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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.]

47 Polygamy

When Theodore Turley and Frances Kimberley married on November 26, 1821, the ceremony took place at Saint Peter’s, the Harborne parish church in Birmingham, England. Saint Peter’s was an edifice of the Church of England, a religious institution that grew out of the Protestant Reformation and King Henry VIII’s desire to annul his first marriage. In all, Henry had six wives, one after another, during his short life of fifty-five years.

Theodore was twenty at the time of his marriage to Frances, and she was twenty-one. And although they married in the Church of England, Theodore had already broken from that denomination and since age eighteen been preaching Methodism. Though Theodore did not leave an explanation for his discontent with the Church of England, it seems likely he would have condemned Henry VIII’s marital record, which included annulling two marriages and beheading two other wives.

Theodore was, however, a student of the Bible, and like Joseph Smith—the latter-day prophet who became his dear friend and Nauvoo neighbor—he probably had questions about why biblical patriarchs had more than one wife and yet seemed to enjoy God’s approval.

As early as 1831, Joseph apparently began receiving revelation on the subject, culminating in an 1843 document that began, “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines— Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter. Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.”1

Joseph Smith took his first plural wife in Kirtland, Ohio, during the 1830s,2 and it is possible that in his discussions with Theodore in Missouri or in Illinois before Theodore left on his mission, the topic arose between them. From all appearances, Theodore and Frances were deeply in love when Theodore left for his mission to England on September 21, 1839. We know from the birth of their daughter Charlotte seven months after his departure that Frances was just a few weeks pregnant when Theodore started for England.

When Frances gave birth to Charlotte on April 15, 1840, Theodore was in Stafford prison on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a victim of religious persecution. The day before her birth, he recorded in his journal, “This morning my feelings and reflections are keen in this my confinement here in Goal [Jail] and my Brethren whome the Lord has sent on this mission to England are now arrived in this land and I deprived of the priveledge of meeting with them in conferance after leaving my famely and all to Preach the Gospel now Satan as deprived me of an opertunity of Preaching by shutting me up in prison Thank God I can Preach to the People here. I ask for wisdom to act as the Lord whould have me.”3

While striving in prison to live “as the Lord whould have me,” Theodore appears to have drawn close to one of the several Latter-day Saints who reached out to him while he was a prisoner. On April 18, he recorded receiving “a letter from Sister Elizea Bromley.” He had not forgotten Frances; the same day, he prayed that God would bless “my dear Wife and all the Children.”4

“This morning,” Theodore wrote the day after getting the letter, “I arrose and rote an epistle to Sister Eliza Bromley of Lane end.”5 After breakfast two days later, Theodore received a dozen visitors, men and women, who brought him what he described as “some food and some puding from my Daughter Eliza Bromley.” That evening, he prayed for “my family and all the Saints” and “for Wisdom that the adversary may not have Power to Destroy nor take advantage.”6

On Friday morning, April 24, Theodore received a letter from fellow missionary and Canadian convert John Taylor telling him, Theodore recorded, that “my famely was in good health” as of February 2. “Thank God for that comfort,” Theodore wrote.7 The following day, Saturday, Theodore “received a Parcel from Sister Eliza Bromley.” He wrote another letter to her that day.8

The attentions of Eliza Bromley and other friends were not just kind but also vital to his survival. As one of Theodore’s fellow missionaries, George A. Smith, later wrote of the prison’s conditions, “The law at that time was, that unless a man could obtain a recommendation from the parish minister, he must live without eating, or find himself in food. Elder Turley having no money fasted about four days, when some sisters in the Potteries learning of his condition came to Stafford on foot, a distance of 14 miles, and brought him some money. There was also an old gentleman who walked with a staff from Hanley to the jail, and took him food several times.”9

One of those sisters from the Potteries was Eliza Bromley. But even with this aid, Theodore found himself discouraged. On Sunday, April 26, he wrote his ruminations in his journal:

This Day I feel cast down my mind heavely burthened with various reflection, I know not how to act. Fare from home and means to help myselfe to anything or food or rament or means to imploy a lawyer or to compromise and above all this my situation may have a tenency to Lesson me in the estimation of the Saints. But I appeal to the court of Heaven and to that only can I Depend.

He ended his journal entry that day with a plea, “God Bless my Wife and children amen.”10

On May 2, Theodore was still in prison but received a visit from some of the church members in Lane End, who brought him “some provision and a letter from Sister Bromly.” He wrote to her again.11 On Friday, May 8, Theodore finally received his discharge from prison and went straight to Lane End, greeting friends there before walking to Stoke with two of the female church members, one of whom may have been Eliza, and then spending the night with missionary companion George A. Smith at a church member’s home, where, Theodore wrote, “theer came a number of the Saints . . . to see me.”12

Theodore then resumed his missionary duties, which included visiting church members and investigators. Although at times he had a missionary companion, at other times he operated alone. Latter-day Saint missionaries in later years were required to have a companion of the same sex with them at all times, but that was not the case during the time when Theodore served, and on May 11, 1840, he returned to Lane End, where Eliza lived, and “visited . . . the saints there.” The next morning, he “viseted the Saints in this Place and Walked in company with Sister Bromley to Stoke,” he wrote. There he rejoined Elder Smith.13

At times working with other missionaries and at other times alone, Theodore seemed to have fair success in his labors, preaching, visiting members and investigators, and baptizing several persons. On Friday, May 22, according to Theodore’s journal, Elder Smith asked him “to go to Lane End to Preach this night.” Theodore recorded that he walked to Lane End, preached that night, and spent the next day “visiting the Saints in this place.” He spent the next few days there before moving on.14

After a month of missionary travels elsewhere, including efforts to convert his immediate and extended family members still in England, Theodore returned on Friday, June 26, to Lane End, this time with Wilford Woodruff. “There,” Theodore wrote, “I was rejoiced to see Sister Eliza Bromley once more.” Seeing her brought a flood of happy memories. “When I reflect how she feed me & cloathed me & visited me when in Prison,” Theodore wrote, “I Pray God to reward her an hundred fold in the Kingdom of our father and . . . that this her kindness should be handed down to future generations as a memorial of her.”15

The next day, he wrote that the church members in Lane End, including presumably Eliza, were “much rejoiced to see us here.” On Sunday, he visited other locations for meetings but then walked back to Lane End that night.16 On Monday, the missionaries convened a conference attended by members of the church from around the area, including thirty-five from Lane End. Among other things, the missionaries addressed the members, including presumably Eliza, on their duties.17

Before long, Theodore traveled with the other missionaries to a regional conference in Manchester attended by over 2500 Latter-day Saints, including seven members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. On July 8, in a council meeting after the conference, the church leaders present decided that Theodore would “go to Americia to lead a company.” Theodore was about to return home to Frances and their children, and it is apparent from his journal that he loves them dearly.18

Three days later, however, while on a missionary assignment in Bolton northwest of Manchester, Theodore “wrote a letter to Sister Bromley and mailed it.” She was still on his mind. A week later, he returned to Bolton and wrote, “I received a letter from Sister Eliza Bromley of Lane End I rote an answer back to the same.”19

Shortly after he made that entry in his journal, he ran out of pages in it, and the entries stop.

Why was Theodore so eager to write to Eliza after being assigned to return home? Was his relationship with her simply that of a brother and sister in the gospel serving and seeking “to impart one to another as the gospel requires”?20 Or was it more than that?

Theodore was a good missionary who loved his wife and children at home, labored diligently throughout his time in England, and strived to draw closer to God. Eliza too was a deeply spiritual woman, someone who impressed no less a spiritual giant than apostle Wilford Woodruff, who wrote about her in his journal even after Theodore’s journal ends.21

Was Theodore looking at Eliza Bromley as a prospective wife under the law of plural marriage revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831 and perhaps discussed with Theodore before his mission? From available evidence, it is impossible to tell with certainty. But Theodore’s behavior on the trip home from his mission, and events shortly after he returned, suggest the possibility that he had polygamy on his mind.

[Next issue: “Censured”]

© 2017 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the March 2017 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. Doctrine and Covenants 132:1-3.
  2. See “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics, lds.org.
  3. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, April 14, 1840, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  4. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, April 18, 1840.
  5. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, April 19, 1840.
  6. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, April 21, 1840.
  7. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, April 24, 1840.
  8. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, April 25, 1840.
  9. “My Journal,” Instructor (July 1947): 323.
  10. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, April 26, 1840.
  11. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, May 2, 1840.
  12. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, May 8, 1840.
  13. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, May 11-12, 1840.
  14. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, May 22-26, 1840.
  15. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, June 26, 1840.
  16. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, June 27-28, 1840.
  17. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, June 29, 1840.
  18. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, July 6-8, 1840.
  19. Theodore Turley, Mission Journal, July 11, 18, 1840.
  20. Doctrine and Covenants 88:123.
  21. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), 41. Ulrich mentions Theodore’s relationship with Eliza on page 42.