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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.]

26 Free at Last

“This day I feel cast down[,] my mind heavely burthened with various reflection[s],” wrote Theodore Turley on Sunday, 26 April 1840. “I know not how to act. Fare from home and means to help myselfe to anything or food or rament or means to imploy a lawyer or to compremise. And above all this my situation may have a tendency to Lesson me in the estemation of the Saints. But I appeal to the Court of Heaven and to that onley can I Depend.” The Lord would hear his appeal.

Meanwhile, however, he had to endure several more days of prison life. “This evening a Mr Penkhurst preached to the people here on the Love of God,” Theodore recorded in his journal. “Pleased most of them well. There is also a Methodist preacher come in last Saturday.” Theodore considered the two men to be Pharisees and labeled their principles “detestable.”

“I pray God for wisdom to act according to thy will in all thing[s],” he wrote. “God Bless my Wife and Children.”

“This morning in good health[,] thank God,” he penned on Monday. “But I canot help Saying I long to be out of this Hell and in the field of Labour.” In the meantime, he looked for opportunities to do missionary work in jail. “I Wrote to some of the debtors the first Princepls of the Doctrins of Christ,” he recorded. “I Preached this Evening again. The people are Severly tryed by the Devil to keep them from the truth. I Pray God to Bless my eff[orts].”

Tuesday, 28 April, brought events that helped lift his spirits. “This Day I have ritten a letter and Seen my worthy Brothers Elder G[eorge] A Smith and Elder Willard Richards,” Theodore rejoiced. “They came to see me at Stafford prison. I hope in the God of my Salvation that he will soon deliver me out of this Place.”

Theodore spent Wednesday reading and writing and Thursday practicing his shorthand and writing to Parley P. Pratt. On Friday, 1 May, he continued practicing his shorthand, even including a couple of lines of it in his journal. But his mind was never far away from his imprisonment. “I pray God to grant me grace to do his will,” he wrote, adding, “I hope to he[ar] from my Brother John Turley.”

On Satuday, he included three more lines of shorthand in his journal, interspersed with entries about mail he received, which included “from the saints of Lane end some provision and a letter from Sister Bromley.” He also received a letter from George A. Smith and sent a reply to Sister Bromley.

Sunday morning, 3 May, arrived with no apparent change in his situation. Theodore tried to do his missionary work. “This morning I wrote a letter to the Rev Mr I Shaw of Sheffield makeng know[n] to him the Princepl[e] of the religeon of Jesus Christ as mad[e] known by revelation,” he reported. He also “wrote a letter for Mr Padock.” Despite his efforts to make the best of his circumstances, he ached to be free so he could carry out his assignment to preach the gospel. “I this day feel sencable my imprissonment,” he pined. “I long for the time when I shall again lift up my voice to the inhabetants of the land to warne them of the things that are coming upon them and the nessesity of repentance.”

Later that day, however, his hopes rose. “This afternoon I received a letter from my Brotther John Turley Stating that He has been anxiously engaged for my Deliverance and that there is a prospect of my release.” Theodore quickly wrote him back.

Monday and Tuesday, Theodore waited expectantly for further word, spending his time in writing letters and practicing shorthand. By Tuesday evening, his frustrations were evident in his journal entry. “Still in prison,” he wrote emphatically.

Finally on Wednesday, 6 May 1840, he heard again from his brother. “This Day I have receivid a letter from Br John Stating he expects my Discharge from this prison tomo[rrow]. That God for that.” Theodore wrote letters to John and to Wilford Woodruff.

Thursday, Theodore waited anxiously to be released but by nightfall was still a prisoner. “This Day I spent the Day as though I had nothing else to do than to medi[tate] and reflect as though the Lord [would] give me Deliverance soon,” he wrote. Still, he had to spend the night once again in jail.

That night, however, he had a dream that brought him hope. In his dream, he wrote, “o[ne] of my little Childrin . . . came to me and said pap[ia] papia Im glad to see you.” Early the next moming, he wrote, “From various Impresions I sh[a]ll be Delivered from this Prisson this Day.”

His impressions proved true. At 8:00, he received word of his discharge. After seven and a half weeks of imprisonment, he was finally free. “I thank my God for this Blessing,” he wrote gratefully.1

Frustrating as it was to him, Theodore’s days in prison proved an inspiration to his fellow church members from that day to the present. The History of the Church—a multi-volume biography of Joseph Smith compiled by Willard Richards, George A. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and other early Latter-day Saints—observes of Theodore, “He preached several times to the debtors, was visited by Elders Woodruff, Richards, George A. Smith, A[lfred] Cordon, and others, and was dismissed from prison on his persecutors ascertaining their conduct was about to be exposed. This rather encouraged than disheartened the Elders, as I had told them on their leaving Nauvoo, to be of good courage, for some of them would have to look through grates before their return.”2

Theodore’s imprisonment fulfilled Joseph Smith’s prophecy.

[Next issue: “On with the Work”]

© 2005 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the February 2005 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Richard E. Turley, Jr., “Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, 1839-1840” (honor’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982), 46-48.
  2. History of the Church, 4:128.