islands and the Orient, and together they made their way by team and wagon to California. At San Francisco, Richard Ballantyne secured money to pay his passage on a sailing vessel to India, and after eighty-eight days on the water, he and several companions arrived at Calcutta.

We do not have space here to describe the events of this mission, except to say that Richard found two Latter-day Saint converts in Calcutta, Matthew McCune and James P. Meik, and they were helpful to him. But in general the natives of India did not respond to the Gospel.

After serving two months in Calcutta Elder Ballantyne and his companion were transferred to the province of Madras, where they remained one year and built up a small branch of the Church. Richard was released to return home in July, 1854. He journeyed to England, thence to New Orleans and up the Mississippi River to St. Louis.

From St. Louis he made his way overland to Salt Lake City by team, where he arrived on September 25, 1855, after an absence of nearly three years.

Richard Ballantyne moved to Ogden in 1860, where he engaged in the mercantile business; he also purchased a farm in Ogden Valley and sent teams to work on the Union Pacific Railroad.

In the midst of his business activities he did not neglect his duties in the Church. He founded Sunday Schools in the settlements of Weber Valley, and in 1872 he became the superintendent of Sunday Schools in Weber Stake.

Richard Ballantyne died at Ogden, Utah, on November 8, 1898, at the age of eighty-one. In a biographical account of his life his son-in-law, Edward Anderson, paid him this tribute:

“He was one of the strong characters common to the pioneers and the early members of the Church, and his whole soul was devoted to the latter-day work. He was a thorough Christian; he sought first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. His labors and devotion to Zion, will shed sunshine on many generations yet to be.”

Thus passed the man who founded the first Sunday School in Utah.


  1. Preston Nibley, Stalwarts of Mormonism, p. 1-4. See also: Conway B. Sonne (1949). Knight of the Kingdom: The Story of Richard Ballantyne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book). Latter-Day Saint biographical encyclopedia: a compilation of biographical sketches of prominent men and women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Volume 1, page 703.  Whittaker, David J. (1985). “Richard Ballantyne and the Defense of Mormonism in India in the 1850s”. In Donald Q. Cannon; David J. Whittaker. Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons. Religious Studies Center Specialized Monograph Series. 1. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. pp. 175–212. ISBN 0-88494-565-0.

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