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.

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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.

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11 comments on “The Search for the Real Martha Morse

  1. Sherry Patterson says:

    I look forward to hearing more about these ladies!

  2. Joan says:

    It seems every family has stories that are not quite true. Thank You for this information.
    Joan

  3. Marion says:

    This is very interesting. I look forward to your next installment on the life of Martha Morse.
    Marion

  4. Marilyn says:

    Thank You for the information on Martha Morse. You really have my interest on this woman and what further information you have discovered.
    Marilyn

  5. Joan says:

    I enjoyed the true life of Martha Morse. It seems all families have some facts on ancestors that are not historically true.
    Thank You for all your work.
    Joan

  6. Joan says:

    Thank You for the information on Martha Morse. You did a good job. Looking forward to the next installment.
    Joan

  7. Angel says:

    I’m so looking forward to hearing more about these ladies . Thank you.

  8. Teresa says:

    I want to thank you for letting me know about Martha Morse. I was disappointed when the story about her was not finished but I like the fact that I am hearing about the real truth about Martha Morse!

  9. Erin Western says:

    I loved the books about Martha Morse, and I knew a lot of it was the writer’s imagination and research. Melissa Wiley made those characters come alive, and there was a great amount of history in those books. She would’ve loved to complete the series, but according to her blog the publisher decided to end it, so she had no choice. The books are quite rare now, and I’m sorry they aren’t available to children any more.

  10. Thank you for your research and for sharing such interesting information!

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