Lost Names in Vermont, Part 26: Turner


At the conclusion of Pittsford’s Memorial Day Parade, I enjoyed a catchup conversation with former colleague Pat (Parker) Carter, who taught for 40 years at Leicester School. You could have set your watches by us in our early morning commutes to our respective schools as I was usually one car-length ahead of her on Route 3. Pat told me one of the previous Lost Names columns [Frank and Maggie White of Leicester, Part 7] had solved a genealogical brick wall for her in the ancestry of Eliza (White) Parker. As our conversation continued, she disclosed that the name of her great-grandfather, John B. Turner, had been changed from Letourneau. That came as a surprise to me because I had already explored how one branch of the Letourneau family became Blackbird and Blackburn [Lost Names, Part 16]. Hidden in plain sight, Turner, so English-sounding, always made it into the top 40 of American surnames until about 50 years ago. My new driving question: when did Pat Carter’s Québec-born Letourneau forebear become Turner?

From an entirely different branch of the Letourneau family than the one previously under study, great-great-grandfather of Pittsford-area families Jean Baptiste Letourneau was born in Montréal on May 2, 1818, eldest son of Jean Baptiste Letourneau and Marie Adeline Lemai [sometimes Delorme].  A merchant or trader as written in church records, the elder Jean drowned at the age of 36 on August 6, 1825, leaving four young children. Contrary to the usual social pattern, young widow Adeline never remarried. The entire family moved to Elizabethtown, Essex County, New York, when Jean was in his late teens. At the age of twenty-two, Jean Baptiste Letourneau officially became a United States citizen, now called John B. Turner, on May 22, 1840. The 1850 census reveals even deeper assimilation with different first names for John’s brothers: Francois Xavier went by, Alec Turner, and Simon Desire, went by Ezra Turner. Their mother, Adeline/Adalaide was recorded as Cynthia!

Earning his living as a saddle and harness maker, John B. Turner did not marry until he was in his forties. His first wife, Elizabeth Brown, died young. He then married Irish-born Isabelle McDeavitt, 28 years his junior.  In its issue of April 26, 1894, The Elizabethtown Post carried this brief obituary:

Sudden Death of John B. Turner

John B. Turner, the pioneer harness maker of this section, dropped dead while walking in the field near his residence in the town of Westport yesterday forenoon, aged 77 years.  He had been enjoying his usual good health this spring and the day previous to his death had made a trip to Keene [N.Y.]. Deceased was born in Montreal and came to this country in 1836. He leaves a brother and sister and four sons and two daughters.

RUTLAND HERALD OBITUARY for John B. Turner, 1909.

Eldest son of John and second wife Isabelle, John B. Turner Jr., born in 1865, crossed Lake Champlain and moved to Rutland in the late 1880s. He married at Grace Congregational Church to Ella Ellis on April 1, 1890. They had four daughters—Belle, twins Jenny and Jessie, Kate—and two sons, John B. and Thomas H. Turner. In 1900, the family lived on a farm in Pittsford. John made no secret in the census column for parentage that his father was born in French Canada. The Turner household included John’s younger brother, James.

John Turner’s death, age 43, from pneumonia, made the front page of The Rutland Herald. 

His death ended the education of his three eldest daughters, and they worked as “hired girls,” as indicated in Pittsford’s 1910 census: Belle, with the Humphrey family; Jennie with the Eayres family; and Jessie with the Stevens family. Though their mother Ella married William N. Manley in 1911, her second husband’s name is not on the stone the Turners erected to their parents in Rutland’s Evergreen Cemetery. A mystery remains as to how the stone acquired a World War I veteran marker! 

JESSIE SPAULDING AND Jenny Parker at home, ca. 1952.

Family photos show that long after John Turner’s death, his family from Westport, New York, continued to visit their Vermont relatives. All six Turner children lived to marry. Thomas Turner, a farmer and marble worker, raised four children in Pittsford. The twins, “Mrs. Waven Spaulding” [Jessie] and “Mrs. Frederick Parker” [Jenny] stayed especially close through their long lives and celebrated milestone birthdays. They looked hale and hearty in their 80th birthday photo as published in The Rutland Herald. By their ninetieth birthday, they both lived at Rutland’s Beverly Manor Convalescent Manor, where Yvonne Daley photographed them and wrote a feature article. Daley highlighted some of the differences between the two women. Jennie Parker, the elder, stated she liked the outdoors, horses, and cattle, while her smaller sister Jessie Spaulding liked indoor work. Parker quipped, “We didn’t look alike. I was always fat, and she was skinny.” As nonagenarians, the sisters had nearly 100 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren between them, and for Jessie, a great-great-grandchild. Jenny died on May 21, 1985, and Jessie followed her on December 4th of the same year. 

In our wrap-up of family history, Pat Carter messaged me, “You are probably discovering how many of their descendants have passed through OV.” True! And for me, that is like the magic on invisible ink now readable.

THOMAS TURNER FAMILY, ca. 1950, with wife Harriet, children, Virginia, Arthur, Marvin, and Fanny.

RUTLAND HERALD CLIPPING for the twins’ 80th birthday celebration in 1973.

GRAVESTONE PHOTO OF John B. and Ella Turner at Rutland’s Evergreen [not so much these days] Cemetery.

Author’s note: With thanks to Pat (Parker) Carter, Kathy (Turner) Kallen, and Kathy (Mills) Parker for their sharing family photos.

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