The Morris Family and Animals

Activity to do with Youth Groups:

In A Place in the Lodge there are numerous stories about the Morris family and their interactions with animals that include dogs, horses, cats, a milk cow named “Betsy”, a cottonmouth snake and even a monkey!! Find the stories in the book and read some of them out loud. How dependent are we today on animals? What do they provide and how do they influence our day to day living? Has anything changed over the last 200 years with people and their interaction with other living things?

General Lee Dog

This is a picture of General Lee, Rob Morris’s dog that lived with him in LaGrange. People recall that General Lee accompanied Morris wherever he went and laid by Morris’s desk when Morris was working on poetry, correspondence and other publications.

Life in Rural America


This is a image of a recently restored mill near Oldham County. John, Rob Morris’s oldest son, helped to take care of the family when Rob was away. When the family was living in Lodgeton, Ky. there was a mill nearby and John often went there to help the miller, Mr. Cincey. The mill was a local gathering place for farmers who would bring their corn and wheat to get ground for flour. In this excerpt, on page 106 of the book, A Place in the Lodge, John describes activities at the mill:
” Mr. Cincey has bought the longest pile of wheats I ever seen. He has got the mill all full just room enough for the machinery and a path to walk about in and he is filling up the old stone house with wheat. He runs the mill day and night just as hard as he can.”

Fay Hempstead: Poet Laureate of Freemasonry in the 20th Century

fay hemstead poet

Rob Morris received the honor of Poet Laureate for Freemasonry in 1884 for the 19th Century at the Grand Lodge of New York. His predecessor was Robert Burns who was coronated at Edinburgh, Scotland in Cannongate Kilwinning Lodge No. 2 in 1787. Fay Hempstead (1847-1934) was awarded the Poet Laureate of Freemasonry for the 20th Century in 1908. He was awarded the honor at the Medinah Temple in Addison, Illinois. Hempstead was an attorney and educator. The features of the coronation for Hempstead was an address by Elmer E. Rogers titled: “The Laurel Crown and What It Stands For.” Excerpts from the speech: “No one can silence the voice of freemasonry no more than can be thwarted human progress. Through all the past all those who have essayed to attach have gone into a Rib Van Winkle sleep. The net of the fraternal orders is spread all over the land with Organizations in every social knot. Virtually four out of every five adult men in America are members of some form of the secret fraternal orders. The world owes a debt of deep gratitude to freemasonry.”

Kentucky Masonic College

Funk Seminary

Funk on Fire

Rob Morris moved his family to LaGrange, Kentucky in 1860 so he could become a professor at the Kentucky Masonic College also known as Funk Seminary. After the Civil War the college met its demise with low attendance and a depressed economy so it became the local public school until it burned on Sept. 24, 1911. It was originally called Funk Seminary because of a $10,000 donation by William Funk in 1841 to begin the school. In 1844 the Grand Lodge of Kentucky assumed control of the school and changed the name to “Masonic College” with full four-year courses leading to the A.B. and B. S. degrees. Honorary LL.D Degrees were conferred upon John Augustus Williams, first president of the University of Kentucky and Rob Morris. One of the features of the school was that it allowed free tuition to sons of indigent Masons. In 1846 enrollment numbered 203 students: five from foreign countries and more than half from Southern states.

Mt. Sylvan School near Oxford, Mississippi

oxford and mt sylvan map

This old map shows the Mt. Sylvan Academy where Rob Morris became president and professor. He and Charlotte lived in Oxford at the time (1845)and Morris would ride his horse, 12 miles one way, each day to the Academy. On the map it is listed at the Mt. Sylvan School. The academy was located on the private property of Mr. James Brown. Adjoining the school property was the plantation of Jacob Thompson, a politician who became Secretary of the Interior under President Buchanan. Thompson’s main home was located in Oxford by the Shegoog estate, also friends of the Morris’s who they had met in Memphis prior to both families settling at Oxford. The Shegoog’s home later became known as Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s house. A historic marker is on the site of the Thompson home across the street from the Rowan Oak historic marker in Oxford.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Thanks to the 482 folks that entered the free book giveaway on Goodreads for A Place in the Lodge!! I am sending out 10 free books to the readers that won!! Books are going to contest participants from New York to California to Canada and even Saudi Arabia! Appreciate all the readers for entering the contest! I will be updating and giving away more items so keep reading!! Right now I am working with my daughter who is a top notch teacher and we are developing educational activities that will companion the book. I will have copies available at my vendor booth at the Triennial Meeting for the Order of the Eastern Star at Pittsburgh. Stop by and visit!

Upcoming signing schedule:
Oct 30-Nov 3: Vendor’s booth at the Triennial meeting at the Westin Convention Center in Pittsburgh
November 7: Colonial Christmas Market: Oldham County History Center
December 5: Karen’s Book Barn in LaGrange

I am planning a book tour for Western Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi: I will be glad to come give a presentation and do a book signing. Contact me if you want me to stop by your organization, library or bookstore. Contact:


The Faithful Slave

Pb 1852 first page

Page one of The Faithful Slave, published by Rob Morris in 1852

Morris was very conflicted on the issue of slavery. When he and his family lived in Mississippi he got to witness the culture of slavery first hand. His wife,Charlotte, often left alone to raise the children while Rob was trying to earn income, wanted Rob to buy slave help. In a few cases Charlotte “hired out” slaves from neighbors to help with chores. In writing this novel on Loogy, a slave girl and her plight to protect the honor of her mistress., Morris likens the purity and innocence of a slave to a “spaniel-like” devotion to their master. In this story Loogy is accused of theft and takes the blame to protect her owner, Miss Caroline. As punishment, Loogy is sent to labor on a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Loogy almost dies but it is discovered that Miss Caroline’s ruthless boyfriend is the real culprit and Loogy is returned to her mistress to live out her life in peace. There were many slave manuscripts produced during this period. The important part of the tale is that Morris pens “character” and “honesty” into Loogy, adding to the increasing sympathetic movement of abolition that is rising during this moment of American history.

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 Morris

John Morris as an adult

The Shegoog’s, Rowan Oak and Cedar Trees





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


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.