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.
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.