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09/16/2021 06:09 PM
Pennsylvania State Senate

William J Turrell


Session Position District Party
1863 9 Republican
1865 Speaker 11 Republican
 Counties   Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wyoming


1814 - 1881

Born March 13, 1814 at New Milford, Connecticut, the Honorable William J. Turrell moved with father William Sr. to Montrose, Pennsylvania in 1816.  He apprenticed with his father as a saddler and harness maker and later studied law under the Reverend R.L. Post. Turrell became a legal partner of Post’s and the Baptist minister's devout follower. His mentor eventually left the law practice to become a full-time missionary, allowing William the opportunity to take over the firm. After hanging a new sign on the door, William married Huldah Van Valkenburgh of New York City in 1854. The avid Republican and Montrose attorney represented Bradford, Susquehanna, Wyoming, and Sullivan counties in the state Senate, William defeating Democrat William Wallace for the Speaker’s chair at the end of the turbulent 1864 special session.  He chaired Education in 1863 and Judiciary in 1864, preparing for his graduation to Senate Speaker.  Well trained for the position, Turrell periodically relieved Speaker Penney as “Speaker pro tempore” throughout the 1864 session. In legislative matters, Senator Turrell supported a resolution backing Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, advocated the termination of the Civil War by force rather than negotiation, promoted the continuation of the greenback economy after the war, pushed for the closure of the coal and canal company store system, and voted for the Pennsylvania soldier’s suffrage bill, a measure that figured significant during President Lincoln’s re-election.  He backed the 1864 Free (U.S.) Banking System bill and Thirteenth Amendment, sponsored anti-lobbying legislation, and as Speaker, voted for Blacks’ unrestricted access to rail passenger (trolley) coaches. The senator retired from legislative service to Susquehanna County, where he served a five-year term as deputy state attorney general, assumed duties as president of the county’s legal association, and joined the First National Bank’s board of directors. On December 27, 1873, he represented Susquehanna County as a delegate to the 1873 Constitutional Convention and chaired the Committee on State Institutions and Builders. The senator also deliberated on the Private Corporations Committee. A dedicated local public servant, Senator Turrell presided as council president of the Ladies Aid Societies of Susquehanna County during the Civil War. The senator additionally served as president of the county Monument Association, delivering a moving dedicatory speech on July 3, 1880, honoring local veterans. The Honorable William Turrell passed away on August 31, 1881. The renowned barrister William H. Jessup called Turrell “a man of unsullied character, a man of fine legal attainments, and a man wise as a counselor and faithful as a friend.”  Hon. J. Brewster McCollan paid tribute to the senator, noting his years of public service and asserting “in the position of public trust to which he was called he acquitted himself creditably, and was recognized as a faithful and efficient representative and defender of interests committed to his care.”  William M. Post noted, “It is with no unmeaning words and formal phrase, and I but express the sentiment of all my brethren of the bar, when I say that William J. Turrell was no ordinary man … he was never a place-hunter, a ‘trimmer’ or a demagogue.”
(Pennsylvania State Archives, PHMC)