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From the Archives: The Turner, Prout, and Yates Families Papers

Guest post by Mollie Surprenant, NHS Archives Intern and graduate student at Simmons School of Library and Information Science.

The Turner, Prout, and Yates families papers have been processed at the Newport Historical Society, and a finding aid is now available on the NHS website. This collection consists of letters, marriage certificates, and various other family documents. The bulk of this collection is comprised of eleven letters written by the Turner sisters and their husbands. Together, the five sisters and their spouses provide insights into the life of a Newport family at the end of the eighteenth century.

The Turner family of Rhode Island can be traced back to John Turner, an early settler of Lynn, Massachusetts in 1643. He and his sons worked as ironworkers and masons at Hammersmith Village (now Saugus Ironworks) and at Taunton, Massachusetts. Later generations removed to Newport (now Middletown), Rhode Island and had land interests in Jamestown and Westerly. Joseph Turner (born ca. 1717) was the youngest of the thirteen children of Mary and Lawrence Turner, a yeoman of Middletown. Joseph belonged to a local mechanic’s association and probably died in Newport, or elsewhere, between 1776 and 1779 during the British Army occupation. He married twice, first to Abigail Smith in 1744 and second to Sarah Thurston on October 6,1751. Sarah (Thurston) Turner was born on May 25, 1729 to Benjamin and Sarah (Casey) Thurston. She died on March 2, 1797. Together Sarah and Joseph Turner had five daughters: Hannah (married Seth Yates), Sarah (married John Gardner), Susanna (married Tim Prout), Mary (married John Jakways), and Ruth.

The Turner daughters and their husbands wrote the letters within this collection between the years of 1793-1807. They discussed their lives in great detail and candidly wrote about their experiences. They criticized the postal service, complained about the weather, and made joking remarks about their fellow siblings. Topics within the correspondences range from the churning of butter and the landscape of Nova Scotia, to religion and voyages to the West Indies. Many letters regard the family’s Rhode Island property and the daughters’ inheritances. In addition, this collection also provides information regarding the health conditions of the late eighteenth century, as the letters discuss the family being ill with influenza and allude to the 1793 Philadelphia Yellow Fever outbreak.

The collection has also brought to light new genealogical information regarding the Turner and Yates families, which had been previously unknown to scholars. The collection is a welcomed addition to the archival material held at the Newport Historical Society.

Image: Letter written by Tim Prout to his mother in-law Sarah (Thurston) Turner in November of 1793. Prout writes that he has married her daughter Susanna “Susey” after ten days of acquaintance and hopes that this match is agreeable and “had not the time been so short should have endeavourd to have got your permition.” The letter concludes with Tim asking his mother in-law to send garden seeds. From the Turner, Prout and Yates families papers, MS.096, Newport Historical Society.