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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.]

13 Starting for England, 21 September to 11 October 1839

“An account of my Journey from Commerce Hancock Co Ill [to] England Sep =21 1839 Took leave of my famely This Day under Pecular Sircumstances Considering The late Troubles whe have had in The State of Missuria it only being 3[4] <Thirty four> months Sence I with my famely left Toronto U.C [Upper Canada] for Colwell County Far West.”1 Thus Theodore Turley began the account of the missionary journey that began in earnest for him on 21 September 1839. After recounting his movements from Toronto to the day he began his journey to England, Theodore proceeded to give a day-by-day account of his mission.

Although his journal does not mention the incident, an accident that occurred as he and his companions left Commerce (later called Nauvoo) would become legendary in Latter-day Saint Church history. On 21 September 1839 when he and his fellow travelers left Commerce, Theodore was still so weak from disease that he had to be carried from his sick bed and laid in a wagon. His two companions, Elder George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve and Reuben Hedlock, were also seriously ill.

The missionaries started on their journey despite their poor health, and heading toward the Mississippi, soon left Commerce. As they drove south along the river within sight of the town, the men failed to notice a tree stump along the roadside and, driving over the stump, upset their wagon. Elders Turley and Smith lay helpless on the ground until Elder Hedlock could lift them back into the wagon. As the three continued their journey, “some gentlemen met them and asked who had been robbing the burying ground–so miserable was their appearance through sickness.”2

Theodore’s journal focused on what happened the rest of the day: “Traviled The first day [1]4 miles Said<Stopt> the night at The Shantee on the raileroad with out any Bed or beding [v]ery cold being on the open prarie a froste night having no Grain for the horse had to turn him upon The Praire for the night.”3

“The next mor[nin]g,” Theodore wrote, they “Started for Lime [Lima, Illinois] arived at Br Fars Distance of about 16 miles being not able to Travel any further Stoped here till next day.” Winslow Farr and his family, with whom the missionaries stayed on this Sunday, had lived in Far West and passed through the Missouri persecutions like Theodore and his family. Fleeing to Quincy, Illinois, they moved north to Lima, which was about thirty miles south of Commerce, and the following spring moved further north to Nauvoo.4

On Monday morning, 23 September, Theodore and his companions started for Quincy. According to Theodore’s journal, “when whe had Traviled a few miles was taken with the Chill feever Shook and Burnt with fevour Till we arived in Quincey on the 24 Day of September 1839 where we found Br Young & Kimble Boath Sick Stoped one day.”5 The missionaries persented a sorry sight as they fought the intermittent fevers of malaria that had stricken them as they sought to wrest civilization from the swamps along the Mississippi earlier in the year.

Elders Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball had left the Commerce area three days ahead of Theodore and his companions and headed for Quincy. “When we arrived in Quincy,” Elder Kimball wrote, “in consequence of the fatigues of the journey I was taken with the chill fever again….[M]y pain and afflictions were very severe….Elder Young’s health was very poor in deed; he was not able to sit up but a little while at a time.”

“While we were in Quincy,” Elder Kimball continued, “Brothers George A. Smith, Theodore Turley, and Reuben Hedlock overtook us, they being also considerably sick and very feeble. The saints at Quincy were kind and administered to our wants and assisted us on our journey. My sorrow was great on leaving Quincy as well as on leaving Commerce, to see so many of our brethren sick and dying in consequence of being driven and being exposed to hunger and cold.” The consequences of the Missouri persecutions were still very apparent to the elders bound for England, some of whom had played an important role in evacuating the saints earlier.6

On Wednesday, 25 September, the missionaries had survived their malarial tremors and were ready to pursue their journey. Elders Young and Kimball rode nine miles further to Charles Rich’s place with Lyman Wight, and Elders Turley, Smith, and Hedlock started from Quincy with their own horse and wagon.7 Since Elders Young and Kimball depended on others to transport them from one destination to the next, Theodore and his companions soon outdistanced them. The next day, 26 September, Charles Rich took Elders Young and Kimball to a Brother Wilber’s house. On the road to Brother Wilber’s, Elder Kimball wrote, “the chills came upon me again, and I suffered much pain and fatigue. When we got there we found Brother Turley sick in bed, and the other brethren not much better.”8

On Friday, 27 September, Brother Wilber took Elders Young and Kimball roughly twenty-five miles further to the town of Pitsfield. Elder Kimball wrote, “The other brethren [including Theodore Turley] left us at Brother Wilber’s and took another road.”9 “Arived in Grey Vill on the 27th,” wrote Theodore. “Held meeting. The next morning Started for Jacksonvill. On the 30 Stoped at Br Nellsons. Held meeting instructing the Saints in The Things of God. Stopet one Day and [H]alfe. Arrived in Springfield Ill the 3 Day of October. Stoped with Sister Snider. Received much Kindness from The Brethren. Met with Them each night Exorting them & instructing them in the Things of God until the Eleventh Day, Departed Leaving the Blessings of God upon Them.”10

[Next issue: “The Journey to Kirtland, 1839”]

© 2000 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the June 2000 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 21 Sept. 1839, Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. I edited this journal as a BYU Honors Program University Scholar project in 1982 under the title “Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 1839-1840.”

    Theodore’s reference to “34 months” in this passage is unclear. If the word it in the sentence refers to 21 September 1839, Theodore erred in his calculations, for only about a year and a half–not thirty-four months–had elapsed from the time he and his family left Toronto. If, however, the it refers to the date Theodore wrote this section of the journal, then the writing must have occurred in the early part of 1841 after his return from England. The notebook in which he wrote his journal bears a label on which is printed in red ink the following:

    Stationery, Book and Print Store
    424 late 418 Grand,
    Between Ridge and Pitt sts.–N.Y

    If Theodore bought the notebook in New York on his way to England, then perhaps he left the first few pages blank in which to copy notations on his trip to that point. If he bought it on the return trip from England, then possibly he copied into it notes he had kept on his mission. The practice of recopying journals into better notebooks or onto better paper was a fairly common one for Latter-day Saints of his generation.

    Evidence exists that the journal, or at least the first part of it, may have been copied or written after, or on his way home from, his mission. For example, in the first part of the notebook itself, before giving his account of travel on 21 September 1839, Theodore wrote, “6000 miles Traviled in company with Br George A Smith one of the Twelve. And Br Hadlock of the Corum of Hy preest;s.”He would not, of course, have known the total distance traveled until after his mission.

  2. History of the Church, 4:10; Millennial Star, 2, no 2 (June 1841): 14.
  3. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 21 September 1839.
  4. Edward W. Tullidge, Tullidge’s Histories, vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor, 1889), 177.
  5. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 23-25 September 1839.
  6. Heber C. Kimball to Joseph Smith, Jr., 9 July 1840, in Times and Seasons 6 (1845): 859-63.
  7. Kimball to Smith, 9 July 1840, 859.
  8. Kimball to Smith, 9 July 1840, 860.
  9. Kimball to Smith, 9 July 1840, 860.
  10. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 27 September 1839.