Farm Life for a 7 Year Old in the 1850s: John Morris

For this book I transcribed over 250 letters from the Morris Collection so there are many that are not in the book. This is one, written in either the late Spring or early Summer of 1853 by John to his father updating him on family life. John, the head of the household, when his father is away, was 7 1/2 years old when he wrote this letter.

My Dear Pa
We are all well and doing well it has been a long time since I rite to you words so I will write a long letter to you. I have been down to the Creek since I rote to you last and stayed two weeks. I tried to shoot the gun while I was down there with mr. McDonald but I did not get a chance to go a fishing while I was down there but I am a going down there agin when you come home if you will let me go. We have got enough to cook but will not eat non of them. Ma is afraid to cut them because it might make us sick. Our beans have got enough of them to get a mess but they are not quite big enough. Our beets are big enough to eat but ma says she wont a going to eat nothing thill they get big enough to do some good when we eats them.

My beans have got larger beans on them than Sis’s has but they are not so many as them as there are of hers. I have got winter millbourn vines in blossom. They have been planted longer enough to have most ripe ones on them. You must make hast and come home and eat some of our things. We will have everything go to eat by time your home. I have got two gardins. One I call the middle gardin and the other the house gardin.

In the middle gardin I have got some squash melon and some cabbage and some beans and some pop corn for you and some cucumbers and some water melons. In my house gardin I have got some onions and some cabages and some water melons and a few stalks of corn. We all have got gardins. Sis has got some onions, some cabages, and some beans and some cucumbers. Alf has got some corn, some mush melon and some cucumbers. We are not a going to eat nothing till you get home. We have got some chickens most grown but ma won’t kill any of them till you come home. We have got about 30 young chickens and ten or 12 grown hens . Our cows are getting fat. Rose don’t give no milk now but are calf is full. Old Ned gives the little pigeons truble by herself. Ma has got two pigs which she keeps fat with the dishwater and crumbs that comes of the tubbox when we get doon eating they keep so fat that they can hardly get a long. They get so busy that you may go and lay down on them before they will get up. I have almost got that song The Mason’s Daughters by hart but Sis has not got it yet.
From your son
John

John Morris

John Morris as an adult

The Shegoog’s, Rowan Oak and Cedar Trees

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The Shegoogs were family friends of Rob and Charlotte, meeting when both families lived in Memphis. As I was visiting the Oxford, Mississippi area to follow Morris’s trail as indicated from his letters, my husband and I took a side trip to Rowan Oak, which was the home of William Faulkner. Much to my surprise, our tour guide talked about the Shegoog’s as a prominent family in Oxford and that the Faulkner home was originally the Shegoog home. The home is lined with massive cedar trees which were planted when the Shegoog’s lived there. The trees were believed to help repel mosquitoes and this period coincided with the yellow fever and malaria epidemics. Today the home is a National Park Service shrine, dedicated to Faulkner but if you visit there you will learn about the Shegoog’s and their early influence in the Oxford area.

Morris’s Daughter Ella

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Rob and Charlotte had 9 children, 8 of which made it to adulthood. Daughter Ella Wilson Morris died at 20 years of age after a long illness. Her monument, which is pictured, is beside her parents at the Valley of Rest Cemetery in LaGrange. Morris wrote a poem in her honor which I published in the book. Morris as a well known figure, and well known poet, often was asked to compose poems in honor of deceased Masons. As a result, Morris ended up writing a lot of poems about death and dying. Here is a shorter death poem that he wrote which was put to music by George F. Root in 1866

Mournfully Lay the Dead One Here

Mournfully lay the dead one here,
And silently gather nigh;
Lovingly yield your tribute tear,
His dirge, a tender sigh.
Our chain is broke, and life can ne’er
This fondest link supply;
Mournfully lay the dead one here,
and silently gather nigh.

Ever his face was set to go
Toward Jerusalem;
Ever he walked and lived as though
he saw its golden beam;
That place whose emblem was so dear
Is now his home on high;
Mournfully lay the dead one here,
And lovingly gather nigh.

The Cedar Tree: Emblem of Endurance

When Rob Morris and his family moved to LaGrange in 1860 their first home was call Three Cedars. He enclosed a small leaflet of a cedar tree in his correspondences. For special book signings I am enclosing a small branch of cedar taken from my farm which is close to LaGrange and the Rob Morris historic home. In reality, the cedar tree in Kentucky is actually a member of the juniper family and called Juniperus virginiana by its scientific name. The common name however is red cedar or eastern red-cedar and is prized for its aromatics. People often lined cedar chests and closets with cedar because it repels insects. Cedar posts are used for fences as well because of their durability. Morris wrote many poems about the symbols of Freemasonry. The following is the one that he wrote about the Cedars of Lebanon from his visit to the Holy Land and referring to its use in King Solomon’s temple:

Cedar-Tree: emblem of endurance

Type of endurance, child of the mountain-tops,
Companion of the eagle, born midst snows
And desolation, tree of Lebanon
With toil and weainess they trunks were brought
Seaward, by Joppa, to this honored site:
Here, with the olive and acacia sweets
Wedded to the marble, gold and precious gems
They wood was consecrate in work divine:
Time spared they glory, time and gnawing worm
But left thee victim to the foeman’s torch.

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The Cape St. George Light

In January 1838 Morris traveled along the Florida coastline on the steamer Atlantic. He wrote to his son, John, saying this is “one of the finest fishing grounds in the world. There they catch the sea bass, trout, sheepshead, grouper, perch, pompano, snapper and any quantity of turtles and oysters.” These two images I took of the Cape St. George Lighthouse from a visit recently which Morris would have seen when they stopped at Apalachicola, Florida. It operated from 1834 until 1944. The lighthouse was moved from its original location to the present St. George’s Island and operates as a small museum.
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Cape St. George Light