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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.]

39 Making Preparations for Landing

“We are not sailing much today,” wrote Theodore Turley’s assistant, William Clayton, on Monday, October 5, 1840, aboard the packet ship North America of the Black Ball Line. Sailing ships depended on wind, and when there was no wind, there was little to do but wait. Both the ship and the passengers were in the doldrums, with several sick besides. At such times, patience could wear thin.

“Elder Turley and some of the cabin passengers along with the Captain have had a long argument this night,” Clayton wrote, “concerning the ministration of the angel to Joseph. They treat it with disdain―especially the Captain.”1

Tuesday was no better: little wind but plenty of time to talk. Theodore kept up his efforts to convert the cabin passengers, emphasizing “the rationality of prophecy” and the “administration of angels,” two common themes of Mormon missionary work in those days. But they would not relent. “They will not admit of reasonable evidence,” Clayton observed. And yet, “They found themselves confounded.”

That night two of the Latter-day Saint passengers, Elizabeth and William Poole, “spoke in tongues.” William “prophesied of the death of his child.”

The next day, the child passed away “and was committed to the deep.” Elizabeth, the dead child’s mother, grieved not only for the child’s death but because some of the Saints in Penwortham, England―apparently reluctant to follow counsel to gather to Nauvoo―had told her the child would die at sea if she tried taking it to America. “I wish they would not do so,” Clayton recorded, “for Satan takes advantage of such things to discourage the minds of the Saints when surrounded by trouble and difficulty.” As leader of the Latter-day Saint company, Theodore had to soothe frayed nerves and shore up wavering faith.

But not all was bad. Despite the lack of fair winds, the ship drifted within sight of a land mass early that morning, and the chief mate identified it as “Cape Cod on the American coast.” The crew heaved the sounding line off the boat and waited for it to hit bottom, which it did at fifty-five fathoms (330 feet). Around 8:00 a.m., they tacked nearly due south and then tried again, this time measuring forty-four fathoms (264 feet).2

About noon, the passengers heard the ship’s mate tell the captain that another ship was bearing down on them. It was the brig Condor of Halifax, which would be lost on the French Keys less than two years later. When the ships were within voice range, the crews spoke with each other. The Mormon passengers soon learned that the Condor had left Jamaica for Nova Scotia and was twenty-eight days at sea so far. All these sightings helped quell boredom and raise excitement about at last arriving in the United States.3

On Thursday, October 8, the prayers of the Saints were answered with fair breezes. “The wind is very favourable,” William Clayton wrote of the ten-mile-an-hour air current. “This is the third instance of the Lord answering my prayer for fair wind in a calm.”

The winds continued fair on Friday. Anticipating their arrival in port, the sailors cleaned the ship and prepared for landing. That night, they fastened the anchor chains to the anchor.

At 8:00 a.m. Saturday, a lookout on the fire mast discovered land. Two hours later, Theodore Turley and the Mormon passengers “had a pleasant view of Long Island.” At 11:30, they encountered another ship, the Tuscany, whose home port was New York. It had sailed from Gibralter fifty-six days earlier.

Large ships entering the harbor often took on pilots who were familiar with the local waters and could guide the vessel to a safe landing. At 5:00 Saturday evening, a pilot boarded the North America. That same night, Theodore and the other passengers could see island lighthouses, one of which was probably the lighthouse at Sandy Hook that had been operating since 1764.4

The pilot guided the ship overnight, but not without incident. The craft struck a sand bar off Sandy Hook, eighteen miles south of New York City. It must have been frightening, especially to Theodore Turley and his fellow Mormon passengers sleeping in steerage between decks. Clayton opined that “had it not been calm we might have gone to pieces.”5

[Next issue: “New York”]

© 2010 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the October 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), 181-82. On Joseph Smith and the angel, see Joseph Smith–History 1:27-54 in The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 51-55.
  2. Manchester Mormons, 182.
  3. Manchester Mormons, 182; “Disasters at Sea,” Sailor’s Magazine 15 (Dec. 1842):125.
  4. Manchester Mormons, 182-83; http://www.nps.gov/gate/index.htm.
  5. Manchester Mormons, 183, 184-85n186.