Jack joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through baptism on October 24, 1843 in Perry County, Alabama. As an enslaved man, he had heard missionary John Brown preach the Latter-day Saint gospel in the Bogue Chetto Branch, a small newly organized congregation in the western part of central Alabama. On the same day that Brown baptized Jack, he also baptized an enslaved woman named Hager along with the daughter of her enslavers. Jack’s enslaver, a man by the name of James Turnbow, accepted baptism six days later, indicating that Jack freely chose his faith.[1]

Unfortunately, Brown offered no additional information about Jack, but he did record some clues about where Jack lived and the nature of the branch in which he worshipped. Fellow missionary James Brown (unrelated) organized the branch with “some 15 or 16 members” at its founding. By October 1843, the branch had grown to include fifty to sixty people as a result of recent conversions, including those of Jack and Hager. According to Brown, the small congregation continued to grow even as “many believed and others mocked.”[2] The pattern of baptisms at the Bogue Chetto Branch indicate that it was predominantly white but did include Jack and Hager. Brown places the branch in the southern part of Perry County, Alabama, a fact that is corroberated by other evidence.[3] There is a Bogue Chitto Creek just west of Hamburg, Alabama, where land records indicate that Jack’s enslaver, James Turnbow lived and owned property.[4] 

Antebellum public records rarely named enslaved people, but there are clues about Jack that survive. The 1840 census indicates that Turnbow claimed one male age 10-24 and two males age 24-36 as property, among his other enslaved people.[5] Thus, by the time Jack was baptized three years later, he would have likely been between 18-39 years old.

Jack’s fate after his appearance in Brown’s diary is even more indefinite. There is no evidence that he moved with other southern converts to Nauvoo, Illinois, to join the main body of Saints, nor did he go with his enslaver to Texas. Turnbow family tradition suggests that James moved to Texas for a period of time in the 1840s and then moved to Arkansas where he died in 1859.[6] Turnbow, however, apparently did not take his slaves with him. James Turnbow appears on Anderson County, Texas, tax rolls in 1848 and 1849, but is listed without land or slaves.[7] James may have sold his land and slaves to his brother, Thomas, who moved from Mobile, Alabama, to Hamburg between 1840 and 1850. The 1850 census listed Thomas in Perry County along with several enslaved people, some of whom match the age and gender of enslaved people formerly recorded as belonging to James Turnbow in 1840. Jack, for example, could have been one of three men listed as enslaved to Thomas in 1850.[8] The 1860 census also listed Thomas Turnbow as an enslaver in Perry County, Alabama, with several enslaved people, one of whom may have been Jack, although it is impossible to know.[9]

If Jack lived longer than his potential appearances in the 1850 and 1860 censuses it is difficult to determine. It is possible that Jack died, moved, or simply is not traceable in the 1870 census, the first year that formerly enslaved people were identified by name in federal census records. The 1870 census does list several African American families with a Turnbow surname in Perry County, Alabama, but no one who is indisputably the Jack baptized into the LDS faith in 1843 is among them.[10]

By Ami Chopine

Primary Sources

Bureau of Land Management. State Volume Patent. Alabama, AL0560__.111. James Turnbow. Accessed 8 December 2019.

John Brown, Reminiscences and Journal, vol. 1, 21. Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Texas. County Tax Rolls, 1837-1910. Anderson County, 1848.

Texas. County Tax Rolls, 1837-1910. Anderson County, 1849.

United States. 1840 Census. Alabama, Perry County.

United States. 1850 Census. Alabama, Perry County.

United States. 1860 Census. Alabama, Perry County.

United States. 1870 Census. Alabama, Perry County.

Secondary Sources

Stone, Olive Guymon. Turnbow-Turnbough Family of the U.S.A. N.p. [1968?]. FamilySearch.org, Accessed 18 December 2019.

Turnbow, James. Ashley-Rogers DNA Family Tree. Ancestry.com. Accessed 8 December 2019.

Turnbow, James. (LHP6-THW), FamilySearch.org. Accessed 8 December 2019,

[1] John Brown, Reminiscences and Journal, vol. 1, 21. Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[2] Brown, Reminiscences and Journal, 21.

[3] Brown, Reminiscences and Journal, 21.

[4] Bureau of Land Management, State Volume Patent, Alabama, AL0560__.111, James Turnbow. See associated map in document reader.

[5] United States, 1840 Census, Alabama, Perry County.

[6] Olive Guymon Stone, Turnbow-Turnbough Family of the U.S.A, n.p., [1968?], 115.

[7] Texas, County Tax Rolls, 1837-1910, Anderson County, 1848, 1849.

[8] United States, 1850 Census. Alabama, Perry County.

[9] United States, 1860 Census. Alabama, Perry County.

[10] United States, 1870 Census, Alabama, Perry County.


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