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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.]

33 Leading the Emigrating Saints

As Theodore wrote in his journal on July 8, 1840, the members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles resident in England decided that he should lead a company of emigrating Latter-day Saints to America. Theodore’s appointment to lead the company solved two problems. It took him out of the hands of the enemies who had succeeded in imprisoning him and provided a strong leader for British Saints who were eager to gather with the main body of church members in the regions of Nauvoo, Illinois.

Originally, the emigrant company planned to leave for the United States on August 27, “but various delays, including the fact that Elder Theodore Turley could not leave that early, kept them from actually sailing until September 8.”1 Finally, Theodore completed his preparations and was at the Prince’s Dock in Liverpool by Friday, September 4, when one of the emigrating Saints recorded in his journal, “We found Elder Turley and Young soon. All the company was confused and busy arranging their boxes. We slept in the ship this night or lay awake.”2 The cramped and stuffy steerage quarters between decks made sleep difficult.

On Saturday evening, September 5, Brigham Young formally “organized a company of Saints to sail for the land of Zion. Elder Theodore Turley was appointed to preside, with six counsellors.”3 One of those counselors was William Clayton, who would later become famous for penning the words to the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”4

Elder Clayton had joined the church in October 1837, soon becoming a full-time missionary. For a time, he served as a member of the mission presidency, a position from which he was released on July 6, 1840. While serving as one of Theodore’s assistants, he kept a detailed account of the journey from England to Nauvoo, a record that makes it possible to follow Theodore’s experiences during the sometimes grueling return trip over the Atlantic.5

On the same day that the company was formally organized, Brigham Young and Willard Richards signed a letter directed to the church’s First Presidency—Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith. In it, they wrote:

According to council we have gathered from different parts of England & Scotland a company of the Brethren & sisters who are now in Liverpool ready to sail for America on Monday next. Most of them are very poor; Those who had money have given most of it to help those who had need, & as this was not sufficient; we, seeing the poverty & distress of some families, have made use of our own credit, among the brethren to carry them along with the rest. It was the decision of the Council in July that Elder Turl[e]y should lead this company to Zion, & he goes accordingly.

Brethren, our hearts are pained with the poverty & misery of this people, & we have done all we could to help as many off as possible, to a land where they may get a morsel of bread, & serve God according to his appointment; & we have done it cheerfully as unto the Lord.

The apostles wondered if they had made the right choice in straining finances to send the emigrants. They asked the First Presidency, “Have we done right?”6

The next day, Sunday, September 6, Brigham Young preached in Liverpool to a congregation that almost certainly included Theodore.7 On Monday, Elders Young and Richards “boarded the sailing ship North America and spent the night with the departing Saints.”8 William Clayton wrote, “At night preparations was made for sailing on the morrow.”9

The North America was a 640-ton packet ship that had been plying the waters between Liverpool and New York for many years under the flag of the Black Ball Line, a commercial passenger and freight line that helped revolutionized trans-Atlantic travel. Sixteen years earlier, an advertisement in the Montreal Gazette described the North America and her sister vessels as ships “of the first class, commanded by men of character and experience.”10 In September 1840, the captain of the North America was Alfred B. Lowber, a man with whom Theodore would frequently interact during the voyage.

Brigham Young’s manuscript history for Tuesday, September 8, records the departure of the Saints on board the North America and provides details on how the journey was financed:

The North America sailed with 200 souls. Brother Richards and I accompanied the Saints about fifteen or twenty miles; left them in good spirits, and returned to Manchester on the 10th. Brother John Benbow, who had furnished two hundred and fifty pounds sterling towards printing the Hymn Book and Book of Mormon, relinquished all claim to said money, except such assistance as his friends, who might wish to emigrate to America the next season, might need, leaving the remainder at the disposal of Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff and myself, who borrowed said monies for the benefit of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forever; also, the avails of the Gadfield Elm Chapel when sold, which money we paid out in emigrating brethren to Nauvoo.11

Meanwhile, Theodore’s counselor William Clayton duly recorded the company’s disembarkation. At about 8:00 a.m., he wrote, “we was hauled out of dock and a steamer being attached we was tugged into the sea in the Presence of many spectators.” At first, the eager members of the company were “cheerful” to be on their way. After a count was made of the passengers, however, two of the Latter-day Saint men in the company were “obliged to be put back on account of being over number.” The final count of the Saints left on board was “201 men women and children.” After Brigham Young, Willard Richards, and John Taylor left the ship and returned to land on the steamer, “many began to be sick.”12 For many of the passengers, the overseas voyage was their first extended experience on the water. It would prove to be a harrowing journey.

[Next issue: “‘Sickness, Vomiting, Groaning and Bad Smells'”]

© 2007 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the June 2007 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Introduction to James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, eds., Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840 to 1842 (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Peregrine Smith, 1974), 43.
  2. Manchester Mormons, 171.
  3. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, September 5, 1840. A typescript of this source, the manuscript of which is housed in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, is conveniently available online at the following web address: http://www.nhfelt.org/Doc_Other/Young_Brigham_Manus_Hist_2002-12-08.pdf (Archived version here).
  4. “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 30.
  5. This journal has been edited by James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander and published as Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840 to 1842 (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Peregrine Smith, 1974).
  6. Brigham Young and Willard Richards to the First Presidency, September 5, 1840, Joseph Smith Collection, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; 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), 393-94.
  7. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, September 6, 1840.
  8. Manchester Mormons, 43.
  9. Manchester Mormons, 172.
  10. Advertisement dated May 1, 1834, printed in the Montreal Gazette, June 14, 1834, and available online at http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/ Arrivals/packetads1834.htm.
  11. Manuscript History of Brigham Young, September 8, 1840.
  12. Manchester Mormons, 172.