Turpin was born into slavery on November 15, 1836, in Goochland County and was one of the nine children of Edwin Turpin, a white planter, and his enslaved woman Mary James. Their father freed all but one of them in a deed dated December 13, 1857, and recorded two days later. His elder sister Martha Catherine, who had been freed the previous year, was the wife of, later a member of the Convention of 1867–1868 and the Senate of Virginia. In November 1863, Turpin paid his father $400 to purchase twenty-five acres of land adjacent to his father’s place of residence in Goochland County.
A house painter by trade, Turpin won the nomination at a raucouscounty convention on October 21, 1871, to replace a white Republican as the nominee for the county’s seat in the House of Delegates. In the general election, Turpin defeated a Conservative Party candidate 669 to 647, with six votes going to the original Republican nominee. The Conservative challenged the legality of the election because two election officials at one of the county’s polling places had failed to take the required oaths. Conservatives had a majority of seats in the house but ruled that Turpin had been lawfully elected. Appointed to the lowest-ranking seat on the Committees on Counties, Cities, and Towns and on Officers and Offices at the Capitol, Turpin offered one of several amendments to revise a law that provided artificial legs to men who lost limbs during the Civil War. His amendment stated, “Colored men who lost legs as soldiers or employees in the late war shall be entitled to the benefits of this act.” The assembly enacted the bill with Turpin’s amendment, which permitted veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops to receive the state benefit and perhaps also men who as slaves or civilians had been wounded after being into working on Confederate defenses.
Turpin also voted in 1872 for a law to prohibit payment of taxes with the interest-bearing coupons on bonds the state issued in 1871 to refinance the. It was the first of almost three decades of legislative attempts to stop the practice that flooded the treasury with coupons and reduced the amount of revenue the state could devote to the new or other public services. Turpin was not on the floor when the assembly overrode the governor‘s veto. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals later declared the law unconstitutional. In March 1873 during the second session of his term, Turpin joined other African Americans and some Republican delegates who opposed what they believed was a partisan and unconstitutional plan by white legislators to elect county judges, but by vote of a large majority the other delegates refused to receive or record their complaint.
Turpin attended the Republican State Convention in 1873, which elected him to the party’s state central committee. He was nominated for a second term in the House of Delegates at the party’s October 1873 county convention but lost 736 to 662 to a different white Conservative in the general election. Sometime later, probably before the end of the decade, Turpin moved to the Bronx, New York, where his brother Durock Turpin lived with his family. Turpin worked as a sleeping car porter and about 1886 married a Virginia native named Sarah J. (surname unknown). They had one child who died before 1900. Turpin died of heart disease at his New York home on September 7, 1908. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.