Frances Amelia Kimberly, 21
- Eliza Clift, 30
- Mary Ann Clift, 28
- Sarah Ellen Clift, 27
- Ruth Jane Giles, 37
In 1844, Theodore Turley and Frances Amelia Kimberley entered a new phase of their marriage of more than twenty years when sisters Mary Ann Clift, Eliza Georgianna Clift, and Sarah Ellen Clift joined their family as sister wives. Mary, Eliza, and Sarah had immigrated as new converts from England in 1840, accompanying Theodore home to the new city of Nauvoo, Illinois from his year-long missionary labors with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Seventy.
Baptized in 1837, Theodore and Frances joined the Saints at Far West, Missouri the following year. Theodore was rapidly entrusted with increasing administrative responsibilities as a member of the Far West High Council, the Seventy, and the “committee on removal from Missouri,” all within six months of his and Frances’ arrival at Far West. In 1839, shortly after helping settle the Saints in Illinois, he departed on a mission to England where he presumably met the Clift sisters.
In January 1841, not long after returning from England, Turley was accused by fellow Seventies, William Niswanger and Benjamin L. Clapp, of “unchristian conduct” with several women on the journey to Nauvoo. The accusations included “sleeping with two females,” a charge which Turley denied. The accusation was tried by the Nauvoo High Council in an ecclesiastical court, where Turley was found guilty. The council ruled that his continued fellowship in the church would be conditioned on confessions to both the council and the public “that he had acted unwisely, unjustly, imprudently, and unbecoming, and that he had set a bad example before his brethren and sisters as he was coming over from Europe.”
Turley agreed to the terms, but may have done so to keep the secret of plural marriage. It is possible that his light sentence was due to Joseph Smith’s intervention. The Smiths and Turleys lived next door to each other in Nauvoo and, in his journals, Turley counts Smith as a close friend. It is not known if they were close enough for Smith to confide his new doctrine to Turley before he left in 1839 on a mission that would introduce him to the Clift sisters. It is also unclear whether the Clift sisters were the women at issue in Theodore’s trial. All that is certain is the 1841 trial neither prevented Turley’s later participation in plural marriage with all three sisters during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, nor affected his status in church leadership, including induction into the Council of Fifty in 1845.
Mary Ann Clift became the first of Theodore’s plural wives probably in early 1844. Some historians argue this sealing was a precondition for his being sealed her elder sister Eliza on March 6, 1844. This supposition is based on the fact that, in September 1842, a very pregnant Mary Ann was one of two women who testified that Gustavus Hills had convinced them that church leaders countenanced extramarital sex as long as it did not become public knowledge. Hills was disfellowshipped and, in a case brought by her father, ordered to pay child support for Mary’s son, born October 1842, but living only a year. Family lore offers an 1842 date to Mary Ann’s sealing to Theodore, but without confirmation in the historical record.
The youngest Clift sister, Sarah, was sealed to Turley a month after Eliza. She probably arrived with her sisters in October of 1840, having left her husband George A. Selwin in England, but bringing their son George with her. Sarah gave birth to another child of George’s in 1841. Theodore adopted both children. In 1847, both first wife Frances and Sarah succumbed to the harsh conditions at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. After this, Eliza decided to not continue the trek westward, taking her and Theodore’s child and settling in Iowa where she remarried. Theodore and Mary completed the journey to Utah, where she died in childbirth in 1850. Theodore subsequently married Ruth Jane Giles who was his sole partner until his death in 1871 and bore him three children.
Bergera, Gary James. “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841–44,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38, no.3 (2005): 1–74, 39.
Bergera, Gary James. “‘Illicit Intercourse,’ Plural Marriage and the Nauvoo High Council, 1840-1844. The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 23 (2003): 59–90.
Council of Fifty. “Record of the Council of Fifty or Kingdom of God,” Mar. 1844–Jan. 1846. Church History Library, entry for Mar. 1, 1845.
“Eliza Georgianna Clift,” https://theodoreturleyfamily.org/wives/eliza-georgianna-clift/.
“Eliza Georgianna Clift McArthur,” FindAGrave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/37277961/eliza-mcarthur.
General Church Minutes, 1839–1877. Church History Library. CR 100 318, entry for 6 May, 1839.
Leonard, Glen M. Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 346.
Nielson, Reid L., and Nathan W. Waite. Settling the Valley, Proclaiming the Gospel: The General Epistles of the Mormon First Presidency (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).
Smith, George D. Nauvoo Polygamy: “. . . But We Called It Celestial Marriage” (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008).
Theodore Turley, “Diary, 1839-1840,” p. 1, Vault MSS 129, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Turley, Ella Mae. “Theodore Turley, Biography and Autobiography.” Typescript. BYU, 3, 6.
Turley, Theodore. “Mission Journal, 1839–1840.” Edited by Richard Eyring Turley. 1982. Typescript. BYU, 5, 7, 13.
Turley, Theodore 1801-1871. Theodore Turley family memorial, 1841-1847; 1871, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/record?id=258d7723-24a5-49ce-8c47-2cbd0610f446&view=summary&subView=arrangement.