I spent several hours this past week in the Harold B. Lee Library’s Special Collections with the Isaac Russell Collection. Isaac Russell was born in a place called Windy Haugh, near Alston, Cumberland, England. It’s up near Scotland. He was the youngest of 13 children. In 1817, his family emigrated to the Toronto area of Upper Canada. In 1829, after 7 years as an apprentice to a cabinet maker and builder, Isaac married Miss Mary Walton, who had also emigrated from Alston to Canada with her family. After a few years, they bought a 100-acre farm northwest of Toronto. Isaac built a home there for his family, parents and several of his siblings.
In 1836 his life changed when a Mormon Missionary named Parley P. Pratt came to town. Pratt was called on a mission to Canada with these prophetic words, “Thou shalt go to Upper Canada, even to the City of Toronto the Capitol, and there thou shalt find a people prepared for the fullness of the Gospel, and they shall receive thee and thou shalt organize the Church among them and it shall spread thence into regions round about, and many shall be brought to a knowledge of the truth, and shall be filled with joy, and from the things growing out of this mission shall the fullness of the Gospel spread into England and cause a great work to be done in that land.”
When Parley P. Pratt arrived in Toronto, he visited each of the clergy and was refused the privilege of speaking in their meeting houses or to their congregations. The sherif and city officials gave him the same sorry welcome. He recorded the details of these encounters in his journal, and feeling himself a failure, went into a secluded grove to pray for help. Returning to the home of John Taylor, where he spent the night, a lady named Mrs. Walton came to the door. After meeting Parley Pratt, she said she had been impressed to stop at that house. She offered Pratt the use of her home, she fed him and she invited her friends and neighbors to come hear him speak.
Her brother, Isaac Russell, was among those who came to Mrs. Walton’s home, which was filled with people eager to hear Elder Pratt’s gospel message. At the close of his address, Isaac Russell arose and announced himself ready for baptism, saying, “this is the Gospel I have been waiting for and I am ready to live and die by it.” Dozens of these folks from Methodist congregations heard this message were baptized in Toronto Bay.
Isaac Russell began to share the gospel message with his friends and neighbors. He went from town to town, excited to share what he had learned–in Toronto, Scarboro, Esquisine, and in Churchville, where my 3rd great grandpa, Theodore Turley lived with his family. Theodore and Frances and their children were quick to recognize the truths Isaac Russell taught. They were baptized March 1, 1837. Their 8th child was born the following November, and he was named Isaac Turley, after their dear friend, Isaac Russell.
In the years that followed both Isaac and Theodore went on missions to England to share gospel truths with family members still living there, Isaac in Alston, Theodore in Birmingham. Their lives were similar in many ways. Both were imprisoned falsely at different times and in different places. Both were sorely persecuted, and both sacrificed all they had to help build the Kingdom of God on earth.
Reading all of the letters and papers and documents and histories in the Isaac Russell Collection this week has been a sweet experience for me. It’s amazing to me that so many records have survived through time. It’s hard to describe how it feels to see the words he wrote with his own pen to family and friends, here and abroad, and to read the histories his children wrote about his life. This collection includes a letter from Theodore in Churchville to Isaac, who was on a mission in Alston, England. It was written on November 9, 1837, and closes with this sentiment: “Mrs. Turley, with myself, send our affectionate love to you hoping to be kept faithful until we meet in the Celestial Kingdom of Christ. I remain, yours in bond, Theodore Turley.”
I like to imagine them now, sitting on a comfortable porch swing in heaven, looking down on the thousands and thousands of their posterity whose lives have been blessed because of the sacrifices they made when they were here. I am one of that number, and I am grateful to them for being brave and for doing hard things. I hope someday to thank them both with a warm embrace and a kiss on each cheek. I owe them more than I can express.
Below is an example of one of the letters in this collection: