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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.]

40 New York

On Sunday morning, October 11, 1840, the Latter-day Saint passengers of the North America climbed to the main deck from their steerage quarters to discover that the ship had anchored between two islands. One was probably Governors Island and the other Ellis Island―two fortified land masses that at the time helped guard New York harbor. Theodore Turley’s assistant William Clayton recorded, “We had a pleasant view of the Sailors Hospital and a many beautiful white houses and fine trees. ‘Twas indeed a pleasant sight.” Most pleasant of all may have been the realization that their difficult sea voyage was near an end.1

But first, they had to pass a medical examination to be certain the passengers didn’t carry infectious diseases into the United States. “The Doctor came on board about 8 o’clock,” Clayton wrote, “and about the same time the child belonging to Brother Parry from Herefordshire died. All the rest passed the doctor without difficulty.” Despite the child’s death, the sea burials had come to an end. “The doctor ordered him to be sent on shore which was done in a small Boat,” Clayton recorded. The grieving parents at least had the satisfaction of knowing their dead child would be buried on land.

Yet there was another reason for taking the child’s body off the ship. If it did carry disease, it could be isolated from the other passengers, who were about to sail with their vessel into the port of New York. Not long after the small boat returned from unloading the Parry child’s remains, the North America weighed anchor and cruised into the harbor toward Manhattan. Unlike earlier days of the trip when waves provided a seemingly endless (and often monotonous) seascape, the view on this day combined sea, land, and wildlife. “Considering the wetness of the morning,” Clayton reflected, “we had a very pleasant sight of the fowls and Islands.”

This final leg of the trip to New York occupied about an hour. They arrived at the bustling city of over three hundred thousand inhabitants at 11:45 a.m. “It was truly delightful to see the multitude of shipping in the Harbour,” Clayton wrote in wonderment. “There is no docks here but a very good harbour. The buildings look elegant.”

Coming to a rest in the harbor proved unexpectedly eventful. Clayton explained: “When our vessel came to harbour she pressed against a small schooner and stove in her bulwarks and broke some rigging.” Apparently no one was hurt, however, and before long the North America was anchored safely so its passengers could disembark.

“After the ship was made fast Elder Turley and me and Joseph Jackson left the ship and set our feet on land exactly at 10 minutes past 12 o clock,” Clayton wrote. Reaching solid ground after weeks at sea felt good. “This was another treat to us to set our feet on terra firma,” he noted, “although the streets was dirty in consequence of rain.”

Theodore Turley had been to New York before, but most of the Latter-day Saint immigrants in his charge had not. It was natural for them to compare New York to Liverpool and other cities of England. “In taking a slight glance,” Clayton confided to his journal, “I must confess I was delighted to see the superior neatness and tastly state of the buildings.” Some were painted white, others were built of bricks, “and some have doorsteps painted yellow,” he scrawled. Not all aspects of the city were as fine as what they left behind. “The streets are wide,” he observed, “but not so well flagged and paved as in England.”

After weeks at sea, the men welcomed the chance to eat fresh fruit. “We bought some large red apples for a cent each,” Clayton wrote. They were “truly delicious.”

Theodore and his companions had dinner in the home of a fellow church member, after which they attended sacrament meeting in the rented Military Hall. Some things about the meeting seemed familiar to William Clayton. But he was intrigued by at least one cultural difference. “The first thing that struck my attention,” he wrote, “was all the men and women I saw sitting cross legged and all the left leg over the right.” These Americans were quite a contrast to the English, though Theodore had spent enough time in the states to be used to such behavior.

Theodore and the others were joined in the meeting by many of the English Latter-day Saints who had traveled to America with them. They were “much pleased” at what they experienced, though concerned that no one had any news about their fellow Saints who had been turned back at Liverpool.2

During the sacrament meeting, an elder “preached on the principles of the gospel,” after which, Clayton noted, “we took bread and wine.” Wine was often used in Latter-day Saint sacrament services until it was replaced by water as obedience to the Word of Wisdom―the Mormon health code―became more prevalent later in the nineteenth century.3

After the meeting, Theodore and his companions ate at yet another church member’s home. Then, according to Clayton, “Elder Turley went on business.” Having safely transported most of the migrating English Saints to the shores of the United States, Theodore still bore the heavy responsibility of seeing them safely to the new gathering place in Nauvoo.

That night, they slept back on board the North America. It had been their lodging since even before leaving England. In the latter part of the next day, a barge came alongside the ship, and the Saints began loading their baggage into it. That night they slept on the North America again. This evening, however, would be different from the others they had spent between the ship’s decks. This would be their final night aboard the craft before beginning the next leg of their journey―this one into the heartland of the continent.4

[Next issue: “Steaming Up the Hudson”]

© 2011 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the March 2011 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), 183-84. For information on the history of Governors Island and Ellis Island, see http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_history.asp.
  2. Manchester Mormons, 183-84.
  3. Manchester Mormons, 184; C. Robert Line, “Sacrament,” in Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1050; Joseph Lynn Lyon, “Word of Wisdom,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1584-85.
  4. Manchester Mormons, 184.