Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy 207th Birthday, Joseph Billington (1804-1871)!

John Welch's second-great-grandfather

Joseph Billington is another mystery man. Husband to Martha, father of Eliza Billington Welch (thus father-in-law to John Welch 1), he should be a pretty straightforward pioneer to trace. Yet Joseph's later return to Iowa and the RLDS Church have provided intriguing twists to his life.

And which signature is the real one?  The one on the letter above, I'm presuming, which is fancier.  Perhaps his wife wrote the return address on the envelope in the less practiced hand?
Joseph was raised in England, the youngest of six children. He was a bricklayer and keeper of the locks on the banks of the Liverpool-Burmingham Junction Canal. The Billingtons had three children and lived in a lovely cottage on the banks of the water where Joseph lowered and raised freight boats on the canal.  The return address he used for the home was “Lock House, Cox Bank.”

After meeting LDS missionaries, the Billington family readily accepted the gospel. Soon after his baptism in 1840, Joseph wrote a letter to missionary George Albert Smith. He pleaded for Elder Smith to send other LDS missionaries to attend a local religious discussion, or the local Wesleyans and Baptists “are going to cut we poor Latter-Day Saints all to pieces.”  
photo of canal from this website 
current canal view from wikipedia
The family gave up their work and property, and sailed to America, probably on The Sidney, The Medford, or The Henry, which all left Liverpool in September 1842, although no passenger names are recorded. Due to ice on the Mississippi, the group was stranded in St. Louis and arrived in Nauvoo on April 1, 1843. That fall, Joseph, Martha, and Eliza were among the three thousand Saints who signed the Scroll Petition for Mormon redress due to mob violence. In Nauvoo, Joseph participated in proxy baptisms on behalf of his siblings and father.

The Nauvoo period was a time of significant change for their family. Teenage son Hugh died of lung fever, daughter Eliza married John Welch, and Joseph and Martha received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple on February 7, 1846 with Eliza and John.  They crossed the Mississippi with the Saints, and Joseph and Martha were sealed together in Winter Quarters just six months before her death in Council Bluffs. Their daughter Harriet was a frail girl and deaf from scarlet fever, and after Martha’s death, kind fellow Saints helped to teach Joseph’s motherless daughters vital frontier homemaking skills.  

Joseph married again, but his second wife Sarah soon died. He came to Utah with his daughter Harriet, where he was married to Ann by 1850 and received a patriarchal blessing in 1852.  Joseph and Ann are found in Utah on the 1850 census with two teenagers, John and Thomas Billington, who were born in England.  No more is known about these boys, who were perhaps nephews.  

Joseph and Ann must have become disaffected from the Mormon group, because they left Utah in the next few years and moved to Iowa. There they are found in the 1856 census with a ten-year-old boy, William Fyfield, as part of their household (although the Billington teenage boys from the 1850 census are gone).  William Fyfield was born in Missouri and then his large family moved to Utah.  He may have accompanied the Billingtons east as a hired boy, and according to census records, he remained in Iowa as a married adult.  

For unknown reasons, Joseph joined the RLDS church in Iowa.  He applied for U.S. citizenship there on May 4, 1864. He died several years later, after being kicked by a horse.  The mysteries of his move back to Iowa and of his RLDS conversion linger--thus I would give him a journal, which he would fill out faithfully and then bequeath to me :-)


  1. Somehow this account is comforting to me because of Josefine and Sigvart Christian. Why would our faithful ancestors who converted and were willing to sacrifice so much for the Gospel decide to leave and join another church? I guess we will just have to ask them someday.

  2. I'd give him some kind of hearing aid for Harriet, if those exist.