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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.]

38 “They are Mad and Swear Vengeance”

“The mate says some of our company has been stealing water the last night,” wrote Theodore’s assistant, William Clayton, in his journal on October 3, 1840. “We don’t believe they have. We have reasons to believe they have not as we had a watch appointed to see that the sailors did not come down as they have done before in the dead of the night. They saw no one but must have seen them if anyone had been at the water.”

The reason for setting the watch—and the real reason for the sailors’ anger—was the decision of Theodore and his fellow leaders to block licentious crew members from consorting with the young Latter-day Saint women. Philip, the determined brother of the ship’s captain, had been angered by the steps taken under Theodore’s direction, and Clayton wrote that the accusation about stealing water was just “another instance of Phillips madness and seeking to injure us.”

Other incidents widened the rift between Mormon passengers in the ship’s steerage and the other passengers and crew. Shipboard travel could fray nerves, especially as the weeks wore on and the food and water supplies dwindled.

One Mormon woman passed by the cabin of a sailor who called out to her, inviting her to go to breakfast with him. She declined. He then offered her a piece of meat, a tempting prize during a journey when food was rationed. “She said she had no objections,” Clayton recorded, “and accordingly took it.”

The ship’s steward saw her carrying the meat and told the captain, who climbed down into the steerage area to confront her. He demanded that she give the meat to him, which she did. “He also asked who gave it [to] her,” Clayton wrote. “She said she did not know. On account of this the sailors are to have a pound a day less each and they are mad and swear vengeance on the steward when they get to land.”

That afternoon, one of the Mormon men, Joseph Jackson, got into an argument about religion with some of the second-class cabin passengers. In the tight quarters of the ship, others on board overheard the conversation, including the captain himself, who objected to one thing Jackson said that could affect safety and order aboard the vessel. He called Jackson aside and asked him if he had really said that he would take water from the ship’s store by force.

“He acknowledged to saying that he believed it right to take it,” Clayton wrote, “as many were suffering for want of water” and the death of children on the ship “was partly caused on account of being short of water.” The response did not sit well with the captain, who ordered Jackson back into the steerage “and told him if he heard him say anything like it again he would bind him down in chains and feed him on bread and water.” Instead of complying immediately, Jackson again told the captain “that we were suffering for want of water.”

To keep the confrontation from accelerating, Clayton intervened, telling Jackson “to hold his peace.” Jackson replied that “he would defend himself.” The captain told Jackson that “he might preach his religion as much as he liked but say nothing more like that.” Obviously frustrated, the captain muttered that “he would like to kill about a dozen of” the Latter-day Saint passengers.

Later that day, after stewing about the matter, the captain (who was in charge of the ship) made a visit to Theodore Turley (who as captain of the Mormon emigrant company was in charge of some two hundred passengers). The captain asked Theodore “if he understood the laws of mutiny.”

“Yes,” Theodore answered, “and the laws concerning water to[o].”

Surprised, the captain tried to reason: “You must know we lost six barrels of water during the storm soon after we left Liverpool.”

Theodore’s firm but measured response helped. Clayton wrote, “It seems the Captain thought brother [Turley] was ignorant concerning the laws but when he saw to the contrary he softened down and changed colour.”

Still, the captain insisted that “he would bind Jackson if he heard him use the same expressions” again about taking water by force.

Agreeing Jackson had been out of line in challenging the captain, Theodore replied, “Yes, and I will help you.”

But that was not the last divisive incident of the day on the subject of water. After the sun went down, the ship’s chief mate approached Theodore and charged, “Some of your damb’d crew has up set the water tub.” The accusation proved untrue. Clayton wrote, “It was found to be some of the Scotch people in the second cabin.” But to him, it seemed “more and more evident that Satan wants to destroy us or throw us into confusion.”

Whatever the case, Theodore’s discussion with the captain had good effect. For two weeks, the Latter-day Saint passengers had received only one and a half quarts of water a day per person, hardly enough to quench their thirst, let alone allow for other needs. But on Sunday, October 4, Clayton reported, “We have . . . our full allowance of water again.” One other change encouraged optimism. Though sickness still plagued the company, the wind picked up, allowing the ship to sail at roughly ten miles per hour and moving it closer to its destination, New York harbor.1

[Next issue: “Making Preparations for Landing”]

© 2010 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the June 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), 180-81.