James Morrison

James Morrison
James Morrison

born: 7 Aug 1841, Ballyferis,Co. Down,Ireland
bapt: 22 Sep 1841, Ballywalter,Co. Down,Ireland, at the Presbyterian Church
died: 3 May 1912, North English,Iowa Co.,Iowa
bur.: 5 May 1912, Webster,Keokuk Co.,Iowa, at Sorden Cemetery
occu: farmer
Will: 11 Mar 1911, North English,Iowa Co.,Iowa
spouse: Harriett Ann ``Hattie'' MORGAN
marr: 7 Apr 1872, Sigourney,Keokuk Co.,Iowa, at the Presbyterian Church
born: 27 Feb 1854, near Webster,Keokuk Co.,Iowa, at a farm
died: 5 Feb 1884, Los Angeles,Los Angeles Co.,CA
bur.: Altadena,CA, at Lot 13, Mountain View Cemetery
Jesse Melvin MORRISON
spouse: Rose Ann ``Rosa'' TROGER
marr: 4 Mar 1886, Keswick,Keokuk Co.,Iowa
born: 16 Dec 1855, Iowa Co.,Iowa
died: 11 Dec 1903, North English,Iowa Co.,Iowa
bur.: Webster,Keokuk Co.,Iowa, at Sorden Cemetery
Minnie Belle MORRISON
Sarah Jane ``Sadie'' MORRISON
Benjamin Harrison MORRISON
Charles Wesley MORRISON
Albert Raymond ``Bert'' MORRISON
Father: William MORRISON (1805-1879)
Mother: Mary Jane THOMPSON (1807-1879)


Growing up in Ballyferis, Ireland, James' family was very poor. The only work he could find as a young man was in the fishing boats. He did not like this as the salt water made sores on his legs; he had very fine skin. He spoke of taking the things that the women folks had made to Belfast on Saturday morning to get a few cents. They had a big dog chained near the barn and as a boy James used to play with the dog; such play consisted of jumping at the dog and the dog would throw him and pummel him around.

James Morrison came to America from Ballyferis, Ireland in either 1864 or summer, 1863. He lived in Rock Island county, Illinois, for three years before coming to Keokuk County, where he settled in Adams Township.

I believe that statement about living in Rock Island county for three years is an important key to understanding James' immigration. It appears that several of James and his siblings who immigrated came through Rock Island county, probably drawn by a large community of Irish immigrants from the same neighborhood of County Down as our Morrison family. James' sister Jane married John Donnan. I (Dennis Nicklaus) have corresponded on and off with Dean Bollman. Dean's family bought land in Rural Twp of Rock Island Co. from the estate of a James Donnan, Jr. who died in Montezuma, Iowa August 30, 1870. John and Jane Morrison Donnan also moved to Poweshiek Co., Iowa. Rural Township is in the SE corner of Rock Island County. Dean also has copies of records of the founding of the Homestead Presbyterian church in Rural Twp. Three Donnan men, John, James, and James, Jr., were founding members of this Homestead church. They were part of an Irish immigrant community from the Ards peninsula of Co. Down, Ireland who founded the church. Many of the founders of this community in Illinois were from Millisle and Ballycopeland, Co. Down, and surrounding townlands. Millisle is only about 5 miles up the coast (north) from Ballywalter. This is stated in both the records of the Homestead church in Illinois and in a 1934 book of the history of the Millisle and Ballycopeland Presbyterian Church, Co. Down, Ireland.

Another intriguing item is that Dean Bollman's church records contain the names of several Morrisons noted as joining the Homestead church in Rock Island County. The names and years joining include: Robert Morrison (1855), William Morrison and Mary Ann Morrison (1859); Joseph Robert Morrison (1860) Sarah Jane Morrison (1861); William John Morrison (1863); Mary Ann Morrison (1864); Ellen Morrison (1866); and Margaret Morrison (1867). I can't identify any of these names as belonging to our Morrison family, Except that the 1866 Ellen may well be James' sister Ellen who married Alexander Gibson in 1866.

Anyway, my conclusion from all this is that James Morrison came to Rock Island County, Illinois because of this community of Irish (including his sister Jane) from very near his home in Ireland.

The first record we have of James in Keokuk County is the 1870 census when James lived with his older brother William, William's wife Jenny, and James' younger brother David, all living at William's farm in Adams Township, a little north of the Springdale church and school (which were northwest of Keswick and are gone now). This farm is where James' son Edward was born. There is an 1874 map of Keokuk county which shows ``W and J Morrison'' own 160 acres in Section 6 of Adams twp (near Springdale). I'm fairly certain ``W and J'' indicates William and his wife Jenny, rather than James. This is supported by the fact that Jenny is listed as the owner of her and William's real estate in the 1870 census.

On October 3, 1870, William and James Morrison were naturalized as US citizens in Keokuk County.

In 1875, James bought his own farmland to the northeast of Keswick, still in Adams township. In May of 1875, he bought 160 acres in an L shape in Section 14 and 23 for $2800 \footnote{Grantee Index book 4, p. 151, and book one, p. 60}. Forrest Morrison later lived on this land (renting it) and Lyman Morrison called it ``the old Bowman place'' and that is where Lyman and Helen were born. On Nov. 27th, 1875, James bought the northwest quarter (160 acres) of Section 11 in Adams Township for $1800 (filed Dec. 9, 1875) \footnote{Keokuk Co. Grantor Index book p. 150, and Vol. 2, p. 81-82, p. 60}. This 160 acres became part of the core of James' farm. The rest of James' ``homeplace'' was an additional 120 acres in an L shape that James bought in the southwest of Section 2 on either Nov. 15, 1892 for $4250 or April 29, 1893 for $4500 (there are two slightly different Keokuk County land records for this parcel of land). \footnote{Grantee Index book 9, and deed book 23, p. 29}. The Section 2 land would have been adjacent to the north of the Section 11 land (on the north side of the road). James lived on his 160 acres of Section 11 in 1880. This farm (and the Section 2 land added to it) became known as the ``home place'' and had an Aurora address at the time (1880). Aurora, the closest town, was about 2 miles west of the farm. White Pigeon, in English River Township, was about 3 miles to the east. Hence, I use ``near Aurora'' to generally mean the location of this Morrison farmstead for birth, etc. locations. Aurora was the first town laid out in Adams Township. You might be used to seeing others describe these birthplaces as Keswick, which is pretty much correct, too. Placing this James Morrison farm at Springdale is not correct.

In the early 1880s, James and family moved to California to try to help Hattie recover from her TB. Since their child, Thomas, was b. in 1880 and died June of 1881 in Iowa, they apparently didn't leave Iowa until after Thomas had died. (They are also still in Iowa for the 1880 census.) James purchased 10 acres of land in Los Angeles County on April 21, 1883. The boundaries describing the land place it in Pasadena, downtown Pasadena according to Lyman Morrison.

According to a letter written by James' grandson, Walter Ellis Morrison, James purchased land in Los Angeles, at what is now 7th and Main, near the center of the city. They set out orange groves, but as there was no irrigation there at the time, the groves did not prosper.

Since there is some disagreement over where the land actually was, I'll include the description here: land situate lying and being in the said county of Los Angeles, State of California and bounded and particularly described as follows to wit: being a part of lot No. 4 in Block ``B'' of the San Pasqual tract of the lands of the Lake Vineyard Land and Water Association \ldots Thence in a southwesterly course twenty chains to the east side of Fair Oaks Avenue thence south easterly along said Avenue 5 chains to the place of beginning ``interest \ldots to and into the waters of the Arroyo Seco.'' are also mentioned in the description of the land. Lyman Morrison found the above land record, and did the investigation to discover that it lies in downtown Pasadena. Fair Oaks Avenue is a major north-south avenue about a mile east of the Arroyo Seco running through Pasadena and South Pasadena. Arroyo Seco is a usually dry river bed that runs from Pasadena (near the Rose Bowl) south and west to join the LA River just north of downtown LA (but not near 7th and Main). From other photocopies, I believe Ellis had found the same land tract. Lyman never found any record of another ``7th and Main'' land purchase so it appears that Ellis may have just been mislead as to its exact location.

Also according to the letter written by Ellis, James and family went to California as part of a wagon train. One of the other families in the train was also from Keswick -- the Abe Hall family.

Lyman Morrison wondered whether this story was correct or not since it seems a little odd that someone with $2500 in gold to buy land and a sick wife would go by wagon train instead of railroad train. But who knows?

The change of climate did not help Hattie's health and she died in 1884. James sold the 10 acres of Pasadena land for $5400 on 3 Nov 1884 (he had only paid $2500 for it just a year and a half earlier) and the family returned to Iowa.

James' sons Ed and Jesse are back living on the home place in Adams township in March of 1885 under the care of the William Cheney family. In 1885, James returned to Ireland for a year, ostensibly to find a new wife. He returned empty handed, however, complaining that no one over there knew how to put a decent meal on the table.

In any case, he did return to Iowa and married for the second time. But he was left a widower again in 1903 when Rosa died. By some accounts, James returned to Ireland a second time after Rosa died. According to a letter written by his granddaughter, Mary Ferne (Morrison) Franklin, James left the kids on the farm while he returned to Ireland. ``The kids had a struggle and by Spring had no wood left to even keep warm. James was kind of a scallawag!''

In 1906, James retired to North English and his son Edward took over the farm. James joined the Methodist church in North English when he retired also. In town, they had a large garden which the younger children had to tend to. Edward also supplied them with some meat, potatoes, apples, etc. as partial rent for the farm. James loved to play croquet. His daughter Alice remembered,

There was a vacant lot at one side of the little house and Dad laid out a croquet court on it which all of us kids and our friends enjoyed. Dad would take on anyone in town at the drop of the hat. It was a popular spot. Later on, Dad bought the house on the other side of the croquet grounds and sold the little house with it. By that time, I guess croquet was old hat to us and Dad wasn't able to enjoy it.

According to his will and probate report, James had 320 acres of land and a house all free and clear. He also had some stock in the North English Bank. His son Edward was the executor of the will and was appointed as guardian of the minor children (Alice and Bert). Sadie was willed the house in town and its furniture in appreciation of her caring for him and the rest of the family and managing the household. His health had been failing since June of 1910.

To engage in a bit of speculation: James' first wife's father, Thomas Morgan, was a very well-to-do farmer by the standards of the day. Perhaps Hattie Morgan came with a sizable dowry? James did very well for himself and accumulated quite a bit of land in a short time. He bought 160 acres in 1875 for $1800 and paid $2500 in gold coin for the California land (still holding his Iowa farm in the meantime).

There was another James Morrison in the early days of Keokuk County. This other James was from Scotland and immigrated with his parents about 1854. His father was John and James had brothers John and Robert. This other Morrison family mostly settled in Benton Township and Hedrick.

I have to comment on James returning to Ireland once or twice, since I think it very uncommon and remarkable. I've read quite a bit on the ship-board conditions for immigrants in the mid-1800s when James originally immigrated. Every thing I have read makes it out to be an absolutely horrible experience with very little space for each crowded passenger, and very meager sanitation and food, combined with seasickness by most of the passengers. Taking this into account, I find it truly amazing that James, or any other immigrant, would want to go anywhere near a ship ever again. Maybe by the time James returned to Ireland he was well-to-do enough to afford a first class cabin? Maybe James was more used to being on a ship from his fishing days as a youth?


Sources for this individual: @S26@ @S27@ @S28@ @S29@ @S30@ @S31@ @S32@ @S33@ @S34@ @S35@ @S36@ @S37@ @S38@ @S14@ @S11@ @S39@ @S78@ @S1734@

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