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BELLISTON, Thomas & Sophia

thomas_belliston

thomas_bellistonOn 1 December 1845, Thomas Belliston was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England. His father, James Thomas, and mother, Louisa Miller, were both age twenty-six and living with their little family in Birmingham. Thomas was the fourth child, but a little brother and sister had died three years earlier of whooping cough. Now his two year old brother,William Robert had a baby brother to play with. The certified copy of Thomas’ birth record was attested by the Registrar, Joseph Smith (interesting name!). The family lived at 10 Court 1 House, Snowhill, in Birmingham. Three other children were born before the family left England. One of these was still-born. So four children came with the family to America.

Thomas was only seven when he immigrated with his parents to America in 1853. He well remembered the long and perilous sea voyage to Keokuk, Iowa, via New Orleans and the Mississippi River, and the overland journey by ox team to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. From 1859 until his death he lived in Nephi, Utah. As a youth and throughout his life, Thomas was husky and strong. In early adulthood he weighed 200 pounds — up to 225 or more later in life. He was an even six feet in height.

For a time during his youth, Thomas served as the town herdsman for 100-125 dairy cows, owned by various members of the community. The cows were turned out after milking to graze on the meadow grass south of town and were then returned to their owners in the evening, well-fed and ready for the evening milking.

A harrowing experience occurred between Christmas and New Years, just as he turned fifteen. Thomas and his brother, Jim, had gone with the reluctant consent of their father to haul wood on a very cold winter day. They found themselves returning home after dark when the temperature had dropped to bitter freezing. Both nearly lost their lives. By the time they reached home, Thomas’ feet were thoroughly frozen. His parents worked the frost out of his feet in a basin of ice water. When circulation returned he began to suffer excruciating pain, which continued all night long. The next morning, there being no doctor in the town, they called upon Bishop Bryan. The bishop expressed the opinion that Thomas would lose both feet. But he was nurtured with poultices until April, when he was finally able to venture out of the yard. Sometime during this recovery period, the toes on one foot were crudely amputated. He limped the rest of his life, with the bones protruding from the painful stumps of his toes. His cane, which aided him in walking during his later years, is still in the family..

At age twenty, in the year 1866, Thomas and about six other young men from Nephi were among a company called by President Brigham Young to go to the Missouri River, probably to the Omaha/Council Bluffs area, to bring immigrants west. This was part of a successful experiment by Brigham Young to reduce the cost of immigration to the Valley by the thousands who were arriving from Europe. It required a trip of six months, three months each way, and was an exciting adventure for a healthy young man of that time. In the returning company was his future father-in-law, George Bardsley.

Riding in Thomas’ wagon was the Scottish family of John Airmet, with whom he maintained close contact throughout his life. Their baby was born in Thomas’ wagon on the way. They stopped for three hours to attend to necessary details, then caught up with the rest of the company by nightfall. We have a thoughtful letter from Thomas, sent to John Airmet on the occasion of his 87th birthday, 18 April 1921. Thomas’ son, Albert, spoke at funerals of several family members, including that of the daughter born in the wagon on the Great Plains.

Sophia Bardsley

Sophia Bardsley, who became Thomas’ wife, was born 29 June 1848. (Their son, Albert Henry (the writer’s father), was born on this same date in 1876, a fact which always pleased Albert.) Sophia’s parents were George Bardsley and Elizabeth Garside. Though the Bardsley family lived in Cheshire, Sophia’s birthplace was nearby Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, where her maternal grandparents had lived for years. George and Elizabeth had three other children older than Sophia. Both Sophia and her future husband, Thomas, were Pioneers with their parents, traveling across ocean and plain to America. All arrived in the Salt Lake Valley as Mormon immigrants before the coming of the railroad.

The Bardsleys had sailed from Liverpool in 1862 aboard the vessel “Cynosure” with their three living children, Ann, James and Sophia. They settled first in an industrial town named Cohoes in eastern New York State. Mother Elizabeth died of typhoid fever on 15 December 1864, at age 49, while nursing her family who were sick with the same disease. This left her husband with one son and two daughters. George never remarried. Eighteen year old Sophia, her brother James, age twenty, and her sister Ann, age twenty-two, came together to Utah with a freighting company in 1865. Ann married a young man named Poxom who came in the same group. A year later her father, George Bardsley, joined all of them in Nephi. In his later years,George Bardsley lived at times with Thomas and Sophia and with others of his children.

Sophia was petite and delicate, as an adult weighing only 100 pounds. Her dark red hair and blue eyes must have proved an irresistible combination to her big, husky suitor, when became calling soon after she arrived in Nephi.

A New Eternal Family

On 9 April 1868, when Thomas was twenty-two and Sophia twenty, the two were married and sealed for eternity in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. Officiating was President Daniel H. Wells, second counselor to Brigham Young. Thomas traded a lame cow valued at $10.00 for a lot owned by George Potts and built his bride a small home at 395 South 200 East in Nephi. The first five of their children were born in the one room cottage. When Albert was born, it was time to add another room. Two more rooms were added in 1893, then one torn down and two more added in 1910.

Eleven children were born in this family in the space of twenty-one years. All eleven were born in Nephi: Thomas William (2/69-6/04), George James (10/70-10/81), John (8/72-2/26), Samuel (9/74-8/75), Albert (6/76-3/65), Wilford (8/78-6/62), Louisa Elizabeth (11/80-12/19), Lester Bardsley (1/83-11/62), Nellie (3/85-2/1891), Ralph Bardsley (5/87-6/65), Minnie Ann (8/89-2/1891). Four of these eleven children died before reaching adulthood.

Louisa Elizabeth, was the seventh child but the first girl born to Thomas and Sophia. She was given a special name. Her great-grandmother was Louisa Wooley. Her grandmother Louisa Miller (James Thomas’ wife) had been named for her mother. James Thomas and Louisa Miller had then given their own first child that name. But this little Louisa died at age 2 1/2. They then named her seventh child Louisa, but also lost her in death at age two. No wonder the family was pleased finally to have another Louisa, born to Thomas and Sophia, and have her survive! She became everyone’s favorite.

In the year 1881, a tragic accident occurred just a block from the Belliston home, when lightning struck eleven year old George James and his nine year old brother, John. George was killed immediately; John escaped with his life, but was knocked down by the bolt and carried a red scar as a grim reminder ever after. This accident was a tremendous blow to the family, recounted often by then-five year old Albert.

Two more sad deaths in the family occurred in 1891, while my father, Albert, was yet a boy. When he was fifteen, his two little sisters, Nellie and Minnie Ann, ages 1 1/2 and five, died of diphtheria, just ten days apart. Many other Nephi families lost members in this epidemic. This left Louisa as the only surviving girl in the family, with six living brothers. Nellie had died first and was buried near the center of the west border of the Nephi City Cemetery — near baby Samuel, who had died several years earlier, and George, who had been struck by lightning. When Minnie Ann died ten days later there was no room for her in the same area, so she was buried all alone in a new area at the center of the cemetery. Grandfather George Bardsley, who had loved and tended these two infants, was buried near her, at his request.

Thomas Belliston received his patriarchal blessing at age 24, on 8 March 1870, under the hands of John Smith, the eldest son of Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother. He was admonished to hold sacred the counsel of his father and mother and to honor them always. This he did. Albert’s notes say Thomas was a devoted son, always faithful to his parents, never went to bed without walking the three blocks to visit his blind mother. Thomas was told that angels would warn him of dangers in time to escape and would give him power over his enemies. And, without reservation, the patriarch concluded with, “I seal thee up unto eternal life.”

Thomas was a farmer and a beekeeper — the former out of necessity and the latter because he liked the business and was good at it. He worked in this business for nearly forty years, from about 1883 until his death in 1922. His sons, Wilford and Ralph, worked with him, but evidently maintained separate accounts and separate bees.

Thomas was always considered an expert in the handling of oxen. Probably his early adventure crossing the Plains at age seven gave him both experience and the appreciation he always had for these beasts of burden. He loved to break a young steer and train it for domestic service. He went out of his way many times to locate and arrange for a good ox team to appear in the 4th of July parade. He sometimes spent weeks with the animals to be sure they would perform properly. For a long time after oxen ceased to be used for farm work, they were still used in the mountains for logging. Thomas earned supplemental income training these oxen.

In 1899, while Albert was on his mission, Thomas, John, Wilford and Lester each took up forty acres of land on the “Ridge” between Nephi and Levan, and began to raise dry land wheat. The land produced only 12 1/2 bushels per acre the first year on a limited acreage. The following year, 125 acres were planted and, according to Wilford, it became at that time the largest producing property on the Ridge. Though it is not mentioned, this land was probably homesteaded and cost nothing to acquire. Much of this land, and more acquired later is still owned by members of the family.

Thomas was well regarded in the community. Around the turn of the century, in his later fifties, he became very active in civic affairs. In July 1899, he received every vote cast for school trustee, and succeeded himself in the next election, serving until 1905. He served as city councilman during the years 1900 and 1901. This service was followed by one or more terms as Juab County Commissioner, beginning in 1903.

This period must have been one of the busiest of his life. His son, Albert, was on a mission to Hawaii and could not help on the farm. The following excerpt from a letter to Albert dated 25 August 1901 provides several insights, including a glimpse at the active and busy life he led:

“Work, work, work. . . . Wilford says we will have to hire this week as we have so much extra work on the dry farm, lucern to cut, chock up and haul, grain in the field to stack, honey to extract, an assessment on the reservoir to work out. . . . Our school business [as a Trustee] is important just now as we have not employed all our teachers yet. . . . Doing improvement work on North School. Besides the regular cleaning we have put new floors all through the building, repainted inside and out. . . . Coles should be home very soon. [from serving a mission to Hawaii]. I feel like you ought to be with them, but I realize you are engaged in the work of God and he will overrule all things for our good. . . . I think Wilford must have a cause for going so often [to Levan]. I hope so, at least. I am opposed to bachelors and old maids. I am ready to dance at all of your weddings whenever you say (but let them be white ones).”

At this same time, Thomas was the bee inspector for the county and was serving on the parade committee for the Nephi Jubilee celebration coming up in September. This was fifty years from the first settling of Nephi in September, 1851.

He was obviously faithful in the Church, but there he took a supporting role. The only office mentioned in available journals was as a counselor to David K. Udall when the Mutual Improvement Association was first formed in Nephi in 1880.

The Character of the Man

A fine example of the character of the man (and also the character of the letter-writer) is found in a letter written to Thomas by a man from Worland, Wyoming on 26 September 1934. By then Thomas had long since died and the correspondence was handled by Albert. The man explained that many years ago, in 1891, while on a freighting trip through Nephi, he had several misfortunes which culminated in the death of one of his horses, essential to his freighting business, for which he had just paid $100.00.

“You gave me an old mair (sic) that you could spair (sic) and I did not have the price to pay for her and you told me she was worth $20.00 and if I got so I could, I could send you the $20.00.”

The $20 horse was very strong, but balky, and died soon after. He had hoped to pay for her with her own colt, but she never had one. The letter detailed the troubles of intervening years: Illness, business failure, a large family, tough times. The man had served a mission, been a bishop and a high councilor.

“Finally I just made up my mind that I must pay that $20.00 for the kindness you showed when I was in trouble.”

The letter also asked for help in locating someone whom he should repay for a sack of sugar given him by the Hyde and Whitmore store.

In Pioneer times, when a neighbor was in trouble, you just helped him out. If he could repay, fine. If not, that was okay too. But this debtor never forgot he had an obligation.

Adolphe Merz, stake president in Mt. Pleasant, knew Thomas well and did business with him. On 30 November 1915, in honor of Thomas’ 70th birthday, President Merz wrote him a letter, from which the following is quoted:

“When I look back upon our past experiences and relationship in business affairs I cannot help but think of your honesty and straight forward way of dealing. There has never been one single experience in all my acquaintance with you for the past twenty years which could possibly cause any feeling of regret in my mind. . . . I have looked upon you as a man who would not swerve from that which is right for anything in the world. For some years past I have left the matter of keeping accounts largely to you, as I felt perfectly at ease concerning them, knowing that your integrity was absolutely unassailable and above any suspicion or reproach. . . I congratulate you on this splendid occasion. May your life be prolonged in peace and happiness.  Your Friend and Brother, Adolphe Merz.”

Until Sophia’s death, she and Thomas had given a home to the five grandchildren who were orphaned by the deaths of son, Thomas William and his wife, Elizabeth. Thomas William had died in a railroading accident; his wife followed only months later. These children lived with both grandparents for the four years prior to Sophia’s death, then with Thomas alone until they were married, or (in the case of Vera), until Thomas died on 24 September 1922.

Faithful Sophia died on 8 March 1909, just short of her sixty-first birthday. Four of her eleven children had gone before. Those remaining cherished her memory; they loved her for her quiet, gentle manner and her unfailing concern for her family. Thomas lived until age seventy-six, the same age attained by his father, James Thomas. He left a secure family — not secure in worldly things but in strength of character. He left a Pioneer heritage worthy of emulation. His pioneer father and mother were the fountains from which flowed his life and character. He followed their examples of hard work, thrift and independence. He was taught honesty, integrity and fairness. He became caring and gentle, as they were, unassuming and content with his lot in life. The descendants of Thomas and Sophia honor them and praise their worthy names.

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