of Circleville, was born in Circleville, November 7, 1820. Mr. Turney is a direct lineal descendant of a French Hugenot family, who were driven from France in the latter part of the fifteenth century by papal persecution, a short time prior to the revocation of the edict of Nantes by Louis XIV. Three brothers—Daniel, Peter, and Adam Turney—leaving a considerable property behind them, fled their native country, and landed in Philadelphia in 1668. Nelson J. is a great grandson of Daniel Turney, the French refugee.
Henry Turney, son of Daniel and grandfather of Nelson, removed to Shepherdstown, Jefferson county, Virginia, where he married a lady named Endley, of German descent. The fruit of this marriage—six children—all died young, excepting Daniel, the father of Nelson, who was born at Shepherdstown, August 16, 1786. Henry removed from Shepherdstown to Chillicothe, Ohio, about the year 1800, where he followed the occupation of potter, and died in 1812.
Daniel Turney, the father of Nelson, studied medicine at Philadelphia, and graduated there, and began the practice of his profession in the village of Jefferson, married to Miss Janet Stirling Denny, a daughter of Major-General James Denny, November 5, 1816. The fruit of this marriage was four children—Henry, Nelson, Isabella, and Samuel—but tow of whom, Nelson and Isabella (now Mrs. McCrea), are living.
Nelson's maternal grandfather, General Denny, was one of the most prominent of the pioneers of the northwestern territory and of Ohio, and served with distinction in the war of 1812 with Great Britain. He was of Scotch or Scotch-Irish descent, and was born in Chester county, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1767. He was married to Miss Isabella Barr, of Wheeling, Virginia, in May 1797, and removed thence to Marietta, in a keel boat on the Ohio river, long before the era of steam navigation. Mr. Tunrey's mother was born in Marietta, April 11, 1798. General Denny removed to chillicothe in 1799, and to Pickaway county in 1807. General Denny was a government surveyor and locator of government lands. He owned the Fredonia newspaper, the first paper published in Pickaway county, in 1811 and 1812, the paper being edited by a Mr. Richardson. In 1813 he was clerk of the courts in Pickaway county. He entered the United Sates service in the war with Great Britain as a major, and rose, by promotion, ghrough the several grades to the rank of major general. He was present, and was surrendered by Hull, at Detroit. He died in Philadelphia, November 23, 1815. Fe men of his time filled a larger or more honorable position in the history of the new State than did General Denny.
The Huguenot emigrants to America contributed as much, if not more, in proportion to their number, in the culture and prosperity of their adopted country, as any other nationality. They gave an impetus to the cause of independence during the long struggle of the infant colonies, and no less than three of the seven presidents of the Philadelphia convention during the revolutionary war were of Huguenot parentage; to wit, Henry Laurens, John Jay, and Elias Bondinot. Wherever they settled, they and their descendants speedily became men of mark in some way in their respective occupations and professions. In this respect Dr. Daniel Turney, the father of Nelson, fully vindicated the purity of his descent, and the superiority of the race, in the skill, intelligence, and energy with which he practiced his profession. He was a surgeon in the United States army in 1812, and he rapidly attained eminence, both as a physician and surgeon, in the army and in his subsequent civil practice, where he was an arduous and successful practitioner. His distinguishing characteristics were firmness and courage—qualifications indispensable to the successful surgeon. To these qualities he added remarkable energy and zeal, and he followed his profession, as all successful men must—from an intense love of, and devotion to it. A firm believer in the almost unlimited resources of medical science, he never relinquished his efforts to save while life remained.
His thorough educational training and his steady pursuit of the study of the diseases peculiar to the climate of southeastern Ohio, gave him a mastery over them, which was shown by his unusually successful practice; while his promptness and energy in alarming cases gave him a prestige in his profession which rendered his untimely death, which occurred in 1827, an almost irreparable loss, no less to the community than to his family.
In manner Dr. Turney was unaffected, earnest and generous, having in his nature no tain of selfishness. But on the contrary, he was liberal and considerate to all, ever regarding himself as the minister of the afflicted, whom he served often without the slightest prospect of compensation. At the time of his death he left a widow and four children, the oldes but ten years of age.
Nelson's brother, the late Dr. Samuel D. Turney, who died in 1878, was an eminent man in his profession, having served with distinction during the war of the rebellion as surgeon of volunteers, and as medical director. He was brevetted for meritorious and distinguished services. He was also surgeon genral of Ohio, under Governors Hayes and Noyes, and was also a prominent and popular member of the faculty of the Starling medical college, at Columbus, Ohio.
Nelson was educated at the public schools and at the academy of Dr. Washburn, in Blendon, Franklin county. By the death of his father, Nelson was thrown upon his own resources, and when fifteen years of age he was employed as a clerk in the Columbus post office, under Belah Latham, and intimate friend of his father, and the father of Hon. Milton S. Latham, one of the California millionaires of the present day. in 1837 he entered the long established house of Fay, Kilbourne & Co., of Columbus, of which firm the late Dr. Lincoln Goodale was a member, and the original founder. Here he remained until 1840, when with his mother and her family he returned to his native town and entered the establishment of H. & W. Bell, where he remained until appointed by the board of public works as collector of tolls for the Ohio and Erie canal at Circleville, and in that position he remained until a change of political management resulted in his being rotated out of office in 1843 he entered the employ of the celebrated firm of Neil, Moore & Co., the extensive and widely known stage coach proprietors. In those days that firm wielded a power in the State and nation scarcely inferior to that now exercised by the larger lines of railway, as all the mails and passengers were transported from the seacoast to the Mississippi valley by these and similar lines of coaches; and, at the time of which we write, there were but two unimportant lines of railway in the State. The reader, whose memory extends back to the days of stage coaches, cannot have yet forgotten the thrill of awe with which he gazed upon the huge swinging vehicle with its living load, drawn by four shining, prancing steeds, as it whirled through the village streets, nor the stirring tones of the dirver's bugle, which was wont to waken the echoes of the quiet night, with its note of warning to the drowsy hostler, or the still drowsier postmaster, warning them to be quick about changing horses and mails, under pain of the driver's severest displeasure, expressed in language more forcible than polished. The drivers of those days, the only heores of that time who remain bright in memory, have long been stranded in quiet church-yards, or forced to the far west by the overflowing tide of emigration and railway travel, where they may be occasionally found scaling the giddy grades of the Rockys and the Sierras, or dashing through the teeming California valleys. Here, in Ohio, they exist only in the meory of the middle-aged citizen, whose boyish heart was wont to swell with pride if he were in the enjoyment of a nod fromt he royal knight of the whip, and who would give a thousand miles of travel in a palace car to have one more swing at the tail of a flying coach, hanging to the streaming straps of the loaded "boot."
While Mr. Turney was in the employ of the stage company a difficulty occurred with a Missouri company, and he was forthwith dispatched to Missouri with a full equipment of coaches and horses, to run an opposition line in that State, and bring the western company to a realizing sense of their temerity in assuming to run counter to the will of the more powerful Ohio corporation. This prompt action of the Ohio company brought the Missouri comapny to tems when Mr. Turney had only reached Indianapolis, and he was at once ordered north with his outfit, and distributed the horses and coaches along the lake shore, betweek Sandusky and Detroit, where he established a line, with headquarters at Toledo, where he remained in charge of the business until the spring of 1844. He then returned to Columbus, remaining in the employ of the stage company until the following year, when he removed to philadelphia and entered the wholesale dry-goods house of Messrs. Miller, Cooper & Co., where he continued until the following year, when he returned to Ohio. He was then married to Miss Dorothea Renick, daughter of George Renick, esq., of Chillicothe, and engaged in the mercantile business on his own account at Circleville, where he remained until he sold out his business and removed to Chillicothe. In 1850 he returned to Pickaway county, where he engaged in farming on an extensive scale, giving his attention more particularly to stock-feeding. Twenty years after, with the intention of retiring from all active business, he sold his farm and removed to Circleville, where he built the beautiful and commodious house in which he now resides.
Mr. Turney still owns a farm of five hundred and twenty-five acres, lying a short distance west of Circlville, which is one of the model farms of central Ohio. He has taken a deep interest in agriculture for many years, and has striven, by all proper means, to encourage a higher standard of excellence in farm management. He was an active member of the county agricultural society from its first organization, and for many years its president. He was also one of the most active and energetic members of the State board of agriculture from 1862 to 1870, and was president of the board during the years 1863 and 1864.
Mr. Turney was largely instrumental in developing the turnpike system of Pickaway county, and built the Circleville, Darbyville and London turnpike. He also superintended the building of the beautiful Masonic temple at Circleville, and was chairman of the committee of arrangements, June 2, 1879, on the occasion of its dedication, an event long to be remembered by the thousands of citizens of central Ohio who witnessed the imposing ceremonies and partook of the bountiful hospitalities of the Circleville Free Masons.
Few of the citizens of Ohio enjoy in a higher degree the respect, esteem and confidence of the people of Ohio than does Mr. Turney, and few are more deserving of confidence. His life has been well filled with positions of honor and trust, the duties of all of which he has discharged with remarkable fidelity and rare good judgment; and, singularly, all of his more important positions have been without compensation.
By appointment of Governor Brough, in 1864, he was a member of the military committee of his county during the most trying period of the war, when treason reared its horrid form at home to threaten and alarm. In that position he was most devoted and self-sacrificing. Whitelaw Reid, in his "Ohio in the War," fully realized the importance of that valuable adjunct to the State military forcen when he said:
"The services of the military committees throughout the war were valuable, as during all the years of the war there were enemies at home as well as at the front, who had to be met and overcome."
As a member of his county committee, Mr. Turney was actively engaged in providing for the raising and equipment of the various contingents of troops which Pickaway county was called upon to supply, and otherwise aiding and sustaining the State executive in the darkest days of the civil war; and all this without other compensation than the consciousness of a patriotic duty faithfully performed. He was ever ready to respond to the calls of the governor to go to the front, where our stricken soldiers were languishing in hospitals, no matter at what sacrifice of time or comfort, or pleasure. He was also actively engaged in the field during the memorable "Morgan raid."
In 1859 Mr. Turney declined the nomination to the Ohio house of representatives, and, in 1868, he was the Republican candidate for congress, but his district being overwhelmingly Democratic, he was defeated by a strict party vote. In his early youth and manhood he was a Whig in politics, and connected himself with the Republican party on its organization. In 1872 he was a delegate to the Republican national convention which met in Philadelphia and nominated Grant the second time.
In 1871 Mr. Turney was selected by Hon. Columbus Delano, secretary of the interior, to go as a special commissioner to investigate the business of the Indian agencies of the upper Missouri river, including the Yankton, Santee, Cheyenne, and Grand River Sioux, and subsequently the agency at Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the so-called "pine contracts" with the Menomonee Indians of Michigan. In the fall of the same year, in company with Hon. B. R. Cowen, assistant secretary of the interior, and Colonel J. J. Woods, of Kansas, he appraised the Cherokee lands in the Indian Territory west of 96º west longitude. In 1872, with Assistant Secretary Cowen and Major J. W. Wham, of Illinois, under appointment of the secretary of the interior, he visited the Teton Sioux, then under the leadership of the notorious Sitting Bull, and after spending three months near the upper Missouri river in Montana, with the wildest of the wild tribes, three hundred miles from any military force or station, and without escort or protection of any kind, led away three thousand of Sitting Bull's forces, and brought thirty of his most influential chiefs to Washington. In 1873, he served as chairman of the special commission appointed by Secretary Delano to investigate the lumber contracts made betwee Hon. E. P. Smith, commissioner of Indian affairs (then agent of the Leech Lake Indians), and A. H. Wilder, esq., of St. Paul, Minnesota.
In 1871 Mr. Turney was appointed, by President Grant, a member of the celebrated board of Indian commissioners. This board was provided for by and act of congress, and was to be filled only by men eminent for their philanthropy, who were to serve without compensation. They exercised a great influence in the conduct of the business of the Indian office, and ably seconded the efforts of the president and Secretary Delano to introduce reforms in the Indian service. The following named gentleman constituted the commission: Felix R. Burnot, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, chairman; Robert Campbell, St. Louis; William E. Dodge, Nathan Bishop, New York; John V. Farwell, Chicago; George H. Stuart, Philadelphia; E. S. Tobey, Boston; John D. Lang, Maine; Nelson J. Turney, Ohio; and Vincent Collyer, of New York, secretary. Mr. Turney served on this board until failing health compelled him to retire, in 1875.
He was appointed by Governor Hayes as trustee of the Central Ohio asylum for the insane, and served until the Democratic legislature of 1874 legislated the board out of existence.
On account of his well recognized business capacity and integrity, Mr. Turney was chosen assignee in bankruptcy of the estate of Mr. Lemuel Steeley, one of the largest estates in the Scioto valley. His management of the large interests thus committed to his charge in the very midst of the severest financial depression the country ever experienced, is one among the many evidences of his ability. To the satisfactory settlement of that estate his friends can always point with commendable pride.
Mr. Turney is unassuming in his manner, and somwhat undemonstrative in the expression of his opinions, but he is none the less firm in his convictions and unswerving in their support and advocacy. He is brave and generous to a fault, and neither danger, threats, nor ridicule can swerve him from what he thinks the path of right; but he is, at the same time, considerate of the opinions and feelings of others. In him the deserving young man, struggling for a foothold in the crowded occupations of life, has always found a friend, and while he has ever been liberal in his gifts and charities, few of his most intimate friends are aware of his charitable efforts. Neither bigoted nor puritanic in his creed or in his life, he has yet so demeaned himself as that his work will be able to stand the test of the Grand Overseer's square when it is presented for inspection. In all the positions he has filled, no one has, even for a single moment, had reason to doubt his integrity, and the sobriquet. "Old Honesty," which was, years ago, conferred upon him by his associat members of the Ohio State board of agriculture, is the very best evidence of his character in that respect.
The writer has seen him placed in positions where men of ordinary courage and integrity would have hesitated as to their duty, but his clear sense of right and justice was never clouded by fear, nor in the slightest degree disturbed by threats. Regardless of mere personal danger, he always goes straight forward in the line of duty. In short, he fully demonstrates, in his own clearly defined and positive character, the purity of his descent from those sturdy French Calvinists who could leave home, and country, and fortune, under the bloody persecution of papal despotism, but could not surrender their freedom of conscience and the liberty to worship God in their own way.