Tag Archives: Illinois

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


Jesse Morgan Buys Illinois Land – 1847

Crystal Lake Illinois Land in 1845

Back in 1845, my great-great grandfather, Jesse Morgan received a letter from B. Douglas, a promoter of Crystal Lake Illinois speaking of land that Jesse had bought in Illinois.

When Benjamin Douglas  wrote to Jesse in 1845, he seemed under the impression that Jesse was going to settle in Crystal Lake. In 1848,  Jesse will get another letter regarding Crystal Lake’s development, so he may have been seriously considering relocating there. Or, true to Jesse’s penchant for secrecy, he didn’t let his acquaintances know that he had sold the land.

Jesse always leaves us in doubt.

One thing we know for sure, there is no hint of such a move in his letters to Mary, nor any direct mention of buying land.

Jesse Buys Illinois Land in 1847

However, although I have not yet proved the 1845 purchase, it is a fact that Jesse bought land in 1847, and we have proof that Mary knew about that transaction.  Illinois has  wonderful resources for researchers, whether you are looking for acquisition of public lands, or records of private sales.  I could not find Jesse involved in a public land acquisition, although the letter from B. Douglas refers to the Chicago Land Office, which is where public land sales for northern Illinois were handled.

I wonder if that 1844/45 transaction was some under-the-table deal that did not get recorded? Or perhaps the records are just missing. It happens.

When I wrote to the appropriate Illinois Regional Archives Depository, they came up with this index of land purchases, and a copy of the deed of sale when Jesse sold the land. Jesse’s name as purchaser, and then as seller, appear on the 4th and 3rd lines from the bottom of the page. The most impressive things about this service is that it took less than two weeks between request and receiving the reply, AND there was no charge–not even a copying and mailing fee.

As Amy Johnson Crow points out in 31 Days to Better Genealogy discussion of surveying your sources, indexes are pointers–not sources. So I appreciate that they were able to send me the deed from when Jessie sold the property. I have asked IRAD to look again and see if they have a copy of the deed of Jesse’s purchase, also.

Illinois land record 1847

Illinois land records 1847. Jesse’s name appears as buyer and then as seller toward the bottom of the page.

Meanwhile, the index tells us that Jesse was in McHenry County, Illinois on September 5, 1847, because he purchased land from M.( L.) Moore. And because we have the deed of sale recorded right below the purchase, we can surmise it was the same land. When IRAD replied to my letter, with the deed of sale, I learned the location of the land sold by Jesse. All that remained in order to link the purchase and the sale was to learn the location of the land purchased by Jesse.

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.

The Letter Mentioning Woods

Jesse writes from Crystal Lake

Jesse writes to Mary from Crystal Lake, Illinois September 1847

The Transcription

Crystal Lake Sept 19th 1847

Dear Wife, I drop you a few lines to let you know that I am so far on my journey. I am well, and found Crystal Lake and the Land about as I expected. Nothing particular transpired on my journey. I shall start tomorrow for Peru and from their C. (?) Farwells I think. I shall come home by the way of the Ohio river but can’t tell until I get to Farwells. I am much pleased with the country here. It is beau[tiful]. But they have raised but little winter wheat here this harvest and the summer crops has suffered some from the drouth. There has been a railroad laid out that will come within from one to three miles of Woods’ farm. Tell him I think he need not be in any hurry to sell before another year as it is growing more valuable..

__Much Respect

Your affectionate


Mary Morgan Jesse Morgan

NB If anything should happen that I should not get home by the second Tuesday of October I wish you to have Boody (first letter not clear) or Josiah let Taggert know it so that he will be prepared to keep of the suit of Moore.

Notes on Letter

Moore was the name of the man he bought the land from in Illinois that was subsequently sold to Woods.

Josiah, mentioned in the NB (P.S.) could be Josiah Purdy, a Holmes County Justice of the Peace. Note the lawsuit involves someone named Moore. Same as the seller of the Illinois property? Another mystery to solve.

Later in this series I will tackle the question of who are the Farwells  that Jesse is going to visit.

Where Was Illinois Land Jesse Bought in 1847?

According to the Index above, Jesse purchased land from an M. L. Moore on September 5, 1847.  Although it clearly looks like an ‘L’ on the index, later documents show his initial as “J”–except one that looks like “O”. When did M.( L.) Moore receive the land?  And how?  Looking at the Bureau of Land Management records available in the Illinois State Archives, I find a Morris J. Moore received by warrant, 160 acres in McHenry County, Illinois. Legal Description: SE 1/4, Section 12, Township 32 Range 7. That warrant was signed in April, 1844.

For more information, I went directly to the Bureau of Land Management site.  There, I was able to see the image of the actual land patent. Here the name looks like Morris O. Moore. And I’m sorry the document is cut off, because it shows that the warrant was signed by John Tyler Jr., secretary to his father, President John Tyler.

Moore Illinois Land Patent

Illinois Land Patent for Sgt. Morris Moore from BLM files. 1844

And the BLM site helpfully presents a map showing where the land is located (with today’s roads, etc.). The map shows Crystal Lake just off the northeast corner of the section in question. Chicago lies on the eastern edge of the map.

Illinois Land

Location of Land Jesse bought for Woods. 1847

If you are researching ancestors in the 19th century, have you checked the BLM public lands site? It’s a treasure chest!

An October Project

(Skip this unless you are a fellow genealogy addict. )

I am participating in Amy Johnson Crow’s 31 Days to Better Genealogy project. Each day she gives a suggestion for an activity that can improve our work. I will try to remember to include the hints I have followed as I prepare posts in October.

  • On day one Amy suggested starting research by asking questions rather than making statements.  This is a familiar technique to me, as the first thing I do on every research project is to make a list of questions I need answers to. One of the many questions about Jesse Morgan is “Where did he own Illinois land?” and follow up questions like “How did he obtain it?” “Did he sell it?”
  • On day two, Amy suggested that we review the sources we have listed on a person, and see if we need to dig deeper.  With Jesse,  I have lots of unconfirmed dates and places in his early life, where I depend on family lore or a printed family history of his line of Morgans. His personal letters have given me good sources for much of his activity in the 1840s up to 1850. When it came to the land ownership–I explain above the steps from knowing nothing to getting an index to seeing the original documents.
  • On day three, Amy suggested looking in detail at an ancestors’ occupation and gave us some sources to help do that.  I have already talked about Jesse as a teacher and Jesse as a horse trader.
  • The fourth day, Amy points to the Digital Public Library as an invaluable source. I have used it in the past, but need to dip into it to see if it will help answer my present questions about Jesse.
  • Days five, six, and seven were worthwhile suggestions, but were not directly relevant to research on Jesse, but Day eight–check military records–could be relevant as I broaden my search to Jesse’s family and friends.
  • Day nine’s suggestion was to check records that you have not looked at before, or are reluctant to get into.  That is still on my “to do” list, and I hope I’ll come up with some source I had not thought to use.

Coming Next

Jesse sells the Illinois property to Doc Woods in Holmes County. And just who is Doc Woods? Quite a story.

Jesse Morgan: Land Speculation and Teaching 1845

Horse trading, land speculation, investments, and teaching. My great-great grandfather was not only a horse trader and some time teacher, he also dealt in financial and land deals. And here we are, reading his mail again.

During the years of 1844 and 1845, if Jesse Morgan was traveling as a horse trader, we have no record of it.  He may have been at home in Killbuck, Ohio teaching and attempting to help settle the will of Mary Bassett Platt Morgan’s first husband, Asahel Platt.

At some point, perhaps a trip for which no letter survives, Jesse acquired land near Crystal Lake in Illinois.  It is also possible that land belonged to his wife, as the widow of Asahel Platt, who had some investments in Illinois according to my mother’s family stories. Asahel may have been doing some land speculation, too.

Land Speculation

At any rate, Jesse received a letter from a prominent citizen of the community regarding his property in Crystal Lake.  From the letter, I get the impression that Benjamin Douglas thought that Jesse was going to settle on his land in Crystal Lake rather than engaging in land speculation.

The mention of the Academy may have been because Jesse was interested in education, or it may have been simply to emphasize the prosperity of the growing community.

[Letter addressed to Jesse Morgan, Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio, postmarked from Chicago, January 11.]

Crystal Lake McKenny Co

Illinois Jany 4th 1845

Dear Sir

Yours of the 26th is Recd in due season & I should have ans sooner if I could. I waited until the Register [registrar?] Returned home & until the Road was Located along the north line of your farm which is now done

I sent my son in Chic [Chicago?] with your letter to the Land office and find that your Paiment(sic) is duly Recd so you can Rest assured of your having a Clear title to that(?) Section. The line runs some further west so as to include some of those Beautiful shade Trees so you will have a fine building spot. The last time for breaking pr______ is the month of June so it will be very Rotten in time to sow Wheat the last days of Augt. I find a friend of mine has forty or eighty acres of good timber he will sell you at a fair price near by.

Yours truly

B Douglas

J Morgan

NB. We are going build a large accademy this spring of brick that will cost Several Thousand dollars.

The Crystal Lake Academy

The Crystal Lake Academy Building

The original academy building, now owned by St. Mary Episcopal Church.

Benjamin Douglas was apparently an important man in Crystal Lake.  In February 1845, a law was enacted by the Illinois legislature to authorize the Crystal Lake Academy and naming Benjamin Douglas, J. T. Pierson and a list of others as Trustees.

The academy ceased operation in the mid 1850s when a public school act passed.( Academies were founded as high schools before public high schools were available.) The house was occupied as a home by the Tarpley family and then passed to ownership of St. Mary Episcopal Church. It is still known as the Tarpley House–one of the oldest buildings in Crystal Lake.


Meanwhile, back in Holmes County, Jesse had applied for a teaching certificate. I can almost hear the family conversations about his long absences and lack of steady salary. What did Mary think about the horse trading and land speculation? Toward the end of the year, Jesse, perhaps vowing to turn over a new leaf, got serious about teaching. However, as we will see in the letters from 1846 and 1847, the urge to wander was not squelched by this piece of paper.

Teaching Certificate 1845

Jesse Morgan’s teacher’s certificate Nov 1845. This is a scan of a photo copy. The original is missing.

Jesse would have gone before the board in Millersburg, the County Seat, who tested his knowledge and paid his 50 cent fee. The testing was done close to home because the people of Ohio long resisted central government, and kept such matters as this at the county level until the late 1840s.

The requirement that the would-be teacher have a knowledge of “Reading, Writing, and Arithmatic” had only surfaced in 1834. Prior to that, according to “A Brief History of Teacher Training in Ohio Beginning in 1910”, an unattributed paper found on the Internet, the primary qualification to teach was the inability to do manual labor.

Early 19th century teachers were certified by a local or county board of examiners. They were required to pass a test proving their competence to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Geography, grammar, and orthography (spelling) were later added to required subjects. Examiners also judged the “moral character” of teachers.


We the undersigned school examiners do hereby certify that we have examined Mr. Jesse Morgan as a school teacher and find him qualified to teach in a common school the following branches: Reading, Writing and Arithmatic and that he is of a good and moral character ____________This certificate to be valid for one year from the date hereof.

Millersburg Nov. 27, 1845.

John M. Shrock (Clerk)

A. S. Custis

Recorded–fee 50 cts. paid.

Jesse, A Man of Good and Moral Character?

As I read this certificate, the part about certifying Jesse as a man of good and moral character strikes me.  This characterization becomes important as we read more about Jesse’s life through reading his mail.

Any readers who can help with the transcription of that one long word starting with a ‘p’ in the letter from Mr. Douglas?