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.]
16 New York City, December 1839
John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff—who would later become, respectively, the third and fourth presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—had been among the first of Theodore Turley’s missionary companions to start on their missions for England. They departed from Commerce, Illinois, in early August of 1839. Elder Taylor had eventually been waylaid by illness, and Elder Woodruff had gone ahead, passing through Albany, New York, the night before Theodore’s group left Commerce, and arriving in New York City well ahead of the other missionaries.
In New York, Elder Woodruff had collected enough money for his own passage and waited anxiously for Elder Taylor to arrive and accompany him to England. Although Elders Taylor and Turley had arrived in Albany, New York, on 30 November 1839, it took them two weeks to travel the roughly 160 miles down the Hudson River to New York City, where they arrived by boat on Friday, 13 December.
In his journal entry for that day, Elder Woodruff noted, “Elder John Taylor has Just arived in New York. I had an interview with him to day. After Passing through a severe fit of sickness he was enabled to continue his Journey and has arived at the City. And all the Twelve have had a sick hard time in geting along on their mission this season. Elder Taylor spent the night with me at Br Symons.” Although Elder Woodruff did not specifically note Theodore’s arrival, he did name him in a paragraph regarding his correspondence: “I wrote a letter to Mrs Woodruff & sent her $5 dollars. Elder Turley also wrote to his wife.”1
In a revelation received by Joseph Smith some years earlier, the Lord had commanded, “Therefore, let no man among you, for this commandment is unto all the faithful who are called of God in the church unto the ministry, from this hour take purse or scrip, that goeth forth to proclaim this gospel of the kingdom.”2 Like the other missionaries, John Taylor and Theodore Turley followed this scriptural injunction and relied for their maintenance upon the hospitality of those to whom they preached. Occasionally, the missionaries would received cash donations, which helped further their work.
When Elders Taylor and Turley arrived in New York City, they had very little money between them, having exhausted nearly all they had just to reach their fellow Church members in the city. After paying for transportation from the boat dock into the city, Elder Taylor had just one cent to his name. Presumably, Elder Turley was similarly destitute. “Still,” wrote B. H. Roberts of Elder Taylor, “he was the last man on earth to plead poverty, and in answer to inquiries of some of the brethren as to his financial circumstances, he replied that he had plenty of money.”3
During their stay in New York, the elders put up at the homes of hospitable Church members. Having heard that Elder Taylor had abundant means, on Saturday, the day after Elders Taylor and Turley arrived, Elder Parley P. Pratt, who had been residing in New York and was in need of financial help to publish his prolific writing of Church pamphlets, approached his former
missionary convert, Elder Taylor, for assistance.
“Brother Taylor,” Elder Pratt began, “I hear you have plenty of money?”
“Yes, Brother Pratt,” Elder Taylor replied, “that’s true.”
“Well,” Elder Pratt continued, “I am about to publish my ‘Voice of Warning’ and ‘Millennial Poems,’ I am very much in need of money, and if you could furnish me two or three hundred dollars I should be very much obliged.”
“Well, Brother Parley,” Elder Taylor responded, “you are welcome to anything I have, if it will be of service to you.”
“I never saw the time when means would be more acceptable.”
“Then you are welcome to all I have.”
At that, Elder Taylor reached into his pocket, pulled out his penny, and gave it to Elder Pratt. It was literally all he had.
The men laughed. “But I thought you gave it out that you had plenty of money,” Elder Pratt protested.
“Yes, and so I have,” replied Elder Taylor. “I am well clothed, you furnish me plenty to eat and drink and good lodging; with all these things and a penny over, as I owe nothing, is not that plenty?”4
The next day, which was Sunday, the Church members in the area met together in one large meeting, as was typical in those days. Elder Woodruff recorded, “I spent the day with the Saints in the Columbian Hall No 263 Grand st & Preached in the fore part of the day, & Elder Taylor Preached in the Afternoon & P P Pratt Preached in the evening. I spent the night with Br Taylor at Br Holmes.”5 Theodore Turley undoubtedly attended all of these meetings.
It was likely on that evening that a council meeting took place as reported by Elder Taylor’s biographer B. H. Roberts. According to his account, perhaps obtained in a later interview with Elder Taylor himself, Parley P. Pratt proposed that those attending the meeting contribute their means to Elder Taylor so he could accompany Elder Woodruff to England. Elder Woodruff had been waiting patiently for weeks to proceed and already had the means he needed to book his own passage.
Elder Taylor declined the generous offer, asking instead that anyone with means donate them to Elder Pratt, who not only needed money to publish his writings but also had family members with him requiring his support. When the meeting ended, Elder Woodruff voiced his disappointment to Elder Taylor, saying that he was ready to go to England and had hoped the two of them might travel together.
“Well, Brother Woodruff,” Elder Taylor said, “if you think it best for me to go, I will accompany you.”
“But where will you get the money?” Elder Woodruff asked.
‘”Oh, there will be no difficulty about that,” Elder Taylor replied, brushing away his concerns. “Go and take a passage for me on your vessel, and I will furnish you the means.”
Theodore overhead the conversation and naturally assumed that Elder Taylor had access to means that neither he nor Elder Woodruff knew about. “I wish I could go with you,” Theodore commented. “I would do your cooking and wait on you.”
At this, Elder Taylor instructed Elder Woodruff to book passage for Theodore as well.6
On Monday, 16 December 1839, Wilford Woodruff wrote, “I went on board the Packet ship Oxford & engaged my Passage to Liverpool to Sail on the 19th inst. I spent the evening in making preperations for our departure.”7
B. H. Roberts later wrote, “At the time of making these arrangements Elder Taylor had no money, but the Spirit had whispered him that means would be forthcoming, and when had that still, small voice failed him! In that he trusted, and he did not trust in vain. Although he did not ask for a penny of anyone, from various persons in voluntary donations he received money enough to meet his engagements for the passage of himself and Brother Turley, but no more.”8
On Tuesday evening, the missionaries held another meeting, this one on Houston Street at the home of a Brother Nizbot. “We had a spiritual meeting,” Elder Woodruff recorded. “P P Pratt Prophesyed that the History of this mission of the twelve should be known unto all Nations.”9
The next day, Elder Woodruff wrote the last known account of the three missionaries’ last full day on shore. “I laboured hard all day to prepare for our voyage,” he explained. “Three of us got our baggage on board viz Elders Taylor Turley &. myself. Elders Turley & myself sleped on Board.”10
The next day, they would begin their prophetically proclaimed trans-Atlantic voyage.
Draft of 3 June 2001
© 2001 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the June 2001 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter
- Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 13 Dec. 1839, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
- D&C 84:86.
- B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, George Q. Cannon & Sons Co., 1892), 72.
- Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 72-73.
- Woodruff, Journal, 15 Dec. 1839.
- Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 73-74.
- Woodruff, Journal, 16 Dec. 1839.
- Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 74.
- Woodruff, Journal, 17 Dec. 1839.
- Woodruff, Journal, 18 Dec. 1839.