#TwoForTuesday: Two of my Unsung Female Heroes

Many unsung female heroes have crossed my path. I haven’t known any famous people, so all the heroes in my life – male and female – are unsung.

I’m going to break the “Two-For” rule today and write about just one of my unsung female heroes, my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Morrison. I know her only through names and dates on the written page and a plain rock that marks her grave in Spears Graveyard, but she is my hero.

Mary Morrison (17??-1781)

I know few details of this Mary Morrison’s life. I don’t know if she had a bubbly personality or was a negative person. I only know her from the circumstances of her life.

She was born in Scotland, probably on the Kintyre Peninsula in 1732. She married John Morrison from the same place. They came to America, lived in Pennsylvania for a while, then moved to North Carolina in the 1760s.

Mary and John had nine children. John died in 1777. Tradition tells us that he was ambushed by Tories not far from his and Mary’s home. Knowing that he would soon die, he wrote his will in August of 1777 and died less than a week later. From John’s will, we know that Mary was expecting their last child at the time because he made provisions for the unborn child.

Sadly, Mary died early in 1781, leaving her minor children in the care of relatives. We also know that when Mary was sick and writing her will that one of her daughters was very ill and it was uncertain if the daughter would survive that illness.

What a hard life Mary must have had! I hope she had joy in her life.

I marvel at how she left Scotland for the great unknown American frontier. She left a place on the sea for a new life 200 miles inland in the backcountry of North Carolina where the woods and meadows were filled with all sorts of wild animals about which she knew little or nothing. She must have feared every day for disease or injury to herself and her family.

I live on land today that has been passed down from generation to generation from John and Mary. I came to feel a real kinship with Mary a few years ago as I worked in our vegetable and flower garden.

Summer Squash
Dragonfly in our garden

I practiced organic gardening, much as Mary would have in the 1770s. I imagined Mary growing some of the same vegetables and varieties of flowers on this same land. I enjoyed the butterflies, writing spiders, hoppy toads, dragonflies, birds, and box turtles that visited the garden, and I liked to think that Mary did, too.

As I was always on the lookout for copperhead snakes while in my garden, I can’t help but think Mary kept an eye open for them, too. One of the earliest things my parents taught me was how to distinguish between a copperhead and a non-poisonous snake. I feel sure that was an early lesson Mary and John taught their children. Also, how to identify and avoid poison oak.

I can imagine Mary showing her children how to pluck a honeysuckle blossom, bite the end of the stem off, and suck in the sweetness of the flower.

Passion Flower

When wild passion flowers sprouted in her garden, I hope she left them to grow, bloom, and produce lollypops.

When the wild orange butterfly weed bloomed in sunny spots in the yard, I hope Mary showed her children the black, yellow, and white-striped caterpillars munching on the green leaves, and I hope she knew to tell them that those caterpillars would one day be transformed into brilliant Monarch butterflies.

Wild Butterfly Weed and Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars

Mary did not have benefit of a tractor to till her garden, comfortable 21st century clothing to wear in the summer sun, or an air-conditioned house to retreat to when the heat and humidity got the best of her or when her back ached or blisters rose on the palms of her hands.

Raccoon in our yard on April 28, 2014.

I gardened because I wanted to. Mary gardened because she had to. If deer trampled her corn or raccoons raided her apple trees, it could be a matter of life or death for her family. When it happened to me, I just got mad and bought corn and apples at the supermarket.

When the deer and raccoons decided to eat all the plants in my garden, I raised the white flag of surrender and stopped gardening. Mary didn’t have the luxury of stopping. In fact, she probably didn’t have the luxury of stopping for a single day of her life. She could never stop working hard or worrying about her family.

My heart breaks to think of her on her death bed in March of 1781, writing her will, and wondering what would become of her orphaned children.

When I get to Heaven, I will sit down with Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Mary Morrison and hear all about her life and her garden.

Grandmother, you’re my hero!

Until my next blog post

Thank you, Rae, of “Rae’s Reads and Reviews Blog” for this month’s #TwoForTuesday blog post prompts. I learned about her prompts in her January 8, 2019 blog post:  https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646.

I look forward to seeing what Rae has in store for us in April. If you’d like to participate, visit her blog and tell her you’re interested.

Let’s continue the conversation

In the comments section below, tell me about one or two of your unsung female heroes.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog today.

Janet

An October 29, 1777 Estate Sale

Did you know that the State Archives in Raleigh is the repository of the original copies of some estate sale records dating back to the 1700s when Cabarrus County was part of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina? These fascinating records for persons known to have lived in the area that later became Cabarrus County are also accessible on microfilm in the local history room at the main branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library in Concord, NC.

John Morrison’s Estate Sale

My great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Morrison, died in 1777 in old Mecklenburg County. A native of Campbeltown, Scotland, he lived his last thirteen years in the vicinity of the present-day Cabarrus-Mecklenburg County line. His estate papers provide a record not only of his possessions but also the names of many local people. I’m very proud to say that he was a farmer.

Robert Harris, Jr. served as clerk at John’s estate sale on October 29, 1777 – exactly 240 years ago today. Mr. Harris made note of every item sold, who bought it, and how many pounds, pence, or shillings they paid.

Buyers

The buyers were James Moore, Joseph Robb, Evan Shelby, Isaac Sellers, John Robinet, John Murphy, Francis Miller, William Driskill, James Alexander, James McCall, John and James McGinty, Joseph Bigger, Hugh Kimmons, Archibald McCurdy, John Springs, John Carothers, Joseph Calbreath, Alexander Allen, Benjamin and Robert Cochran, Steven Pritchet, Peter Borris, Robert Harris, James Stafford, John Ross, Alexander Finley, James Finney, Hector McClain, Samuel Montgomery, William Wylie, and John Finley.

Most of the surnames listed above are no longer found in our community because many families moved west in the 1790s and early 1800s. Some of the buyers lived in the area that remained in Mecklenburg County after the formation of Cabarrus in 1792, so some of the names are probably from the Mint Hill area.

Summary of Items Sold at Estate Sale

Items sold at the estate sale included eight horses; 19 sheep; 25 head of cattle; 17 hogs and a parcel of pigs; three hives of bees; 17 geese and ganders; 25 pounds of wool; a parcel of books; a great coat; two straight coats and jackets; one pair of blue britches; a pair of old buckskin britches; and a fur hat.

Also, four saddles; five bells and collars; five other collars; six bridles; two sets of horse gears; an “M” branding iron; three augurs; a drawing knife; nailing and stone hammers; a broadax; three weeding hoes; two maulrings; a wedge; a clivish; a sprouting hoe; a mattock; two falling axes; three spinning wheels; two horse trees and hangings; a cutting knife and stone; a sythe and cradle; four sickles; a flax brake; a pair of wool cards; and a pair of cotton cards.

Also, barrels for flour, rice, beef, and salt; a tapper vessel; two cedar churns; oak and walnut chests; two smoothing irons; a looking glass; one whiskey keg; and various other tools, household items, and pieces of furniture.

Other items included 6.5 pounds of iron and 14.5 pounds of steel. Steel as we know it today had not yet been developed. In 1777, steel was the name for sharpening rods used to sharpen knives and other cutting edges.

Half a wagon?

The most puzzling record in John Morrison’s estate papers is that John Springs bought half a wagon and half the wagon implements. Since no one bought the other half, it has been speculated that Mr. Springs knew that John’s wife, Mary, needed the use of the wagon but also needed the proceeds from the sale of the wagon and implements. After all, Mary was a widow with seven children still at home and a baby on the way. Perhaps Mr. Springs made a verbal agreement to let Mary Morrison keep the wagon even though he paid half the value of the wagon at the estate sale.

Another possibility is that John Morrison had bought the wagon and implements from John Springs but had only paid half the bill at the time of his death. Mr. Springs, instead of saddling Mary Morrison with the additional debt of the unpaid balance chose to simply buy back that half of the wagon and implements. When Mary Morrison died in 1781, there is no mention of a wagon in her will or her estate sale.

Lots of ammunition!

Other intriguing items sold at John Morrison’s estate sale were the 17 pounds of gun powder and 55.5 pounds of lead. That’s more gun powder and lead than a farmer needed. So why did John Morrison have so much of both?

John wrote his will on August 30, 1777. By September 3, he was dead. It is speculated that he was stockpiling munitions for the patriots’ cause in the American Revolution and that he was shot by Tories, but we will never know the real story.

My sources

The sources I relied on for writing this blog post are as follows:  John Morrison’s Mecklenburg County estate papers on file at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, NC; What Did They Mean By That? – A Dictionary of Historical Terms for Genealogists, by Paul Drake, 1994; and Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison, 1996.

Red
The Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison

I regret that Marie and I did not know about the existence of John and Mary Morrison’s estate papers when we compiled and published Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River in 1996.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet