Tag Archives: New York

Malvina Morgan: Two Lives

Of all four of Jesse Morgan’s children with his first wife, Malvina Morgan was closest in age to my great-grandmother, Harriet Morgan (Stout), her half-sister. She was probably also the closest emotionally to my great-great-grandmother, Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, her father’s second wife.

Malvina Morgan 1835-1917

I had high hopes of being able to flesh out the life story of Malvina, because my mother passed on family memories of Malvina. For instance, she said that Malvina owned a store in Colorado and that she came back to Ohio to visit her step-sister Hattie (Harriet Morgan Stout). It is possible that my mother even encountered Malvina on one of her visits to Harriet (Hattie) in Ohio, but mother would have been a very young girl.  It is more likely that mother’s beloved grandmother Hattie (Harriet Morgan Stout) talked to my mother about the Morgan siblings.

But the Colorado part of Malvina’s life that my mother knew about was the second chapter. The first chapter set in the East and the second chapter set in the West. In the last half of her life she lived an independent life, far from the life of her childhood and the first chapter of her life, when she was a wife and mother.

Malvina’s Childhood

Malvina was born in Chautauqua County, New York in 1835, and would have been a toddler when her parents, Jesse and Mary Pelton Morgan moved to Ohio.  When Malvina was about three years old, her mother died.  I have no evidence of where Malvina lived as a very young child, but in 1838, her father married Mary Bassett, the widow of Asahel Platt, and they set up housekeeping in Killbuck, Ohio.

Two years later, in 1842, Jesse and Mary Bassett Morgan had a baby girl, Harriet (Hattie). Malvina was seven years old, and probably living in Killbuck with her father (when he was not ‘on the road’) and her step-mother.

In July, the 1850 census counted Malvina, now fifteen years old, living with Mary Morgan and the eight-year-old Harriet in Killbuck. The census report says the Malvina was in school that year. Although it was not common for girls to get education into their teens, it is not surprising that the well-educated former teacher, Mary, would ensure her step daughter went to school. In October of that year, Mary received word that Malvina’s father, Jesse, had been killed in Sacramento California in the month of August.

Chapter One: Malvina’s Married Life

In 1854, when Malvina was only 18 years old, she married 20-year-old Austin Grimes from Mina, Chautauqua County, New York.  Since her mother’s family still lived in Chautauqua County, I can only speculate that she met him while visiting family, or perhaps moved back there to live at some point.  The 1855 New York census shows Austin and Malvina living in Mina, next door to an Andrew Grimes, who was Austin’s older brother.  Later that year, Malvina gave birth to their first daughter, Eva.

Austin was working as a farmer and they continued to live in Chautauqua County, where their second daughter, Eva was born in 1858. The 1860 census shows the family in Ripley, New York, a town on Lake Erie and not far from their previous home in Mina.  By 1863, Austin (and probably the rest of the family) was living in Cornplanter, Pennsylvania and Austin had a new career in the oil fields.  His Civil War draft registration lists him as  “refiner”. However it also lists him as “single.”  Since the 1870 census lists the family together again, I can only assume the “single” is an error. The 1870 census again has Austin working in the oil fields in Cornplanter, this time as an “engineer.”  Emma (15) and Eva (12) are attending school, and the family has taken in two roomers to help make ends meet. One of those roomers is a 15-year-old nephew of Austin.

Austin clearly was interested in cashing in on the oil boom in Verango County, Pennsylvania, which started about 1860–the first major oil boom in the United States.  It becomes clear how important the petroleum industry was to that area when you look at some of the place names like Oil Creek, Petroleum Center and Pithole City.  The towns were rough and raw and the demand for labor must have been great for this farmer to suddenly turn into an oil refiner or engineer.  And by 1880, at the age of 46,he was a Fireman at an oil well.

If being a fireman on an oil well sounds dangerous–it was.  The job entailed removing dangerous gases building up in oil wells and putting out the sometimes explosive fires.

We know that in 1881 Austin Grimes died in Long Island, New York. The family had moved to Queens, New York, some time prior to the 1880 census. Whether it was an accident on the job or some other cause, he was just 47 years old when he died and left Malvina a widow at the age of 46. I was hoping to be able to find an obituary, or some confirmation of how he died, but it does seem probable that an accident on the oil fields caused his death.

Chapter II: Malvina Goes West as an Independent Woman

Because of the missing 1890 census reports, I do not know how long Malvina stayed in the east before moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado, but it turns out that mother was right–she lived in Colorado.  The Colorado Springs City Directories for 1900, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1910, 1912, 1914 and 1916 all list her. That means that all of the wandering Jesse Morgan’s four children from his first marriage followed in his footsteps and went west.  Carlos ended up in Montana, Charles in California, and Louise in Denver. Whether Malvina owned (or worked in) a gift shop as mother said, cannot be proven from the census reports or the City Directories, as no occupation is listed in any of them.

I did not spot any relatives near her at the addresses listed in Colorado Springs, although there are many Grimes’ in the Colorado Springs cemetery. Malvina moved at least four times, each time living in rented rooms.  She went from 837 W. Huerfano, to the Gough Hotel, spent at least one year at the YWCA in 1910 and then lived at the St. Charles Rooming House on South Tejon Street.  It seems to have been a lonely life, but perhaps she was able to travel frequently, since we know that she visited Mary Morgan in Killbuck Ohio more than once.

She outlived all three of her siblings and died in April 1917 in Colorado Springs.  She is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in that city, as Mrs. M. L. Grimes.

I have the feeling that one of the unidentified pictures in my great-grandmother’s photo album may be Malvina Morgan Grimes, but for now, I have only this sketchy information and my imagination.

I will tell the story of the fourth child of Jesse Morgan, Louisa Morgan, through the wanderings of her children.

How I Am Related

  • Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the daughter of
  • Vera Stout Anderson, who is the daughter of
  • Harriette (Hattie) Morgan Stout, who is the daughter of
  • Jessie Morgan and Mary Bassett Morgan.
  • Jessie Morgan with his first wife Mary Pelton is the father of
  • Malvina Morgan Grimes

Research Notes

Federal Census Reports: 1850, Killbuck, Holmes, Ohio; 1860, Ripley, Chautauqua, New York; 1870, Cornplanter, Venango, Pennsylvania; 1880, Queens, New York, New York; 1900, Colorado Springs, El Paso, Colorado

New York State Census: 1855, Mina, Chautauqua, New York (on line at Ancestry.com

James Morgan and his Descendants, North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000, Ancestry.com (on line)

Colorado Springs City Directories, U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989, Ancestry.com (on line)1900, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1916, Malvina Grimes, widow.

Find a Grave, M. L. Morgan, Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Civil War Registration, Austin Grimes, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshal General’s Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865); Record Group: 110, Records of the Provost Marsha

New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948, Austin Grimes, 1881, Long Island City, New York


Jesse Feels “Almost Like Flying” from Palmyra

Have you read Jesse Morgan’s earlier letters to his wife? If you read the first letter, you may remember his enthusiasm for describing the land and his trip. Do you recall his admonition to Mary?

“Don’t let any trouble annoy your feelings but keep up a buoyant spirit.”

That was back in 1843. It looks like my great-great grandfather could use a little of his own advice as he writes to Mary from Palmyra, New York during August 1847.

Palmyra was the home of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon).  Coincidentally, Joseph Smith was born the same year as Jesse Morgan–1805.  A Mormon publishing house thrived in Palmyra, and the Book of the Mormon was firsts published there. By 1847 when we know that Jesse visited Palmyra, Joseph Smith had been gone for several years, having migrated west, first to Kirkland Ohio and then on to Nauvoo, Illinois. However, the Mormon headquarters in Kirtland Ohio was still active when Jesse moved to Ohio. The majority of Smith’s followers had moved on to Illinois by the time that Jesse started making forays into Illinois. Jesse seems to be always following the Mormons. Particularly in the next stage of his life.

But now he has stopped at Palmyra, along the Erie Canal. Perhaps the contact with the Mormon religion during this low period of Jesse’s life had an influence on later events. (You’ll just have to keep reading future posts to find out the significance.)

If you compare the writing on this letter to that on previous letters, two things are immediately obvious. It is not the carefully formed script he used earlier, and instead of firmly straight lines across the page, the lines dip downward. A graphologist will tell you that downward slanting lines denote pessimism.  (You can’t fool us, Jesse!)  Only in his signature, does he at least try to regain his strong sense of self importance and optimism.

The Letter

Jesse writes from Palmyra

Jesse Morgan’s letter to his wife, Mary, August 1 1847 from Palmyra, NY

Jesse writes from Palmyra NY

Bottom of 1st page of Jesse Morgan’s letter to his wife, Mary, August 1 1847 from Palmyra, NY

Jesse's letter form Palmyra

Jesse’s signature on letter August 1847

The Transcription

Palmyra [New York] Aug 1st 1847

Dear Wife

I improve the present opportunity to write you a few lines which I should have done two weeks ago to inform you that I am alive and tolerably well at present.

I had a long and tedious journey down this time owning to the warm weather and one of my horses got sick, and I got him in a bad season, just at the commencement of haying and harvesting and but for wanting to buy, the sudden change in the market of Wheat has produced a stagnation of business at present.

As soon as haying and harvest is over which will be next 6 weeks the fall work will commence and the boats on the canal will begin to do business again and it is _______horses will be in some demand then. I have sold but one since I came down that I made $25.00.

I am now living cheap. I buy my hay from $5.00 per ton and stable room found on a farm just in the edge of Palmyra and have gone to work for the man at $1.00 per day and the privalege[sic] of taking care of my horses. I have lost some time. I got poisoned almost as bad as I was last fall. My horses consume about  ___[10 lbs] per day which is 25 cents and I make $1.00 so I gain .75 cents. I find no grain, you can hardly imagine how bad I want to see home when I think about it I feel all most like flying but mean to hold on a little while yet. I want to do well this time if I can but I am well satisfied that I shall not do as well as I did the second time I was down. I think I shall be at home in a two weeks.

Receive these few lines with together with my warmest affection for you

from your affectionate husband

Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Thoughts on the Letter

I have very few comments to make on this letter from Palmyra.  His remark that he should have written two weeks ago, indicates to me that he has been away at least a month. Possibly  he continues a trip he wrote about in April and June.

One thing slightly puzzles me–his references to going “down” when he is going to Palmyra in northern New York.  Since we do have the usage of “down East” for Maine, I wonder if East was “down” and West was “up” in the way that now North is “up” and South is “down”? Perhaps one of my astute readers can clarify?

Say what you may about Jesse’s odd, meandering way of life, and his long absences, he was not afraid to work hard. He will do whatever is necessary to survive.  I am particularly touched by “..you can hardly imagine how bad I want to see home when I think about it I feel all most like flying but mean to hold on a little while yet.”

However, I can’t help but feel even sorrier for Mary.  Back home in Killbuck, she takes care of her own daughter and one of Jesse’s, without a regular source of income. She has no certainty about when her husband will resurface. What a pity that we do not have a record of how Mary is getting along with her end of “living cheap, ” while Jesse is suffering in Palmyra.

Coming Next

Jesse continues to travel, but with greater success.  He purchases land, indicating that he must have had success in selling horses.

Jesse Morgan, Canal and Lake Travel- 1846

Erie Canal, Ohio

Mule Train on the Erie Canal at Clyde, Ohio

When Jesse Morgan went “on the road” in 1846, the road was a watery one.  He chose canal and lake travel through Ohio and New York and perhaps even up to “Canadi”. These two letters are packed with interesting hints at his life–how he traveled, what it meant to be a horse trader, and even his state of mind.

What or who is my Great-Great Grandfather hiding from? Is there cause for his paranoia? Does his penchant for secrecy explain his later disappearance from home and family?

In his letter to Mary Bassett Morgan in 1843, Jesse Morgan gave details of his travels, but did not specifically say why he was traveling. Although his 1843 letter was sent in November,the timing of the surviving letters, at least in 1846, seems to indicate this was a spring and summer enterprise, perhaps after his school teaching duties were done.

These 1846 letters lack some of the enthusiasm for travel seen in the 1843  letter. Instead, these letters that he wrote to Mary in 1846, in June and July, focus on his business–horse trading. Perhaps the novelty of constant travel has gotten old?


Wooster June 17th 1846

Dear Wife

Agreeable to promise, I drop you a few lines hoping that you will not be surprised in finding a letter mailed at Wooster—when I had started for Illinois, such has been my conclusion hoping for the better I am now on my way to York State with horses.

I feel well satisfied in the way that I have lain out my money, taking in to consideration that I had to make some disposition of the mare and could not short of going whear (sic) horses would fetch money I have come to this conclusion, and really believe that I can make a goodly profit in the horses that I bought and turn the mare in to money also. I have a finer pair of horses than I ever seen raised in Killbuck and in this place considered worth eighty dollars I gave $105 for them.

Don’t let any body know where I am. You need not let Mrs. Woods know everything. Keep everything right at home if you can. I will wright or send a paper as soon as I get throw (sic) if I do not sell immediately. Don’t borrow any troubles(?) on my account. I can take care of myself.

Your affectionate husband

                                                                                                                 Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Mary Reads Her Husband’s Letter

So, to clarify what Mary is reading here–she said goodbye to Jesse as he set out to travel south to the Ohio River to go on to Illinois. But in mid June, she gets a letter from Wooster, Ohio–a town that is 25 miles north of Killbuck, where they live. Although that is very close in today’s thinking, it could have been a two day journey for Jesse by horseback.

It seems to me that Jesse is being a little defensive about how well he is handling his money, and his confidence that he can make more profit on his horses by traveling east to New York rather than west to Illinois. I picture him sitting at an Inn or Tavern and shooting the breeze with other traveling salesmen about where business is good.

But why is it necessary for Mary to keep Jesse’s whereabouts secret?  The Woods family appears more than once in the letters, so they must have been friends, so why does he have to warn Mary not to tell her friend everything.  All that, and then he tells her not to worry, he can take care of himself?  Poor Mary is getting mixed messages at best.


Albany [New York] July 31st 1846

Dear Wife

As usual I have been delaying writing with the expectation of soon being ready to start for home. Mr. Scott and my self have had good offers and had ought to have taken them, but the market is always a little better further ahead. We have now come to a stand aside determined to sell out but horses are no higher here than at Syracuse and our expenses have been considerable. We have 2 or 3 chances of selling our Match Span [Two horses harnessed together, matching in size and perhaps color for pulling together as a team] but I cannot think we will get more than $225 for them. They will probably be sold by Monday next. Then I shall go back to Canadi [sic] again to sell the Mare. I left her in good pasture and if she improves as I think she will in so long a time and I can make her drive well, I can get a good price for her, if so I shall be able to get home with $75 or $100 clear of all expense besides turning the mare into money. I feel anxious to get home. I want to see you all. When I see a little girl about like Harriet, I think about home more especially. My health is very good and hope these lines will find you enjoying the same blessing.

Your affectionate husband

Mary Morgan                                                                                                          Jesse Morgan

Mary Reads The July Letter

His Route–By Water

By July, Jesse is in New York State. Apparently he went from Wooster to Massilon, Ohio, where he got a canal boat on the Ohio & Erie Canal to Lake Erie. Then probably a quick trip across the border to Canada and then back to New York, and to Syracuse before going to Albany. it is tempting to assume that he may have stopped in Chautauqua County to see his father and some other members of his family–perhaps even his sons who had been farmed out to live with family.  However, that is pure speculation, and according to my admittedly sketchy map, would have been too far out of his way.

The Ohio & Erie canal would have taken him to Lake Erie, for further transport by boat. At the peak, Ohio had 1000 miles of canals throughout the state. In 1836 there were 3000 canal boats –one leaving every hour from ports. Ten years later the business was still thriving.

In the map below, you can see how handy the canals were, reaching across the state from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. From Jesse’s home in Killbuck, Ohio, he could reach the Erie canal by a short journey to the South at Coshocton, or to the east.

Ohio Canals.

Map of Ohio Canals prior to 1919. Jesse’s home is in Holmes County, and his first letter is from Wooster in Wayne County, directly north of Holmes County.

By the 1840’s steam boats had replaced most of the schooners that previously sailed the Great Lakes.  Mary might have been concerned about his safety, because shipwrecks were common, although more numerous in the fall before the traffic closed entirely for the winter months.

The canal and lake boats were economical. For instance, early fares from Albany to Buffalo was $14.52 including meals and $1 per hundred pounds of goods. After 1840 passage from Buffalo to Chicago on the lake cost $12 for a cabin and $2.50 to $10 for a horse.  As one writer says, “In 1835 as the spirit of land speculation had commenced west the number of passengers crossing the lake was increased….the cost of travel by land was immeasurably higher.”

New York State, likewise had a fully developed canal system that he could have taken advantage of when he arrived back on shore in New York and traveled on to Syracuse and Albany (where he wrote the letter) before his planned trip back to “Canadi”. Presumably he was buying and selling horses along the way.

His Motivation

This letter deepens our understanding of Jesse.  “We ought to have taken them, but the market is always a little better further ahead.” He is the consummate optimist, convinced that the end of the rainbow is just over the hill. This desire to not settle for the bird in the hand draws him farther and farther on his travels.

Note:  I have no idea who Mr. Scott is and have not spotted him in any of the places where Jesse lived, although Jesse himself seemed to evade the census takers in 1840 and 1850.

Fatherly Concerns

As in the 1843 letter, when he sent kisses to his baby girl, he mentions the now four-year old  Harriet (Hattie Morgan Stout, my great-grandmother) but oddly does not mention the two daughters from his earlier marriage in any letters. They both would have been living with Mary in Killbuck, Ohio, according to the stories my mother told me, and the 1850 census shows one of the girls still living with Mary.  One married in 1851 and the other not until 1861.

See the post immediately beneath this one for more information about horse trading.

 Coming Attractions

In the next letters (1847) we will learn more about Jesse’s occupation of horse trader plus more about the mysterious desire to be secretive.


The site of the old Erie & Ohio canal that Jesse must have traveled regularly, is now a National Heritage Area.  See the website for more about all the activities available, and detailed maps of the area. We visited Ken’s mother (Agnes Badertscher, now deceased) twenty-some years ago, and took her from her nursing home to visit Roscoe Village, a reconstruction of a pioneer town just outside Coshocton Ohio.  There you can ride a short distance on a canal boat pulled by mules.