Tag Archives: Illinois

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.

Great Grand Aunt Amy Anderson Roof- Match Making

Accidental Match Making

[Oct. 2016–death date corrected to 1919]

Thanks to the videotaped memoirs of Rhema Anderson Fair, I learned a little more about my maternal grandfather’s aunt, Amy Anderson Roof (1843- 1919). Don’t you just love the term “great grand aunt?” I want to share just a small story about how an almost-spinster met her husband-to-be. And how she flew away from a Bird and landed on a Roof.

Amy’s mother was Isabella Sarah McCabe Anderson (1818-1912), the 2nd wife of Joseph J. Anderson.  Amy was Sarah’s fourth child, and there were two older step-siblings and three younger siblings in the family which included my great-grandfather. I have discovered only two pictures of Aunt Amy–unfortunately none from her youth. (Unless she’s one of those unidentified babies in tintypes.)

It is a shame that we don’t have a color portrait, because both Rhema Anderson Fair and my mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser talked about what beautiful long red hair she had. As girls they were in awe of their great aunt’s beauty.

Here is the picture of the Anderson and Stout clans that includes Amy Anderson Roof when she was a 66-year-old widow; and Rhema Anderson Fair who told the story. Isabella McCabe Anderson is the woman seated in the very center in the black dress.

Vera and Guy Anderson and families 1909

Vera and Guy Anderson and families 1909. Aunt Amy is the 2nd seated woman from the left, and Rhema is to her right. This is the house that her husband built on Mile Hill near Killbuck.

By the time Amy was twenty-eight, her siblings– older and younger– except for the two youngest brothers–had long ago married and moved out of the family home, so she was well on her way to becoming a spinster. When she was not working helping her mother, she was reading. A very religious woman, Amy educated herself by reading the Bible and Shakespeare.  Rhema said that Amy had “memorized all of Shakespeare” (at least enough to impress Rhema as a young girl!).

As to meeting possible mates, I can only imagine that her main social activities centered around church and gatherings with family and neighbors. As Rhema said, “In those days, they married close to home.”  

As I look at a map of the farms in Monroe Township in Holmes County from the 1800s, I can’t help but notice that the Bird farm and an Anderson farm share a border. Amy’s sister Caroline (Catherine) Anderson had married a Bird. Later  Rhema’s mother–my grandfather’s first wife, Lillis Bird–married into the Anderson family.

So it is not surprising that Amy Anderson was engaged to a man named Bird, also.  He was studying at the University of Michigan and later would become Superintendent of Schools in Denver, Colorado, according to Rhema. The Anderson family valued education and were probably thrilled that Amy was engaged to marry a young man who was attending a university.

Unmarried daughters often had the assignment of taking care of other people and Amy was taking care of her brother-in law, Rhema says, because “her sister had died.”  Looking at a list of Amy’s siblings, that was most like Charles Quaid, husband of Amy’s step-sister Abigale Anderson Quaid, who had been married in 1841–before Amy was born.

One weekend (I don’t know what year), Mr. Bird, the fiance, came home to visit his family and brought along one of his friends. Unfortunately for Mr. Bird, he introduced his fiancee Amy to this friend, Thomas J. Roof. They fell for each other, and eventually  married.

He was 36 and Amy was 30 before they were married in 1872.

Thomas Roof was always called “Dr. Roof ” by our family members, but I have not yet found any proof that he actually practiced medicine. Perhaps he was in medical school, but as I learned with my  Great Grandfather’s education, that was not as lengthy process as it is nowadays, so I am at a loss to know why, if the couple met while Thomas was in college it took so long before they were married. It is possible that Rhema did not mean they met when the men were in college, but afterwards.

There are many mysteries surrounding Thomas J. Roof besides why he and Amy married so late in life.  Was he really a doctor? Where did all the money come from for constant travel and building an elaborate house in Monroe Township? Where did he come from?

There is another Thomas J. Roof, born the same year who farmed in Standing Stone, PA. That confused me for a while, but it is not the same person, since the Pennsylvania one was still living after “ours” died. As usual with these family stories, facts just lead to more questions.  I’m on the case.

In 1880 Amy and Thomas Roof were living  in Vermillion, Illinois and he was listed in the census as a pharmacist (not a doctor), but by 1900 they had bought a farm outside of Killbuck and built an elaborate house. He was listed in that census as a farmer.

Amy and her husband Thomas Roof were renowned for traveling widely, and it was thought they owned houses in places other than Killbuck, but again, nothing specific in the way of evidence.

The 1910 census shows that Amy’s mother lived with her, but when her mother died two years later,  Amy moved into the Killbuck home of her younger brother Franklin Anderson.  There she helped look after Rhema Anderson in her pre-teen and early teen years.


Lisle Family 1916

Lisle Family 1916. Rhema Anderson (white blouse, 3rd from left) has become a beautiful teen. She is leaning on a visibly aged Aunt Amy’s shoulder (now 73). The woman holding the baby is Amy’s sister Margaret Anderson Lisle.

[Correction: her tombstone in the Welcome Cemetery says she died in 1919]. Although we do not yet have an official record of the year of Amy’s death, she appears in a family photo in 1916, and my mother’s memoirs about the corpse downstairs puts the date of Amy’s death at 1916 or 1917, so her death must have happened soon after that picture was taken. (Margaret Anderson Lisle also died in 1917.)

All the family impressions are that Amy and Dr. Roof had a happy and even exciting life.  But is there more to the story? I’ll let you know what I find.