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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.]

37 “He Appeared Vexed”

On Wednesday, September 23, 1840, the captain of the ship North America on which Theodore Turley was sailing “called upon all the heads of families to give account” of how many packages each owned. “He appeared vexed,” wrote Theodore’s assistant William Clayton, “on account of some having so many boxes.” Over the course of the morning, the captain had repeatedly dropped hints “that he is seeking some occasion against us,” Clayton wrote.

“We have had a little trouble,” Clayton explained, “on account of the peevish selfish actions of some of the second cabin passengers.” Apparently they had complained that some of the British Saints aboard were too noisy. Clayton admitted, “We have some difficulty in keeping things quiet amongst us.”

But trouble arose not just from the second-class passengers. Some of the members of the Latter-day Saint party had helped themselves to fellow members’ property. “Many things are lost,” Clayton wrote, “and nobody finds them. Some are not saints who profess to be. But considering our situation all things have passed off pretty well through the blessing of God.”

Given how tightly they were quartered below deck, it is perhaps no surprise that the Mormon passengers’ nerves got a bit ragged. The tension between them and the second-class passengers may also have continued and contributed to why Theodore refused to preach on Sunday at the captain’s request after “one of the cabin passengers read prayers out of the church prayer book.”

Or perhaps Theodore was bothered by the gossip among some of the Mormon passengers. With many hours to pass unoccupied by other tasks, some had begun to gossip, and they had turned their idle tongues on Theodore, their spiritual leader. Besides not preaching to all of the passengers aboard, Theodore also decided not to call a meeting of the Saints on Sunday.

Another reason may have been the continued sickness aboard the ship. Clayton fell ill, as did others. On Monday, September 28, an infant “belonging to Brother and Sister Corbridge of Thornly” died in the afternoon “and was cast overboard.” That evening, Theodore finally called the members of the church together and confronted the gossip about him. Some of the company had claimed that Theodore was profiting from his position, that he had supposedly received “a shilling a head for all the saints and other such things.” Theodore brought out his account books and the various bills he had received. He shewed them to the naysayers and upbraided them “for their hardness of heart and unbelief.”

Tuesday, September 29, brought more trouble. The wind stopped, meaning that the sailing ship stopped making progress toward the United States. The illness continued, and that evening, an “infant child belonging to Brother and Sister Green of Manchester died… and was buried in the deep.” Poor nutrition was a danger during long sea voyages and may have contributed to some of the sickness. Clayton records that they spent time that day arranging to buy potatoes for the Saints, providing a healthful vegetable that could help battle malnutrition.

If Theodore Turley personally avoided the sickness, the headaches of leadership continued to plague him. His current challenge was making sure the young women of his company maintained high moral standards. “Elder Turley has from time to time spoken much concerning the sisters keeping themselves from the sailors,” Clayton wrote. One woman from Herefordshire had “made great freedom with them,” he noted, “which has been a grief to us.”

On Tuesday evening, three Mormon women from Manchester and one from Bolton were “making very free with one of the mates and 2 of the cabin passengers.” One member of the Church reported that “they were drinking wine with them.” Theodore Turley sent a “Sister Poole to request them to come away,” but the four women gave her “very indifferent answers,” saying “they could take care of themselves.”

Finally on Thursday, the wind began to blow again, and during the day, the North America “crossed the fishing banks.” The passengers and crew “saw about 20 fishing boats” anchored along the banks. This was welcome news, a mark of their progress across the Atlantic.

But all was not well. The winds that arose grew into a squall, and before long the ship was being tossed on the waves. “The main Top sail was torn from top to bottom,” Clayton recorded, “and the vessel rolled much.” Many grew sick, whether from the motion of the ship or the spread of disease. Despite the storm, the “Captain and cabin passengers spent the night in dancing to the violin.”

By Friday morning, October 2, the storm had abated to a steady wind that pushed the vessel toward its destination at about nine or ten miles an hour. “We discover that the crew are mad with us,” wrote Clayton, “and we judge it is because we are unwilling that the sisters should be so familiar with the mates and sailors. There has been some unpleasant feelings manifested from those who were in company with the mate and cabin passengers the other night.” The captain’s brother-in-law seemed “an enemy to us and tells tales to the mates,” Clayton recorded. “He seems very kind to our face but it is to spy on us.”1

[Next issue: “‘They are Mad and Swear Vengeance'”]

© 2010 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the February 2010 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, eds., Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840 to 1842 (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Peregrine Smith, 1974), 177-80.