What We Know about Martha Morse

In the last post, I spent some time debunking some of the myths about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s great-grandmother, Martha Morse, and attempted to draw a distinction between the real Martha and the fictional Martha of the Little House books. This time, I’m going to tell you some stuff that we actually do know about Martha’s life.

I guess the best place to begin our story of Martha is at the beginning… with Martha’s birth.

mayflower

The mayflower is the state flower of Massachusetts, the historical birthplace of Martha Morse.

Martha was born on February 7, 1779, in Walpole, Massachusetts, sharing a birthday with her famous great-granddaughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her parents were Martha and Jathenal Morse. A Boston marriage account states that “Jethniel Morse of Boston” married “Martha Hayden of Brainbree” in January 1772. I could not find a record of Martha Hayden’s birth, but I did find a record of the birth of a “Jethanil Morse” in the lists of Walpole births. He was born on June 25, 1746. Assuming that this “Jethanil” is the same as Martha Morse’s father, “Jathenal,” then we know that Martha’s father had twelve siblings. All thirteen of these Morse children were named after people from the Bible. Some of them had some more obscure Bible names, such as Ichabod, Bennoni, and Mehetabel. Just imagine how many nieces and nephews Jathenal had because of all of these siblings… and how many cousins Martha Morse would have had too! I bet family get-togethers were pretty crazy.

Before Martha’s birth, Jathenal and Martha Hayden had at least one other child while they were in Walpole. His name was George Morse, and his birthday was January 18, 1778. He would have been Martha’s older brother by about eleven months. Although I could find no other children born to Martha and Jathenal in the Walpole birth records, our Martha may have had other siblings born elsewhere if she and her family moved around. This is very likely, in fact, because Jathenal and Martha Hayden were not married in Walpole, and the Walpole death records do not include an account of Jathenal or Martha Hayden’s death. This means that they may have moved in the years after George and Martha were born.

The next big thing we know about Martha is that she married a man named Joseph Tucker. Although even the date of her wedding is uncertain, we do know that she married a Tucker, thanks to her death records. We also know her husband’s first name because, in the death records of her children, the name of the father is listed as “Joseph.”

During my search to find the Joseph Tucker, I looked mainly in three different places. The first place was Walpole, since that is Martha’s birthplace. When I looked here, I found a Joseph Tucker born to Joseph and Abigail Tucker on October 18, 1779. If this is the right Joseph Tucker, then he would have had five older siblings, all girls. Poor little Joseph.

The other two towns I looked in were Roxbury and Norton, Massachusetts. I looked in Roxbury because that is the place of Martha’s death, and a Joseph Tucker also dies in Roxbury around the right period of time. I was unable to find a Joseph Tucker born in Roxbury during the right years. Then I looked in the Norton records because the death record of one of Martha’s children lists the father’s birthplace as Norton. This information could likely be incorrect, especially since the father’s name isn’t even listed in this death record. However, I decided to give it a shot. In those birth records, I found another close fit and strong possibility for the Joseph Tucker. This guy was born on December 4, 1777, to Amos and Ziporah Tucker. He was the third of four kids, and he had an older brother and sister and one younger sister.

In a record of Roxbury marriages, I found an account of a marriage between Joseph Tucker “of Roxbury” and Patty Morse “of Walpole” on December 29, 1799. Since no Patty Morses appear in the Walpole birth records and since Martha herself was from Walpole, there’s a chance that this “Patty” is actually Martha Morse herself. In fact, as Dorla, a fellow Ancestry.com user, explained to me, the name “Patty” was often used as a nickname for “Martha.” She referred me to a site of nicknames from the 18th and 19th centuries to confirm. This fact makes it even more likely that “Patty Morse” is the woman we’re looking for.

Check in next time to hear what we know about Joseph and Martha’s children and the end of Martha’s life.

The Search for the Real Martha Morse

Growing up, the Little House books were some of my favorites. I loved hearing about the adventures that Laura had as a child and the beautiful places she got to visit. I loved the stories her Pa would tell and the stories that she herself got to live as a pioneer girl.

Not long after I finished the series, my mom got her hands on some of those rare copies of the other Little House books: the Martha Years, the Charlotte Years, the Caroline Years, and the Rose Years. I gobbled those up books too, delighted by the interesting stories of they told of Laura’s great-grandma, grandmother, ma, and daughter, respectively.

The stories of Martha Morse were especially interesting to me since, according to these books, Martha was born and grew up in Scotland. However, as I recently discovered, research has shown that the real Martha Morse never even set foot in Scotland.

DSC_0649

The thistle is the national flower of Scotland, Martha Morse’s fictionalized birthplace.

As Melissa Wiley, the author of the Martha Years books, says, the books about Martha are historical fiction, not biography. The stories they tell of Martha Morse are based on an account of Martha that Grace Ingalls Dow, Laura’s youngest sister, shared in a letter. As Wiley explains, Grace wrote in this letter “that her great-grandmother, Martha Morse, was the daughter of a Scottish laird who married someone the family considered beneath her station.” That’s the only “fact” about Martha that Wiley had to work with. From there, she used her imagination and some research of life in Scotland during the late 1700s to formulate her delightful stories. It turns out, however, that the information Grace shared in her letter does not fit with the facts we find in historical records. The story that Grace told must have arisen in the imaginations of her her tale-loving family members.

Thanks to Wiley’s fun books, there’s a lot we know about the fictional Martha Morse and perhaps about the person that Laura and her sisters thought Martha was. But what about the real Martha Morse? What do we know about her?

In the following series of posts, I will be sharing the things that I have discovered in my recent research of Martha Morse and her daughter, Charlotte Tucker. As we explore these two relatively elusive characters of history, you’ll get a little more information about the background and childhood a slightly more well-known character of history, Caroline Lake Quiner, the girl who would one day become the mother of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the work of all those curious individuals who have already compiled information about Martha’s life, making my search that much easier. Thank you specifically to Dorla Tam from Ancestry.com and John Bass for their help in answering my questions and pointing me to helpful resources.

Be sure to stick around! I’m positive that this adventure through history will be one worth having.

Almanzo: The Science of Horse-Training and Courtship

Last time, we discussed the story from Farmer Boy about Almanzo and the half-dollar. We explored the way that the lessons Almanzo learned through this episode would later influence his decision to venture out into the wintry Dakota prairies during the long winter of 1880 and 1881 to find the homesteader with the wheat. That very decision, however, also shows more of Almanzo’s qualities, including his perseverance and daring. These qualities of his first appear in the early tales of Almanzo.

Almanzo the Farmer

Almanzo driving his Morgan horses, Buck and Billy, at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri

In Farmer Boy, young Almanzo spends a lot of time with his young oxen, Star and Bright. In one chapter, he even daringly decides to hitch his sled behind the young animals to have them pull him and his friends through the snow. The experiment is a disaster, and the boys end up in a heap in the snow. But that upset doesn’t cause Almanzo to quit training his team.

Much later in the book, Almanzo hitches his team to his own bobsled and successfully drives them while hauling wood. Well, he’s successful only until the team starts falling into ditches full of snow. Even though the going is tough, Almanzo continues to persevere through the snowy mess. We are reminded of this instance of Almanzo’s early perseverance when, in The Long Winter, he and Cap have to repeatedly dig their horses and sleds out of the deep snow on the way to the homesteader’s place to fetch the wheat for the rest of the town.

There’s another time later on in his life when Almanzo yet again perseveres through the cold and the snow. In These Happy Golden Years, Almanzo comes twelve miles through the cold week by week to bring the young Miss Laura Ingalls home from the Brewster school. And he continues to do this even when Laura tells him that she doesn’t want to drive with him anymore after she’s done with the term. When he continues to come pick her up and bring her home anyway, Laura tells him that she didn’t think he would come after what she had said. In response, Almanzo protests, “What do you take me for? … Do you think I’m the kind of a fellow that’d leave you out there at Brewster’s when you’re so homesick, just because there’s nothing in it for me?”

And, with this story, we come to probably the most defining aspect of Almanzo’s character: his gentleness and patience. Ever since he first began training his young team of oxen, Almanzo has known that teaching young, spirited animals to love and trust you won’t happen if you’re always angry, loud, and impatient. Rather, it calls for a certain quietness and slowness. From his first interaction with Laura to the moment he asks for her hand in marriage, Almanzo proceeds slowly and patiently, giving her time to learn that she can trust him and love him. Even though she doesn’t seem to think much of him at first, by the end of These Happy Golden Years, Laura is convinced that she and Almanzo “belong together.” Who knows if she ever would have realized that if Almanzo hadn’t known the importance of treading quietly.

So, there you have it. Through her incredible story-telling techniques, Laura the writer is able to successfully re-introduce her readers to Almanzo as a young man and make them confident that this young man is just a older version of the farmer boy whom we once knew and loved.

Almanzo: A Good Head on His Shoulders

If you were with us last time, you’ll remember talking about that moment in Farmer Boy when Almanzo decides that he wants to train horses and be a farmer. As I pointed out, his choice as a ten-year-old would help shape him into the young man we meet in the later books—the young homesteader in Dakota Territory.

Young Almanzo

Almanzo Wilder around age 28

This young homesteader has certain qualities about him that, in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writing, set him apart from the other characters of those books. When someone starts talking about Almanzo Wilder as a young adult, two of the main stories that come to my mind are the story of the wheat and the bigger story of his courtship of Laura Ingalls. In these two stories alone, Laura the writer touches on the most admirable aspects of Almanzo’s character.

As we see in The Long Winter, when Almanzo sits and ponders how long his own seed wheat would be able to keep the rest of the town alive during the months of blizzards, this young man is extremely thoughtful and good with figures.  Also, his choice to set out with Cap Garland to find the homesteader with the wheat shows his perseverance and daring. Finally, Almanzo’s gentleness and patience becomes utterly clear in his courtship of Laura. Despite her initial uncertainty about him and her unpredictable and spirited nature, Almanzo quietly persists in pursuing her until, finally, he wins her over.

These qualities of Almanzo’s didn’t just come out of nowhere, though.  Let’s consider, for a moment, Almanzo’s thoughtfulness and his calculating, analytical mindset. If you think about it, he actually learned to think carefully about his resources when he was only a boy. That’s also when he learned how to work figures in his head.

One of the stories that most strongly shows Almanzo’s development in this area is the story of the half dollar that Laura tells in Farmer Boy. In this story, Almanzo asks his father for money so that he can buy lemonade. After hearing his father explain all of the hard work that goes into making one half dollar, however, Almanzo ultimately decides to buy a young pig with the money instead. This is how Almanzo first learns about investing. Getting lemonade with his money would have brought him instant gratification, but buying the pig allowed him to make a profit later.

It’s this same sort of thinking that helped him, during the long, hard winter, to not only see that selling his seed wheat to the town would likely prevent him from planting his crop in the spring but also to recognize that his own seed wheat wouldn’t be enough to feed the entire town for the months until the trains could make it back through with supplies.

His perseverance during the cold, treacherous journey with Cap didn’t come out of nowhere either. In fact, it seems that he’s always kind of had a habit of going on adventures like that.

Check back next time, and we’ll explore more of Almanzo’s snowy excursions.

Almanzo: Farmer Boy to Farmer Man

We first meet Almanzo Wilder in the second book of the Little House series, Farmer Boy. After a couple hundred pages with him, his baby oxen, and his longing after his father’s young colt, however, the book ends. We don’t see Almanzo again until Laura Ingalls Wilder briefly mentions him in her fifth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake. By this time, however, he’s no longer a boy living with his parents in New York. Now he’s a young man—a homesteader, braving the rough Dakota prairie with his older brother, Royal. According to Laura’s fiction, nearly ten years have passed by this time. This begs the question: is this young man the same character that we once knew as the 9-year-old farmer boy? Has Laura, as a writer, successfully tied in the young character with his older counterpart?

Wilder Siblings(2)

Almanzo and his sister Alice

Thanks to her literary genius, Laura certainly has accomplished this. Let me prove it to you.

As I’ve searched the books, I’ve come across some pretty strong thematic parallels between events from Farmer Boy and from the later books, including The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years. Through these parallels, Laura reminds us that Almanzo the young man is the same character we once met back in New York state.

The most obvious connection between Almanzo the boy and Almanzo the man is Almanzo’s very lifestyle. While Almanzo’s older brother Royal decides that he wants to be a storekeeper, Almanzo chooses to pursue the life of a farmer. At the end of Farmer Boy, he explicitly chooses this lifestyle over the life of a wheelwright’s apprentice. As Almanzo’s father says in the final pages of Farmer Boy, “[As a farmer, y]ou work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm.” This is the life that Almanzo chooses when he says definitively, “I want a colt.” In response to this, Almanzo’s father gives him the colt Starlight to train, allowing Almanzo to start off his own career as an independent farming man.

Ten years later, we see that Almanzo has definitely been pursuing his childhood dream of being a farmer. Now, he has his own homestead, and he has continued to train horses—similarly to how he once trained the young oxen, Star and Bright and later the colt Starlight. In Little Town on the Prairie, the townspeople of De Smet even say that he has the “best team in the country.” When Pa Ingalls declares that “[Almanzo] has it coming to him…. That young man knows how to handle horses,” it becomes completely obvious to us readers that the young Almanzo of the early books has achieved his dream of becoming an independent farmer and horse trainer. This certainly is the same character we once met way back in Malone, New York.

His early training to become the independent, farming, and horse-taming type also led to a number of qualities in Almanzo’s young self that Laura would incorporate into the later books. And one of these qualities would play a big role in his courtship of the young Miss Laura Ingalls.

Come back later for more on the Almanzo of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series!

Meet Our New Summer Intern

Q: Which do you prefer, coffee or tea?

A: Trader Joe’s chai tea (with lots of honey)

Q: What are three words that describe you?

A: I’m a… joyful, gentle bookworm

Q: What is one random fact about you?

A: The Memorial Society is a 15 hour drive from the place where I grew up in central Michigan and about 13 hours from where I attend school at Hillsdale College in southern Michigan. So life on the Dakota prairies is a new thing for me! The only other time I’ve been out here was about twelve years ago when my family and I were doing our own whirlwind tour of the Laura sites. I was nine during that trip.

 

20040709 Laura Ingalls Wilder Trip

Leah age 9 Burr Oak, Iowa

Q: What is your role at the Historic Homes (e.g. tour guide, director)?

A: I’m the summer intern! This summer, I will be on site giving tours, assisting in the gift shop, writing for the blog, and managing social media.

Q: How long have you been working at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society?

A: I just started work on the 25th of May. So I’m brand new around here.

Q: Which book in the Little House Series is your favorite? Why?

A: As a child, my favorite Little House book was On the Banks of Plum Creek, but I think that These Happy Golden Years is my current favorite. After all of the kitschy romantic comedies in theaters and cliché love triangles in today’s YA literature, it’s refreshing to read about Laura and Almanzo’s simple and adorable romance. I appreciate how patient and quiet Almanzo is during their courtship, even though Laura doesn’t seem to know what’s going on half the time.

Q: Which book about Laura’s life and legacy is your favorite? Why?

A: I took a class on Laura Ingalls Wilder at Hillsdale last semester, and, at the beginning of the class, my professor assigned to us Laura’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography edited by Pamela Smith Hill. If autobiographies count, I’d say my favorite book about Laura is Pioneer Girl because I loved hearing about Laura’s life in her own words. She truly is a talented writer, and some of her descriptive passages are absolutely stunning. If that doesn’t count, though, I’d say Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill is my favorite. Hill talks a lot about Laura’s life after the events described in the books and also focuses on the inspiration for the series and the process of writing and editing that Laura went through. As an English major, I found the information about the writing process especially interesting.

Q: What projects are you excited about working on right now?

A: I’m in charge of the Memorial Society blog this summer, and I have enjoyed brainstorming topics and themes to write about. Right now, I’m most excited about a set of Little House birthday-themed blog posts that I’m putting together as celebration for Laura’s 150th birthday next February. I’m also working on a series of posts exploring the literature of the Little House books. I’ve been in contact with my professor back at Hillsdale College who taught my class on Wilder, and I’ve enjoyed consulting with her.

Leah

Leah- Summer Intern

Q: Which of the historic buildings on the Historic Homes Tour is your favorite? Why?

A: It’s a close tie between the Surveyors’ House and the Ingalls Home, but I think I have to go with the Ingalls Home. I always enjoy giving that part of the tour because the information I get to share is not stuff that people would know from just reading the Little House series. In fact, I didn’t know most of the information that I share in that house before coming here. I also like the house because it makes me happy for Ma to think that she was able to end her life in such a nice place after having to live in shanties and dugouts for so many years. As a whole, the house really is beautiful. I especially like the cupboards in the kitchen that Pa built for Ma.

Q: If you were giving a tour of the Historic Homes and only had time to show visitors two artifacts, which two would they be?

A: I’d probably show them the chest of drawers upstairs in the Surveyors’ House first. I like that artifact a lot because it was actually owned by the Ingalls family. Also, it’s kind of tucked away, so it’s not something that someone would really notice on their own.

I guess the other artifact-like thing that I’d really want to show people would be the chalk drawings on the wall in the First School of De Smet. I just think it’s so cool that the chalkboards are still there—even though the people who used the building as a residence changed the building a lot and even put wallpaper over the chalkboards. Finding those chalkboards and the drawings on them behind the wallpaper was probably like unearthing a dinosaur fossil during an archaeological dig. I would have loved to have been there when they found them.

Q: How does Laura or Laura’s legacy inspire you?

A: I am really inspired by how much Laura valued her family—especially her parents—and the way her legacy reminds all of us to make the most of the little things in life. Reading her books again as a twenty-one year-old helped me to recognize how rare and beautiful Laura’s strong family relationships are. Seeing how much influence her parents had on her development as an individual reminds me how important it is for us to encourage parents as they raise their children and to help families thrive. Also, her books help me remember to appreciate the everyday things of life, even though they might seem mundane. As Laura’s own stories show, there are treasures to be found in even the simplest of moments.

Virtual Tour of De Smet: Bradley Drugstore

Bradley Drugstore

History of the Building Location

Next to Fuller’s Hardware was Bradley’s Drugstore, run by young George Bradley and his wife, Hattie. Charles Ingalls would often step across the street to exchange stories of the day, tell jokes and maybe play a game of checkers.

George Bradley, a well-known druggist, arrived in De Smet in May 1880. His pharmacy was the first ever established within the community. In addition to a fine stock of drugs and chemicals, he handled jewelry, books, stationery, paints and supplies. Mr. Bradley was a member of the school board for a number of years. He was also a member of the city council. He was prominent in civic affairs and also a person of public spirit who was always ready to aid in any movement or project for the De Smet community.

Mr. Bradley was a native of Wisconsin and was born in Columbia County, July 22, 1856. He married Miss Hattie L. Suffron in Fall River, Wisconsin on August 14, 1878. They had two children, both born on the Dakota prairie.

The Bradley Drugstore stood where the Halverson Office Building now stands today. For many years a Super Value grocery store was located at this site.

Excerpt from Little Town on the Prairie

“For the next literary meeting, there was music. Pa with his fiddle and Gerald Fuller with his accordion. Mrs. Bradley sang a solo that made the women cry and the men choke up because it was such a beautiful and sad song.”