Tag Archives: Mary Bassett

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

Seeking Security with Asahel Platt

Asahel Platt circa 1790-1833

Mary Bassett must have felt lost and alone.  When she was 16, her family had made the difficult move from New Hampshire to Ohio. And just three years later, in 1829, her mother, Elizabeth Stone Bassett died in Keene, Ohio.

Mary’s sisters Eliza (Emerson) and Martha (Smith) and Lura (Laura) (Stone) got married soon after, and Mary followed suit.  Only sister Sarah never married.

Two Distinguished Families

Asahel Platt came from a Connecticut family, almost matching the Bassetts in historic importance.  Both Asahel and Mary had grandfathers who fought in the American Revolution. Mary’s ancestor William Bassett was a Pilgrim sailing on the Fortune in 1621. Asahel’s ancestor Richard Platt , an early settler of Milford, had emigrated from Ware in Hertfordshire, England,  a hot-bed of Puritanism about 1638 according to Families of Early Milford, Connecticut by Susan Emma Woodruff Abbott. (Google Books).

Mary conducted a small school for a short time on a farm in Coshocton County, Ohio, and I have not figured out how she met Asahel Platt. Since I am descended from Mary’s second husband, and their daughter Harriett was the informal family historian, family information about Asahel was sparse. Thanks to researching sideways through his siblings, I have pieced together some information.

The Platt Family of Milford

The Platt family came from Milford Connecticut in New Haven County. Asahel and three of his siblings were baptized on October 4, 1790 at the First Congregational Church. In total, he had 5 sisters and three brothers.  His parents were Isaac Platt (son of Isaac Platt) and Amy Eehls Platt.

Although it would be unusual for a man to marry for the first time so late in life, I have not found a record of an earlier marriage before Mary.  When his father, Isaac Platt, wrote his will in 1817, he left property to other sons, but cash to be paid to Asahel (spelled Asel in the will).  That makes me assume that at the age of approximately 27, Asahel had already left Connecticut to seek his fortune further west.

There is a tax list index that includes A. Platt in Washington County, Ohio in 1810 but I have not sought to confirm that is “our” A. Platt and if so, what more information it might give.

At any rate, somehow, Mary Bassett, just 19, met the 39-year-old Asahel Platt in Ohio, and they married and settled in Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio. Asahel must have signified stability in Mary’s so-far unsettling life. Twenty years age difference meant he was almost as old as her father.

Life Comes Undone

But Mary was not yet to have a settled life. According to my mother, Mary and Asahel had an baby who died in infancy. Then in October 1833, just four years after their marriage, Asahel died.  He must have been ailing for some time, because I have a letter to him from one of his brothers that was written in September 1833 asking about his health and complaining that he has not heard from him since the past June. The letter hints at concerns about his spiritual health as well.(You can see the entire letter in a post below this one.)

In a double blow, Mary’s father also died in 1833. Now she was an orphaned, 23-year-old-widow. Fortunately, Asahel owned land and goods and had some cash, so she was not destitute, but the will specifically sets aside enough to sustain the widow for ONE YEAR.

What I Learned From Asahel Platt’s Probate Papers

When I chanced upon the legal papers regarding the settlement of Asahel’s estate I was in for some surprises.

First, our family records spell his name Ashel, no doubt because that is what is on his tombstone in the Killbuck cemetery, but that is not the official spelling. (Not that anyone in the 19th century cared about spelling.)

Second, he had no will. Only forty-three years old, death caught him unprepared.

Third, I was reminded that women had no legal standing when I noticed that a receipt for funds for Mary Morgan (late widow of Asahel Platt) did not sign her own name. Instead, this intelligent woman who was to become a competent businesswoman, had to sit back and watch her new husband, Jesse Morgan sign for her.

Jesse Morgan

Jesse signs receipt from her first husband’s probate for Mary Morgan, 1846

Fourth, looking at the somewhat puzzling inventory of his belongings–ribbons? merino shawls?a white “vail”, five pairs of men’s gloves 8 pocket knives, 10 razor straps and posts and on and on for several pages, I wondered what he was doing with all that stuff.

Asahel Platt Inventory

One of several pages of inventory of belongings of Asahel Platt.

Then a light bulb went on in my head–he was a merchant. He must have owned a general store in Killbuck. I can’t help wondering if in those early years before he married he was a traveling peddler. His brother’s letter to him in 1833 hints at a restless spirit.

Asahel’s  will leaves Mary quite well fixed, with three pages of furniture and other items set aside for the widow. The settlement of the estate dragged on from Asahel’s death in November 1933 until September 1946 until the will was settled.  I began to think I was re-reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. (The dark satire on law and the courts follows a case called Jarndyce vs Jarndyce that drags on into infinity.) By the time probate closed, Mary had been married to her second husband for six years, and faced a new set of problems.

Asahel Platt

This pillar in the Killbuck Cemetery matches the stone of Mary Bassett Platt Morgan.

Ashel Platt Killbuck cemetery by Debe Clark

Note the variant spelling of his first name in this closeup of his tombstone. Photo from Find a grave, by Debe Clark.

How I am Related

  • Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the daughter of
  • Vera Stout Anderson, the daughter of 
  • Harriett Morgan Stout, the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett Platt Morgan who was married first to Asahel Platt.

Notes on Research

Letters from Alanson Platt to Asahel Platt (1833) and Mary Platt Morgan (1853). Copies of letters our family has kept. In the 1853 letter regarding some legal issues, Alanson lists all of the Platt siblings and where they were living at that time.  He even included the married names of the women in the family. Thank you Alanson. And thank you Mary Morgan and Hattie Stout and Vera Stout for keeping these letters in the family for future researchers.

Connecticut, Church Record Abstracts, 1630-1920, Vol. 071 Town of Milford,  First Congregational  Church, Ancestry.com Several pages refer to Platt family members.

Indiana Genealogy: Articles Appearing in the Indianapolis, Ind. Sunday. Specific listing of William Bassett (Pilgrim) and descendants cites D. A. R. Magazine Vol. 60 No. 6, 1926-12542.

Ohio, Wills and Probate Records, 1786-1998, Holmes County, Asahel Platt Probate Records 1833-1846.

Find a Grave, Ashel Platt.  Photos of tombstone are by Debe Clark, used with permission from Find a Grave.

Calendar pencil polished

The Propelling Pencil. Is It Counterfeit?

Mary Bassett's chest

Mary Bassett’s chest traveled from New Hamshire to Keene Ohio on a wagon, and 140 years later from Ohio to Arizona on a moving van. (The casters were added long after the original construction.)

When my brother and sister came to visit recently, one of the things we did was go through the antique clothing and miscellaneous belongs of grandmother, great-grandmother and great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother that have been packed away in this chest–some for more than 100 years. We were particularly fascinated with the “propelling pencil.”

Mary Bassett's chest

Inside Mary Bassett’s handmade wooden Chest

WE’RE TALKING OLD STUFF!

The chest itself is at least 190 years old, because the Bassett family traveled to Ohio about 1826, and we know that the chest made the journey with them. Over the years, more family treasures were added to the chest, like the propelling pencil we discovered.

I am still trying to determine the oldest items in the chest, but I do know that some were made by our great-great grandmother Mary Bassett Platt Morgan (original owner of the chest) The items include baby clothes of my great-grandmother and grandfather, who were born in 1842 and 1845–so those items are about 175 years old.

I mentioned Mary Bassett’s hand-made chest and the Bassett family journey to Ohio  and her father’s story , but have not yet revealed the contents of the chest (except for Great-Grandfather Doctor William Stout‘s certificates from Eclectic Medical College).

A DISCOVERY

Inside the chest, the carpenter constructed a small compartment, presumably for smaller items like jewelry, pocket watches, and the like.  i remember from my childhood some doctor’s instruments stored in that compartment, but they are no longer there. I think maybe I gave them to my brother. (We have a running argument about who got the most family treasures.)

But here is what we found when we opened that compartment.

Mary Basset's chest

Contents of small compartment inside Mary Basset’s chest

On the left are miniatures of tintypes, then some collar stays, great-grandfather William Stout’s baby shoes (he was born in 1845), some identification notes, and a small silver object.  As you will see in the following pictures, what we later learned was called a “propelling pencil” did not look so shiny when we first noticed it.

A CLOSE LOOK AT THE PROPELLING PENCIL

Mystery Item

1. Mystery item found in antique chest

Before long, my sister discovered that if you slid the center ring down, you got this.

Mystery Item Looks like pencil

2. Looking like a pen or pencil

It was very small.

Size of Mystery Object

3. size of pencil before extension

4 center ring extends point

Some Internet research confirmed that this was a mechanical pencil, actually called “propelling pencil.” I was surprised to learn that mechanical pencils had such a long history. One article claims they were first invented in the 16th century, but a satisfactory lead–both thin and strong–took longer. According to Wikipedia ” This source says first patent for a refillable pencil with lead-propelling mechanism was issued to Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins in Britain in 1822. (Mordan soon bought out Hawkins and formed a British manufacturing firm called Mordan and Co. with stationer Gabriel Riddle. After 1836 Mordan operated the company alone.The company operated until a German bombing raid destroyed the factory in World War II and the company was formally dissolved in 1952).

My sister insisted that the hatch-marks on the end of the pencil must have a purpose, since everything else seemed to be there for a reason.  Research showed she was exactly right. It was used as a stamp for sealing wax.  Odd that such an advanced writing instrument as a propelling pencil co-existed with sealing wax.

End of propelling pencil.

End functions as a Stamp for Sealing wax.

Collector’s Weekly speculates that Sampson Mordan was also responsible for the numbers and letters that we see on our propelling pencil. “In the early 10th century, Vickery’s in Lodon carried everything from tricolor pencils to ones with calendars on their cases (These were likely made by Mordan.)

Calendar on Propelling pencil

6- a calendar with days and dates on turning rings

Experimenting with the pencil, we discovered that the first ring (on the left in this picture) represented the days of the week, and could be turned to line up with columns of numbers.  Here you see a month where Fridays fall on the 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, and if there is one–31st.

The cap at the top of the pencil screws off revealing an empty space with a solid bottom.  When we found that, we were convinced that this was a mechanical pencil ( a propelling pencil, it turns out) and that small compartment was where the leads were stored. Impressed with the ingenuity of this little pencil, I decided to find out if it was really silver, and polished it up.

Calendar pencil polished

7. Calendar propelling pencil after polishing

It was.

Although we have no direct evidence, I am convinced that it belonged to our Great-Grandfather Doctor William Stout.  From what I have been able to learn about him, he was always excited about the latest new ideas, and would have been happy to own this little tool. As to date, it would be in the early 1900s, when Grandfather was practicing medicine.

IS THIS A SAMPSON MORDAN PEN OR A COUNTERFEIT?

In order to get the numbers 1-31 in a grid with 7 columns, there are going to be four spaces left over in the bottom row.  On our pencil those squares are filled with the letters T A N V.  We still have not figured out the meaning of T A N V.

After reading the very informative site on all things Sampson Mordan, I suspect it is not the  Mordan “ever-pointed pencil”.  Our pencil may have been made by a company in America that ripped off the British company’s popular design.  In 1828 and 1829 the Mordan Company took ads to warn people about such nefarious activities.

“A warning to Merchants trading in Europe, East Indies, America, etc. about a spurious article made for sale in Foreign Countries.”

And their advertisements all warn that they use the Sampson Mordan company name or symbol on the real pens.  There is no S.M. or Mordan and Co. anywhere on our pencil. Furthermore, the Mordan Company put a number designating the thickness of lead near the point of the pencil, and ours has no such number.

Finally, the advertisements I have found for resale of the antique Mordan pens of this design feature either gemstones or fancy letters for seals on the cap rather than the simple hatch mark on ours.

I am hoping that one of the experts on mechanical pencils will be able to tell me what the letters T A N V mean and a probable date of manufacture.

But real or counterfeit, we consider this mechanical pencil a treasure because it was used by our ancestor and carefully preserved for one hundred years. Holding a pencil that was used by someone one hundred years ago definitely gives me the chills.

Suggested reading:

The story of Mary Bassett’s family’s journey to Ohio in her father’s story.

This has been one of my occasional posts on Heirlooms.  Other family history bloggers who write about heirlooms from time to time include:

Do you have an antique pen or pencil? Have you explored its history?