TALK GIVEN TO STAKE GENERAL PRIESTHOOD MEETING OF THE MONTGOMERY ALABAMA STAKE ON MAY 9,2002, REGARDING SAMUEL TURNBOW
JOHN E. ENSLEN
ALABAMA BIRMINGHAM MISSION PRESIDENCY
© 2002 by John E. Enslen
All Rights Reserved
The year was 1839, first part of the year, still winter and bitter cold. With official government sanction, members of the Church had been driven unmercifully from their homes in the State of Missouri. Joseph, Hyrum, Sidney, and other prominent leaders were still languishing in Liberty Jail. But their escape in April allowed them to join in the early effort to establish the City of Nauvoo.
Among the saints then living in Illinois was 25-year-old Benjamin Clapp, a native of Huntsville, Alabama. Only 4 years earlier, Benjamin had been baptized by Wilford Woodruff in Kentucky. After baptism, Benjamin and his young family gathered with the Church body to Missouri and there endured the persecutions. After fighting in the Battle of Crooked River, Benjamin and the prophet's younger brother Samuel, escaped a hotly pursuing Missouri mob with deadly intentions. Their narrow escape was made possible by a very timely, blinding snowstorm.
In mid-1839, Benjamin Clapp and John D. Hunter were called to leave their families and initiate missionary work in the State of Mississippi. Elder Hunter, after a few months, returned to Nauvoo. But Elder Clapp continued to labor alone with remarkable success.
In the winter of early 1840, while on this inaugural Mississippi mission, Elder Clapp crossed over into Perry County, Alabama, and searched for a distant
relative by marriage, the brother-in-law of an older sister. The relative's name was Samuel Turnbow. Samuel was 35 years of age and lived with his wife and children in the Hamburg community of south Perry County near Boguechitto Creek. Samuel, as a teenager, had moved to the Alabama Territory with his parents and siblings following his father's military service against the Creek Indians.
Fortunately, Samuel wrote a personal history. His writings were known only to a few of his descendants until recent years when a typewritten copy was donated to the BYU Library. As with many of the first converts in a new geographic area, Samuel had been especially prepared by the Lord to receive the message of the restored gospel. You may recall the words of the old testament prophet Joel who wrote: "Your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions: ... and I will show wonders in the heavens." (Joel 2:28, 30)
Samuel's preparation began with a righteous father who dreamed dreams and told the revivalists of his day that the Saviour's return would be precededby
apostles and prophets who would prepare the way. I will read from Samuel's history regarding the deathbed declaration of his father Issac:
My son, you have honored your father and mother and your days will be long upon the earth, and you will see that great Prophet who will come to prepare the way for the Lord, who will bring in the former
blessings, and the Church of Christ will be established with all its gifts, with apostles who will receive revelations from God, and the gifts of healing the sick will be restored, and [the] gift of prophesying and all the gifts as it was anciently. And you, my son, will do great and good work on the earth throughout all your days. Issac died in 1829, leaving 24-year-old Samuel to care for the farm and provide for his aging mother and 4 younger siblings.
Later in the same year that his father died, Samuel married l3-year-old Sylvira Caroline Hart. Their first of 11 children was not born until September of
1833, by which time Sylvira had reached the more mature age of 17. Their first 8 children would all be born in Perry County, Alabama.
Two months after their first child was born, 29-year-old Samuel experienced a vision which left upon his mind a powerful, indelible impression that would
change his life and the lives of his posterity. Samuel recorded that the vision occurred on the evening of November 12, 1833, during a great meteor storm
wherein fiery shooting stars were said to appear in volume as flakes of falling snow. This is the event referenced in a 1933 hit song and on Alabama's new car tags which read "Stars Fell On Alabama."
While laying in his bed, Samuel perceived himself to be escorted by an aged man through a destructive, gloomy darkness. They were directed to safety by a narrow shaft oflight that fortunately increased in its intensity as Samuel fervently and frequently prayed in the name of Jesus Christ. At the end of his perilous journey with the escort, he saw and heard a prophet with spiritual gifts teaching fundamental doctrines of religious truth. He then received the pronouncement of a blessing upon his head under the hands of another man in the vision, after which Samuel observed other persons dressed in peculiar clothing. Note 3 aspects of this vision:
(1) the teaching of basic truths
(2) a blessing upon his head
(3) seeing temple clothing
During the next 7 years, Samuel's mother died, infant twin sons died, and two more children were born to the family. The year 1840 brought a life-changing experience to 35-year-old Samuel Turnbow. As I mentioned previously, Benjamin L. Clapp returned to his native Alabama in 1840 as an unpaid, ordained minister of the gospel without "purse or script." In south Perry County, Benjamin taught Samuel Turnbow the same basic religious concepts and doctrines which Samuel's father Issac had frequently advocated and of which Samuel himself had learned in his vision 7 years earlier.
The teaching process was not a lengthy one, and on March 3, 1840, Samuel and Benjamin rejoiced together as Samuel was baptized by immersion in Alabama waters under the hands of Benjamin. Thus Samuel Turnbow became the first convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the State of Alabama.
Samuel's wife Sylvira became the second member of the Church in Alabama, and they remained faithful throughout their lives. They were good member missionaries, and many family members and neighbors joined the Church in Perry County. Within 3 years there were two thriving branches of the Church in a county where today there are none. Samuel served a proselyting mission to
Mississippi in 1844. Upon his return he and his neighbor Little John Utley, according to Samuel's personal record, administered a priesthood blessing to Little John's daughter, miraculously and immediately raising her from the dead.
When Alabama's first mission president, Abraham O. Smoot came to Alabama in 1845, he stayed in Samuel's home while visiting the branches in Perry County. On occasion, Samuel traveled with President Smoot during his labors.
After their 8th child was born in July of 1845, and after the crops were gathered that fall, Samuel and his family sold all that they possessed and migrated to Nauvoo where they lived from February to June of 1846, witnessing the first wave of evacuating saints under Brigham Young and attending the public dedication of the Nauvoo Temple in May.
In company with other families led by Abraham O. Smoot and Wilford Woodruff, Samuel's family left Nauvoo under heavy mob pressure in early June of 1846. They passed through muddy Iowa where their 11-month-old daughter died.
On this occasion Samuel was greatly comforted when he was shown the temple clothing belonging to the Smoots, confirming a second aspect of his 1833 vision.
Samuel was present when farewell instructions were given to members of the Mormon Battalion. He bade goodbye to his Perry County friend Jeduthan
Averett who joined the battalion. Samuel labored in Winter Quarters cutting down trees and rafting the logs down the Missouri River to help build cabins before winter. Samuel witnessed the burial of hundreds of people who died from a combination of exhaustion and excessive fatigue, exposure to the elements, dietary deficiencies, and numerous diseases. Five of those funerals included former Perry County neighbors.
In referring to this trying period in Winter Quarters, Samuel wrote at a later date in life:
I [was] greatly blessed of the Lord in all my endeavors to do good to the people in their helpless condition [and] their then perilous existence in life which [conditions] are never to be forgotten, and to this end I make a short record for my children and their children's children to look unto, that they may remember their father who has sought to lay a foundation of good work for them to build upon and follow my example in the fear of our God who has dealt mercifully with his people in this generation wherein I do acknowledge his hand in all things that are done.
On January 31,1847, in complete fulfillment of his 1833 vision, Samuel received in Winter Quarters his patriarchal blessing under the hands of Church Patriarch "Uncle" John Smith. In this blessing Samuel was told:
[T]hy posterity shall be numerous like Ephriam, thou shalt have an honorable name among the saints forever, thou shalt be delivered from thy present troubles and trials and live till thou art satisfied with
life ...and not a word of this blessing shall fail, even so, amen.
On June 17, 1847, Samuel and his family left in the first general wave of pioneers for the Rocky Mountains. He was made a captain of 10 in Abraham O. Smoot's company.
Not many days after undertaking this bumpy journey, Sylvira Turnbow gave birth in a temporarily halted wagon box to Margaret Ann Turnbow, their 9th child, who survived the arduous trek to Utah, grew to adulthood, married, reared 11
childreh, and lived to age 85, dying in 1932.
On September 27, 1847, after having endured the threat of Indian attacks for most of their 1,OOO-mile, 3-month journey, having witnessed the singular spectacle of massive thundering buffalo herds, and having climbed and descended by herculean effort majestic mountainous terrain, the Turnbow family gazed at last with feelings of both exhilarating triumph and humble gratitude upon the Great Salt Lake Valley. They had finally reached their mountain home, an uncoveted desert wilderness far removed from Perry County, Alabama, and the confines of civilization.
Samuel was ordained a high priest and served in a bishopric in Utah. He lived out the remainder of his years in the Salt Lake Valley as a stalwart pioneer
member of the Church. In fulfillment of the longevity promises in both his father's dying words and his patriarchal blessing, Samuel Turnbow died firm in
the faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on November 18, 1898, in Salt Lake City, at the venerable age of 94.
My son Jacob who lives in Lehi, Utah, called me last night. He told me that if he buys the new house he has been looking at recently, then his next door neighbor will be Richard Turnbow, a direct descendant of Samuel Turnbow.
The many descendants of the Turnbow family of Alabama, 3 of whom I have now personally met, have emulated their ancestors' example of faith, sacrifice, courage, devotion, and persistence. They have likewise maintained a deeply rooted appreciation for their inherent rights of religious freedom. These descendants are part of the now countless unheralded throngs with similar ancestral histories who have, by their combined efforts, over time, permanently established the American-founded, continuously growing, world-wide, now much appreciated, Christ-centered Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which has more than 11 million adherents, approximately 25,000 of which reside today in the State of Alabama, the native home of many early Turnbows and Clapps.
May we honor our pioneer forefathers by the way we live, and in time, as a result of our own sacrifices, be honored among them, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.