Tag Archives: Ohio

Doc James Woods: Character in Jesse’s Story

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?

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 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 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 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.  So Jesse may not have been hiding anything in particular, but just being cautious around this woman with a reputation.

Sarah Cowan Woods, I learned, had several relatives who were lawyers and a cousin, who although he was a farmer, like 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 drunkard husband, 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 make a few bucks–by suing everyone who ever served or sold liquor to her husband. Her cousin, the make-believe lawyer, represented her. 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.   I have a letter (not yet published here) that a nephew wrote to Jesse mentioning Jesse’s anti-German immigrant stance. It is easy to believe that the politics of James Woods attracted Jesse. 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.

Reunited in Death

James Woods (the father) survived twenty years after the lawsuit, dying in 1891. In 1900, Sarah Cowan Woods could finally 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

Before we finish up Jesse Morgan’s story, 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


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.

wasalso interested to learn that 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 Letter from Wooster “Let You Know I am Alive” June 1847

In April 1847, my great-great grandfather, Jesse Morgan dashed off a very short letter from Wooster Ohio to my great-great grandmother Mary. Mary was in Killbuck, just 25 miles away.

Letter with address

Jesse to Mary 1847 Wooster postmark

Detective Work

The Wooster postmark, impossible to read here, is barely visible in the photocopy and the original, but the postmark, on the back of the folded letter, was an important clue. The rushed letter does not state his location at the top as usual, just that he is “on his way East.”

See that blob of black that looks like an ink mark below the bottom fold? The wax used to seal the letter shut made that mark.


In this second letter of 1847, (you can read the April 1847 letter here) Jesse is once again in Wooster Ohio, just about 25 miles from home.  So close by today’s transportation standards, but more than a day’s journey for Jesse. It is possible he is passing through Wooster on his way  from Indiana, where he was headed when we last heard from him. He might be on his way back to New York state, where he winds up in August.

It is frustrating to try to figure out his schedule from these few letters. Obviously we do not have all the letters. And all of the letters that Mary wrote to him disappeared.  For instance, what am I to make of the fact that his letter to her at the end of April directed her to write to him at Akron, Ohio, but he opens this late June letter by thanking her for a letter he received at Cleveland, Ohio? It sounds like he might have been home between the April and June letters, and yet given the slowness of travel and the true snail’s pace of snail mail, it doesn’t seem possible that he traveled from Detroit to Ft. Wayne to Akron to Killbuck and then set off again somewhere that took him to Cleveland, and then back tracking or in a loop to Wooster Ohio.

The Entire Letter

June 27th 1847 (Sent from Wooster)
Dear Wife

I recd your letter at Cleveland and was glad to hear that you was enjoying tolerable health. My health is good excepting I have been afflicted of late with the piles but I am some better owing I suppose to riding.
I have tolerable good luck so far but nothing extraordinary. I am now on my way East and as soon as I sell out I am coming home.
I have now [no] time to write particulars so you must excuse this short letter.
While I was writing who should come in but John D. Hopkins. I would rather give a five dollar bill than to have seen him but guess he will keep dark.
Except [sic] of these few lines with my best respect. They will let you know that I am alive.

And your truly affectionate husband.

Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Letter from Jesse

Letter from Jesse to Mary Morgan on June 27, 1847

Mary Reads the Letter

My, Jesse was really in a rush when he wrote this letter.  At least he wanted Mary to know he was alive, and engaged in the usual “how are you I am fine” convention. However, he gives us later readers a little too much information about his own health, don’t you agree?

Mary might have noticed that Jesse, for the first time in the saved letters, did not mention  little Harriet, my great-grandmother. She would now be just a month short of her 5th birthday. He also does not mention his four children from his first marriage. One of them (Malvinia) is definitely living with Mary, and one other may have been. But then, he has not mentioned them in any of his other letters either. Why does he seem to ignore these other children?

I am digging into what happened to his four children–Charles, Carlos, Louise/Louisa and Malvinia.

Mary would have known who John D. Hopkins was, and why Jesse was so appalled when he ran into him.  Later in this series, I will talk about the secondary characters in Jesse’s drama, and try to uncover more about John D. Hopkins. But for now, I just know that he was a farmer in Holmes County. A portrait of Hopkins posted on line by one of his descendants  looks a little scary. However, I have not discovered why Jesse was upset about seeing him in Wooster.

It was just a year before this letter that Jesse warned Mary not to tell everything to Mrs. Woods. That happened in Wooster, also. Although Mary might have understood this need for secrecy, it provides a fascinating puzzle for descendants reading their mail.

Jesse is vague about where he is going (East) and when he will be returning (when I sell out). That  may be to foil anyone who might be reading over his shoulder as he writes in a common room of an Inn or boarding house. Or may just be his usual excessive caution.  Is there something about being in Wooster that should be kept secret? Or is it the whole business of being a wandering horse trader that he wants to keep hidden?

Coming Next

In Jesse’s next letter to Mary, he becomes uncharacteristically pessimistic and even despondent.  Is he ready to throw in the towel?

Thanks for reading, and please sent me a note if you recognize any of the names mentioned here.  Also, I would be delighted if you would pass this blog’s link on to anyone who might be interested in following the stories here.