Tag Archives: Keene

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.

A True Patriot: Samuel Bassett, a Fifer

Revolutionary Ancestors

Samuel Bassett,  (1754-1834) showed that even a fifer can be a hero. When I read his story I am so proud to be descended from a man of his strength of character and modesty.

…as I entered the army from patriotic motives, I felt unwilling to apply to my country for relief.
Drum and Fife Corps like Samuel Bassett.

Ancient Fyfe and Drum Companie, Sudbury, MA, photo by Joyce Isen

Born in Norton, Massachusetts in 1754, already the sixth generation of Bassetts in the new world, Samuel Bassett was one of many of my New England ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.  But his story touched me more than most.

I have given the background of Samuel Bassett’s town, Keene, New Hampshire, and his involvement in the Revolution, already, but I think his story is more effective told by Samuel himself. The historian’s account that you can read here, minimized the damage of his wound–calling it a superficial flesh wound.  Samuel’s own words tell a different story. There are two pension applications in his file, and this one, filed in 1826– when he would have been seventy-two years old– tells his story fifty years after his service to the country.

I Samuel Bassett of Keene in the county of Cheshire, state of New Hampshire, on oath depose that on April 1775 on hearing of the battle of Lexington I with about thirty others started from this place for the vicinity of Boston.  Soon after my arrival at Cambridge, I entered into the Company commanded by Capt. Samuel Stiles in Stark’s regiment to serve for eight months.

On the 17th of June, the day of the battle of Bunker Hill, I was ordered on to the hill as part of a reinforcements.  I arrived in season to take part in the battle but after a short time the vitriol began.  While nitrating, I was wounded by a musket ball which as I raised my right foot, entered my thigh midway above the knee and lodged in the knee.  The ball remained there four months and four days and was then extracted.  The wound was very painful, and for several months I could not walk without assistance and it has always been very painful.

At the time others obtained pensions, I was often told that I might obtain one, and advised to make application and the reason I did not then apply, and have not before applied is that at that time a prejudice existed against such as applied for pensions who could possibly live without it and as I entered the army from patriotic motives, I felt unwilling to apply to my country for relief. As I grow older, the disability increases–the wound is frequently very painful, depriving me of sleep and prevents me in a great degree from performing my daily labor. And I now feel under the necessity of applying to my country for assistance.

Since 1776, I have lived either in Keene or Packersfield near Roxbury and my occupation has been that of house joiner. I am not on the pension list of any state and recieve no pension whatever.

Another application, that looks like it was an interview, specifies companies he served in through his dismissal on the last day of December in 1776, and adds, “was a Fifer in all this process.”

In 1777 he was back under a different command and “marched to Mount Independence near Ticonderoga in April.” He testifies that he recollects “General Washington, General Putnam, Major Moore who was killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill and Col. John Thomas Dixon.”

Samuel Bassett was awarded $6 a month 3/4 disability pension, with arrears of $37.17. Twelve years later, after he died, his widow was awarded $18.39 a month widow’s pension with an arrears of $83.87.

Thank you, grandfather Samuel Bassett, for your part in building our country.

Keene NH, Bunker Hill, and American Independence

In the History of Keene New Hampshire, 1874-1904  Frank H. Whitcomb (1904) reports the response of the people of Keene to the battle of Lexington. Samuel Bassett, my 4 times great grandfather, was among the first 23 men to respond and fight for American Independence.

Patriots had assembled military stores at various places, including Concord Massachusetts and General Gage, the British commander meant to destroy those weapons. But the colonists had an active grapevine, and kept close tabs on the British. So when the redcoats marched toward Lexington and Concord, the people of New Hampshire were ready to go to the aid of Massachusetts and fight for American independence.

War for American Independence

Revolutionary War Re-enactment at Sturbridge, MA Photo by Lee Wright.

On Tuesday, April 18, at 11:00 p.m., the British crossed the Connecticut River and as the dramatic story is told in the History of Keene New Hamshire,

The lanterns were hung in the steeple of Christ church on Copp’s hill.  Paul Revere crosssed Charles river in a boat five minutes before the British sentinels received the order to allow no one to leave Boston, mounted a fleet horse and sped away to Lexington, rousing the people as he went.  Other messengers hastened in all directions, bells were rung and neighbor sent word to neighbor.

Before Sunrise American citizens had been slain at Lexington, and minute-men and other patriots were flocking to the scene of action.  The tidings were caught up by relays of swift horsemen and fleet runners on foot…and carried to every township and every log cabin.

When the news reached Keene, 90 miles from Lexington, by a rider coming through the woods on a bridle paty, a meeting was called on the Green the afternoon of Thursday, April 20. A commander was chosen, and altogether thirty men marched for Lexington including Samuel Bassett, fifer.

Promptly at the hour [sunrise] on that Friday morning, the 21st of April, 1775–the men were there and immediately marched off down Main street…[on the] road to Boston.

Samuel was twenty-one years old.

Chapter 7 of the History of Keene, entitled “Keene in Revolution” starting at page 171, tells the details of what the men of Keene did during their march to Boston and the battles of Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

American Independence at Bunker Hill

In this map, you can see The New Hampshire Regiment commanded by Starks on the first day as they attacked Breed’s Hill. Map from WIki Commons.

Col. Stark’s regiment, including the Keene men under Capt. Stiles, was in the front of the charge on Bunker Hill, and according to the History of Keene, a report to England from General Gage said “If a monument is to be erected upon that battle ground to an colonel, it should be to Colonel Stark of New Hampshire, whose services in the strife were more important than those of any other man bearing that title.”

Part of the report of the details of movements of the New Hampshire troops toward Bunker Hill is credited in the book to a statement by “Samuel Bassett of Keene, fifer in Stiles’s [sic] company, who was with the detached party.”

He carried his musket in the action and states that he discharged five or six rounds and received a flesh wound in his thigh (so slight that he was not reported wounded, as is often the case in battle), after which several minutes elapsed before the retreat began.

Samuel is also listed in the roster of Stile’s company transferred to the command of Massachusetts Col. Dudley Sargent on August 1, 1775.  There he is identified as a “Freamer,” a word I have been unable to track down. But since he is listed immediately following the Drummer, I assume it is another way of saying Fifer.

The Keene men were mostly dismissed at the end of their eight-month term of duty in October, 1775.

In December, since they considered the British evicted from rulership but there was not yet a written set of regulations for the country, the people of Keene wrote their own Resolutions. You can see what their main concerns were. (Although they used much more flowery language.)

1. Appoint 3 good men to enforce the resolutions.

2. Establish fines for profanity

3. Fine anyone loitering or tippling instead of working.

4. Fine or publicly whip anyone who smites another person or abuses or destroys property of another person.

5. If anyone brings tea into town intending to sell it, they must surrender it until “the minds of Congress are fully known.”

6. Each member of committee has power to enforce the resolutions.

7. An officer will be appointed and given power to bring trangressors to the committee.

And all masters and heads of families have the responstibility that their “children, servants, and others [I suppose that includes wives?] not trespass against these “particulars.”

And they voted to hire a minister.

The records also show that in 1775, “Samuel Bassett and Aaron Willson, by the aid of a bee, excavated the canal from the pond on West Street to a point on the river about a hundred rods below.”  This enabled the building of a saw mill and a grist mill (owned by other men). [Can anybody tell me what a ‘bee’ would be?]

On April 12th 1776, all able-bodied men of Keene were asked to sign a statement supporting the Continental Congress–

“….that we will do the utmost of our Power at the Risque of our LIves and Fortunes with ARMS oppose the  Hostile Proceedings of the British Fleets and Armies against the United American COLONIES.”

Samuel Bassett was one of the 133 men of Keene that signed the Declaration. The thirteen who refused to sign (mostly wealthy men of the town) were also listed.

American Independence Day Fireworks

American Independence Day Fireworks

On July 4th, when the citizens were ready to celebrate the new American Independence, they erected a Liberty pole and a nine year boy climbed the pole to affix the flag.  The following September (they had been in recess when Independence was declared), the legislature enacted a statement making the former colony the STATE of New Hampshire.

The legislature of the new state voted to raise two regiments of men, and Samuel Bassett volunteered the 6th Company of the regiment commanded by Nahum Baldwin of Amherst. They took part in the battle of White Plains in October.

In May 1777, he marched with 112 men under Col. Bellows to TIconderoga, but the threat was over when they arrived, and they were dismissed in late June.

If you want the entire 3-chapter history of Keene’s involvement in the Revolution, I suggest you read the detailed History of Keene, made available on line by the Keene Public Library. And on Monday, I’ll be sharing Samuel’s own account from his pension record.

How I am Related

  • Vera Marie Badertscher, the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
  • Vera Stout Anderson, the daughter of
  • Hattie Stout Morgan, the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, the daughter of
  • William Bassett, the son of
  • Samuel Bassett.