Thomas Mason Morris (c1790 – 1833)

According to a family Bible, which does not give his birth or death dates, his full name was Thomas Mason Morris.1   His origins are mysterious, as the first certain reference to him is his appearance in the 1820 census of Loudoun County, Virginia when he was head of a household comprised of three females under the age of ten and a male and female both aged 26-44. 2  No other Thomas Morris was enumerated in Loudoun or in any of the adjacent counties.  (Another Thomas Morris had married Catherine Fouch on 27 October 1815 in Loudoun County, but he was not enumerated there in subsequent censuses.) 3 4

Married by 1812 to Mary Willett

Thanks to the research of George Ralph Willett III we know that Thomas Morris was first married to Mary WIllett, by whom he had three children.  Her father Richard Willett was taxed in Loudoun County continuously from 1787 through 1812.5  Although he appeared on the 1812 tax list compiled mid-year, he was living several miles south in Culpeper County that fall when he wrote his will on 29 October 1812. 6  The will names among his eleven living children a “Mary Morris.”

That Mary Morris was the wife of Thomas Morris is proven by the estate papers of another child of Richard WIllett named Aquilla Willett, who died in Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in late 1823.  Because he died intestate and without issue his estate was inherited by his siblings, if living, or their issue.  Mary Morris was dead by late 1827, replaced as legatee by her children, as the initial accounting of the estate shows a payment of $250 to “Thomas Morris guardian” made on 2 October 1827.7  The final settlement recorded late in 1836, after Thomas Morris’s death, shows that the nine legatees inherited $389.82 each, with the balance for the Morris children paid in June 1835 to “John Hessee (sic), guardian of your children”.8  Although the names of these Morris children do not appear in these records, they are identified in a later deed and Chancery court case as three daughters named Lucinda, Sophronia, and Keziah.

Richard Willett had lived in Frederick County, Maryland before moving across the county and state line to Loudoun County in 1787.  Births and christenings of the children of Richard and Keziah Willett were recorded in Frederick County in the register of the Zion (Evangelical) Lutheran Church through 1786.  The last child recorded was a daughter named “Marie”, born  on 2 April 1786 and christened on 3 December 1786.  Whether that was the same person as “Mary” Morris is unknown.  It is possible that the daughter Marie died in childhood and another daughter named Mary was born after the 1787 move to Loudoun County.

Settles in Purcellville

Thomas Morris does not appear as a taxable in Loudoun County through 1812, the last tax list checked, so evidently lived elsewhere.  Within the next few years he settled in the general vicinity of Leesburg.  He witnessed a mortgage deed by Merritt Tarleton of Leesburg in early 1819.9  And it was presumably him who had letters to be claimed at the Leesburg post office in 1818 and 1819.10

On 25 March 1820 he bought one acre of a much larger tract belonging to Noah Hatcher, located on the main road in the village that became Purcellville, about ten miles west of Leesburg and about five miles east of the Jefferson County (now West Virginia) border.11  He apparently set up a tailor shop on the property and lived there until his death in 1833.

Second Marriage to Nancy Hesser

Around 1827 he married again to a woman in her mid-thirties named Nancy Hesser, who bore him a son named James Heaton Morris on 13 August 1828.   Their marriage record is missing from Loudoun marriage bonds, but that is clearly the name of Thomas Morris’s wife written in the family Bible. (Only the names of his last wife and last set of children are written in the Bible.)  Indeed, on 11 February 1828 a lawsuit by the heirs of Andrew Hesser listed Nancy Morris, wife of Thomas Morris, among Hesser’s children.12   Andrew Hesser had died in 1805 when Nancy was quite young, but the division of his land was delayed until the death of his widow Hannah (Warner) Hesser.  On 14 April 1829 Nancy and Thomas Morris sold their interest in the real estate of her father Andrew Hesser to her brother John Hesser.13

Nancy Hesser seems to have had a distinct independent streak. The county sheriff wrote in 1828 that he notified all the heirs of Andrew Hesser about the lawsuit “except Nancy Morris who refused to hear it.”  She also made purchases in her own name, an uncommon thing for married women at that time.  Later records also show that she had an illegitimate daughter when she married Thomas Morris.  On 19 September 1836 Nancy Morris gave permission for the marriage of her daughter Castara Hesser to Henry Timms.14    A year later Henry and Castara Timms moved to Muskingum County, Ohio, and so did Nancy Morris and her two young Morris children.

The 1830 census shows Thomas Morris, aged 40-50, heading a household of one male under 5, three females aged 10-15, one female aged 15-20, one female 20-30 and one female 30-40.  The female in the 20-30 column was probably Nancy’s sister Sarah Hesser.  When she married the following year Thomas Morris attested that she was over 21.15  The household also apparently included Thomas Morris’s three daughters by his first marriage as well as Nancy’s illegitimate daughter Castara Hesser.

Thomas Morris dies in mid-1833

Thomas Morris died intestate in Loudoun County sometime in the summer of 1833, according to a court record.16   He was dead before 12 August 1833 when John Hesser filed a bond for his guardianship of “Lucinda Morris, Sophronia Morris, and Kesiah Morris, orphans of Thomas Morris” who were the children of Mary Willett Morris. 17 The inventory and appraisal of his personal estate was recorded on 11 April 1834, valued at $347.87.18  Another record shows that a $100 note payment had been made to the estate on 6 September 1833.

The widow Nancy Morris moves to Ohio

Nancy, who was pregnant when her husband died, evidently continued to live on the one-acre home place.   Over the next few years Sophronia Morris and Keziah Morris both married, as did Nancy’s daughter Castara, and Lucinda Morris apparently left the household.  Sometime in 1837 Nancy Morris moved to Muskingum County, Ohio with her two Morris children and her daughter Castara Timms.

Lawsuit over Thomas Morris’s land

In February 1838 the three daughters of Thomas Morris’s first marriage  brought suit against Nancy Morris and her children to force the sale of the one-acre tract in Purcellville.19  Isaiah Beans, who had married Sophronia Morris, testified on 24 February 1838 that Nancy Morris and her two Morris children were no longer living in Virginia.   A summons was issued to “Nancy Morris, John Thomas William Morris, and Sarah Ann H. Morris” but Nancy Morris failed to respond.  Her brother John Hesser had himself appointed guardian ad litem of her two infant Morris children for the purpose of joining the suit.  The case was heard in July and a month later the court ordered the house and lot to be sold and the proceeds distributed in six equal shares to Nancy and the five children of Thomas Morris.  The property was purchased at auction on 25 August 1838 for $305 by a neighbor named Mahlon K. Taylor.

The newspaper notice of the auction described the property as “one Acre of Land, with a comfortable Log Dwelling, a Stable, and Tailor’s Shop thereupon, adjoining the lands of Stacy Taylor’s heirs and others on the North side of Turnpike Road within half a mile of Purcel’s Store.” 20   The Turnpike Road was initially called the Leesburg and Snicker’s Gap Turnpike.  It is now US Route 7, and when it was finished in 1835 it probably increased the value of the Morris property significantly.   Purcellville, for which Route 7 was the main street, grew up around Valentine Purcell’s general store.

The commissioner appointed to sell the property was asked by the court to make inquiries about the status of Nancy Morris.  He reported to the court in August 1838 that “in obedience to said decree I have made inquiry as to the age, constitution and health of Nancy Morris, widow of Thomas Morris dec’d, and have learned that she is about forty five years of age, of strong constitution and good health.”   Oddly, he was apparently unaware that Nancy Morris had remarried five months earlier.   She had married a 60-ish widower named John Clymer in Muskingum County, Ohio on 29 March 1838.

Among the other papers in the case file is an 1842 guardian’s accounting by John Hesser spanning the period 1833 to 1842.  Nearly all of his expenses consisted of 14 days “attending to business at Charles Town” in 1836, the year that Aquilla Willett’s estate was finally settled there.  He charged the Morris daughters $22.34 for travel to Jefferson County in 1836 even though he had collected the bulk of their inheritance by 1835.  (Charles Town was located in Jefferson County, now West Virginia, about 12 miles northwest of Thomas Morris’ home in Purcellville.)

Nancy Morris and her second husband John Clymer

In the meantime, Nancy and her new husband John Clymer had moved to Olive Township in Morgan County, Ohio (it became Noble County in 1851.)   John Clymer was enumerated in Olive Township in 1840 with an “extra” boy and girl in his household who were surely the Morris children.21  A guardianship bond in Morgan County, Ohio dated 11 May 1844 shows that John Clymer was guardian of “Thomas William and Sarah Ann Morris, children of Thomas Morris, decd.”22   In 1850 John Clymer (age 77) and Nancy (age 55) were enumerated in Olive Township living next door to his son Albert Clymer just three households from Thomas Morris and not far from Sarah Morris, who was by then married and in her own household.  The Olive Cemetery contains a stone for John Clymer (c1777-1852) giving only his death date of 29 February 1852 and the inscription “husband of Nancy”.

Nancy survived her husband and declined administration of his estate in favor of William Clymer and William McKee.23  Nancy Hesser Morris Clymer apparently died in 1854 or 1855.   The initial estate accounting of the John Clymer estate shows that the widow was paid her annual allowance of $75 in May 1854.24 The next estate account contains the item: “paid William Thurla note executor to Nancy Clymer.”25  There is no further record of Nancy, nor is there a probate record for her.

Thomas Morris had two wives and two sets of children.  Mary Willett was the mother of three daughters:

  1. Lucinda Morris (December 1814 – 1901)  She married George Washington Shacklett on 5 September 1839 in Frederick County, Virginia.  A few months after the marriage the couple were enumerated in the 1840 census of Fauquier County.  Their joint gravestone, which reads “Geo. W. Shacklett 1809-1861, Lucy Shacklett his wife 1814-1901”, is in the Cool Spring Methodist Cemetery in Delaplane, Fauquier County, Virginia.  Her age in censuses is consistent with a birth year of 1814 — she was enumerated as age 33. 45. 55. and 64 in the 1850-1880 censuses of Fauquier County.  Censuses suggest at least four children born in the 1840s:  Edward P. Shacklett (c1840), Thomas L. (c1842) called Sewell in 1860, Mary Elizabeth Shacklett (c1845), and Turner Washington Shacklett (c1848).  The 1880 and 1900 censuses of Fauquier County show Lucy living with her daughter Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Barbee and her husband Henry Barbee, her birth given in 1900 as December 1814. The 1900 census also records that she bore 5 children, two of whom were then living.
  2. Sophronia Morris (22 March 1816 – 16 September 1885)  She married a neighbor named Isaiah Beans (1810-1886) in Loudoun County by bond dated 15 September 1836, with the permission of her guardian John Hesser.  They remained in Loudoun County, appearing there in the 1850-1880 censuses, which list a total of ten children:  Aaron Thomas Beans (born c1838), Mary Jane Beans (c1839), Oscar Beans (c1841), Elwood Henry Beans (c1843), William Flavius Beans (c1844), Theodore A. Beans (c1846), Elizabeth A. Beans (c1848), Mary Beans (1849), Albert Beans (1850), and John Edgar Beans (c1855).  She is buried in the Arnold Grove Methodist Cemetery in Hillsboro, Loudoun County where her gravestone gives her dates of birth and death.
  3. Keziah Morris (c1818 – after 1880)  She married a neighbor’s son named Jonathan Tavenner (1807-1873) on 25 September 1837 in adjacent Frederick County, Maryland.  She may have married across the county and state line in Maryland to avoid obtaining the consent of her guardian, which would have been required of anyone under 21 in Virginia.   A filing in the Chancery case identified her as still under 21 in March 1838 thus placing her as the oldest of the three daughters, born perhaps 1818.   Jonathan and Keziah Tavenner moved to Morgan County, Ohio about 1844, settling in Meigsville about 20 miles west of John and Nancy Clymer.  They are in the 1850-1870 censuses there with children named James W. Tavenner (born c1843), Eliza E. Tavenner (c1844), Robert E. Tavenner (c1846), Francis A. Tavenner (c1849), Charles W. Tavenner (c1852), Henrietta V. Tavenner (c1856), Olive Tavenner (c1859), and Emma Tavenner (c1864).   Jonathan Tavenner died in 1873 and is buried in the Wells Cemetery in Morgan County, but there is no stone for Nancy.  She was enumerated in Meigsville in 1880 with her daughter Emma and her daughter Henrietta and her Henrietta’s husband George Henry in the household.

He had three children by Nancy Hesser:

  1. James Heaton Morris (13 August 1828 – 1830-33)   He was the first child of Thomas Morris and Nancy Hesser according to the family Bible rescord.   He must have died in childhood sometime after the 1830 census but before his father’s death in mid-1833.  He was apparently named after James Heaton, a medical doctor who lived in the same Purcellville neighborhood as Thomas Morris.  Curiously, though, Dr. James Heaton had died in 1824 and his young son James Heaton Jr. had died in 1826; there were no adult James Heatons in Loudoun County when this son was born.  Whether there was a familial connection and, if so, whether it was to Nancy Hesser or to Thomas Morris is unknown.   Other than proximity, no relationship was found between James Heaton and this family. To add to the mystery, Dr. James Heaton had a son named John Thomas William Heaton (1810-1862).  Thomas Morris gave that unusual name to his second son, which seems more than coincidental.
  2. John Thomas William Morris (26 May 1831 – 30 May 1907)  See separate paper.
  3. Sarah Ann Hannah Morris (15 September 1833 – 1 January 1860)  She was born shortly after her father died.  The family Bible gives her name as Sarah Ann Hannah Morris, but she was consistently referred to in the Loudoun County court records as Sarah Ann Morris.  She married William O. Thorla (1829-1904), a son of Benjamin Thorla, on 23 September 1849 in Morgan County, Ohio.26  They are enumerated in the 1850 census of Olive Township in Morgan County a few households away from his father.   Her age is given as 17 and her birthplace as Ohio (sic).  Sarah Ann died in January 1860 according to the 1860 mortality census, which gives her age as 26 and birthplace as Virginia.  Her gravestone in the Olive Cemetery gives her date of death as 1 January 1860 and her age as 26 years, 3 months, and 17 days.27   Her husband remarried on 13 September 1862 to Margaret Hutchins.   The family was in Linn County, Missouri for the 1870 census with six children of Sarah’s and five younger children by the second wife.   By the 1880 Linn County census all six of Sarah’s children were out of the household.  Sarah’s children generally adopted the “Thurlow” spelling.Jackie Marshall, who is descended from Sarah, has more detail on these children:6.1.  Argumento Thurlow (20 June 1850 – 20 June 1948)  He was living with his father in 1870 but by 1880 had moved to Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon, where he appears in the 1880 through 1930 censuses.   By 1880 he had acquired a wife named Elizabeth, age 28, and he was listed as a salesman.  In 1900 his wife was Mary L., the census indicating they married about 1887.   That marriage is recorded in York County, Maine (!) on 20 August 1888 to Mary Louise Stackpole.  The 1900 household included a daughter from the first marriage, Lenora Thurlow (born Dec 1880), and two children of the second marriage named William Stackpole Thurlow (12 Feb 1891) and Elvira Thurlow (12 April 1900).28   He’s in the 1910 through 1930 census of Portland listed as a salesman for a furniture store with his wife Mary L. and the two younger children in the household through 1920, and his sister “Fronia” Wilson in the 1930 household. Argumento Thurlow is buried in the Greenword Cemetery.   His wife Mary (9 September 1868 – 7 June 1938) is buried there, as is the daughter Lenora Thurlow (5 December 1880 – 24 August 1903).6.2.  Sophronia Thurlow (13 December 1852 – 18 April 1934)  She married Daniel Wilson, and died in Portland Oregon.6.3.  Mason Thurlow (11 March 1855 – 23 June 1938)  He’s in the 1900 through 1930 censuses of Okanogan County, Washington.6.4.  Wilhemina “Minnie” Thurlow (22 September 1857 – 13 December 1932)6.5.  William W. Thurlow (c1858 – after 1870)   He is in the 1870 census of Linn County, Missouri.  He is thought to have died while serving on a whaling ship in the Arctic.6.6.  Anna Thurlow (6 December 1859 – 17 February 1960)  She did not marry, but ended up in Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon with her two older brothers.
  1. Bible in the possession of Karl Morris of Sweetwater, Texas. He is the father of my son-in-law Nathan Morris. []
  2. 1820 Loudoun County census, page 43:  Thos. Morris 000010-30010. Although the index mistakenly labels that page as residents of the town of MIddleburg, that is an error. []
  3. 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. []
  4. This person may have been the same Thomas Morris who enlisted in the War of 1812, giving his birthplace as Loudoun County about 1792 and his occupation as shoemaker. What became of him is unknown. []
  5. He was taxed in the 3rd Battalion, later 3rd Division, part of the old Shelburne Parish. []
  6. Will included among the papers of Culpeper County Chancery Case #17, Indexed as 1845-001 online at Virginia Memory. Thanks to George Ralph WIllett III. []
  7. The payment was listed as $500 to “Richard Tavener and Thomas Morris guardian”, both husbands of Aquilla’s sisters, but a later accounting clarifies that each man received $250, perhaps for the purpose of posting bond as guardian of their children’s inherited estates.  See Jefferson County, West Virginia Will Book 5 (1825-1828), pp 359-361 and particularly page 360. []
  8. See Jefferson County, West Virginia Will Book 9 (1836-1838), pp 326-332 and particularly page 329. []
  9. Loudoun County Deed Book 2Y, page 2. []
  10. Genius of Liberty newspaper (Leesburg, Virginia) issues of 20 and 27 October 1818 and issue of 12 January 1819. []
  11. Loudoun County Deed Book 3Q, page 151 (abstracted by Patricia B. Duncan, Index to Loudoun County, Virginia Land Deed Books 3N-3V, 1826-1831, page 82). []
  12. Loudoun County Chancery Court Case File, Case #M6884. []
  13. Loudoun County Deed Book 3S, page 345 abstracted by Patricia B. Duncan, Index to Loudoun County, Virginia Land Deed Books 3N-3V, 1826-1831, page 155. []
  14. Aurelia M. Jewell, Loudoun County, Virginia Marriage Bonds, 1762-1850, page 71.  Note that illegitimate children bore the surname of the mother regardless of parental wishes.  At that time only an act of the state legislature could bestow on them the name of the father. []
  15. Mary Alice Wertz, Marriages of Loudoun County, Virginia, 1757-1853, page 114. []
  16. Statement included in Loudoun County Chancery Court File, Case No. M1497. []
  17. Bond included among the papers in Loudoun County Chancery Case 1845-023, originally case number M2144. []
  18. Patricia B. Duncan, Loudoun County, Virginia Will Book Abstracts, Books A-Z, Dec 1757-Jun 1841, page 173. []
  19. Loudoun County Chancery Court File, Case No. M1497. []
  20. Newspaper notice in the Genius of Liberty of Leesburg published on 28 July 1838 and included in the case file. []
  21. 1840 Morgan County census, p152:  John Clymer 011200001-0100201.  Clymer’s own five children were the older ones, the youngest boy and girl were surely Thomas and Sarah Morris. []
  22. Gateway to the West (Clearfield Publishing Company, 1989), Ruth Bowers and Anita Short, Vol. II, p254.  This is a bound version of a periodical published from 1967 to 1978.   The portion of interest is an abstract of guardian bonds in Morgan County, Ohio. []
  23. Noble County Settlements Book 1, page 471. []
  24. Ibid., page 473. []
  25. Noble County Settlements Book 2, page 304. []
  26. Morgan County Marriage Book B, p383. []
  27. Note that this would yield a birth date of 14 September 1833, one day different from the Bible entry. []
  28. The Oregon Birth Index contains an entry for the son William Stackpole Thurlow, which gives his mother’s full maiden name. []