This will be of interest to those researching Josiah Morton of Greenup County, Kentucky. I came across this article while looking for sketches of other relatives. I was hesitant to post the article due to its racially-insensitive content but decided that its historic value merited sharing with those connected to this family. My apologies to anyone offended.
Bruce E. King, IV, Ph.D.
February 23, 2005
From the Portsmouth Times, Portsmouth, Ohio, Saturday, November 20, 1875.
SKETCHES of the Early Settlers of Greenup County, Ky.
BY JAMES KEYES.
Was an early pioneer of Greenup county. It is impossible to ascertain the exact date of his arrival, but it is known to be about the time his father-in-law, Moses Fuqua, came here. That is to say, about the latter end of the last century, or the beginning of the present. He belonged to a wealthy family of Virginia, and married a daughter of Moses Fuqua about the close of the Revolutionary War. He brought a very considerable lot of negro slaves with him, of both sexes and of all ages within the range of human life. He located on the point of land immediately below the mouth of Tygart’s Creek, about two miles above Portsmouth. He soon cleared up a very large farm and built a commodious brick. A large family like Mr. Morton’s, consisting of black and whites, both male and female, could manufacture nearly all their own clothing in the family, besides doing their own carpentry and blacksmith work. In fact, they lived a purely patriarchal life, and were almost independent of the outside world. Their land was rich, and produced everything in abundance. The woods abounded with game, and it was an easy matter to kill what they wanted. But notwithstanding all their advantages, there were some drawbacks. The woods not only abounded with game, but also with ravenous beasts of prey. Every farmer had to keep a flock of sheep for the purpose of clothing his family, and it was hard to guard against the depredations of the wolves. Mr. Morton constructed traps in the woods for the purpose of catching the wolves, and thus thin them out. One method of making a trap was to dig a deep pit in the ground, six or eight feet in diameter, and cover it with loose brush, and then hang a piece of fresh meat over the center of the pit for a bait. They being attracted by the bait, and not being aware of the pit beneath, would venture on to the pit, but instead of securing the bait, would fall into the pit, where it was impossible to get out. A man by the name of Craycraft, who lived on Tygart’s Creek, started to go to the river. His track lay through the woods, because there were no roads in those days. He happened to walk into one of Mr. Morton’s wolf traps and found himself unable to get out, and unfortunately for him, his gun slipped out of his hand as he went down, and remained on top. This would have been but a small matter of itself if it had been all, but shortly after he fell in a wolf came along, and in trying to get the bait, fell in too. Well, there was a bad predicament. The wolf was as badly scared as he was, so they took opposite corners of the pit, and each one tried to get as far from the other as he could. They remained in this condition all night. If Mr. Craycraft had had his gun he could easily have dispatched the wolf, and thus have rid himself of all fear. The next morning Mr. Morton took his dogs and gun and went out to examine his traps, and see what luck he had in catching wolves. When he arrived at the trap he was very much astonished to see a man and a wolf at the bottom. He called to the man, and wanted to know how he came there. Mr. Craycraft looked up, and seeing Mr. Morton, called out to him and said, “for God’s sake shoot the wolf and help me to get out, for I am nearly dead with freight. Mr. Morton soon shot the wolf, and assisted Mr. Craycraft to get out.
There was one act of Mr. Morton which might be viewed in different lights by different persons, according to their different temperaments. There was always a longing desire on the part of negro slaves to be free. They thought if they would have their freedom they would be perfectly happy. So Mr. Morton concluded to set some of his oldest slaves free, if they desired it. Whether he was influenced by motives of philanthropy and good will toward his slaves, or whether he wished to get rid of them because they were too old to be of any further service to him, is a question each person must decide for himself. One old negro, named Davy Cole, accepted of his freedom and moved to Portsmouth, where he made a living by blacking shoes, and other light jobs such as he could find to do. He lived to be very old, and was well known by all the citizens of Portsmouth. But another negro, named Jack, who had worn his life out in the service of his master, took a very different view of the matter when offered his freedom. He said, “O, no, Massa Morton, too late for dat now. Dis chile’s too ole to be turned out now to shift for his self. You got all de meat there was in me, now you have to take de bone.” So Jack remained with his master until death set him free. Another of his negroes did not fare quite so well as either of these. He got leave from Mr. Morton to work for himself by paying a certain sum of money monthly. He at first went on the river as a steamboat hand, where wages were high, and he soon acquired some capital with which to do business. He selected Vicksburg as his place of business, where he was making money rapidly. He continued to send his monthly installments to his master for several years, but concluded that he had sent enough to satisfy all reasonable demands against him, stopped sending anything, supposing that he was free. So far as Mr. Morton was concerned, he would have been free, but there were others concerned in the matter besides him. A gentleman by the name of Ruffner had married one of Mr. Morton’s daughters and lived at the Kanawha salt works. He by some means ascertained that the negro had ceased sending the usual installments for the privilege of working for himself, so Mr. Ruffner concluded that it would pay expenses to go down and hunt the gentleman slave up. He found the man who was doing a very thriving business and making money. The man (I have forgotten his name) was mighty glad to see Massa Ruffner, and made eager inquiries about all his old friends and acquaintances up in Kentucky. But his joy was of short duration. Mr. Ruffner left him in fancied security, but only to hunt up a purchaser for his new found slave. He soon succeeded in finding a negro-trader who was buying negroes to take into the interior to work on the cotton plantations. The poor slave was thus taken into the country, where he was never heard of afterwards. Mr. Ruffner need not be blamed for selling the negro, he only acted according to the custom of the country.
Mr. Morton had a very fine young negro, named Archy, son of old Davy Cole, whom he set free in his old age. But Archy was too valuable a slave to be set free, his services were needed on the farm. Archy was a very trusty negro, and the chief care of the farm devolved upon him. It was a great relief to Mr. Morton to have so good a manager as Archy to superintend the planting and gathering of the crops.
They used to relate a good many anecdotes about Mr. Morton that afforded a good deal of amusement for the people of Portsmouth. Mr. Lodwick went up their one fall to lay in some vegetables for winter use. He was getting a lot of cabbage, and Archy was sent to the garden to gather them. Mr. Morton, wishing to make a display of generosity in the presence of Mr. Lodwick, called out to Archy in a very loud voice, saying, “Pick the best heads, Archy, they are for Mr. Lodwick; pick the best heads.” Then when Mr. Lodwick was looking at some other part of the garden, or orchard, Mr. Morton would slip around close to where Archy was gathering the cabbage, and whisper softly in Archy’s ear, so he thought Mr. Lodwick could not hear him, “Take them as they come, Archy; take them as they come.” The joke was too good to keep, and Mr. Lodwick related it to his friends in Portsmouth, and it became a by-word for a long time: “Take them as they come, Archy, take ’em as they come.”
Mr. Morton had a large apple orchard on the bank of the river. The boys from Portsmouth would visit his orchard and purloin the fruit, very much to the annoyance of the old gentleman. He missed the fruit, and charged his negroes with taking it to Portsmouth to sell for their own benefit. They denied the charge, and said it was the boys from Portsmouth that took his fruit.
Mr. Morton was incredulous, and told his negroes that unless they would bring proof of their innocence, he would hold them guilty of the theft. This was placing them in a bad predicament. Their honor and honesty was impeached. They must prove themselves innocent in the eyes of their master. In order to do this they set themselves to watch the orchard, and, if possible, catch the thieves and bring them before their master. It was not long before Archy discovered a boy on one of the trees stealing apples. Like the old man in the spelling book, which we read of in our school boy days, he desired the boy to come down. But the boy, not liking the appearance of things below, climbed up higher. Archy, not like the old man spoken of above, who brought the boy down by throwing grass and stones at him, concluded to climb the tree and bring the boy down by force. So, when he got fairly up into the tree, the boy went out to the end of the limbs, which bent down near the ground, and slipping off took to his heels, and left Archy up in the tree to come down at his leisure.
In religious sentiments Mr. Morton was a Presbyterian. He belonged to the First Presbyterian Church of Portsmouth. He and his family attended the meetings of that church nearly every Sabbath while under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Lindsley. The members of the church were all poor, and the support of a preacher was a heavy tax on them. Mr. Morton being a wealthy farmer, contributed largely to his support. I have heard old members of that church say that he was a good man and a sincere christian, and it would be better for the world if there were more like him. The last time I saw the old man was in the winter of 1827. I stopped all night at his house. They were very kind to me, and treated me with all the hospitality for which old Virginians were always very celebrated. Their children had nearly all left them. Everything about the house bore the marks of culture and refinement. The old gentleman was very communicative, and entertained me by relating his early experiences and adventures. He had visited this country as early as 1780, and was at the mouth of the Scioto river and noted the fertility of its alluvial soil.
Nathaniel Morton, the oldest son, married his cousin, Judith McKay. Richard Morton studied medicine and became a practicing physician. He inherited the old homestead, lived on it, and raised a large family. One of the daughters, as was said before, married a man by the name of Ruffner and went to the Kanawha salt works to live.