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.]
24 Keen Reflections from Jail
“This morning my feelings and reflections are keen in this my confinement,” Theodore wrote from the Staffordshire prison on 14 April 1840.1 Besides the normal afllictions of his prison life, Theodore particularly missed being able to attend a much anticipated missionary conference being held starting that day in Preston, Lancashire.2 “My Brethren whome the Lord has sent on this mission to England are now arrived in this land,” he wrote longingly, “and I deprived of the priveledge of meet[i]ng with them in conferance.”
He wondered at the circumstances in which he found himself after sacrificing so much to serve a mission. “After leaving my famely and all to Preach the Gospel,” he reflected, “now Satan [h]as deprived me of an opertunity of Preaching by shutting me up in prison.”
“Thank God,” he added, as though sensing there were opportunities to be found even in prison, “I can Preach to the People here. I ask for wisdom to act as the Lord whould have me.” Theodore would indeed seek to preach to his fellow prisoners. Meanwhile, he “wrote a letter this Day to Elder [Willard] Richards and the [T]welve, and one for one of the prisoners.”
Whether it was contemplating his own struggles or simply passing the time, Theodore also wrote a paragraph in his journal that day about Christopher Columbus, who “after a Strugal of Eight years with Differant powers to convince them of the proberbility of there being land on the atlantic west he succeeded with the Quene of Spain.” He also scrawled the following thought provoking poem titled “The Ignorance Off Man of His God”:
Thou knowest me not; Thy Blindness canot see
How vast a distance partes thy God from Thee.
Canst Thou in Wirl winds mount aloft? Canst Thou
In Clouds and darkness wrap Thy awful brow?
And when Day triumphs in m[eri]dian Light,
Put forth thy Hand, and Shade the World with night.
The next day, Theodore spent his time reading, writing, and visiting a sick prisoner. Although determined to spend his time the best he could, he still ached to be free. He had written a letter to his brother John, the most educated and well-to-do member of his family, seeking help in getting out of prison, and he “long[ed] to know the result.”
The sixteenth of April found him yet in prison, “but Thank God I have my health Better this day,” he wrote. Despite feeling better physically, Theodore could not overcome his longing to join with the apostles in Preston, who were convening an important leadership meeting as part of the three-day conference. “My mind is some what engaged in Thaught,” he wrote as he pondered on the conference being “held on this Land by the Quorum that God has chosen in these Last days to Preach the Gospel and warne this Land of those things that are coming upon the same. I feel much at being deprived of the Priveledge of meeting with them.” Unable to attend the conference, he spent the day reading to a sick prisoner and practicing his shorthand. “I will obay the Gospel I have,” he recorded in his journal.
The following day, a Thursday, he received a somewhat positive letter from his brother John, who was negotiating for his release. John’s letter stated “that Mr L Attorney will take less than one halfe he had Demanded of me.” Theodore sent off an answer, though he did not record its contents in his journal. He also wrote a letter to his wife’s brother, Thomas Kimberley. “I pray God,” Theodore wrote, “to Bless my endeavour to do his will.”3
The next day began the Easter weekend, “This being good Friday so called in England,” Theodore penned. He woke feeling well, “Thank God for it.” He spent his morning writing a letter to the Potteries, where he had been serving before his imprisonment. A Brother Thomas from Stoke visited him in prison, bringing a loaf of bread. Theodore felt deeply grateful to him and other Church members who supplied him with food during his imprisonment.
Theodore spent the afternoon writing letters for prisoners and again practicing shorthand. In the evening, he “Preached Publickly . . . to the Debtors on the Broken covenant and plainly Preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them.” His preaching apparently had good effect in convincing his hearers of the need for a Restoration. “After I had don[e],” Theodore wrote with satisfaction, “a Preacher of the Babtist order Called me a Demolisher.”4
[Next issue: “Still in Prison”]
© 2004 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the June 2004 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter
- Richard E. Turley, Jr., “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, 1839-1840” (honor’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982), 40. Theodore’s extant missionary journal skips from 12 February 1840 to 14 April. Between these two entries is a note: “My journal from this Date up to the 14 of April 1840 is written in a Pattent pocket journal.” I have been unable to locate the journal for this period.
- For an account of this notable conference, see History of the Church, 114-20; Richard L. Evans, A Century of “Mormonism” in Great Britain (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1984), 119-26; James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David J. Whittaker, Men with a Mission, 1837-1841: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992).
- “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 40-42. It is unclear whether “Mr L Attorney” means an attorney whose last name began with L or whether “Mr L” was the creditor to whom Theodore owed money and John was negotiating with Mr L’s attorney. Future research may someday uncover the mystery of this debt, which led to Theodore’s original departure from England and ultimately to his final departure as well.
- “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 42.