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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.]

25 Still in Prison

Saturday, 18 April 1840, brought welcome greetings to Theodore, who still languished in the Stafford jail, worried that his presence there might adversely affect his fellow Church members or those investigating the gospel. He received a letter from one Church member, and four others came to visit him from as far away as Manchester. They brought him both their own company and “Pro[vi]son and some mony.” Without such assistance, Theodore would have been in terrible trouble.1

As one of Theodore’s fellow missionaries, George A. Smith, later explained, “The law at that time was, that unless a man could obtain a recommendation from the parish minister, he must live without eating, or find himself in food. Elder Turley having no money fasted about four days, when some sisters in the Potteries learning of his condition came to Stafford on foot, a distance of 14 miles, and brought him some money. There was also an old gentleman who walked with a staff from Hanley to the jail, and took him food several times.2

Besides this assistance, Theodore also received a letter from his brother John, who sent “my Trowsers & linin.” How John obtained Theodore’s things is unclear. But however he did it, he apparently did not let their mother know about it. “My Poor mother,” Theodore wrote, “do[es] not know that I am here in this confinemen[t] as it whould be to[o] much for her to bare at this time of her Life as She is so weke in Body.”

That evening, Theodore asked the Lord to bless the woman who had come all the way from Manchester to see him, as well “the Brethren and all the Saints and my dear Wife and all the children.”

The next day, he received a letter from Reuben Hedlock, who filled him in on what had happened since the two missionary companions parted in Batavia, New York, on their journey to the British Isles. Of greatest interest to Theodore was the information he provided on the conference that Theodore had been unable to attend because of his imprisonment. Theodore dutifully recorded the conference statistics in his journal, which showed total membership in the area had grown to 1650. “Thus you see how the work is rolling on in this Land in the short time of two years and six days,” Theodore wrote.

Theodore spent part of the day reading and preached for two hours that evening “to this people in prison on the Princ[i]ple of revelati[on].” He felt “the Lord helping me” as he taught.

That night as he retired to bed, he recorded in his journal, “I now Lay me down to rest in my Cell on my sackcloth[,] contented till my change cometh. I Pray God to bless my Wife and children and . . . all the Saint[s].”3

Theodore spent the next day writing letters for his fellow prsoners and responding to the one he had received from Elder Hedlock. On Tuesday, 21 April, he got up before breakfast and spent “time in walking round the yard for exercis[e].” After breakfast, a dozen friends came to visit him in prison,
including Alfred Cordon. “I am much rejoiced to see my Bretheren and Sisters,” Theodore wrote. They brought him some food, including a pudding from one of the sisters.

Theodore probably realized that instead of harming his fellow Church members, his imprisonment actually strengthened them as they watched him endure persecution for the gospel’s sake. Perhaps it was that realization that emboldened him to try writing to his own family members. “I wrote a long epistle for my Par[e]nts and all their children Directed to Br John Turley,” Theodore wrote. He also wrote another letter, did some reading, and again preached to his fellow prisoners about revelation.

“I Pray God to Bless my exertion to Spread the truth,” he recorded. “I Pray the [Lord] to Bless my famely and all the Saints. . . . I ask Wisdom that the adversary may not have power to Destroy nor take advantage.”

If Tuesday buoyed his spirits, however, Wednesday’s esperiences wore him down. He helped out “a poor prison[er]” by writing a letter for him. He also wrote to relatives in Woolverhampton. But he had also grown frustrated with prison life. “The rest of the Day I Spent allmost in Idl[e]ness,” he wrote, “being put about with quariling and swaring of those I am obliged to be amongst. I am now Tired of this situation and company.”

On Thursday, he renewed his resolve to be useful. He counted his blessings, including his good health. He wrote a letter and spent most of the day conversing with the prisoners, preaching the best he could under the circumstances. But he was still tired of those circumstances. “I am here but when I Shall get away I know no[t],” he told his journal. “I hope Soon. I long to he[ar] from my Brother John.”4

He still had not heard from John the next day. “My mind is Still ancious for news from Birm[ingham],” he chronicled. Besides not hearing from John, Theodore faced having his testimony rejected by a Mr. Penkhurst. “I hope he may see,” Theodore patiently reflected. Despite these setbacks, the day did bring some welcome news. He received a letter from John Taylor, who told him that his family back home was in good health as of 2 February. Theodore thanked God “for that comfort.”

On Saturday morning, 25 April, Theodore wrote in his journal while waiting “the arrival of the Mail to Deside my Situation.” He prayed that God would “Bless my enemies and turn their hearts to him.” When the mail arrived, it brought a welcome parcel from a friend, and Theodore wrote back thanking her for her kindness. The mail also brought a letter from his brother John “with the sorowfull tidings that TK could not Let me have the mony.” TK may have been his brother-in-law, Thomas Kimberley. Theodore was not about to give up and wrote another letter back on the same subject. “I receive this,” Theodore ruminated, “Like all other things as to prevent me having the chance of doing any good.”

Even though Theodore felt the forces of evil were trying to hedge up his way, he believed the work of God would roll forward in spite of men or devils. He copied into his journal an article about Alfred Cordon’s efforts to license a house in Burslem for preaching. When a magistrate rejected Elder Cordon’s petition, Theodore wrote, “Now Look out.”5 He knew that the designs of men might be frustrated but not the works of God.6 As Joseph Smith wrote during his own imprisonment the previous year, “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”7

[Next issue: “Free at Last”]

© 2004 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the October 2004 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Richard E. Turley, Jr., “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, 1839-1840” (honor’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982), 43.
  2. “My Journal,” Instructor (July 1947): 323.
  3. “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 43.
  4. “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 44.
  5. “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal,” 45-46.
  6. D&C 3:1, 3.
  7. D&C 123:17.