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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.]

12 Preparing for a Mission: Life in Commerce to 20 September 1839

Having completed a home to provide shelter for his family, Theodore was now better prepared to serve a mission in Great Britain with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Seventies, like himself, who had been called to accompany them. Actually, though he was heavily occupied in building his house until its completion on 18 July 1839, his Church labors and spiritual preparation for missionary work continued during that time.1

Elder Wilford Woodruff, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles who would be one of Theodore’s future missionary companions, was living across the Mississippi River in Montrose, Iowa, and made the following journal entry regarding events of 2 July 1839:

This was an interesting day. The First Presidency Joseph & his council came across the river to Montrose to spend the day with the Twelve to bless them & their families before they left for other Nations. In the fore part of the day we rode four miles down the river to see the place called Blefens point–where the saints expected to build a town. Joseph pronounced it good & we returned. [T]he whole company dined at my dwelling[,] consisting of about Twelve persons[.] After dinner we all
assembled at Elder Brigham Young[‘s] house for meeting[.] President Hiram Smith opened the meeting by prayer[,] after which the Presidency lade their hands upon my head & sealed a blessing upon me[,] President Rigdon being speaker[.] [T]hey also sealed a blessing upon the head of Elders George A Smith & Turley. Also upon the head of Sister Young[,] Sister Tailor & my wife. If we were faithful we had the promise of again returning to the bosom of our families & being blesed on our missions & having many souls as seals of our ministry. After the blessings were bestowed Brother Hiram Smith arose & gave the . . . Twelve some interesting advice and council considering it best to say nothing but repentance to this generation or at least to preach the first principles of the gospel as that was as much as this generation could endure & many other things he said of interest.2

Of this meeting, Theodore personally recorded that he “was Set a part by Josep[h] & Hirum Smith when John Taylor & W Woodruff was for to go to England.”3

During the weeks that Theodore lived in Commerce (Nauvoo) before his departure for England, he had many opportunities to hear from the Prophet Joseph Smith firsthand and to treasure up knowledge for his mission. The 2 July 1839 meeting in Montrose was just one such opportunity.

After Hyrum Smith spoke on that occasion, Joseph Smith arose and gave the Twelve, Theodore, and the others present a discourse on preaching the gospel in humility. Wilford Woodruff recorded the substance of it as follows:

Then Joseph arose & presented some precious things of the kingdom unto us in the power of the Holy Ghost, yea precious principles that ought to be engraven upon our hearts & practisced in our lives, some of which are as follows. Ever keep in exercise the principles of mercy & be ready to forgive our brother on the first intimations of repentance & asking forgiveness & should we even forgive our brother or our enemy before they ask it our heavenly father would be equally as merciful unto us, & also we ought to be willing to repent of & confess all of our own sins & keep nothing back, & let the Twelve be humble & not be exalted & beware of pride & not seek to excell one above another but act for each others good & honerably make mention of each others name in our prayrs before the Lord & before our fellow men, & not backbite & devour our brother. Why will not man learn wisdom by precept & example at this late age of the world & not be oblieged to learn every thing we know by sad experiance. Must the new ones that are chosen to fill the places of those that are fallen of the quorum of the Twelve, begin to exhalt themselves untill they get so high that they will tumble over & have a great fall & go wallowing through the mud, mire, & darkness Judas like to the buffatings of Satan as several of the Twelve have done, or will they learn wisdom & be wise. (O God give them wisdom & keep them humble I pray)

When the Twelve or any other witness of Jesus Christ stands befor the congregation of the earth & they preach in the power & demonstration of the Holy Ghost & the people are asstonished & confounded at the doctrin & say that that man has preached a powerful discours a great sermon then let that man or those men take care that they do not asscribe the glory unto themselves but be careful that they are humble & asscribe the praise & glory to God & the Lamb for it is by the power of the Holy Priesthood & the Holy Ghost that they have power thus to speak. What art thou O man but dust & from wholm dost thou received thy power & blessings but from God, then O ye Twelve notice this key & be wise for Christ sake & your own souls sake. Ye are not sent out to be taught but to teach let every man be sober be vigilent & let all his words be seasoned with grace & keep in mind that it is a day of warning & not of many words. Act honest before God & man beware of gentile sophestry such as bowing & scraping unto men in wholm you have no confidence, be honest open & frank in all your intercourse with mankind

O ye Twelve and all saints, profit by this important Key that in all your trials, troubles, & temptations, afflictions bonds imprisionment & death see to it that you do not betray heaven, that you do not betray Jesus Christ, that you do not betray your Brethren, & that you do not betray the revelations of God whether in the bible, Book of Mormon, or Doctrine & Covenants or any of the word of God. [Y]ea in all your kicking, & floundering see to it that you do not this thing lest innocent blood be found in your skirts & you go down to hell. We may ever know by this sign that there is danger of our being led to a fall & aposticy, when we give way to the devil so as to neglect the first known duty but whatever you do do not betray your Friend.4

Five days later on the Commerce side of the river, a large open air Sabbath meeting was held at which were present many of the Church leaders, including Joseph Smith. Theodore Turley was undoubtedly there as well. During the meeting, which began in the morning and lasted until 5:30 p.m., with a noon break for lunch, the members of the Twelve preparing to leave for their overseas missions gave farewell addresses. Near the end, President Sidney Rigdon spoke. According to a record made at the time, President Rigdon showed “that it must be no small matter which <could> induce men to leave their families and their homes to travel over all earth, amidst persecutions and trials such as always followed the preaching of this gospel.” He was followed by President Joseph Smith, Jr., who asked the Twelve to pray for him and said that he would do the same for them.5

Wilford Woodruff noted that President Rigdon’s “address was of such a nature in appealing to our affections, in parting with our wives, and children, & the peculiarity of our mission, the perils that we might meet with, & the blessings that we should receive, &c, that tears was brought from many eyes.” Of the Prophet’s remarks, he recorded, “Joseph addressed us in few words & says remember brethren that if you are imprisiond Brother Joseph has been imprisiond before you, if you are placed whare you can ownly see your Brethren through the grates of a window while in Irons because of the gospel of Jesus Christ remember Brother Joseph has been in like circumstances also.”6 These words would be recalled the following year in England when Theodore Turley found himself imprisoned for the gospel’s sake.

Once the members of the Twelve had given their farewell addresses, they were free to begin their journey for the Atlantic Ocean. Sickness, however, soon overcame those appointed on the mission. Wilford Woodruff would explain the circumstances this way: “Inasmuch as the devil had been in a measure thwarted by the Twelve going to Far West, and returning without harm, it seemed as though the destroyer was determined to make some other attempt upon us to hinder us from performing our mission; for it seemed that as soon as any one of the Apostles began to prepare for starting, he was smitten with chills and fever or sickness of some kind. Nearly all of the quorum of the Twelve or their families began to be sick, so it still required the exercise of a good deal of faith and perseverance to start off on a mission.”7

The first two of the group to start were Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor. Elder Woodruff, still suffering from sickness, said goodbye to his wife on the morning of 8 August and had Brigham Young row him across the Mississippi from Montrose to Commerce. “When we landed,” Elder Woodruff later recalled, “I lay down on a side of sole leather by the post office, to rest.”

“Brother Joseph, the Prophet of God, came along and looked at me.

“‘Well, Brother Woodruff,’ said he, ‘you have started upon your mission.’

“‘Yes,’ said I, ‘but I feel and look more like a subject for the dissecting room than a missionary.’

“Joseph replied, ‘What did you say that for? Get up, and go along; all will be right with you!'”8

Others of the missionaries, including Theodore, would leave under similarly distressful conditions. Theodore would keep a journal of his missionary experiences and begin it by recounting his family’s travels from Upper Canada to Missouri, their trials in Missouri, their flight to Illinois, and their travails in pioneering along the Great Mississippi.

“This,” Theodore would write, “conected with Labour I was not accustomed to, brought up[o]n me a Bilous feevour &co Then was taken with the western Chill feev[o] Confined Eleven wekes, how heavour having Been set apart for the mition To Preach the Gospel in In England feel it my duty to Start as Soon as possable to performe the Same my Childer[en] five [ha]ve Them being sick with The feever and my Wife worne out with feteague all Seeming to cry to me it’s impossable for you to go The feavour Left upon one of my legs a Swelling fritefull to Look at my Leg contracted could not put it to the Ground. Feeling much on account of The apostles all but one being gon on Their mission, was Determined that when the other one Should Start I would go at all risks; Br George A Smith being the Last and him now better (Though Sti[l]ll far from being in Health) came and toled me he was going on Saturday this Being friday Still fast in my bed Stated I whould go with him got the Elders to Lay hands on and pray for me. accordingly they did received Some Strength my leg Better prepared for to Starte the next day.”9

[Next issue: “Starting for England, 21 September to 11 October 1839”]

Draft of 30 November 1999
© 1999 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the January 2000 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. For example, his friend and convert James Mulholland recorded under date of 16 June 1839 the following: “Meeting held br [Squire] Bosiers Brs Rose and [Theodore] Turley presiding I was present and considered that Br Rose <spoke> not <in> acco[r]dance with the doctrines of the Church, nor with the Spirit of God Others thought so too–” Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 321.
  2. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 2 July 1839, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereinafter referred to as HDC); see also Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:324-35; History of the Church, 3:382-83.
  3. Theodore Turley, Autobiography (ca. 1840), MS 13176, fd. 1, HDC.
  4. Woodruff, Journal, 2 July 1839; see also Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1991), 6-8; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:325; History of the Church, 3:383-85; Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), 155-56.
  5. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:327; History of the Church, 4:2-3.
  6. Woodruff Journal, 7 July 1839; Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 8.
  7. Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, Third Book of the Faith-Promoting Series (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1881), 68.
  8. Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, 69.
  9. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 21 Sept. 1839. Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Under date of 19 September 1839, two days before Theodore left on his mission, his friend and convert James Mulholland recorded:

    doing business for T[heodore] Turley received 12 lb pork
    at [blank] cts per
    ferriage across river–0.25

    Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:315.