The Early Pioneers of Virginia & West Virginia, Part 3

A Retrospective Series on Ancestral Relations – Part 3

Subject 3 – William Morris (1722-1792)

There have been many articles and stories written about our next subject, probably one of the most celebrated pioneers of West Virginia,  William Morris and his family.  William Morris was the first to make a permanent settlement in the Great Kanawha Valley, building a church and a school. William’s sons are said to have fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant (aka the Battle of Kanawha), and the sad events of the Morris Massacre are but a few of the events related to this family.  Some of the events are stories that were handed down that I want to address later in this post, but first I want to show how my wife is related to this family.

My mother-in-law Wanda, is a Morris, and beginning with her father and mother, here are some of the records going back.

1930 Census – Robert & Eva Morris and children (Wanda is less than 1 yr. old)

Robert A. Morris Birth – Parents Archibald Morris and Alsona Keenan

Archibald Morris Birth – Parents William Alexander Morris and Isabella Brown

Archibald Morris Death – Parents William Alexander Morris and Isabella Brown

1880 Census – Archie T. Morris, parents William Alexander Morris and Isabel Brown

1850 Census – William A. Morris, parents William B. Morris and Jenetta Gray

1886 Death – William B. Morris – parents John Morris and Virginia Jane Brown

There are times when records and documentation are hard to come by to back up an ancestor. Such is the case of John Morris. My friend and genealogist, Cathy Meder-Dempsey sent me the following:

From “History of Fayette County” published by The Fayette County Historical Society, Inc. in 1926, Chapter 3, pg. 62-67.

Also can be found online here – Page 65, The West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly, Volumes 4-5, 1904, The William Morris Family, Pioneers of Kanawha Valley by W.S. Laidley

As I said, sometimes records are not available and we have to rely on what we do find.

The practice of going back and searching again on an ancestor may bring up the records that we have been looking for. You just have to keep digging.

Continuing the lineage from Henry back to William Sr.

Here is the Will of William Morris Sr. – in the underlined section of the will for William Sr., his children are specifically named, and I wanted you to notice the name John. Many times your ancestors will name their children after their siblings, such as Henry Morris having a brother named John, which adds credence to Henry’s son John.

WILL OF WILLIAM M. MORRIS – 1722 – 1794 – WILL BOOK A, PAGE 30 – Kanawha County, WV

“Ordered John JONES and John CAMPBELL come into Court and prove upon oath the last Will & Testament of William MORRIS, Sr., Deceased . . .

In the name of God, Amen. I William MORRIS, Senr, of the County of Kanawha and Commonwealth of Virginia, Being Weak in Body, but of perfect mind and memory, and calling to mind the mortality of body an know that it is appointed for all men once to die, do make and ordain this my Last will and testament —

Firstly I will and bequeath my soul unto the hands of Almighty God the giver And my Body to the dust of the earth. To be buried in a Christian like and descent manner at the descretion of my Executors hereafter named; not doubting but at the General resurrection they will again unite by the Almighty Power of God —-

— And as touching such worldly estate wherewith it has pleasured God to bless me in this life do will and devise to my two sons, to wit, Levi and Benjamin, one hundred acres each of the tract of land where on they now live, to include there persons settlements which lands I do hereby will and direct my executors hereafter named to convey a title in principle to them and their heirs forever.

I do hereby also will and direct that my said Executors do in like manner convey in principle to my son William MORRIS and his heirs for ever, the residue of the said tract of land above mentioned. Which is his own property; altho included in a grant or patent issued from the register of Virginia in my name.

I further will and direct that the whole residue of my estate both real and personnal be equally divided amoungst my ten children, to wit, William, Henry, Leonard, Joshua, John, Carlus, Levi, Benjamin, Elizabeth and Frankey, to be them and their several lawful heirs freely and fully possessed and enjoyed provided never the less that my loving and lawful wife Elizabeth Morris have all my movable estate in her possession during her natural life at the termination of which said whole estate with the interest thereof shall be divided as aforesaid, but if she my said wife Elizabeth should again ingage herself in the bonds of wedlock with any person then and on that condition it is.

William M Morris

mark X

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

Published and pronounced and declared

in presence of

Jacob SKILES

John CAMMEL

William MORRIS

The records for William Morris’ marriage to Elizabeth Stapp (Stipps) are kind of all over the place.  Ancestry© has 5 records for the marriage of William and Elizabeth for 1738 (1), 1740 (1) and 1746 (3). Records are the foundation of genealogical research and should always be our first go to source to prove lineage and historical events, when available.

Now, getting back to some specific stories in the Morris family that give me pause to ponder and place into question.  The first event I would like to address is how and why William Morris came to America.

There are multiple versions of the story of how William Morris came from England to America, and I’m sure that many of the descendants of William have their own opinions of which story they believe.  I will not reiterate all the different versions here, as you can simply do an internet search of William Morris to see all the variations of the story that is out there.

What I’d like to do is put another theory out there that my wife thought of, for which I have opened up my mind to and believe it could be as feasible as any of the other versions of this story.  Before I get into that, I know that this theory may “bristle some feathers” of some descendant’s beliefs, but sometimes, genealogy and history have their own peculiar ways of telling a story and not necessarily providing the truth about events and people.

During the time of William Morris’ departure from England, one of the most common practices that was happening at that time was that of indentured servitude.  Indentured servitude, beginning in the 1630’s until the American Revolution and slowly declining years afterward, was a method of increasing the number of colonists, especially in the English and later British colonies. One-half to two-thirds of white immigrants, mostly young males, arrived in indentured servitude.  Voluntary migration and convict labor only provided so many people, and since the journey across the Atlantic was dangerous, other means of encouraging settlement were necessary.  For many parents in England, this was a way to get their young sons into a skilled labor and the belief of offering greater opportunities and a better life in the new world.

As I said, this is only a theory, but one that should be put out there to be considered. It was after all, a common practice to indenture these young men to America and since William Morris was in England in the time of indentured servitude, we cannot dismiss it.

I myself have an ancestor that came to the new world in indentured servitude, Thomas Earp.  For me, this was just a practice of the time and I’ve never heard or read any other stories surrounding Thomas about his arrival to America.  So I’ve never attempted to consider any other theory or truth about his arrival based on some feeling of awkwardness or embarrassment.

There is another person’s theory that I want to present that should also be considered – click here to read the biography presented on the profile page for William Morris on Wikitree.

Much of what we know of William Morris and his family has been written about in the past and a handful of them can be found here online:

History of Kanawha County: From Its Organization in 1789 … – Page 202

History Of The Great Kanawha Valley [West Virginia] With … – Page 261

Genealogies of West Virginia Families

From the West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly, 1901-1905

Kanawha County – Volume 1

There are other questions remaining in regards to William Morris and his family, such as the following:

What was Williams’ life and his family’s life like before 1774?

Where did William Morris get his money to afford all the land he acquired in Kanawha?

Featured Image:

Virginia’s Chapel – aka The Little Brick Church – aka William Tompkins Church courtesy of the National Register of Historical Places

Sources and Special Thanks to:

The National Register of Historical Places

Library of Congress

Ancestry©

FamilySearch©

West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History

Cathy Meder-Dempsey – Opening Doors  in Brick Walls

My wife Cheryl, whose love and support I could never do or be without