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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.]

20 With the Family in Birmingham, 30-31 January 1840

When Theodore woke at the Blue Bell on Bristol Street on the morning of Thursday, 30 January 1840, he must have been filled with anticipation of what would happen that day. Now back in the city where he had spent his childhood and early adult life, he surely was flooded with memories of his past. It had been many years since he had seen his parents and siblings, and today, he would try to find them. After getting ready for the day, he left the inn and began his search. Instead of finding his family members all together, he discovered them one at a time.

Describing the day in his missionary journal, Theodore wrote, “This morning foun[d] Mr & [Mrs] Mills.” Mrs. Mills was his sister Mary Ann, five years his senior. She had borne nine children to her husband, Richard Mills, and Theodore had a chance to meet the eight still living. He found himself “much pleased with Sister Mills Children.” The two oldest surviving children were George, age 20, and Thomas, 17. “George & Thomas are fine young men,” Theodore wrote, “as Tall and manley as their father,”

The oldest Mills daughter was 14-year-old Mary Ann, named after her mother. Theodore labeled his niece a “fine young woman.” Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth he described as “sickley[,] a sen[s]able Child.” Though physically ill, she seemed spiritually adept. “Dremt I was coming,” Theodore noted. Ten-year-old Sophia he called “the Image of my Sister Maryann when young.” He also saw the three youngest Mills children, Richard, 8; Charlotte, 7; and William, 5, described by Theodore as “a fine boy.”

Theodore recorded that his sister Mary Ann, age 43, “is weakley at this time.” Her husband, 47-year-old Richard, “is aged but Still about the same worthy man as ever.” [Author’s note: At age 47, I certainly don’t feel “aged,” but life was different then.]

In the sequence of discovering his family members, Theodore wrote that he found “allso My Mother. and Sister Sharlot. & then my Father and my Brother John & Then Grandfather Than Johns famely.” Theodore’s mother, Elizabeth Yates Turley, was 64 years old, and his youngest sister, Charlotte, only 21.

When Theodore had left England, his father had been in his mid-50s, and Theodore’s mind had probably frozen him at that age. Now meeting his father for the first time in a decade and a half, Theodore was surprised at his poor physical condition. “This Day found my father much worne out with hard work bent Down to the Earth,” Theodore wrote, “I pray God Del[iver] him soon from such bondage as This.” At age 70, Theodore’s father, William Turley, suffered physically, but Theodore admired that there was “Still allways a Smile on his countanance.”

John Turley, age 30, was Theodore’s only living brother and perhaps the most economically successful member of the family. John had been in his mid-teens when Theodore left England and had since married. Theodore expressed himself “much Pleased with Br Johns wife and 4 Children so clean & neatly Drest.” Although he did not know it at the time, Theodore would find himself relying heavily on his brother in the next few months.

The grandfather Theodore met was not one of his two birth grandfathers–neither of whom were now living–but actually his mother’s step-father, John Bolton (or Boughton). Theodore’s maternal grandfather, Joseph Yates, had died before Theodore was born, and his grandmother Ann Hart Yates had remarried. Having never known his real maternal grandfather, Theodore grew up calling John Bolton “Grandfather.”

Grandfather Bolton lived with Theodore’s Parents at number 35 Hurst Street, his wife having died about the time Theodore left England. The William and Elizabeth Turley family was not rich, and as was often the case with people in those days, when guests came to visit, they shared a bed with another family member. After spending Thursday locating his family members, Theodore spent the night with his parents, sharing a bed with John Bolton.

“This morning,” Theodore wrote on Friday, 31 January 1840, “found myselfe in bead at my mothers with my grandfather by my side no little Pleased to find all allive except my Br Fredrick.” Theodore’s parents had nine children, five girls and four boys. Theodore’s brother William, just three years his junior, had died in 1817 before Theodore left England. Brother Frederick, however, had died in 1830 at the age of eighteen while Theodore was overseas.

Reflecting on John Bolton, Theodore wrote, “Grandfather is Still able to woor[k] and earn is living works Still in livery Street were he has Worked for 18 years walkes and travels to his Dinner a full mile and back again he is in good The same Persevering old man.”

Theodore spent part of the day with his mother, the rest with his sister Mary Ann Mills and her family. He was “much Delighted with them.” He also saw his oldest sister, Elizabeth Turley Walton, then 45 years old. “Sister Walton is much bowed down to the Earth and very thin in flesh,” he wrote with some worry.

That night, Theodore once again slept at his parents’ home. He had enjoyed meeting his family members, but that was not the principal purpose for his visit. He had come as a messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to all who would listen. To him, the gospel was a message of infinite value, and he wanted to share it with others, especially his own family.

The next day, he would begin.1

[Next issue: “Preaching, Sightseeing, and Genealogy, 1-3 February 1840”]

© 2003 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the February 2003 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Theodore Turley Mission Journal, 1839-1840, 31-32; Family Group Records in possession of Richard E. Turley, Jr. The ages given for family members are in some cases approximations.