He started work as a clerk in a dry goods store at the age of 14, in Newport, Rhode Island. He was self-educated, and returned to Warren to co-found a dry goods and tailoring business there. They had seven children, four of whom died in very early life.
Turner served in the state militia during the Dorr Rebellion, and commanded the pro-Governor King forces at Acote"s Hill.
After the rebellion, Turner was elected to the State Assembly from Warren. He served as lieutenant governor from 1857 to 1859.
Turner succeeded his fellow Republican Elisha Dyer as Governor of Rhode Island, serving from May 31, 1859 to May 29, 1860. After leaving office, he was appointed by President Lincoln to the position of First Collector of Internal Revenue for the First District of Rhode Island.
Turner was President of the Equitable Insurance Company, of Providence, Rhode Island, in his later years.
He died in his home in Warren, Rhode Island. He was buried at South Burial Ground, Warren, Bristol County, Rhode Island.
During the years 1857-1858, Turner became an active member of the Baptist Church in Warren. He was a trustee of Brown University and a member of the Rhode Island Historical Society.