Tag Archives: family letters

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 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.


1843: Jesse Morgan, A Letter Home

A Letter Home

Mary refolded the letter home that contained promises and husbandly instruction, and placed it carefully in the wooden chest that she had brought to Ohio as a girl. When Jesse Morgan set out by wagon, stagecoach, riverboat or horseback to travel the western fringes of the United States –Illinois! Iowa!–he wrote detailed letters to his wife back in Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio.

The earliest letter home had an instruction to his wife that must have caused her great pain. You can read about that story here.  But it also contains the best postscript I have ever read in a letter.

The Story Up to 1843

When Jesse Morgan’s first wife died in Killbuck, Ohio, he was left to care for four children.  The two boys, 8 and 10, were sent to live with relatives, but the two girls stayed in Ohio.  Jesse met Mary Bassett, widow of Asahel Platt, perhaps in Keene, Ohio, where she grew up, and where she had  attended the Keene Academy.  Mary’s father William Bassett and her first husband Asahel Platt had both died in 1833, and she moved back to Keene.

Jesse and Mary, widow and widower, were married in 1840 and moved back to Killbuck, Ohio, where their daughter, Harriet (Hattie) was born in August of 1842. According to family legend, Jesse was a teacher, but after he married Mary and they moved back to Killbuck where they both had lived for a time with their first spouses, whatever he was doing for a living, he was also busy helping Mary with the long-drawn-out settlement of the estate of her first husband.

If Jesse was a teacher when he married Mary, he soon wanted to search for his fortune in other places.  He set out to buy and sell horses throughout the Mid West.

The Trip of 1843

Jesse’s journey from Keene Ohio to Astoria Illinois by river and stagecoach road took nearly a month. Today by car, that trip would take a short day. The remoteness of the territory and the fact that most inhabitants had recently arrived, made it fertile territory for people who wished to transport and sell goods and animals.

A Letter Home from Jesse Morgan

Jesse Morgan to Mary Bassett Morgan Novemer 6, 1843 2nd page

The transcription, with a few notes, is below. As usual, I have added paragraphs and some end of sentence punctuation and capitalization. I left spelling as it was, only marking “sic” on items that might be confusing.

Astoria                                                                                                    Nov 6th 1843

Dear and Affectionate Wife

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I take this opportunity of reclaiming the promise I made to you of writing as I got through to Illinois.

We had a comfortable journey, but was delayed a great deal on the way for the boats to unload and load. We lay by one day in Cincinnati one day in Louisville, two days in St. Louis, on the 26th of Oct. We was at the Mouth of the Ohio River and the Snow fell one inch deep on that night which was not common for that place. [He would have traveled by wagon from Holmes County in the northeastern part of the state to Cincinnati which would take several days, then by river boat on the Ohio River to the Mississippi River. He then could take a stage coach on the stagecoach road to the center of Illinois before going on to Iowa.]

In the neighborhood where the Husteds  live 3/4th of the inhabitants are from Holmes or Coshocton Counties and the land in that vicinity is very similar to what it is in them counties, hilly and broken. [I am struck by how many people Jesse knew along the way.  It reminds me how small the population of the Midwestern Territory was compared to the many cities and large population today.]

I am now in a little village call Astoria. It contains about 30 houses has a beautiful situation on the Stage road from Havana to Rushville and Quincy on the Mississippi River. is in a hansom(sic) country six miles from Illinois River In the West. [The little village of Astoria is still a little village, with a population of around 1000 people.]

I am much pleased with the place and it is considered healthy. But I have had too little time to look about yet.

The Landlady whare(sic) I am is an old acquaintance of yours. She is a sister of Deacon Elliott of Coshocton. In coming up the River, I had one minute to step ashore to inquire after the Farwells. I did not see any of them but found that Frank and his wife were both sick. The rest are well.  [I located a Francis Farwell family not far from Mary in Keene in the 1840 census.]

I do not know as I can avise (sic) you in this letter anything relative to my affairs as I do not know anything. Since I left I have now[no] doubt that you will try to do for the best. I hope you have written to me at Burlington that I may hear from you. [Iowa—on the western bank of the Mississippi River]

It would give me the greatest of pleasure to receive a few lines from your hand. You must not think the time and distance I am from home disolves(sic) any the ties of affection. They are yours. Perhaps you feel at tho I have been the instrument of making your life more unhappy than it would have been had I never seen you. But fickle is the fortune of man and none that can govern the wheels thereof. I will do in all things what I think will be for the best and if Providence helps my undertakings the time will soon come when we will enjoy each other’s society again. I hope these few lines will find you enjoying the blessings of good health. Don’t let any trouble annoy your feelings but keep up a buoyant spirit. [This paragraph is particularly ironic, given the fact that it turns out that Mary’s life probably would have been happier had Jesse never met her. It also shows that he has a gambler’s spirit and an optimistic attitude that everything is gong to be better tomorrow. This attitude turns out to be a disaster for him and for her.]

I shall start this afternoon for Iowa. Can’t tell how soon I shall get home. The broken bank paper I left keep on hand if you have it yet because it is getting good again. [In the last post, about Jesse in Chautauqua County, I talked about the serious recession that affected the country in the 1830s. His mention of bank paper getting good again probably refers to the bank specie that became worthless when President Jackson degreed that the federal government would only accept gold and silver.]

It is my wish that you not take the Ladies Book out of the office after Dec no. comes. [See the details on this order from Jesse here.] You must give Harriet another good kissing for me. [My great-grandmother would have been 15 months old as he wrote this letter.] I have no more at present but if any should delay my return, I shall write often.

Your affectionate husband

Mary Morgan                                                                                                    Jesse Morgan

M. The pen I write this with, I pull from the wing of a wild goose I shot on the Illinois River next morning after I landed.

[While this letter home is packed with interesting details, I still get chills when I read the postscript.  How wonderfully it sheds light on the life that he was living. We know, for instance, that he traveled with a gun.  We know that wild geese flew along the Illinois River in the fall. And we know that people were still write a letter home with a feather. It did a pretty good job for a pen, didn’t it?]

My great-great grandfather, Jesse Morgan, was 38 years old when he wrote this letter home to Mary Bassett Morgan, his second wife. If Mary was looking for some safety and security in marriage, as I supposed when she married Asahel Platt at the age of 19, she was disappointed.  And it seems that she was destined to be disappointed again with the get-rich-quick yearnings of her wandering second husband, Jesse Morgan.