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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.]

2 The Pre-Conversion Canadian Years, 1825-1837

When Theodore Turley sat down to prepare a narrative history of his early life, he paid scant attention to the time he lived in Canada before he and his wife, Frances, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1837. He merely wrote that he and Frances immigrated to Canada in 1825 with two children, and that he continued to preach Methodism as he had done in England.1

Fortunately, Theodore also left a genealogical record he titled “Fameley Memorial” that, together with land records, helps fill the gaps in his narrative account. According to this memorial, he and Frances had a third child born to them on July 27, 1827, in York, Upper Canada. They named the daughter Mary Ann, or “Merrey Ann” as he spelled it in his record, and registered her at the Methodist Episcopal Church in York. Nearly two years later on June 1, 1829, their third daughter and fourth child, Priscilla, was born, also in York.2

Sometime between that date and the birth of their fifth child in 1832, the family apparently moved to Churchville, a village on the Credit River in Toronto Township, York, Upper Canada. In the meantime, Theodore’s youngest brother, Frederick, passed away in England in July 1830 at the age of seventeen.3 That Theodore held this brother in fond esteem and maintained communications with his family in England seems apparent from the fact that when he and Frances had their fifth child, a boy, in Churchville on May 23, 1832, they named him Frederick.4

By mid-1834, Theodore and Frances had enough money to buy a substantial parcel of property in Churchville.5 On June 20, they purchased a seventy-five acre tract from Erastus Wiman, a Churchville merchant, and his wife Theresa Amelia. The indenture had to be witnessed, and two other Churchville businessmen served as the witnesses. One was John Alfred Dysen, a merchant, the other William Leslie, a shoemaker.

In exchange for the property, Theodore and Frances paid the Wimans five hundred pounds. Although Theodore continued in the role of a lay Methodist minister, his occupation, according to the indenture, was that of gunsmith, a practical application of the metalworking trade he had learned during his years in England. Theodore would continue to be identified as a gunsmith in subsequent land records.6

On July 5, 1834, just over two weeks after Theodore and Frances bought their new parcel, their sixth child and third son was born. They named him Obia. Tragically, the boy did not live long. According to Theodore’s genealogy record, they buried him in Churchville, the village of his birth, on July 29, just three and a half weeks after he was born.7

Two months later on September 24, Theodore and Frances sold a small piece of the northwest part of their acreage to Churchville cabinet maker John Henry Trickey. From a commercial point of view, the less than one-acre parcel was extremely choice because it included both Main Street frontage and river bank. That is probably the reason Theodore and Frances sold it for seventy pounds, a per-acre price of more than ten times what they paid when they bought their land initially.8

William Leslie, the shoemaker who witnessed the earlier land deal, also witnessed this one. The other witness was Thomas Dysen, who was described in the indenture as a gentleman.

Under the law of the day, women had the legal right to prevent their husbands from selling property in which they might have a dower right. For that reason, the indenture included a certificate endorsed by two justices of the peace, William Birdsall and William Monger, “declaring that Frances wife of the aforenamed Theodore Turley personally appeared before them and being duly examined by him touching her Consent to be barred of her Dower of and in the lands therein described she gave her Consent thereto, and that it did appear to them that Such Consent was free and Voluntary and not the effect of Coercion or the fear of Coercion on the part of her husband or any other person.”9

The same day that Theodore and Frances sold the lot to John Henry Trickey, they sold another choice lot to Richard Pointer, a Churchville tanner and currier. For this lot of less than two acres, Theodore and Frances received the premium sum of two hundred pounds. The transaction was witnessed by the same two men who served as witnesses in the sale of land to Trickey, and the same two justices of the peace certified that Frances gave her free consent to the transaction.10

Between their sales to Trickey and Pointer, Theodore and Frances managed in a little over three months’ time to recoup fifty-four percent of the original purchase price of their land while parting with less than four percent of the property.

Land transactions were required to be recorded in a public registry, and so at 1:00 p.m. on October 9, 1834, Theodore registered the original seventy-five acre purchase from Wiman. Samuel Rident, the York County registrar, entered the transaction in the registration book.11

Theodore and Frances continued to sell pieces of their land. On November 24, 1834, they sold Churchville merchant John Alfred Dysen two lots totalling less than two acres. Less desirable than the lots sold earlier, the two lots together cost Dysen only twenty-six pounds fifteen shillings, which was still twice the per-acre price Theodore and Frances had paid for their entire parcel. The witnesses and certifying justices of the peace were the same for this transaction as for the previous two. At the end of the indenture, however, Francis Walker, a third witness not described in the body of the document, added his signature, perhaps because witness Thomas Dysen may have been closely related to John Alfred Dysen, the purchaser.12

On the same day, Theodore and Frances sold Thomas Dysen a less than one-half acre lot for ten pounds. The witnesses were John Alfred Dysen, William Leslie, and Frances Walker, and the certifying justices of the peace were again Monger and Birdsall.13

Altogether, then, by the winter of 1834, Theodore and Frances still had roughly seventy of the seventy-five acres they had bought during the year and yet had managed to recover nearly eighty percent of what they had paid for the whole parcel. On the face of these transactions, it would appear that the family was doing well financially.

By the spring of 1835, however, Theodore and Frances were in financial straits. On May 15, Theodore mortgaged their seventy acres to Charles King, a Churchville shopkeeper, for fifty pounds. The indenture was witnessed “by John Rident of the City of Toronto in the said Home District Esquire.” On May 30 at 9:30 a.m., Theodore registered the mortgage with the York County registrar, thereby putting others on notice that he had the right to redeem the property.14

Although the land records have not yet yielded evidence that Theodore redeemed the property, he and Frances apparently recovered from their financial difficulties, for in 1837-1838, they would receive fourteen hundred dollars for their holdings.15

On September 24, 1835, Theodore and Frances welcomed their seventh child and fourth daughter into the world.16 Born in Churchville, the girl received the name of Sarah Elizabeth and would live a long life. Her birth gave Theodore and Francis six living children: thirteen-year-old Theodore, eleven-year-old Frances, eight-year-old Mary Ann, six-year-old Priscilla, three-year-old Frederick, and the newborn Sarah.

Theodore and Frances would have three more children, but not before they themselves underwent a spiritual rebirth that would uproot them from Churchville and dramatically alter their lives and the lives of their descendants.

[Next issue: “Joining the Latter-day Saints, 1837”]

Draft of 22 April 1995
© 1995 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the 1995 Issue #2 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Theodore Turley, Autobiography (ca. 1840), MS 13176, fd. 1, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  2. Theodore Turley, “Fameley Memorial,” photocopy in my possession.
  3. Olive Turley to Richard E. Turley, Jr., Aug. 11, 1981, citing death report in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette.
  4. “Fameley Memorial.”
  5. A grandson of Theodore and Frances passed on a family tradition that the King of England, “who had taken a liking to Theodore” before he left England, gave him “a tract of land in Canada and set him up in a blooded herd of cattle.” Theodore Turley Family Book–1978 (n.p.: 1978), 6, citing Ernest Turley, Interview with Hortense M. Fuller and Helen Fuller, Aug. 1, 1951. Researchers in the Public Archives of Canada and the Archives of Ontario were unable to locate any evidence to corroborate that Theodore received a royal land patent or cattle herd. Joan Bonnet to Richard E. Turley, Jr., Aug. 14, 1978; Roger Nickerson to Richard E. Turley, Jr., July 19, 1978.
  6. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 11149.
  7. “Fameley Memorial.”
  8. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 12145; maps of early Churchville.
  9. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 12145.
  10. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 11910.
  11. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 11149.
  12. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 11768.
  13. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 11767.
  14. Toronto Township Deeds, no. 11804.
  15. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 1.
  16. “Fameley Memorial