Category Archives: Documents and Letters

The Last Letter Grandma Mary Morgan Received

Perhaps my headline exaggerates just a bit. My great-great-grandmother probably did receive more letters in her lifetime. Heaven knows she handled hundreds of letters when she worked as a Postmaster at the Killbuck Post Office in the 1860s and 1870s. But to set the scene for this particularly life-changing last letter, let me take you back to Killbuck, Ohio, in October 1850 and remind you of Mary’s life up to then.

An old sewing basket

The sewing basket

Mary and Jesse’s Story Up To 1850

Mary Bassett traveled with her parents to Keene, Ohio from Keene New Hampshire, shortly after the founding of that little town near the Ohio Canal. When she arrived in 1826, at sixteen years old, she already had enough education that she shortly was teaching school–privately, at a neighboring farm.  She was only 19 when her mother died and Mary met and married the merchant Asahel Platt. Asahel came from a very religious family, perhaps even more religious than Mary’s father who descended from Pilgrims, and her mother, who came from the Puritan New England family of Stone.

Mary had brought a hand-made wooden chest with her from New Hampshire, and in it she kept precious hand-woven and embroidered cloths and clothing. She also kept important letters. (Fortunately for me, her daughter also kept the letters, and did HER daughter–my grandmother.)

Mary and Asahel had only one child, who died in infancy. They had moved to Killbuck in neighboring Holmes County, where Asahel opened a general store.  But their domestic life did not last long. Asahel died young, leaving Mary a widow at twenty-three years old.  Her father died the same year, and during the next few years, Mary returned to Coshocton County. Perhaps to save money, she moved into the home her parents left.

There she met Jesse Morgan, newly arrived from the state of New York. He was educated, lively, and must have seemed a good choice after the strait-laced family of her first husband.  They were married, and to lessen the burden on his new wife, Jesse farmed out his two oldest children–both boys.  One of the girls returned to New York, but one of the girls stayed in Killbuck, with Mary.  My great-great grandmother’s marriage had taken her back again to Killbuck.

I believe that Mary would have been happier to have Jesse be a teacher, but he was the restless sort who believed there was a fortune to be made somewhere. Jesse was determined to pursue that fortune.  Mary may not have been overjoyed by his frequent absences, but she surely adapted. He traveled through the mid-West buying and selling horses and sometimes land. He wrote to her frequently when he was “on the road,” and she stored his letters away, until this last letter.  They had a baby girl, Harriet (Hattie) Morgan who would be my great-grandmother, in addition to Malvinia, the daughter from Jesse’s first marriage.

The Last Letter Arrives

I can’t imagine the agony that ensued when Mary read this last letter. There Mary sits, in Killbuck, Ohio, with her 8-year-old daughter and Jesse’s 15-year-old daughter in the small town of Killbuck. She has not heard from her husband for many months, perhaps as much as a year. (The last letter to Mary from Jesse in the bundle she saved is dated September 1847.) Although she is accustomed to his being gone for long stretches of time and correspondence is slow, it has been long enough that she must be worrying.

Letter to Mary Morgan

Letter to Mary Morgan from Jesse Morgan’s brother-in-law. Oct.1850

 

 

Dear Madame: Haveing received a letter from Jesse Morgan when he was on the road to California, and never expecting to see him back again, and I takeing the New York Tribune a paper that is in Circulation in that Country I have watched with anxiety the Deaths that take place there, I find in the paper of Oct. 14 an account of his Death in a Skirmish between the Settlers and Officers respecting Land Titles.  He may have consiterable Property there and thinking you would want to look to it.  I therefore give you notice. I should [insert]if in your place [end insert] find out the circumstances by the Tribune.  If you should need assistance I would help you if you thought proper.  At any rate I should be glad to hear from you to know how he was Circumstanced there and why he went to California. please Write to us and oblig Your Brother and Sister.

Canaan Oct. 1850                                                      Solomon Frisbie

Now she learns that he has been dead for a full two months before she knew his fate. The pain must have been terrible.

Did Mary know that Jesse had gone to California? What my mother knew of her story and the evidence of letters saved contains no hint that she knew. Surely if she had received any letters from Jesse during his trip to California, she would have kept them, since she kept so many other letters from the road. Mr. Frisbie’s letter would have been her first indication that this time the distance traveled by Jesse was far greater. But worse, he had been killed in a riot. The painful knowledge that this time he would not return from his wandering contained the blacker feeling of disgrace. Multiple shocks contained in one letter.

It would seem to me that she would have been shocked that the brother-in-law back in Pennsylvania knew that Jesse had set out for California (even written him a letter when he was “on the road”) but had not kept in touch with her. And it strikes me as very odd that Jesse’s sister and brother-in-law knew that he had married and lived in Holmes County, but did not know his wife’s name or what town he lived in. They probably were unaware that he had a child with Mary.

Delivering the Last Letter

Solomon Frisbie gets points for trying his best to find Jesse’s widow. He sent a letter to the Postmaster at Holmesville, obviously (and erroneously) assuming that Holmesville was the county seat of Holmes County. The population of Holmes County was sparse and I imagine it did not take long for this last letter to find its way to Mary Morgan.

 

Letter from Solomon Frisbie

Solomon Frisbie to .Postmasters of Holmes County, seeking the widow of Jesse Morgan. Oct. 1850

Dear Post Masters
Not haveing any one in the County to communicate with but recently haveing a Brother in Law there by the name of Jesse Morgan which went from there to California which I see by the New York Tribune Died in Sacramento City Aug. 14 and he leaveing a Wife there, in what Township I know not but wishing to convey the intelegance to her I take this way of doing it Hoping that you Sir, will take the trouble to send it from one to the other Placing your Names on from whence it went making a Circular till it gets to the Township where he belonged. In so doing you will Oblige his Brothers and Sisters remaining here. Jesse Morgan has formaly be a Merchant and Wool Carder (illegible word) Yours Respectfully, Canaan, Oct. 1850 Solomon Frisbie

Solomon Frisbie’s Letter

Besides the fact that he did not know exactly where his brother-in-law lived and did not know the name of Jesse’s wife, I am struck by  pessimism.  He clearly expected bad things to come to anyone who dared undertake the journey to California. And Solomon, who lived all his live in his corner of Pennsylvania, must have thought Jesse was a wild man. He definitely expected Jesse to die, and thus made it a point to get a newspaper that covered California news and diligently read the obituaries, ultimately ‘rewarded’ for his diligence. The other thing he has no idea about is what Jesse does for a living.  Jesse had not been a wool carder since he left Pennsylvania, many years before.

In Solomon’s letter to Mary (the anonymous widow), the brother-in-law assumes that Jesse surely must have accrued valuable property in California. (He may have considrable property there, and thinking you would want to look to it.)Perhaps, like so many others, he had fallen for the legends of riches just waiting for the taking. At any rate, he offers his assistance to the widow–perhaps hoping there would be enough to spread around, or perhaps as the husband of the sister closest in age to Jesse, just fulfilling his familial obligation.

How Will the Widow Survive?

In fact, Jesse had not been in Sacramento long enough to amass anything, and probably left Ohio with barely enough to survive the long trip.  Poor Mary at forty years old with an eight-year-old daughter was once again a widow, and this time left without financial support.

I know that she had a small inheritance from her first husband and was a prudent manager, as she invested in properties in Killbuck.But as she worked later in life as a seamstress, I have to believe that she was earning some money with her fine needlework. We found some samples of her work in the wooden chest with a hand written note by her daughter.

lace collar

Mary Bassett Morgan collar, stitched together with a cloth made by her mother.

Also, Mary did have the support of her Bassett sisters and Stone relatives in nearby Coshocton County. And unlike many widows who moved in with family or quickly remarried, she remained single and stayed in Killbuck with her daughter.  She must have loved Jessie even after what might look like betrayal from our vantage point.

Jessie Morgan: a Scoundrel or a Hero

The best evidence of that is the fact that no ill will against her husband remained in the family. My grandmother spoke of him almost admiringly as an adventurer who was ‘done wrong.’ Despite newspaper articles that accused the rioters of being unlawful troublemakers, within the family Jesse was seen as a hero to disenfranchised people seeking their rights against greedy landowners. My great-grandmother named her middle son William Morgan Stout, which she would certainly not done if she felt animosity toward her absent father.

And Jesse’s own children  used the Morgan name with their children, so they also apparently felt no ill will against him.

*You can read the details of Jesse’s untimely end in the post written by my brother about the well documented Squatter’s Riot in Sacramento. Jesse’s name even appears on a plaque. The squatters riot was covered widely in newspapers of the time, and also is described in history books. However, at the time, the squatters were reviled and nobody bothered to record where Jesse might have been buried. (One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s anarchist.)

 

More Information About Jesse and Mary’s Lives

I will return at a later date to Jesse’s trip to California with the 49ers and some further mysteries of his life and death, but a this point so much of that story is speculation that I prefer to move on to talk about some other ancestors with less vague histories.

The information in this story comes mainly from the letters, although it also contains my speculation based on family history and the deduction based on records of Mary’s and Jesse’s life and family heirlooms.

If you have not been following the story of Mary and Jesse, here is a guide to the stories of their lives.

Mary and Godey’s Lady’s Book

Postmaster Mrs. Mary Morgan

Seeking Security with Mr. Platt

The Jesse letters

Promises and Instructions 1843

Teaching and Land Speculation 1845

Canal and Lake Travel 1846

Buying land in Illinois 1847

Letter from nearby Wooster 1847

Traveling by Steamboat 1847

A Discouraged Jesse 1847

More About Jesse

Pennsylvania to Chautauqua New York1829

Letter From Ohio Lures Jesse 1835

Jesse’s Friend, Doc Woods

Veterans in the Family–William J. Anderson

Seabee William J. Anderson

I have listed all the veterans in my family as I find them.  Please pay tribute to them here. (You will also find the names of the people in the family picture below by clicking on that link.) However, I must admit, I have many more veterans to add that I have discovered the in the past year. Those include Charles Morgan, son of my great-great grandfather and his first wife, who fought in the Civil War for the North.

Now I would like to focus on one particular World War II veteran, now deceased, my uncle William J. Anderson.

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1942 or 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, 1942 or 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

World War II Family 1942 or 1943

World War II Family 1942 or 1943 gathered in Killbuck Ohio home of Guy and Vera Anderson. William J. Anderson is seated on the right hand side in his Navy blues.

 

Uncle Bill served in the United States Navy as a “SeaBee”–C.B., Construction Battalion, in the islands of the South Pacific roughly between 1943 and 1946. In 1942 or 1943 he and other relatives gathered at the home of my Grandmother and Grandfather Vera and Guy Anderson in Killbuck, Ohio. He was probably at the end of his initial training period and would be shipped out to the Pacific in December 1943.

William J. Anderson Change of Address Card

Not only does this give me some interesting information about Uncle Bill, but it also highlights when my own family moved from Ames Iowa to Chicago Illinois during the war.

As for William J. Anderson, we learn that in December 1943,  he is with the 12th Specialists Battalion,  Company B-2. He holds the rank of EM 3/C, and his ship is in the Pacific–fleet post office San Francisco.  What does all that mean?

For one thing, it means that the nagging question I had as a five- and six-year-old was finally going to be answered.  We never knew where my uncles and cousin were in the Pacific. Once one of them sent us a souvenir book with pictures and maps showing Pacific islands, and I was convinced (having read too many Bobsey Twins mysteries) that they were sending us a secret code through the book to tell us where they were. I puzzled over it throughout the war, but never learned their locations.

Part way through the war, the Navy created Special Construction Battalions (also called Seabee Specials) for stevedores and longshoremen who unloaded ships in battle zones.  According to a history of the Seabees, the 12th Specialists were trained initially at Camp Peary in Virginia for three weeks and then in Port Hueme in California for six weeks before being shipped out in 1943, arriving in January 1944 at the Russell Islands in the Pacific. After unloading ships in the Russels for sixteen months, the 12th Spec. Battalion left its base and arrived in Okinawa on May 21, 1945.

Seabees emblem.

Seabees emblem.

William J. Anderson Dog Tag

I recently found Uncle Bill’s dog tags, and then saw this picture of him wearing the dog tag as he stood on a tropical island.

I have not been able to find what the meaning is of the serial number. If you know how to decode Navy serial numbers, please let me know.  If you are looking to decode an army serial number, Amy Johnson Crow comes to the rescue here.   However, I did learn that the “O” is for blood type, and the T 6/43 means he got a tetanus shot in June, 1943. I am not sure why he is USNR (Navy Reserve), but that may explain the earlier date of 1942 on the pictures of the family gathering. He would have a sailor uniform if he was in the reserve.

History of the 12th Special Battalion

Uncle Bill’s cheerful demeanor hints that this was probably the first post in the Russels, because the next post was not a piece of cake. Okinawa saw the most ferocious fighting in the Pacific, and the 12th was still there when the Japanese surrendered  in August 1945.

From Wikipedia: “Between the American landing on 1 April and 25 May, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 planes.”

The Seabees arrived at a most unwelcoming time of year, as Wikipedia graphically describes.

“By the end of May, monsoon rains which turned contested hills and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese and American bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey

You can see a film of the battle of Okinawa at the History website.

It is probably just as well that we did not know he was on Okinawa. Weh worried enough just listening to the radio news of the war, and seeing the newsreels that followed the features at the movie theater and reading screaming headlines. Had we known he was on Okinawa during that horrible battle, I don’t know how we would have coped. For that matter, I don’t know how HE coped, but he seemed to come through just fine.

William J. Anderson Life Details

The Rank on the change of Address card is EM 3/C, which means Electrician’s Mate, third Class.  While I know that Uncle Bill was proficient at fixing electrical things after the war, he was also handy at a great many chores.  His stories of the war, on a par with the tales in Catch 22,  indicated that he spent more time making deals with incoming ships to get good whiskey and special food for his commanding officer than working on wiring. But the Navy does not have a ranking for Finagling Deal Maker.

This information from the history of the Seabees makes me doubt the dating of the picture of our family and other pictures of Bill in his uniform as 1942, because the change of address specifies December 1943.  That would indicate that the pictures with the family would have been taken in 1943 near the end of his training, rather than 1942.

William J. Anderson would have been thirty-eight years old when he shipped off to a Pacific Island. That seems old for a warrior, but I read in a history of the Seabees that the average enlisted age of those construction battalion workers was thirty-seven. They were paid $140 a month, which made them one of the highest paid groups in the military.

Military life was not entirely foreign to Uncle Bill, as I described in this story about him in post-WWI civilian camp.

My other uncle, Herbert Anderson, was also a Seabee, as was my cousin, Robert Anderson.

They all came home safe after World War II, although Robert Anderson stayed in the Navy as a career.

I thank them all for their enormous contribution to our Nation during World War II.

 

How I am Related

Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of

Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the sister of

William J. Anderson

Doc James Woods: Character in Jesse’s Story

REVISED October 19, 2016

Illinois Land

Location of Land Jesse bought for Woods. 1847

Last week I wrote about 2 x great grandfather’s  Jesse Morgan’s 1847 purchase and sale of land to James Woods in Illinois. Thanks to the Illinois Archives and the Bureau of Land Management website for public land purchases, I could learn details of that purchase. As I said last week:

The sale coming only one month after the purchase, and Jesse’s mention of Mr. Woods in an August letter to Mary, both indicate that Jesse may have bought the land as an agent for Woods. If so, he made a hefty commission. Did you notice on the index that he bought the land for $200 and sold it a month later for $300? Way to go, Jesse. In August you were scrimping by living in the stable with your horses, and by October, you’ve made $100 with hardly any effort.

See last week’s post for the background, including the deed of sale when Jesse sold the land and a map of the land’s location.

Who is James Woods?

He sold the land to a man named James Woods, which made me curious. Who was this James Woods, also referred to as “Doc” Woods that Jesse mentioned at least three times in letters to his wife Mary as well as serving as Woods’ land agent?

[Warning:  Since I am patching together whole lives from scraps of information, the inferences I draw may be wildly off the mark. I am merely sharing one possible version of the story of Jesse Morgan and Dr. and Mrs. James Woods. Feel free to offer counter-possibilities.]

Since I had so little information–his name, probable occupation and the fact that he must have lived somewhere near Jesse and Mary in Holmes County–a search for James Woods on Ancestry was difficult. I resorted to searching line by line through census reports of the Killbuck village and township in Holmes County and found several Woods. Most of them were farmers, but I finally lit on a physician.

In 1850, the Woods family lived six houses away from Mary Morgan.  In 1840 they had lived in another county, but apparently moved  to Killbuck early in the decade, since Jesse mentioned them in an 1843 letter. Also, James B. Woods was Killbuck postmaster in October 1844, which could have been what motivated the move to Killbuck, and would have guaranteed he was well known in the community.

By 1860 Mary Morgan and her schoolteacher daughter lived with a family next door to the Woods family.

Following the lead on that census, I discovered that one of James Woods’ descendants had a public tree on Ancestry.com. While I do not generally rush to use information from family trees, this one was obviously well researched and sourced.

When I contacted the descendant, it turned out that he had a wealth of information, some of which shed light on Jesse Morgan and his letters.

The Litigious and Influential Mrs. Woods

I sent the Woods descendant copies of Jesse’s letters and asked what he thought Jesse was hiding  in his 1843 letter  when he warned Mary not to tell everything to Mrs. Woods. He replied that Mrs. Woods had a reputation for being litigious. He added that she was well connected and well regarded, so her opinion would definitely count for something.  So Jesse may not have been hiding anything in particular, but just being cautious around this woman of influence.

Sarah Cowan Woods, I learned, had several relatives who were lawyers and a cousin, who although he was a farmer, liked to play lawyer in the Holmes County court in Millersburg. Although Jesse was worrying about Mrs. Woods in  1843, her true colors showed long after Jesse was gone, when she went to court in 1871.

It seems that “Doc” James Woods drank a bit too much. (I know, I know. If this were a novel, the drunk small town physician would be a cliché.)  Besides her understandable frustration at having a husband who drank, Mrs. Woods was no doubt influenced by the Temperance movement, very powerful in the late 19th century. She may have also been emotionally unstable due to the death of a child between 1860 and 1870.

Whatever set her off, she decided to get revenge–and possibly make a few bucks–by suing everyone who ever served or sold liquor to her husband. She was represented by a most distinguished member of her family who was a Princeton graduate, a lawyer of high repute, and a future Congressman among other accomplishments. She won $800 of the $3000 she asked for. Still a considerable sum.

In 1870, the Woods were living in Millersburg, but the 1871 trial ended their life together and in 1880 we find J. B. Woods (James Woods) living in a Killbuck boarding house. The census lists Sarah Woods as a widow in Millersburg, where she works as a seamstress. Obviously she is not a widow, but she may wish she were.

This scandalous and well-publicized law suit not only ruined her husband’s reputation, and thus his career and their mutual source of income, but it also ruined their son James, who was just beginning his medical career. He fled town and died two years later.

An Unsavory Political Connection

Another bit of information the descendant shared shed light on a negative side of Jesse’s personality.

The politics that the Woods descendant described to me in an e-mail was a radical wing of the Democratic Party. During the Civil War the group would be called Copperheads–those opposed to Abraham Lincoln and his conciliatory policies toward the South.

James B. Woods was President of a small Democrat political organization in Millersville [Millersburg]. During the Civil War it sponsored speakers like Clement Vallandigham, an Ohio Congressman who supported slavery and the Southern cause. Immediately after the war, Woods’ group called for laws to control blacks, arguing strongly for legal segregation of the races. So, not a nice guy.

I have a letter that a nephew wrote to Jesse mentioning Jesse’s anti-German immigrant stance and the general prejudice against German immigrants. It is easy to believe that the politics of James Woods attracted Jesse. (The Woods’ descendant points out to me that prejudice against the wave of German immigrants in Ohio was widespread at that time, and I agree. See this earlier articleNevertheless, I believe that a tendency to be nativist would also incline Jesse to be among those who believed Negroes were inferior.)

Reunited in Death

James Woods (the father) survived twenty years after the lawsuit, dying in 1891. In 1900, Sarah Cowan Woods could  legitimately list “widow” on the census form in Millersburg.

Woods Tombstone

Tombstone of James and Sarah Woods and their son James.

Despite the tumultuous family life, some later family member decided the Woods and their son belong together in the Millersburg Ohio Oak Hill cemetery.

I do not know what happened to the land that James Woods bought from Jesse Morgan.  He never lived in Illinois. I hope he sold the land at a good profit to sustain him after his wife destroyed his career.

 

Coming Next

We will finish up Jesse Morgan’s story, by talking about his children, starting with Charles Morgan. But first, I’m going to share one of my mother’s recollections, appropriate for Halloween.   Oooooooo.

Research Notes on James B. Woods

(The first section lists the sources cited by the descendant discussed above on his family tree of James Woods. I did verify them on line through Ancestry.com)

United States Federal Census: 1840 (Union Twp, Putnam County, Ohio); 1850 (Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio); 1860 (Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio); 1870 (Millersburg, Holmes County, Ohio; 1880 (Killbuck and Millersburg, Holmes Couty, Ohio).

Find a Grave, Oak Hill Cemetery Millersburg, Ohio

U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971, Ancestry.com

“Ohio Obituary Index.” Database. Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. http://index.rbhayes.org/hayes/index/ : 2009.

(My own research sources)

Letters to and from Jesse Morgan 1843-1847. In the author’s possession.

Index of Land Sales, McHenry County, Illinois (portion); and Deed of Sale Jesse Morgan to James Woods, 1847 Holmes County, Ohio; Illinois Regional Archives Depository, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb Illinois. Photocopies. Received September 21, 2016.

Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records. On Line http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/ Searched August and September 2016.

Personal correspondence from Philip Campbell, September 2016