Family Stories

Job Tubbs Turner, Biography

This is a rather long read, but I was entranced – and became more so the further I read!  I do so love the biographies that I find!  I hope you do, too!

from Leading Events In Johnson County Iowa History

That branch of the Turner family, of which Job Tubbs is a representative, figured quite largely in the early history of the American Colonies. The line is of English descent, the first emigrants having come to the new world in the seventeenth century. Jacob Turner, great grandfather of our subject, was born at Killing-worth, Connecticut, in 1731. William, the grandfather, was a native of the same town, born in 1765 ; as was also Captain Almerin Turner, our subject’s father, the date of whose birth was January 10, 1780. William Turner was a soldier of the Revolution and fought at the battle of White Plains, which occurred in October, 1776. He was badly wounded by a bayonet thrust in the knee, which crippled him for life; but the Hessian soldier who made the thrust was killed by a Yankee comrade of Turner’s who was just behind.  The latter pulled the bayonet from Turner’s knee and slew the Hessian with the same weapon.

William Turner married Hannah Williams, who was of Welsh descent. They raised ten children, seven sons and three daughters. Three of the sons became sea captains, Almerin, our subject’s father, Reuben, and William. Our subject knows little of his grandfather’s family, having never seen any of his uncles except Reuben. He was once told, however, that his uncles, Ephraim and Sorenus, left the Connecticut home at an early day and settled in Texas while it was yet Mexican territory, and later fought for its independence.  Reuben, the fourth son, he met a number of times. He was a sea captain, and lived for a few years after his marriage at Saybrook, Connecticut. Later he removed to Rochester, New York, and thence to Cleveland, Ohio, in the thirties. He had four sons, who were all lake captains. Captain Reuben Turner died in Cleveland, and our subject is of the opinion that, his four sons also have passed away. Another uncle, Elisha Turner, it was said, lived at Rochester, New York, for some years prior to his death. Several of his sons went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they engaged in manufacturing.  Captain William Turner lived and died in Baltimore.  Of the remaining uncles and his aunts our subject heard and knew little, but he does remember that the only time he ever saw his father weep was upon the receipt of a letter announcing the death of one of his sisters.

The early experiences of Captain Almerin Turner were characteristic of his day. School privileges and opportunities were few and far between, but with all the local drawbacks he managed to get a term of three days in school. At the age of fifteen he obtained the position of cabin boy on board a merchant vessel bound to the West Indies. He was soon advanced to the position of sailor, learned navigation and the practical sailing of the merchant ships of that day. Being active, temperate, and understanding navigation, he soon advanced to the place of captain’s or master’s mate, and soon after reaching his majority he was given command of a merchant vessel, to sail and trade in our southern waters, the West Indies and South America. Thus he became a fullfledged sea captain. A hundred years ago the common outward cargo of the Atlantic sailing vessel was New England rum, sometimes a few mules, chickens, turkeys, etc., and her return cargo was sugar, sometimes a little coffee, and tropical fruit. Notwithstanding Captain Almerin Turner’s early educational disadvantages, he came to be a reading man, well posted in modern history, and full of general information; he knew his bible well, was posted in his church matters, was a good talker, and often addressed his neighbors and friends to their edification. He led a sailor’s life at a time when Yankee seamen had a hard time of it. From 1795 to 1815 the French, under Napoleon, were at perpetual war with the English both on sea and land. The English had their orders in Council by which, if an American ship was captured when bound for a French port, she was subject to trial by the British Court of Admiralty, and if condemned, the vessel and cargo were confiscated. The Yankee had no remedy, simply because we were a weak nation, and in those days might made right. This very thing happened to one of Captain Turner’s vessels when he was acting as mate. An English man-of-war captured the ship, tried her before a Court of Admiralty, and condemned her and the cargo, not even allowing the captain, mate, and crew sufficient funds to pay their passage back to New York. On another trip, bound for an English port in the West Indies, they were captured by a French man-of-war.  All the men, except Almerin, who was mate, his brother Reuben, and the sick captain, were taken off. Almerin was left on board because he understood navigation. The French man-of-war put five of its men aboard the American vessel to take her to a French port. The men were composed of an officer termed the “Prize Master,” and four seamen. The Prize Master told his men to obey Captain Turner, as he was the navigator. One fine day the Yankee took advantage of the situation, and ordered the four French sailors to go down into the hold to do some work. Three of them obeyed the order, but the fourth, smelling a rat, refused. Captain Turner gave his boy brother Reuben an axe, telling him to knock the three men in the head should they attempt to come out of the hold. The man who had refused to go down Captain Turner knocked overboard very promptly, and then went to look after the Prize Master, who was engaged in a rough and tumble fight with the captain of the vessel. Captain Turner took a hand in the combat, and the Prize Master was soon overcome and bound hand and foot. The three prisoners in the hold were called up one at a time and also bound. The fifth recalcitrant, who had been thrown overboard, was found bleeding profusely but clinging to a rope and pleading for his life. He was pulled up and bound with his fellows. The five were carefully guarded and taken into an English port as prisoners of war. On bidding good-bye to his captor, the Prize Master said:  “Captain Turner, I am never going back to France.”

Captain Turner was obliged to surrender seafaring owing to two attacks of yellow fever. Following his retirement, he spent a year or two at his home in Saybrook, Connecticut, resting and recuperating. About the year 1816 he sold his Connecticut home and with his family journeyed into the then wilderness of northern Pennsylvania, where he bought about three hundred acres of land of Dr. Robert H. Rose, located in the township of Silver Lake, Susquehanna county. There he carved out a productive farm from the tangled forest and raised a family of ten sturdy little Turners, whose names and places and dates of birth are as follows : Eliza Maria, born in Saybrook, Connecticut, 1810 ; Almerin W., born in same place in 1812; Juliette, ditto, in 1814. The remaining seven, all born at Silver Lake, Pennsylvania, were: John Tubbs, born 1817 ; Caroline A., born 1819 ; Job Tubbs, our subject, born 1821; Angeline, born 1823; Edwin M., born 1825; William, born 1827 ; Albert D., born 1829. The mother of this interesting group was Hannah Tubbs, born at East Lyme, Connecticut, in 1788. Sbe was a daughter of John Tubbs, whose English ancestors came over in 1635 and became freeholders at Duxbury, Massachusetts. Hannah Tubbs married Captain Almerin Turner about the year 1809. The couple lived at Saybrook, Connecticut, for about seven years and then removed to Pennsylvania.

Our subject recalls that his mother “was a godly woman, the best of wives, the best of mothers, the tenderest of friends” (we are quoting from his written statement). “She always held me as long as possible when I went home for a visit, always hugging, crying, kissing, and blessing me when I came to leave. The visits were very pleasant; the partings very trying. She passed away at the old home in 1854. I spent a week with her just before her death. She was buried in the old home cemetery at Choconut, located one and a half miles from our old home. She had better earlier advantages than my father. Was a good speller, a good reader, could repeat many of the old Watts hymns, and was always able and willing to help me out in the spelling lessons. She often wrote me letters full of motherty affection after I left home.  Mother visited her old Connecticut home once after she came to Pennsylvania; my father, I believe, never revisited the old home. I have endeavored to follow my mother’s teachings, and do so today.”

A brief recital of the lives and activities of the children of Captain Almerin Turner and Hannah Tubbs will make an important chapter in the family history.

Eliza M., the oldest child, married William House, of Little Meadows, Pennsylvania, in 1838; had two daughters, Elizabeth and Caroline, and a son, William A.; Elizabeth married Henry A. House, a cousin; Caroline married Judge A. B. Beers, of Bridgeport, Connecticut; William A. married Eliza Chubbock, daughter of a Methodist minister, and a bright and good woman. Eliza taught school in her younger days. She died and was buried in Vineland, New Jersey, in September, 1881.

Almerin W., the oldest boy, soon after his majority, went to Seneca Falls, New York, studied medicine with Dr. J. R. Brown, and soon after receiving his degree of M. D. removed to Cleveland, Ohio. He had a number of sons and daughters and died, it is believed, in Rockford, Illinois, in 1865.

Juliette, after teaching school a term or two, married George W. Ross, in 1836. She bore five boys, three of whom are living: Charles P. Ross, of Newark, New Jersey ; Kennard J., of Pittston, Pennsylvania; and George W., of Morristown, New Jersey. She died in Rockaway, New Jersey, in 1870.

John Tubbs, until about the age of nineteen, remained on the old Pennsylvania farm. Thereafter he attended the Seneca Falls academy. He taught school and kept up his academy course both summer and winter. He finally decided to study medicine. In pursuance of this purpose, according to the custom of the day he “read” medicine with Dr. Bellows, of Seneca Falls, New York. Later he attended medical Lectures at Geneva college (now Hobart), Geneva, New York, for two or three seasons, and finally graduated at a Vermont school of medicine. Dr. Turner was successful in his practice from the start. His surgical operations were the marvel of his day. Unfortunately, in the winter of 1848, he met with an accident while returning from a visit to a patient which resulted in breaking several ribs and otherwise injuring him.  From the cold contracted on the occasion he never recovered, and, although unfit to leave his house, would insist on making long trips to administer to his patients. His self sacrifice cost him his life, and he died a year and a half after the accident, a martyr to his profession. He was buried at East Cayuga, New York, the latter part of May, 1850, at the age of thirty-six. He left one son, Frederick. His wife was Laura Marsh, daughter of Daniel Marsh, of Cayuga Bridge, New York. She only survived her husband four years.

Caroline A. lived at the old home at Silver Lake till she was over thirty years of age, then married a Methodist minister, Rev. Walter B. Thomas, an Englishman. She died at Athens, Pennsylvania, some time in the eighties. Her husband survived her several years. They left one son, Arthur, a music teacher, residing at Carbondale.

Angeline married C. D. Virgil in 1843 and bore two sons and a daughter. Father, mother and daughter all died young.  The whereabouts of the sons is unknown.

Edwin M. was a lawyer by profession. After the sale of the old Pennsylvania farm, he and his father removed to Vineland, New Jersey, where he practiced his profession. He married Martha L. Ellis, in 1855, and died in Leadville, Colorado, some five or six years ago. His wife survives him.  They have eight children, three boys and five girls. Henry, the oldest son, and Willis Tubbs, the third son, are engaged in the United States Geological Survey in California and Nevada; Edwin Job is in trade at Leadville, Colorado; Amanda is a kindergarten teacher at Pittsheld, Massachusetts; Hannah is married to Arthur Hobart, of Boston; Edna is the wife of William C. Appleton, of Boston; the remaining two girls are unmarried — one is doing newspaper work in Denver and the other is a typewriter in Boston.

Albert D., the youngest son, is a dentist at Binghamton, New York, successful and prosperous.

Job Tubbs Turner, our subject, as hitherto stated, was born on the Silver Lake farm in Pennsylvania. He first saw daylight in the little log cabin on April 6, 1821. He was raised on the farm, and attended the district school at Choconut, a mile and a half distant from the farm. At the age of seventeen he was a student at Union academy, in the western part of Broome county, New York, continuing for two terms. Following this he taught two terms of school near his old home, and later became a student and teacher in the Friendsville academy, Friendsville, Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, for nearly two years, acting for the last year as assistant to Professor Thurston, a graduate of Bowdoin. In the fall of 1884 he removed to Seneca Falls, New York, in which neighborhood he taught school for several years. Reciting his pedagogic experience, Mr. Turner recalls that his first term of teaching near his old home brought him “the munificent sum of ten dollars a month, with the privilege of boarding around among the patrons.” Finally, after having become quite proficient, he was asked to continue at his last place at the salary of twenty-five dollars per month, a raise of five dollars per month. But, having determined to seek a more stable employment Mr. Turner declined. Later he obtained a clerkship in a general merchandise store in Seneca Falls, where he worked three years behind the counter.  His salary for the first year was one hundred dollars and board; for the second year one hundred and twenty-five dollars and board; and for the third year one hundred and eighty-five dollars and board. At the end of the third year he was offered a partnership in the store by his employer, Mr. S. S. Gould, which he accepted. Mr. Turner describes this transaction and his experience with Mr. Gould as follows: “I accepted the offer and became a partner in a well established trade. Mr. Gould was worth about twenty thousand dollars. I had saved about four hundred dollars from wages received in teaching and clerking. In the meantime I had made myself so useful that Mr. Gould did not wish me to quit. I did not fish, hunt, or attend places of amusement like most of the clerks and young men of that day, but stayed by the stuff. So the house of Gould & Turner began trade on April 1, 1850. I paid Mr. Gould the four hundred dollars and gave my notes for the balance of the one-half of the stock on hand, payable in one, two, and three years.  Mr. Gould’s family trade exceeded mine to more than cover my notes from year to year, so that at the end of three years Mr. Gould was in my debt.”

At the end of seven years Mr. Turner sold his interest in the Seneca Falls store and came to Iowa City, where he arrived October 22, 1857, with his wife and son. He had married Jane S. Coleman at Seneca Falls on June 20, 1850. She was born near Morristown, New Jersey, June 30, 1822. Their son, Edgar, was born June 23, 1851, in Seneca Falls. He died in Iowa City August 28, 1860. Because of the hard times and the demoralized state of the currency and the wildcat money, so-called, in circulation, Mr. Turner did little business during his first three years in Iowa City. However, he served one term on the school board and two terms as city councilman. In 1862 he opened up a farm implement store and continued the business for thirteen years with what he states was “a fair degree of success.” He disposed of the business in the latter part of 1874, investing a portion of the proceeds in bank stock and the balance in merchandise. One of his first bank stock investments was in the First National of Iowa City. In January, 1870, he was elected a director in said bank and has continued to be one of its directors ever since, a period of over thirty-one years. He was one of the founders of the Farmers Loan & Trust Company, of Iowa City, in 1880, and has been a trustee of the same from its beginning to the present day. In the fall of 1862 Mr. Turner was appointed by Governor Kirkwood as one of the commissioners of the state of Iowa to take the vote of her soldiers in the field. He was assigned to take the vote of the Twenty-Second Regiment Iowa Infantry, wherever he found them.  The vote of the soldiers in the field was to be taken at the same date as that of the home election in October. He found the regiment near Rolla, Missouri. The election was a quiet one, the vote being mostly republican. In due time Mr. Turner delivered the result of the election to the secretary of state at Des Moines. In the fall of 1863 he was reappointed to take the vote of the same regiment. The Twenty-second was composed of men largely from Johnson county. In October of that year he found the regiment some two hundred miles northwest of New Orleans, in western Louisiana, a long and tiresome journey by rail and water. We think no better description could be given of this interesting trip than in the words of Mr. Turner himself. In recounting his experiences to a nephew at Salem, Oregon, he tells of his Louisiana journey in the following language:

“General Banks was then in command of the department, with headquarters at New Orleans. General Butler had been in command of this department previously and had cleaned up the city very thoroughly. I have often been in New Orleans since, but have never seen it so clean as in October, 1863.  General Butler not only cleansed the city, but he made the rebels toe the mark and pay respect to the flag. Our regiment formed a part of the Thirteenth Army Corps. General Banks went with us to the Teche country and we overtook the Thirteenth Corps near New Iberia, Louisiana, late in the afternoon of the second day out from New Orleans. The next day after reaching New Iberia, we marched all day up the Teche towards Martinsville, camped near nightfall beside a field of sweet potatoes, a few cabins or small houses being in the neighborhood. Our soldier boys, digging the potatoes with their bayonets, using the fence rails for their fires, appropriating all the pigs and chickens in sight to their own use, seemed to enjoy their feast hugely. Early the next morning we took the road again, had a skirmish with the rebels at a crossing of the Teche, captured a bushwhacker and came into camp early in the afternoon, our Twenty-Second taking possession of rebel Ex-Governor Mouton’s plantation, in sight of the church steeples of Vermillionville. The Twenty-Second took charge of Governor Mouton’s sugar and corn mill and ground corn for our regiment and for the Thirteenth Corps as well. General Ord was in command of the Thirteenth in the field. Generals Banks and Ord both appeared well on their horses. After two or three days spent in reviews and inspection, General Banks returned to New Orleans. I was in camp there for nearly two weeks, when the proper day came to take the vote, and soon after was notified by General Ord that a lot of prisoners under guard were to be sent to New Orleans and that it would be a good opportunity for the Iowa commissioners to take the back track, especially as the army was soon to move north following the retreating rebel army. We took his advice and left, the government furnishing us transportation and suitable guard. Secretary Stanton had issued orders directing quartermasters to furnish us transportation, and all government officials to aid us and facilitate our mission in every possible way. The commissioners each had a copy of this order, and when presented to an army officer, it commanded respect and prompt action.  We left camp early in the morning and marched all day, or at least the prisoners and a portion of the guard marched; the commissioners and rebel officers were provided with ambulances.  The officer in command of the guard and his aides were on horseback. Late in the evening we reached an old camp at New Iberia, Our prisoners numbered about eighty.  One, General Pratt, an old man, a native of Saybrook, Connecticut.  He had gone south many years before, married a woman who had a large plantation and a goodly supply of woolly heads, commonly called slaves. General Pratt belonged to the same family as Captain Pratt, with whom my father sailed a hundred years ago. Another noted prisoner was Albert Voorhees, a cousin of Dan Voorhees, a statesman of Indiana. He had been the rebel attorney-general of Louisiana.  The same night, near midnight, I took a steamer on Bayou Teche, reaching Brashear City next night at midnight.  We showed Stanton’s order, and the officials hustled us out three or four freight ears and a sickly engine to haul us. We reached Algiers at sunrise on Sunday morning. Our palace cars had no seats except one long bench with no back. As I had not slept for thirty-six hours, I was sick and very weak.  I had about five thousand dollars in my old satchel belonging to the soldiers, to be brought home and delivered to their families. I had on my overcoat, wrapped my shawl about me, laid my satchel on the floor, stretched myself alongside it, using the satchel for a pillow and slept soundly all night.  Being surrounded by a crowd all the time, composed of all sorts of people, I ran a great risk, and would not like to repeat it. I was careful not to reveal my fix, not even to any of the Iowa commissioners. We crossed over the big river to New Orleans, went to the City Hotel, where I have often stopped since, took breakfast, and went to bed. I had slept only an hour or two when word came that a government transport was just ready to start up the river — ‘All aboard.’  So we started for Cairo on a Sunday morning. The deck of the transport was packed almost like sardines with sick and wounded soldiers, and there were many deaths en route. It was a common thing to hear a soldier say, ‘Well, poor Tom played out last night.’  If not ‘ Tom’,’ it was ‘Jake’,’ or ‘Mose’, or ‘Jim’.  A sad sight and an unpleasant trip. From what I saw and heard during this trip, I came to the conclusion that there is little sunshine in war. I reached home after a fatiguing trip of six weeks via river and rail. Resting a few days, I went to Des Moines and delivered the ballots to the secretary of state. The soldiers this time gave an almost unanimous vote for the republican ticket.”

Mr. Turner states that he was once asked by a friend, “What brought you to Iowa?” This set him to thinking, and he answered the question as follows: “In September, 1856, I went as usual to New York city to stock up for the fall and winter trade. My trade was in general merchandise, and this proved to be my last trip to New York for this purpose. My custom was to visit the great city by our eastern sea twice a year to lay in my supplies, in April and September. In those days I took the morning train at Seneca Falls, reaching Albany in time for the night steamer for New York, usually reaching that city soon after daylight. After purchasing stock, which usually took about ten days, I would take the night boat for Albany, reaching its destination at daybreak.  These passenger steamers were large and elegant and always gave us a good supper. On this particular trip up the river we had about 1,200 steerage passengers on the lower deck.  On the trip in question I went on board the steamer before sunset, secured my stateroom and took a seat in the ladies’ cabin. A little later there came aboard a couple apparently of my own age, preceded by a little miss of perhaps five years.  The little maid came close to me, and I extended her my hand.  She took it and, coming nearer, gave me a hearty kiss. This seemed to amuse and please the father and mother. They took seats near me, and our tongues soon loosening, we had a pleasant evening, taking supper together. The next morning we took the train at Albany for the west, and taking seats near each other, we had a pleasant visit. They told me of their old New Bedford home and of their new home at Davenport, Iowa. They spoke in the highest terms of Davenport and of Iowa and its prospects, making it emphatically the land of promise. Well, it came about that in the spring of 1857, when I sold my interest at Seneca Falls, and was looking for a new location, I remembered the words of New Bedford friends and naturally turned my eyes towards beautiful Iowa. Landing at Dubuque on the 4th day of July, 1857, I boarded a steamer bound for Davenport and reached the
latter city near sunset of the same day. I tarried there for a day or two, called upon my New Bedford friends, looked over the town a bit, and on the morning of July 8th took passage on the railroad for Iowa City, then the terminus of the only railroad in Iowa. Liking the appearance and general location of Iowa City, I here concluded to stick my stake and make my new home, provided my wife was pleased with the new plan. Returning to my eastern home, I submitted the case to her, and she decided favorably. Closing up my affairs at Seneca Falls, I took my wife and boy and started for the great valley of the west, landing in Iowa City October 22, 1857. Now, what was the moving cause of my coming to Iowa? “Was it my kismet? Or was it the kiss of the little maid of New Bedford? Tell me if you can.”

Mr. Turner has been a religious man all his life. His association in New York was with the Presbyterian church, but on arriving at Iowa City he and his wife united with the Congregational church by letter from the First Presbyterian church of Seneca Falls. On the dissolution of the Congregational church of Iowa City, in 1864-65, the couple united by letter with the First Presbyterian church, with which they have been associated until this writing. Mr. Turner was a trustee of the latter church for ten years. He was trustee of the Iowa Deaf and Dumb asylum when it was located at Iowa City and after its removal to Council Bluffs. He has all his life been devoted to his home, and gives it as his emphatic opinion, based on a lifetime of experience, that ”a good home is next door to heaven.”

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