<<Previous (9: Prophecy Fulfilled)

Next (11: The First House Built by a Saint in Nauvoo)>>

Theodore Turley: A Biography
Richard E. Turley, Jr.

[This is another in a continuing series of newsletter articles that together will make up the first rough draft of a biography of Theodore Turley. The draft will undergo considerable revision before being published in book form. I invite all family members to read it critically, make suggestions, and offer additional information for possible inclusion. Feel free to e-mail me.]

10 Refugees in Search of a Home, 26 April to 11 June 1839

Before sunrise on the morning of 26 April 1839, Theodore Turley left Far West, Missouri, with members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. In the meantime, their brief but prophecy-fulfilling stay at Far West generated considerable excitement among their enemies. A mob began to collect, and as its members arrived in Far West, according to the history of Brigham Young, “they found out we had been there and transacted our business.”1 George A. Smith would reflect, “This movement so astonished the mob, that a number of families who had come to settle on our vacant farms left the country.”2 Despite the threats their enemies had made, the Saints had safely accomplished their objective. Wilford Woodruff later recalled, “We had accomplished the mission without a dog moving his tongue at us, or any man saying, ‘Why do you do so?'”3

Theodore and the others continued their flight, arriving that evening at Tenney’s Grove. “We rode thirty miles that day,” Heber C. Kimball recounted, and camped at night with the families of Elders Clark and Turley.”4 Theodore’s family at the time consisted of himself; his wife, Frances; and their six living children: fifteen-year-old Frances Amelia, eleven-year-old Mary Ann, nine-year-old Priscilla Rebecca, six-year-old Frederick, three-year-old Sarah Elizabeth, and one-year-old Isaac. Theodore was already tired when their journey began, his exhaustion caused by what he later described as “Labouring in Variously for the relief of My Breatheren & Sisters in Bonds for the Space [of] nearly Six months after The feteague;s [fatigues] of the Ware [War] the Particulars of which is inpossaple to Describe.”5

Early the next morning, the Turley family traveled onward with seven members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, several other members of the Committee on Removal of the Poor to which Theodore belonged, and a few families besides their own.6 Theodore’s exhaustion grew as they traveled, homeless refugees in search of peaceful surroundings in which they could put down roots and practice their new-found religion unhindered. Of their exodus, he would recall “Journing with my wife and Six Childeren 200 miles in a wet Time Living in a Tent for The Space of Thirteen wekes and neavour having the Privelidge of Sleeping under a ruff for This Time.”7

On Thursday, 2 May 1839, the group of refugees crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois on a steam ferry.8 Over the previous several months, Quincy had become a principal gathering place for the Latter-day Saint refugees. On Saturday, Church members met for a general conference at the Presbyterian campground near Quincy. The conference, which would extend over three days, conducted considerable business and proved to be a joyous time in which the Saints could meet under the direction of their prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., for the first time since his escape from the Liberty Jail.

On the first day of the conference, the members passed two resolutions expressing their satisfaction at the conference held at the Far West temple site on 26 April and the disciplinary actions taken that same day. They also sanctioned “the mission intended for the Twelve to Europe” and resolved to “do all in their power to enable them to go.” Since Theodore was to accompany them, this resolution had meaning to him too. Joseph Smith addressed the Saints briefly, opened the services with prayer, and presided at the conference.9 His presence, in the words of Wilford Woodruff, “caused great joy and rejoicing to all the Saints.”10

The conference continued on Sunday and Monday. On Sunday morning, the Seventies met together in the morning. Being a Seventy himself, Theodore was likely in attendance.11 According to Brother Woodruff, during the main session later that day, “Joseph Smith addressed the assembly, followed by Sidney Rigdon and the Twelve Apostles. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us, and we had a glorious day.”12 Monday’s conference resolved “that Brother Turley’s Gun Smith tools Shall remain for the use of the Church, And that He shall be allowed to accompany the twelve to Europe.”13

On Tuesday, 7 May 1839, Theodore appeared before Carlo M. Woods, the clerk of the circuit court of Adams County. There he swore out an affidavit detailing the losses he had sustained at the hands of his persecutors. These damages totaled $3,050 and included “Loss sustained by Abuse in family & myselfe & Driving from the State 10 pirsons.”14 Since Theodore, Frances, and their children totaled only eight persons, their family must have assisted two others in journeying across Missouri to Illinois.

Most of the Saints did not remain long in Quincy. The conference had resolved “That the next general conference be held on the first Saturday in October next, at Commerce, at the house of Elder Rigdon.”15 Church leaders purchased land in the vicinity of Commerce, Illinois, as a new gathering place for the Saints.16 One tract of land was purchased from Isaac Galland, another from Hugh White. Shortly after the conference, Joseph Smith moved his family north to the Commerce area. The History of the Church records that on 10 May, Joseph and his family arrived “at the White purchase and took up . . . residence in a small log house on the bank of the river, about one mile south of Commerce City.”17 This log home would become known as “the Homestead.”

The members of the Quorum of the Twelve, as well as those like Theodore who would accompany them, likewise went north. Wilford Woodruff explained, “Before starting on our missions to England, we were under the necessity of settling our families. A place called Commerce, afterwards named Nauvoo, was selected as the place at which our people should settle.”18 “I came to Nauvoo with Josep[h] Smith,” Theodore recorded.19

Under date of 18 May 1839, Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal, “We Travled to Commerce & called upon Brother Joseph & his family[.] I also saw Brothers Clark[,] Turley & Ripley[.] Br Ripley was surveying out a city plot which included Joseph’s farm[.] Notwithstanding the Saints are driven from city to city & from place to place yet they are not discouraged but are determined to build a city wharever their lot is cast showing themselves to be industrious & determined to maintain the kingdom of God. . . . Commerce is beautiful for situation though there is but two or three dwellings in the town as yet.”20

Theodore participated in the initial survey of the city. He wrote that he “was one of the Comittee to fix upon the size of the Lots & run of[f] St[reets] & Co in 1839.”21

Although a small number of homes already stood on the property purchased by the Saints, they were occupied by others, leaving Theodore and his family without adequate shelter.22 With no permanent shelter to protect them, the Turleys continued living in their tent–not a pleasant experience for a large family with small children, especially in a wet, wild region infested with malaria. By the faith of the Saints and the vision of a Prophet, the swampy bend in the Mississippi River would grow into a bustling city. As the Saints transformed the wilderness, however, they endured disease and misery.

The History of the Church would describe the region as “a wilderness . . . mostly covered with trees and bushes, and much of it so wet that it was with the utmost difficulty a footman could get through, and totally impossible for teams,” a place “so unhealthful, very few could live there.”23

“When we arrived in Commerce Ill in the Spring of 1839,” Theodore recalled, “it [was] a new Place on the Banks of the Great Missipy hence without a house or the conveniance of house to Shelt[er] in but the Spring being far adva[nc] feel it necessary to set on to Plant Some corn and Potatoes &co &co Before I Starte to Build my house. After accomplishing the Same Began to get Logs Stone and co my famely having the Expance of the firmem[a]nt for a covering Besides a Tent made of factory Cotton.”24

As Theodore gathered building materials, his family suffered through the wet spring. Theodore recorded that he “Freequently whould come home and find my famely wet Through to the Skin the fire washed all away and my dear little Children Crudled under their mothers Cloak myselfe as wet as Possable and no fire to Dry our Cloaths, Some times the Bed wet Through when whe whould arise in the morning. This whould try The faith and patience of all. This conected with Labour I was not accustomed to, brought up[o]n me a Bilous feevour &co and Then was taken with the western Chill feev[o].”25

Life for the family would remain difficult until long after he finished the house, something he had to do before leaving them for his mission to England.

[Next issue: “The First House Built by a Saint in Nauvoo, 11 June to 18 July 1839”]

Draft of 31 January 1999
© 1999 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the March 1999 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. “History of Brigham Young,” Deseret News, 17 February 1858, 394; President Heber C. Kimball’s Journal (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 75.
  2. “Memoirs of George A. Smith,” MS 1322, bx 3, fd 1, p. 126, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereinafter referred to as HDC).
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1881), 60.
  4. President Heber C. Kimball’s Journal, 75.
  5. Richard E. Turley, Jr., ed. “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, 1839-1840” (Honor’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982), 19.
  6. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 27 April to 2 May 1839, HDC.
  7. “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 19.
  8. Woodruff, Journal, 2 May 1839.
  9. History of the Church, 3:344-46.
  10. Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, 60.
  11. Woodruff, Journal, 6 May 1839.
  12. Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, 60-61.
  13. Draft Minutes of Conference, 6 May 1839, General Church Minutes Collection, HDC. This resolution was divided into two parts for the finished minutes in this same collection and for the version published in History of the Church, 3:346-47.
  14. Theodore Turley petition, copy of original in my possession. This petition has been printed in Clark V. Johnson, ed., Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833-1838 Missouri Conflict (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1992), 368.
  15. History of the Church, 3:346.
  16. Robert Bruce Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 26-39.
  17. History of the Church, 3:349.
  18. Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, 61.
  19. Theodore Turley, Autobiography (ca. 1840), MS 13176, fd. 1, HDC.
  20. Woodruff, Journal, 18 May 1839.
  21. Theodore Turley, Autobiography (ca. 1840).
  22. History of the Church, 3:375. One history written about 1839 records that the Saints “made preparations to move their families to Commerce where there were Several houses unoccupied.” “Record of Events Connected with the History of the Church of Jesus christ of Latter Day Saints from their expulsion from the State of Missouri in the winter of 1838-9,” MS 778, HDC.
  23. History of the Church, 3:375.
  24. “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 19-20.
  25. “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 20.