John Halliday’s name appears on a number of documents relating to the Church in Wiltshire in the middle of the 19th century. For about a 5-year period we therefore have quite a lot of information about how he spent his time, but before that, relatively little is known of him:
- Born in Trowbridge in 1819, he was the oldest child of Stephen and Jane (nee Watts) Halliday.
- In 1836 he emigrated to America.
- In 1839 he married Emily Newman, also a native of Trowbridge, who had emigrated in 1832 with her brother.
- Some time between 1836 and 1842 he was baptised a member of the Church.
- In 1842 John and Emily were living in Nauvoo.
- They had five children, the first of whom was born in New York state where they had married, the next three in Trowbridge, and the last in Missouri.
- John died in Missouri in 1851.
The different birthplaces of the children are explained by the fact that some time in 1844 John was sent back to Britain as a missionary, bringing Emily and their youngest child with him. They would remain in Britain until the Spring of 1850.
Two main sources provide information on John’s activities during those years: the Millennial Star; and, records from Salisbury Diocese which detail applications to register ‘dissenter’ places of worship. This was required by law at the time, and ‘dissenters’ were any denomination other than the Church of England.
The following applications were made by John Halliday to register LDS places of worship in Wiltshire:
Steeple Ashton was something of a stronghold of the Church in the mid-nineteenth century, as shown by the number of different locations registered for worship, and several histories have been written about the village residents who converted.As the list also shows, meeting places were most commonly family homes, particularly in villages. Branches were often small, so meeting in homes was feasible. Many of the early converts emigrated, so by the end of the century most of the branches had been disbanded and no purpose-built LDS meetinghouses are known to have existed in Wiltshire until the 20th century.
John Halliday made the applications to register places of worship for the LDS church because of the leadership role he held in the area during his missionary service. Two further applications for LDS places of worship were subsequently made to the Salisbury diocese by Jesse Griffin: one for a room in the yard of the George, High Street, Salisbury in March 1850; the other for a house occupied by John Ford in Redlynch in November 1850. By this time John Halliday had returned to America.
The Millennial Star published minutes of the Trowbridge Conference in August 1846, reporting that John Halliday was presiding and that the meeting was held at Connigree– for which Halliday had completed the necessary registration. Statistics presented included a membership in the area of 111, across five congregations, the largest being Trowbridge at 62. The following year in October, John Halliday was reported as being present at Church conference held in Bristol, where he spoke at two meetings and was recognised as the presiding officer. These minutes show that early in his mission Halliday was given leadership responsibilities on a wider basis than a local branch.
In a November 1847 letter published in the Star, President Franklin D. Richards praised John Halliday’s efforts in promoting the cause in the area:
Elder John Halliday who has had charge recently of Bath, Bristol and Trowbridge conferences returned to the latter place from Nauvoo about three years ago after an absence of eight years, since which he has honoured his Master’s cause by baptizing about 150 souls into the church from this vicinity. This he has accomplished through patient toil and much privation, as well as much opposition from those who worship God according to law. For a short time past he felt that the wheels rolled hard and the work did not prosper as he desired to see it, and he began to think perhaps he had accomplished his work and was looking Zion-ward with longing anxiety. But when I arrived there on the 22nd of October and we began to take counsel together how to promote the work of God and increase the number of Saints, the spirit rested upon us and we both saw clearly... that there were many who would become obedient to the faith and enlist in Zion’s cause.
At the time Trowbridge was reported as having forty-two members, Steeple Ashton thirty-two, West Larrington nineteen, Easterton fourteen, and Rhode ten, with several other Wiltshire locations having congregations in single figures. With other branches further afield, Halliday was responsible for a total membership of 350 spread across eleven congregations, in three counties. The prospects in these conferences were described as encouraging and hundreds of invitations had apparently been received from around the region for missionaries to preach. The number of subscriptions to the Millennial Star had increased by more than 50%, and thirty new converts had been added by baptism to the local membership during the short stay Franklin D. Richards had made in the area.
In May 1848 Halliday reported continuing success in a letter to Orson Spencer, then president of the British LDS mission. The letter was printed in the Star:
Dear President Spencer.
Having a few moments to spare, I employ them in writing these few lines, hoping they will find you well, and also to inform you that the work of our God is spreading all around this South Conference. Indeed, I have never travelled so much and preached so often with so much satisfaction since my arrival in England. And what is better, I have never felt in better spirits for the battle, either indoors or out in the public marketplace. Last Sunday May 14, I held public baptism about one mile out of the town of Westbury. I baptized six persons, five of whom were the first fruits of our labour in that town. We had near one thousand spectators, who paid the best of attention. At two o’clock I had a public meeting in the marketplace, there being no room in the town to be had that was large enough. The people were extremely attentive and ‘Mormonism’ was running down their throats– for their mouths were open– like oil, when the mayor, being afraid if they let me alone, all men or nearly so would believe the powerful truths advanced. They sent three officers to request me to remove, for the marketplace was private property. On my informing the people of the same, they were very much dissatisfied at the interruption, and publicly declared that it was done at the instigation of the church parson, whose shop was empty, and who was afraid the people would have the scales removed from their eyes, and be able to see things in their right light. So, to satisfy them, I made an appointment for six o’clock in the evening at a place called Chalford, about one mile from Westbury. Accordingly, they came to the tune of six hundred or more, and listened until I had quite exhausted my strength, and the great difficulty I met with was the want of more faithful reapers and my inability to act, as the sectarians’ God, to be everywhere present at once. But I am content to act in my own sphere, according to the wisdom given, and rejoice in beholding many sons and daughters added to the great family of heaven... With sentiments of love and affection, I remain your brother JOHN HALLIDAY
In October of the same year, he also reported:
I have within a few days returned from a general visit through this conference, embracing over 200 miles in my journey, and on the whole things are in a flourishing state, particularly in Bristol, under the wise administration of Elder George Halliday, and in Bridgeport under the energetic course of Elder George Kendall. Large additions have been made to the kingdom of our God. I think we have baptized since conference over 100, and the Elders and officers feel ripe and ready for the harvesting; in fact, we all feel that the South shall not keep back, and we would like you to say Amen to it.
The three conferences which Halliday was responsible for had been combined and named the South Conference, and in August 1849, the Star reported:
THE SOUTH conference
This conference held its first session at Bread Street chapel, Bristol, on Sunday July 29th 1848, and by adjournment at Middle Rank chapel, Trowbridge, on Sunday August 6th, commencing at ten o’clock am, the meeting being called to order and opened in the usual manner. Elder George Halliday moved that President John Halliday be requested to preside over this conference meeting.
George Halliday was John’s brother, who had also converted to the Church in 1844. He almost immediately began to engage in proselytising in his local area, and continued to do so until he and his wife emigrated in 1853. George Halliday’s life is well documented, as he kept a diary for many years. After emigrating he settled in Santaquin, some 65 miles south of Salt Lake City, where he was actively involved in the community and would eventually father 13 children. He returned to Britain as a missionary in the 1860s and died in Santaquin in 1900.
The conference report in the Star details some of the effects of John Halliday’s work, and the extent to which they were appreciated:
In reference to the Bristol branch, Elder Halliday observed that although in times past this branch had been represented as cold and almost dead, he was happy to say it was now in good condition and full of life. Elder Rawle wished to move a vote of thanks to and confidence in Elder J. Halliday on the part of the Bristol saints. He had given them a good character and if they were good, it was Elder Halliday’s teachings which had made them so.
Moved by Elder Kendall that this conference unite to uphold and sustain by every means in our power our worthy President, Elder John Halliday, who has laboured so long and so faithfully among us. This proposition was rapturously and joyously responded to. The president, in thanking the brethren for the confidence they had reposed in him, remarked that whatever had been his talents or success, he knew well his object had been the welfare of the conference, which he had studied day and night.
The work of John Halliday and his fellow missionaries, with the associated growth in Church membership, did not go unnoticed or unopposed. Writing to Franklin D. Richards in December 1847, Halliday stated,
Since I last wrote to you, the officers of the law have interfered in our behalf, and last week we had quietness again,
showing that opposition was serious enough for Church members to seek police protection in order to be able to worship as they pleased.
And then in January 1849:
But still, in some parts of this conference, they are playing some of the Yankees' tricks of mobbing, stoning, and beating, particularly in Salisbury, the principal town of Wiltshire; but that God, who has enabled the Saints to overcome thus far, will assist to the end.
John Halliday was central to the mission and growth of the Church in Wiltshire in the mid-nineteenth century. He was evidently a man of faith and conviction, and was willing to put that conviction to work, to help spread the good news of the restored gospel which he and his wife and brother had embraced. He was still a young man when he died, but we can say with some certainty that a wish he expressed in May 1848 was fulfilled:
My prayer to God is that I may continue faithful.
See for example, https://downberrettlane.orga website established by descendants of John Watts Berrett of Steeple Ashton, which includes two volumes of Down Berrett Lane, a history of the Berretts of Steeple Ashton by Lamar C. Bennett. See also:The Mormon Church in Steeple Ashton and District by J. R. Goddard, in Wiltshire Folklife, vol. 3 no. 1, Winter 1979; and, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Steeple Ashton. Online at: https://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community.