Turner, Jonathan B.

Born: 1805-12-07 Massachusetts

Died: 1899-01-10 Jacksonville, Illinois

Flourished: 1833 to 1899 Jacksonville, Illinois

Jonathan B. Turner, educator and horticulturalist, was born on a farm outside of Templeton, Massachusetts, and was educated in local schools before attending Yale University, from which he graduated in 1833. Before the end of his final term that year, Turner accepted a position teaching Greek and Latin at Illinois College and settled permanently in Jacksonville, Illinois. The following year, he was appointed professor of rhetoric and belles-lettres, and he taught at the college for fifteen years, until he resigned about 1848. In 1843 and 1844, Turner edited the short-lived Illinois Statesman in Jacksonville, which he established as independent of political party affiliation and strongly anti-slavery. His outspokenness on abolition led to conflict with Illinois College officials, and was a factor in his resignation. After he left his position at Illinois College, Turner turned his attention to his garden and farm. As an agriculturist, his primary accomplishment was the promotion of the Osage orange as boundary hedges for Midwestern farms. Turner was a strong advocate for education in Illinois, helping to organize what became the Illinois State Teachers’ Association in 1836, and joining in the founding of the Illinois Industrial League in the early 1850s to advocate for industrial education. The Industrial League successfully petitioned the Illinois General Assembly to request land grants from the U.S. Congress to support education, and Turner’s efforts towards this goal ultimately influenced the content and passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act of 1862. Through Turner’s influence, the Illinois General Assembly resolved to use the state’s land grant to establish the University of Illinois in 1867. In politics, Turner was first a Whig, then a member of the Free Soil Party, and ultimately a Republican. Turner claimed a long acquaintance with Abraham Lincoln, dating from the latter’s residence in New Salem in the 1830s. Throughout his life, Turner was religious. He was ordained as a minister after arriving in Illinois, and was affiliated for a time with local Congregational churches, but his unorthodox beliefs caused him conflict with both the churches he served and with the Presbyterian leadership of Illinois College. He married Rhodolphia (Rodolphia) S. Kibbe in 1835 and the pair had seven children.

Robert Francis Seybolt, “Turner, Jonathan Baldwin,” Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936), 19:68; Mary Turner Carriel, The Life of Jonathan Baldwin Turner (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961); Connecticut, U.S., Town Marriage Records, pre-1870 (Barbour Collection), 22 October 1835, Somers (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, 2006); U.S. Census Office, Sixth Census of the United States (1840), Morgan County, IL, 411; Franklin William Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879, vol. 6 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910), lxxii-lxxiv, 204; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Jacksonville, Morgan County, IL, 199; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Jacksonville, Morgan County, IL, 23; Champaign Daily Gazette (IL), 12 January 1899, 1:3-4, 6, 8:3; Gravestone, Diamond Grove Cemetery, Jacksonville, IL.