Tag Archives: Mary Bassett Morgan

Jesse Morgan, Canal and Lake Travel- 1846

Erie Canal, Ohio

Mule Train on the Erie Canal at Clyde, Ohio

When Jesse Morgan went “on the road” in 1846, the road was a watery one.  He chose canal and lake travel through Ohio and New York and perhaps even up to “Canadi”. These two letters are packed with interesting hints at his life–how he traveled, what it meant to be a horse trader, and even his state of mind.

What or who is my Great-Great Grandfather hiding from? Is there cause for his paranoia? Does his penchant for secrecy explain his later disappearance from home and family?

In his letter to Mary Bassett Morgan in 1843, Jesse Morgan gave details of his travels, but did not specifically say why he was traveling. Although his 1843 letter was sent in November,the timing of the surviving letters, at least in 1846, seems to indicate this was a spring and summer enterprise, perhaps after his school teaching duties were done.

These 1846 letters lack some of the enthusiasm for travel seen in the 1843  letter. Instead, these letters that he wrote to Mary in 1846, in June and July, focus on his business–horse trading. Perhaps the novelty of constant travel has gotten old?


Wooster June 17th 1846

Dear Wife

Agreeable to promise, I drop you a few lines hoping that you will not be surprised in finding a letter mailed at Wooster—when I had started for Illinois, such has been my conclusion hoping for the better I am now on my way to York State with horses.

I feel well satisfied in the way that I have lain out my money, taking in to consideration that I had to make some disposition of the mare and could not short of going whear (sic) horses would fetch money I have come to this conclusion, and really believe that I can make a goodly profit in the horses that I bought and turn the mare in to money also. I have a finer pair of horses than I ever seen raised in Killbuck and in this place considered worth eighty dollars I gave $105 for them.

Don’t let any body know where I am. You need not let Mrs. Woods know everything. Keep everything right at home if you can. I will wright or send a paper as soon as I get throw (sic) if I do not sell immediately. Don’t borrow any troubles(?) on my account. I can take care of myself.

Your affectionate husband

                                                                                                                 Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Mary Reads Her Husband’s Letter

So, to clarify what Mary is reading here–she said goodbye to Jesse as he set out to travel south to the Ohio River to go on to Illinois. But in mid June, she gets a letter from Wooster, Ohio–a town that is 25 miles north of Killbuck, where they live. Although that is very close in today’s thinking, it could have been a two day journey for Jesse by horseback.

It seems to me that Jesse is being a little defensive about how well he is handling his money, and his confidence that he can make more profit on his horses by traveling east to New York rather than west to Illinois. I picture him sitting at an Inn or Tavern and shooting the breeze with other traveling salesmen about where business is good.

But why is it necessary for Mary to keep Jesse’s whereabouts secret?  The Woods family appears more than once in the letters, so they must have been friends, so why does he have to warn Mary not to tell her friend everything.  All that, and then he tells her not to worry, he can take care of himself?  Poor Mary is getting mixed messages at best.


Albany [New York] July 31st 1846

Dear Wife

As usual I have been delaying writing with the expectation of soon being ready to start for home. Mr. Scott and my self have had good offers and had ought to have taken them, but the market is always a little better further ahead. We have now come to a stand aside determined to sell out but horses are no higher here than at Syracuse and our expenses have been considerable. We have 2 or 3 chances of selling our Match Span [Two horses harnessed together, matching in size and perhaps color for pulling together as a team] but I cannot think we will get more than $225 for them. They will probably be sold by Monday next. Then I shall go back to Canadi [sic] again to sell the Mare. I left her in good pasture and if she improves as I think she will in so long a time and I can make her drive well, I can get a good price for her, if so I shall be able to get home with $75 or $100 clear of all expense besides turning the mare into money. I feel anxious to get home. I want to see you all. When I see a little girl about like Harriet, I think about home more especially. My health is very good and hope these lines will find you enjoying the same blessing.

Your affectionate husband

Mary Morgan                                                                                                          Jesse Morgan

Mary Reads The July Letter

His Route–By Water

By July, Jesse is in New York State. Apparently he went from Wooster to Massilon, Ohio, where he got a canal boat on the Ohio & Erie Canal to Lake Erie. Then probably a quick trip across the border to Canada and then back to New York, and to Syracuse before going to Albany. it is tempting to assume that he may have stopped in Chautauqua County to see his father and some other members of his family–perhaps even his sons who had been farmed out to live with family.  However, that is pure speculation, and according to my admittedly sketchy map, would have been too far out of his way.

The Ohio & Erie canal would have taken him to Lake Erie, for further transport by boat. At the peak, Ohio had 1000 miles of canals throughout the state. In 1836 there were 3000 canal boats –one leaving every hour from ports. Ten years later the business was still thriving.

In the map below, you can see how handy the canals were, reaching across the state from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. From Jesse’s home in Killbuck, Ohio, he could reach the Erie canal by a short journey to the South at Coshocton, or to the east.

Ohio Canals.

Map of Ohio Canals prior to 1919. Jesse’s home is in Holmes County, and his first letter is from Wooster in Wayne County, directly north of Holmes County.

By the 1840’s steam boats had replaced most of the schooners that previously sailed the Great Lakes.  Mary might have been concerned about his safety, because shipwrecks were common, although more numerous in the fall before the traffic closed entirely for the winter months.

The canal and lake boats were economical. For instance, early fares from Albany to Buffalo was $14.52 including meals and $1 per hundred pounds of goods. After 1840 passage from Buffalo to Chicago on the lake cost $12 for a cabin and $2.50 to $10 for a horse.  As one writer says, “In 1835 as the spirit of land speculation had commenced west the number of passengers crossing the lake was increased….the cost of travel by land was immeasurably higher.”

New York State, likewise had a fully developed canal system that he could have taken advantage of when he arrived back on shore in New York and traveled on to Syracuse and Albany (where he wrote the letter) before his planned trip back to “Canadi”. Presumably he was buying and selling horses along the way.

His Motivation

This letter deepens our understanding of Jesse.  “We ought to have taken them, but the market is always a little better further ahead.” He is the consummate optimist, convinced that the end of the rainbow is just over the hill. This desire to not settle for the bird in the hand draws him farther and farther on his travels.

Note:  I have no idea who Mr. Scott is and have not spotted him in any of the places where Jesse lived, although Jesse himself seemed to evade the census takers in 1840 and 1850.

Fatherly Concerns

As in the 1843 letter, when he sent kisses to his baby girl, he mentions the now four-year old  Harriet (Hattie Morgan Stout, my great-grandmother) but oddly does not mention the two daughters from his earlier marriage in any letters. They both would have been living with Mary in Killbuck, Ohio, according to the stories my mother told me, and the 1850 census shows one of the girls still living with Mary.  One married in 1851 and the other not until 1861.

See the post immediately beneath this one for more information about horse trading.

 Coming Attractions

In the next letters (1847) we will learn more about Jesse’s occupation of horse trader plus more about the mysterious desire to be secretive.


The site of the old Erie & Ohio canal that Jesse must have traveled regularly, is now a National Heritage Area.  See the website for more about all the activities available, and detailed maps of the area. We visited Ken’s mother (Agnes Badertscher, now deceased) twenty-some years ago, and took her from her nursing home to visit Roscoe Village, a reconstruction of a pioneer town just outside Coshocton Ohio.  There you can ride a short distance on a canal boat pulled by mules.

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?



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.