The beginning of Portsmouth was due to the pioneers who shaped the history that would become our heritage today. In order to begin a settlement the people were determined on creating a city that would be governed by rules of law and order. The early pioneers knew from the beginning there would be those that took on roles of leadership. One such man was John R. Turner, who would become a servant and leader, together with the citizens of Portsmouth.
Turner was born in Virginia in 1787. He was married to Susan (Chenoweth) Turner when he died, she was his second wife and they married on May 09, 1844 in Pike Co., Ohio. As far as his arrival in Portsmouth, that hasn’t been established, only that at his death he was considered one the oldest residents of the city. In the book, “History of Lower Scioto Valley;” it mentions a William Turner (Grandson of John R.,) William was born in Washington Township in 1831. It goes on to state that his “Grandfather came here from Virginia, in the early settlement of the state, bringing his slaves, after which he set free.” This very well could have been John R. Turner of Portsmouth.
He was clerk of courts for 45 years starting in 1810 and ending in 1855; and then Mayor for the next two years. He probably would have arrived here from Virginia as a young man during or after the platting of Portsmouth. He was a Private with the Ohio Militia, in the war of 1812. Moving ahead to the 1850 census he was living in Portsmouth and his occupation was listed as, Clerk of Courts. The year 1851 saw John R. Turner win the Clerk of Courts by the narrowest of margins. The final tally was Turner 1,134 and 1,133 for George H. Flanders, a one vote majority.
His obituary in the Portsmouth Times on Oct. 19, 1858:
“ John R. Turner, one of the oldest citizens of Portsmouth, expired on Friday last, after an illness of little more than a week in duration. His remains were followed to the grave on Sunday afternoon by the largest concourse of people ever collected on a similar occasion in this city.
Mr. Turner was born in Virginia, 1787, and was consequently seventy-one years of age when he died. From 1810 to 1855, he held the office of Clerk of the Common Pleas of Scioto County. Perhaps no other man in the State could exhibit so long an incumbency of that or any other station. In 1855 he was elected Mayor of Portsmouth, and served in that capacity for two years, – until April, 1857.
Thus, one by one, are the pioneers disappearing. A little longer, and not one of the race which came here when all was wilderness will be left to tell the story of those eventful times.”
We must take heed from what was stated at the end of Mr. Turner’s obituary and never forget whence we came from. He was a true pioneer.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org