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.
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.