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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.]

45 Nauvoo

At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 14, 1840, Theodore Turley and the immigrant Saints under his direction pushed off from the riverbank at Dixon, Illinois, and began floating down the Rock River on their homemade boat toward the Mississippi and, ultimately, Nauvoo. They made just twelve miles that day, stopping for the night at Sterling, a growing town on the north bank of the river. “The weather was very cold,” noted Theodore’s counselor, William Clayton, in his journal.1

For the next several days, Theodore and his boat company floated downstream. Finally, on Friday, November 20, they faced an obstacle: the Rock River rapids that made water travel difficult and dangerous. “This day we passed over the rapids,” William Clayton wrote. “The greater part of us walked while the boat went over. It stuck fast once but was not damaged. Soon after this we entered the Mississippi river which caused us to rejoice much.”2

Nauvoo lay on the east bank of the Mississippi River roughly 130 miles downstream from its confluence with the Rock River, and Theodore and his fellow travelers knew they were just days away from their final destination. With Nauvoo so near, it was time to prepare their hearts and minds for entering the city of the Saints.

On Saturday, they continued sailing down the Mississippi until evening fell, when they stopped along the shore in a wooded area and camped, there being no houses nearby. Besides battling the cool fall temperatures, the travelers faced rain that night.

“Elder Turley and some others camped in the wood,” William noted. “He spake much to them and called upon those who had had quarrels to forgive each and manifest it. Many acknowledged their faults and asked for forgiveness. Some spake in tongues and William Poole interpreted. It was a time of rejoicing.”3

On Sunday, Theodore and his company arrived at Burlington, the temporary capital of the newly formed Iowa Territory. They hoped to land at “Commerce,” as they called it, which was the name of the settlement that Theodore had left to go on his mission. In April of 1840, Joseph had renamed the settlement Nauvoo. Eagerly anticipating their arrival, they wanted to further purify their hearts and bodies. “Many of us washed ourselves and changed our cloth[e]s,” William wrote.4

But the biggest problem on the trip had been contention, which frequently seemed to center on William Clayton, who was both highly opinionated and rather brusque at times. Monday, the anticipated day of their arrival, saw yet more contention. As leader of the company, Theodore chose one route around some islands in the Mississippi River, and William and some others thought he should have taken a different route, thinking the one Theodore chose “to be considerable out of our course.”

“I spake to him about it,” William wrote, “but he would not listen.” William persisted in complaining to someone else. “Elder Turley then said if I did not cease to agitate the minds of the company he would put to shore and leave the boat.” “This was said in an unpleasant spirit,” William complained to his diary. But it apparently had the effect Theodore intended.

William felt some justification, however, in the afternoon when the boat got caught on a tree. “After Elder Turley had tried his own way to move the boat a long time but in vain,” William wrote, “I begged of him to let me have my plan. After much request he partially consented and finding it likely to answer he yielded to my plan and the boat was soon loosed.”5

They continued their voyage downstream “until after dusk” because they were “almost determined to go to Commerce that night,” William wrote. “But seeing a light on shore we made towards it and hearing a man we asked how far we were from Commerce. He said 9 miles. At which report we concluded to stay for the night.”6

Tuesday morning when Theodore gathered with the members of his company, he announced that he had met someone from Nauvoo who said he would be happy to walk there with anyone who wanted to go. William Clayton and several others took him up on the offer, which made the boat travel for Theodore lighter and perhaps quieter.

William and the others made it safely to Nauvoo. “After we had been here a little while,” William wrote, “we perceived Elder Turley and some others coming. Knowing then that the Boat had arrived we returned to the boat and after taking a little dinner we proceeded according to the appointment of Committee to move our luggage to a new house on the banks of the Misssissippi.”7

William Clayton summed up their journey in his journal. “Thus ended a journey of over 5000 miles having been exactly 11 weeks and about 10 hours between leaving Liverpool and arriving at our journeys end. We had been much exposed to cold weather and suffered many deprivations and disconveniences yet through the mercy of God we landed safe and in good health with the exception of 8 persons one of whom died soon after landing.”

William’s next words probably captured Theodore’s feelings well: “We were pleased to find ourselves once more at home and felt to praise God for his goodness.”8

Theodore’s mission had now ended, and with it the heavy responsibility of leading the emigrant company. He could now go home to his beloved Frances and their children, whom he had left one year, one month, and three days earlier. For the whole family, this must have been a joyful reunion.

[Next issue: “A Growing Family”]

© 2015 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the March 2015 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, CA: Peregrine Smith, 1974), 198-99.
  2. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 199.
  3. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 199.
  4. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 199.
  5. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 199-200.
  6. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 200.
  7. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 200-201.
  8. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 201.