Origins of Thomas Morris

How did he meet Mary Willett?

We know that Thomas Morris married a daughter of Richard Willet sometime before Willet wrote his will on 29 October 1812.  Richard Willet had been taxed in Loudoun County from 1789 through the spring of 1812, but had moved to Culpeper County by the time he wrote his will in the fall of 1812.  Thomas Morris must have been newly married in 1812, as the first child we know of was not born until 1814.  Thus Thomas Morris probably lived somewhere near Richard WIllett’s home in Loudoun County, but no Thomas Morris was taxed in Loudoun County through 1812 (the last list readily available to researchers.)  Nor is there an extant marriage record anywhere in Virginia or Maryland for the marriage.

That Thomas Morris appears in Loudoun County records from about 1819 through his death argues the possibility that he was a native.  But the location of Loudoun County, bordering Maryland and the eastern tip of what became West Virginia, means that Thomas Morris could have come into Loudoun from any direction.

His elder children gave their father’s birthplace as Virginia in the 1880 and later censuses, although his son Thomas listed it as Maryland in 1880.

Possible Significance of Given Names

I am usually skeptical about drawing genealogical conclusions from given names, but in this case we have few other clues to work with.  We know that one daughter in the first family was named Keziah, apparently after Mary Willett Morris’s mother. The question is whether the elaborate given names in the second family reflect a familial connection.

If there were a relationship of some sort, we don’t know whether it was with the Morris or Hesser side of the family.  However, the fact that Thomas Morris did not give elaborate names to his first three daughters raises the distinct possibility that the naming influence for the last three children came from his wife Nancy Hesser.   Indeed, the daughter Sarah Ann Hannah Morris may have been partly named for Nancy Hesser’’s mother Hannah Warner Hesser. (Was Thomas Morris’s own mother named Sarah or Sarah Ann?)  The names of the two sons as recorded in the family Bible may offer clues to Thomas Morris’s origins.

James Heaton Morris

Thomas Morris named his first son James Heaton Morris.   Dr. James Heaton (1759-1824), was born in Suffolk County, New Jersey, became a doctor in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and moved to Loudoun County, Virginia after the Revolution.  He and Thomas Morris both lived in Purcellville so they clearly knew one another, but why Thomas Morris gave that name to his first-born son is not clear.   Several members of the Heaton family are buried in the Ketoctin Baptist Church Cemetery in Purcellvile whose records inform us that Dr. James Heaton died on 11 July 1824, four years before Thomas Morris’s son was born.  He had a son James Heaton Jr. (1792-1826) who was also dead by the time James Heaton Morris was born.   (There was also a grandson named James Decatur Heaton (1816-1859), but he was only twelve when James Heaton Morris was born.)

Dr. James Heaton was married to Lydia Osborn (1778-1839) who has no obvious relationship to either Thomas Morris or his wife.  Nor does Thomas Morris’s third wife Nancy Hesser, the mother of the two boys, have any known relationship to James Heaton.

John Thomas William Morris

To add to the mystery, Dr. James Heaton had a son named John Thomas William Heaton (1810-1862) who is buried in the same cemetery as his father.   Three given names was quite rare in this time frame, so it seems likely that Thomas Morris either named his son after Heaton or that both men were named for the same person.  The former seems unlikely – John Thomas William Heaton was only 18 when Thomas Morris’s second son was born.

Another Thomas Morris in Loudoun County?

Although “our” Thomas Morris was the only one of that name found in Loudoun records in the 1820s and 1830s, there were two other men in the area with the same name.

The first was the Thomas Morris who married Catherine Fouch on 27 October 1815 in Loudoun County.1  Whoever he was, he also does not appear among the taxables through 1812, nor did he head a household in Loudoun in 1820.  He may have been the same person who served in the War of 1812; army registers show that a Thomas Morris enlisted at New Orleans in the 1st Infantry on 7 September 1816 giving his age as 24, occupation as shoemaker, and his birthplace as Loudoun County, Virginia.  The same records show he deserted a week later.

There was also a much younger Thomas Morris who was briefly in Loudoun County.  A shoemaker named William Morris who lived in Leesburg applied for a pauper’s Revolutionary War pension in 1820 listing among his children a son Thomas, age 14.   Coincidentally, he was another Loudoun resident who moved to Muskingum County, Ohio in 1823.

  1. Jordan R. Dodd et al., Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850, online. Also see Mary Alice Wertz, Marriages of Loudoun County, Virginia, 1757-1853, page 107. []