Excerpt from “Chapter 4 – A Pivotal Time for the Morris Family”

A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

Excerpt from “Chapter 4 – A Pivotal Time for the Morris Family”:

In July 1848 Morris left Black Hawk to make an extended tour through the
Northern and Eastern states including a visit to see his siblings. This was the first
time Morris had seen his siblings since he had left Massachusetts at age 18 and
ventured west in 1836.

He visited Masonic lodges and collected Masonic literature. He observed
that there were quite a number of different ways that Masonic lodges operated
and was disturbed at the lack of uniformity on rituals and governance. Uniformity
and governance was characteristic of the Whig Party, of which Morris was a
supporter. General Zachary Taylor was the Whig Party candidate for president in
1848, and Morris contributed articles for the Whig Party Flag. In a letter home
about a steamboat trip, Morris mentioned passing the home of William Henry
Harrison, a United States president from the Whig Party who died in office 32
days after his inauguration. In later correspondence Morris talked about his admiration
for Henry Clay, a Mason and very powerful Whig Party member, who at
one time had been grand master of the grand lodge of Kentucky (Riccards, 1997).

Excerpt from “Chapter 3 – Life in the Antebellum South”

A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

Excerpt from “Chapter 3 – Life in the Antebellum South”:

Living in the South, and particularly along the Mississippi Valley, was
framed by serious health issues. Cholera and yellow fever were running
rampant, and both plagued the Morris family and neighborhoods in which they
lived. Yellow fever, transmitted by mosquitoes, caused fever, headache, chills, back
pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting and resulted in a 20 percent mortality
rate. Continued periods of yellow fever epidemics happened between the
1700s through 1850s with the notable epidemic of 1853 that hit New Orleans,
resulting in 8,100 official deaths. The standard treatment at the time was quinine,
and in the following letters Rob suggested to Charlotte to continue her quinine
treatments. Quinine had been used for treatment of malaria but in later years was
discovered to be ineffective for yellow fever. Initially it was thought that yellow
fever was transmitted through the air or by personal contact. It wasn’t until the
late 1800s that Dr. Carlos Finlay suggested the fever was transmitted by mosquitoes
(Valso, 2014).

Excerpt from “Chapter 2 – Love, Marriage, and Family”

A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

Excerpt from “Chapter 2 – Love, Marriage, and Family”:

As Rob’s career changed from schoolteacher to salesman to Masonic lecturer,
Rob spent months at a time away from his young family. Charlotte cared for the children
and managed the household. In January 1848, Rob set out to sell subscriptions
for newspapers and magazines. He left Charlotte at home with three small children:
John age five, Charlotte age three, and Alfred eight months. Along with child rearing
there were years when yellow fever, whooping cough, measles, mumps, dysentery, and
cholera plagued small villages and communities. Rob and Charlotte with their children
were exposed to all of the diseases at one time or another.

Charlotte’s basic reading, writing, and math were elementary at best. Under
Rob’s tutelage and encouragement, she worked to improve her skills. She became
the teacher for the children, getting instructions from Rob in the regular correspondence
between them during his travels.

Excerpt from “Chapter 1 – Childhood, Brother John, and Sister Charlotte”

A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

Excerpt from “Chapter 1 – Childhood, Brother John, and Sister Charlotte”:

As with all historic figures, errors and misconceptions occur over time, and
the figure of Rob Morris is no different. For example, there was speculation
about his birth and early years, with confusion over his birthplace and where
he spent his youth. Some records and information indicated Morris was born in
Taunton, Massachusetts, and that he was apprenticed out at an early age to the
John Morris family, where he adopted the “Morris” surname. Other sources said
that he was highly educated with degrees in medicine and/or law, presumably
during his apprenticeship years. There were also indications he had little or no
connections with his sister and brother. The family letters helped clarify those
relationships.

Rob Morris’s parents were Robert Peckham (1789–1825) and Charlotte
Lavinnia Shaw (1786–1837). Robert and Charlotte married in Taunton, Massachusetts,
on December 1, 1811. Peckham and Shaw were of English and Scottish
descent, whose families had settled in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. With surnames
of Peckham, Fales, Little, and Paine, Robert Peckham’s ancestors were
some of the first pilgrims arriving in New England during the early to mid-1600s
(Hillmer, 2014).

Excerpt from “Preface”

A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

Excerpt from “Preface”:

Morris’s early years, as he pursued his Masonic career while trying to support
his wife and young children, provided a perspective about travel, family relationships,
and day-to-day life in the antebellum South. Many of the issues regarding education, the women’s movement, pioneer living, and the widening fracture between the Northern and Southern states are reflected in the family letters.

Rob Morris’s contributions to the Order of the Eastern Star, an androgynous
fraternity that embraces both men and women into the Masonic circle, are
still revered today. This was one of the first national organizations for women that
gave them a voice on local and national issues. The OES helped frame many of
the issues raised when the “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848) was created that
gave women more opportunities in education, jobs, and entitlements. The Declaration
was a document drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton for the women’s
rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York. Since Lucien Rule’s book Pioneering
in Masonry: The Life and Times of Rob Morris
(1922) little had been published
about Morris’s life. The family letters clarified some of the questions
regarding his life, such as his birthplace, how he organized the OES, his relationships
with his siblings, and his involvement with slavery.

Excerpt from Morris’s poem: The Level and The Square

A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

Excerpt from Morris’s poem: The Level and The Square:

We meet upon the Level, thought from every station come,
The rich man from his palace and the poor man from his home:
For the rich must leave his wealth and state outside the Mason’s door,
And the poor man finds his best respect upon the Checkered Floor.

Morris on what the Order of the Eastern Star can give Women

A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

Morris in referring to the Possibilities that the Order of the Eastern Star can give Women:

“The deadly needle, the unwomanly washtub, the unwholesome country school, the sinew-wearying kitchen, are not now the only fields on which women, old and young, who are wrestling with the perplexities of human life, can win bread.” Morris explaining the purpose of the OES

“Here I am in the city of William Penn styled “The City of Brotherly Love.” So kindly did Penn treat the Indians that while almost every other white settlement was engaged in constant wars with the Indian tribes, for seventy years Pen’s settlement was at peace. No doubt peace is the safest and best for everybody.” From a letter to son John from Morris while in Pennsylvania

Visiting the Rob Morris Home Shrine

If you visit LaGrange today, you will find much of this historic town is still very well preserved and looks much like it would have when Rob Morris brought his family here in 1860. Morris’s home, on Washington Street is a beautifully preserved shrine that is maintained by the Ky. Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star which is located beside the home. A very active railroad still runs through the middle of Main Street in downtown LaGrange. This railroad was a major attraction as LaGrange developed during the 19th Century. Across from the courthouse square you will find a historic marker (First Street and Jefferson) that marks the site of the Kentucky Masonic College. The only college of its type in Kentucky, it was what brought Morris, at the height of his Masonic career, to live in LaGrange.

LaGrange is registered as a historic district with the National Park Service. There are many fine specialty shops as well as the Oldham County History Center to visit when you come to LaGrange. Part of the history center complex includes the Rob Morris Chapel Educational Building where Morris would lecture and preach.