The Morris Family Papers Finding Aid associated with this project is finally complete! The Finding Aid contains valuable information on the Morris Family and materials found within the collection.
Click the link to download the Finding Aid!
The Morris Family Papers Finding Aid associated with this project is finally complete! The Finding Aid contains valuable information on the Morris Family and materials found within the collection.
Click the link to download the Finding Aid!
The Elliston Perot Morris family, like many upper-class Americans, preferred to spend much of the summer away from their urban home. In late 1875 Elliston bought beachfront property at Sea Girt, New Jersey, and subsequently built two elaborate houses, “Avocado” and “Cedar Mer.”
Preparing for summer was no easy matter. Marriot recorded in 1883 that “six large boxes, a bicycle, bicycle stand, flower stand, curtain poles, rolls of carpet & c.” were shipped from Philadelphia. He himself carried his photographic plates and developing supplies. An 1894 order from the Pennsylvania RR Company to Elliston lists the items it would transport for the Morrises: 3 horses, 2 carriages, boxes, and a man (presumably to supervise the horses).
At Avocado, Elliston usually began preparations (while sleeping over at a friend’s home) while his family with yet more luggage came the next day. All hands including those of the servants were needed to unpack, make the rooms habitable, and stow away the boxes.
Life at Sea Girt was active. Many relatives and friends visited, and boating, tennis, and walking occupied their days. Photographs suggest that the favorite place for all generations was the beach. Marriott composed an album of his children enjoying the beach. In this image, a woman is striding to join others in the surf.
Marriott himself in his later years was captured lying and reading under a capacious umbrella — the essence of summertime living.From Dana:
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was quite common for affluent Philadelphia families like the Morrises to leave their city homes and spend the summer months either at the shore or the mountains. An 1878 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “The Summer Exodus” is especially telling. It begins:
“The large private schools, of which there are so many and such good ones in Philadelphia, have held their commencement celebrations and closed their doors. Along the streets where the well-to-do abide, the shutters are up, or the blinds are drawn, and the dust is gathering on the doorsteps. The stately dwellings are solemn and empty, their occupants having packed their trunks and departed for shore or mountain.”
The article goes on to encourage Philadelphia residents of more modest means to take holidays as well, arguing that time away is beneficial to the health and that vacations need not be expensive or extravagant. However, the imagery of shuttered houses and dusty doorsteps that begins the article must have rung true to Philadelphians of the period.
The New Jersey shore was a popular destination for many reasons, not least of which was its growing reputation as a health resort. In their book, Down the Jersey Shore, Russell Roberts and Rich Youmans write that one popular shore point, Long Branch, attracted visitors who wanted to “partake in the invigorating climate in much the same way they would travel to the fashionable spas of Europe,” (52). The fresh air and sunshine of the shore seemed to be the perfect cure for what ailed city-dwellers.
It was not the summer breezes or brisk ocean water that transformed the Jersey Shore into an appealing resort location, however—that distinction must go to the railroad. The Morris family, or any of their contemporaries who spent summers at the Jersey Shore, could not have done so without the development of the railroad (a fact that makes the order for the Pennsylvania Railroad an especially fitting inclusion in this entry). Before railroad tracks criss-crossed New Jersey, the shore was seen as a remote, desolate location that only the bravest of souls attempted to visit. As Roberts and Youmans note, however,
“The iron horse cut through the Shore like a sharp knife through ripe fruit, extending a network of tracks up and down the coast and making the entire region truly accessible for the first time. The railroad transformed the Shore overnight, and it was largely responsible for the explosion of development that occurred along the coast in the second half of the nineteenth century” (27).
In fact, between 1850, “the dawn of the railroad era,” and 1885, the populations of four major coastal counties—Cape May, Monmouth, Atlantic and Ocean—had fully doubled in size (40).
In the century and a half since seaside development began, Jersey Shore towns have continued to grow and attract visitors from across the country. Sea Girt, the site of the Morris family homes, has maintained a steady stream of summer vacationers, but remains much like the quaint seaside town the Morrises would have known more than a century ago. The town spans little more than one square mile, and, while summer visitors swell the town’s population from May until September, only 2,148 (as of the 2000 Census) residents call Sea Girt home year-round. The town is home to one of New Jersey’s famous lighthouses, although it is not nearly as well-known as the iconic Barnegat or Absecon lighthouses. According to the Borough of Sea Girt’s website, the lighthouse was built in 1896 to help illuminate the 38-mile long stretch between the Barnegat and Sandy Hook lighthouses, a common site of shipwrecks. Decommissioned in 1955, the lighthouse is now open for tours and community events.
Despite the decades of change and growth that have come to the Jersey Shore in the years since its development, it is easy to look at the picture of Marriott Morris lounging on the beach and see how little has truly changed.
Marriott Morris used the phrase “virtually my diary” to describe a letter to a friend in which he relates thoroughly his daily activities in Bermuda. He and his family conscientiously wrote to one another nearly every day when they ventured from their Germantown homes. Visuals in the form of homemade sketches and commercial postcards enliven the prose. Here are samples from the Papers.
Bar Harbor, Maine Stay 1882
Beulah Morris Rhoads (1829-1923), sister of Elliston Perot Morris, wrote and drew her reactions to the resort town of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island in Maine one summer. She made the “letterhead” for the following letter to her niece, Elizabeth (“Bessie”) Canby Morris.
8 mos. 24th 82
My dear Bessie,
I was very glad to receive thy letter before leaving home and, thinking that a reply from Mt. Desert would be more interesting to thee, deferred writing till now.
This place is entirely different from any of our imaginary pictures of it. We had heard that it was a blending of Mt. and ocean scenery, and so it is, but the choice views are to be gained by drives & boating and then we find all one can desire – meanwhile there is beauty on every side of us – and the little pictures from my chamber window are a constant delight. Our room is a corner room. To the east we look out upon “The landing” where steam boats, row-boats, and canoes & sloops, can be hired at reasonable prices – and, from which point parties are constantly going & returning. At night even the picture is a pretty one for each sloop must hang all night at its head a light which gives a very pretty effect …
“The little sketches which is at the top of sheet” is of the view from Green Mountain overlooking the village of Bar Harbor with the Porcupine Islands beyond.
Beulah made her own “postcards” by drawing on back of her calling cards.
European Honeymoon, 1897
After a lengthy relationship which initially Jane Rhoads wished to remain a friendship, she and Marriott Morris were married in Germantown and then made the European “Grand Tour.” Jane’s desire to update her family regularly preyed upon her mind as evidenced in her message on this anthropomorphized Matterhorn postcard:
In sight of the above – Aug. 2nd ‘97
It is hopeless to attempt to write just now, I am days behind. We don’t have dinner til 7 wh[ich] leaves no time. We are in the Alps — at the top of Gemmi Pass. [H]ave walked 12 or 14 mi. up today & spend tomorrow a.m. on a glacier starting at 5 a.m. Beautiful here!
Her next missive speaks of how she and Marriott — joined to other travelers and their guide by ropes around their waists — climbed the glacier. She bravely says that the footing was safe “if you do not go into deep cracks.” On the descent, they sat down “as if on a toboggan” and slid on the slick surface at some places. They picked edelweiss to testify to their “Alpine climbing experience.”
National Tragedy at Exposition, 1901
Bessie Morris traveled with fellow Society of Mayflower Descendent members to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. A highlight was to be a banquet of the Society the evening of 6 September 1901. After one day of “doing the Pan,” she heard about the shooting of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz at the Exhibition that very day. Her opening paragraph – a run-on sentence — in the letter to her family the next day conveys her shock:
I scarcely know where to begin so much has happened since we left home, and we are all in a tremble with this terrible attack on the President had it not been that the Mayflower banquet [that] came last evening and we were resting up for it, we too would have been in the crowd at Music Hall yesterday and might have been crushed, and not only th[at] but the papers say that the trolley cars coming in from the grounds were stopped by the mobs but no one was hurt.
She sent the Society banquet menu to her parents:
…and wrote that she wished to be taking a refreshing dip in the ocean at the family summer home in New Jersey.
President McKinley died 14 September.
In many ways, these examples of travel correspondence are quite diverse—as we read Beulah’s peaceful contemplation, Jane’s happy exhaustion, and Bessie’s excited anxiety, we see individuals traveling to different places with different purposes and experiencing different emotions. Taken together, however, these letters can help us to understand a bit more of what it was like to be an American traveler at the turn of the nineteenth century. During this era, why did people travel and what did they hope to find on their journeys?
Many nineteenth century travelers went forth with the desire to experience the beauty of the natural world, perhaps in response to their increasingly mechanized society. In Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century, John F. Sears writes that “travel writers wrote disapprovingly of the American obsession with utilitarianism. Tourism, they hoped, would encourage a greater regard for beauty and for the leisure to enjoy it,” (8). People feared that a sense of awe was somehow being lost in the clash of industrialism, and experiencing the beauty of the natural world was one way to recapture that emotion. Even in these short excerpts from Morris family correspondence, this focus on the importance of beauty and scenery is evident—Beulah Morris Rhoads’ note that “there is beauty on every side of us,” and Jane Rhoads Morris’ breathless exclamation, “Beautiful here!” both speak to this phenomenon.
Bessie Morris’ letter from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, while understandably overshadowed by the tragedy of President McKinley’s assassination, may also be connected to this awe for scenery. The Pan-American Exposition’s location in Buffalo, New York was chosen in part for its proximity to Niagara Falls—one of America’s preeminent tourist attractions, then and now. The Niagara Falls represented true beauty, a connection to the sublime, and even, for some tourists, a kind of religious experience (Sears 13).
Travel guides of the period often reflected the importance of the search for beauty. For example, a passage in F. H. Johnson’s 1863 Guide to Niagara Falls and its Scenery, describes a run of rapids near the Falls with language evocative of the sublime:
“These are grand and impressive; thousands, in the summer season, particularly when the sky is clear, stand upon this bridge, and gaze upon the angry flood as it rushes past them in all its wild and tumultuous fury, filling the mind with emotions of awe and indescribable grandeur. Let the visitor look up the rapids as far as the eye can extend; the river appears very much like the ocean dashing upon the beach after a gale,” (7).
While this search for the sublime may have described travelers the world over, it took on a special meaning for Americans, especially when visiting natural attractions like Niagara Falls or Yellowstone National Park. Sears writes that “from the beginning, Americans had sought their identity in their relationship to the land they settled,” (4). As a young nation without the cathedrals, ruins, and castles of Europe, American equated the natural history of the land with their history as a nation. By visiting these wonders of the natural world, Americans would help to formulate a national identity for generations to come. While many Americans continued to travel to Europe, as evidenced by Marriott and Jane Morris’ European honeymoon, by the end of the nineteenth century American travelers were being exhorted to “See America First!” This movement, which is described in detail in Marguerite S. Shaffer’s See America First: Tourism and National Identity, depicted tourism as an American’s patriotic duty, an exercise that would formulate them into better citizens and increase national pride.
Focus on scenery may have also bolstered the popularity of postcards during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Delivering Views: Distant Cultures in Early Postcards, authors Christraud Geary and Virginia-Lee Webb refer to the turn of the century as “the golden age of the postcard,” (5). More widely varied tourist destinations, advances in printing, and the cumbersome nature of cameras all helped to make postcards a popular option for travelers. As Jane Rhoads Morris’ postcard of the Matterhorn and Beulah Morris Rhoads’ mock postcard of Bar Harbor show, travelers were eager to share with their families all the beautiful things they had seen on their journeys.
We know Marriott Morris must have been shrewd in business and prudent in wealth management because he left an estate of over three million dollars. The materials in the INDE Morris Family Papers, however, suggest a simple, straightforward nature almost boyish in its pleasures. Marriott pursued his hobbies, such as photography, thoroughly. While at Haverford College, he became profoundly attached to another hobby, bicycling. He posed with his high wheel bicycle in 1884 in a Germantown photography studio:His travel became intertwined with bicycling. He and friends toured the Continent and Great Britain in the 1880s—in one trip, logging over five hundred miles—and he sent a bicycle to Bermuda for an 1886 trip. His father later complimented him on his choice of transportation because riding, particularly in the countryside, brought him in close contact with inhabitants and improved his foreign language skills. His wife Jane rode with him on their European honeymoon tour in 1897.
He loved to ride with his local “Wheelman” association at races and rallies. He gloried in showing off his riding skills on the high wheel, long since supplanted by the “safety” bike, to the younger generations.He chose to pose with a high wheel in 1925 in Keswick, England, perhaps in respect to that country’s development of the “penny farthing” (another name for the high wheel). As long as physically able, he rode. A memorial article recalled how fondly Marriott remembered the bicycle groups’ gatherings, he going strong even when some of his contemporaries could no longer participate. A niece of his wife recalled how Uncle Marriott rode his bicycle on a visit to her home a year before his death. His family kept the photographs that now recall his passion.
Marriott Morris, while certainly singular in his passion, is actually representative of thousands of people who became enamored of bicycles in the second half of the nineteenth century. In his 2004 book, Bicycle: The History, David V. Herlihy writes that “the bicycle as we know it was largely a product of the Victorian imagination and the tremendous ingenuity that characterized that age,” (6). Though the basic idea of the self-propelled vehicle had existed for more than three centuries, it was during the 1860s that the basic bicycle, characterized by two standard size rubber wheels, appeared on the scene. There does not seem to be a single “inventor” of the bicycle, although the machine appears to have its roots in Paris, where ironworkers began selling them to the public in 1867. Almost overnight, a bicycle craze erupted across Europe and America. Within just a few months of the first bike race in New York’s Central Park in 1868, scores of cities across the country saw their first bicycles gliding down city streets. By the 1890s, with the invention of the “safety” bicycle, bicycling had become a national phenomenon.
Philadelphians like Marriott Morris joined in the bicycle craze with great enthusiasm. For example, an article entitled “Notes of Numerous Sports” in the January 9, 1890 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that the League of American Wheelmen had gained 250 members in the course of a single year. The growing numbers of bicyclists must have caused some consternation, as the paper printed a list of rules for bicyclists using the paths in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park on January 18, 1890. Among other things, cyclists were instructed to install bells and lights on their machines, refrain from riding more than two abreast, and respect the bicycle speed limit of no more than seven miles per hour. Cyclists were also notified (perhaps unwisely!) that “machines may be used on the ice.”
In fact, during the 1890s, when bicycling was at its peak in the city, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a monthly series entitled “Whirls from the Bicycle Wheels” that discussed the goings-on of Philadelphia bicycling clubs and provided helpful advice for cyclists. One funny tidbit from the October 12, 1893 edition encouraged bicycle riders to properly maintain their bicycles, saying, “While the ‘steeds of steel’ do not require any feeding or watering, they call for considerable ‘grooming.”
Perhaps another sign of the popularity of bicycling was in the growth and popularity of bicycle maps. In “The Golden Age of Cycling Maps,” from the magazine Routes/Roads, authors Pannetier and Pascal write that the bicycle maps developed in the 1890s became the precursors to modern road maps. In fact, many of the standardized navigational symbols that we know today have their roots in these early bicycle maps. Examples of early Philadelphia bicycle maps can be found on www.mapsofpa.com, including this 1896 map of “Best Routes in and around Philadelphia,” published by the League of American Wheelmen:
While most bicyclists of this period were men, there was a trend toward female ridership as well. In 1895, Marguerite Merington published an article entitled “Woman and the Bicycle” in Scribner’s Magazine in which she describes the bicycle as the perfect antidote to the confines of the woman’s “sphere” of society, (referring to the common Victorian notion that men belonged in the public sphere and women, in the private). She writes “now and again a complaint arises of the narrowness of woman’s sphere. For such disorder of the soul, the sufferer can do no better than to flatten her sphere to a circle, mount it, and take to the road,” (703). As the presence of several women in the 1935 photo of Marriott Morris cycling in a group adequately attests, women soon gained their place on bike paths around the world.
The silhouettes used as illustrations in the previous blog entry help to illuminate not only the history of the Deshler-Morris House, but also the culture of nineteenth century Philadelphia. The silhouettes of David Deshler and the Perot brothers are part of an album of photographic reproductions housed in the Independence National Park Archives that contains silhouettes created by Joseph Sansom, a famous Philadelphia artist and writer (and also the namesake of Philadelphia’s well-known Sansom Street). Briefly in the possession of INHP, the album was returned to the original owner by the park and subsequent efforts to determine its current location have been unsuccessful.
As Anne Verplanck argues in her article, “The Silhouette and Quaker Identity in Early National Philadelphia,” silhouette albums like the one cited above provide some insight into Quaker culture in Philadelphia at the turn of the nineteenth century. Elite Quaker families like the Deshlers and Morrises used the silhouette “to achieve specific social ends: to distinguish themselves from non-Quakers and to reinforce bonds of kinship, friendship, and community at a time of internal and external challenges to their religious beliefs,” (42). While there are no silhouettes of the Germantown Morrises included in the National Park Service’s Morris Family Papers collection, silhouettes do exist of the Canby family, relatives of Martha Canby Morris.
While non-Quaker families often chose oil paintings and miniatures for their personal portraiture, silhouettes were clearly the art form of choice for elite Philadelphia Quaker families. Verplanck cites several reasons for this phenomenon. First, silhouettes appealed to the Quaker preference for plainness. Unlike oil paintings, silhouettes were easily and quickly obtained, as profilists were available across the city and the process of creating a silhouette was could be performed within just a few minutes (52). Silhouettes were frequently made using a machine called a physiognotrace, which allowed a profilist to trace around a person’s face while the mechanism imprinted the silhouette into a piece of paper that could be cut away to reveal the silhouette. In fact, the Second Bank of the United States, a part of Independence National Historical Park, houses a physiognotrace and visitors can view demonstrations of this amazing machine. An image of a Park Ranger demonstrating a physiognotrace can be found on the INDE Photos and Multimedia Website.
Silhouettes were also typically cut in multiples, allowing for distribution among family and friends. Quaker women then compiled many of these silhouettes into albums, which included not only members of the album creator’s family and social network, but other prominent figures, including devout Quakers, teachers, philanthropists, businessmen, anti-slavery activists, and Philadelphia civic figures. In this way, Quakers “preserved and interpreted their own history and connected themselves to it,” (42). The Sansom silhouette album mentioned previously is an excellent example of this phenomenon. The album not only contains silhouettes of several Morris family members, including Anthony S. Morris, but also renderings of several prominent national figures, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison.
The Morris family was proud and appreciative of President George Washington’s presence in their house. Samuel Buckley Morris’s children knew that Washington had lived for two summers in their home. Indeed, an elderly gentleman abruptly entered the house to recount having tea with George Washington and his grandson Park Custis in the very parlor in which the young Elliston and Beulah Morris were sitting, Elliston once recalled. Elliston and his wife Martha allowed photographs of their house known as “Washington’s Residence” to be published when that medium had been perfected. The house, trumping other Philadelphia historical sites, was featured on the cover of an 1876 Centennial bilingual Visitor’s Guide:
Elliston and Martha probably let individuals outside their personal acquaintance tour the house for its interior was public knowledge and described in the 1884 Lippincott Magazine’s article:
“[The house’s] outside aspect and inner arrangement have both been well preserved, and are much the same as when it was the Executive Mansion. You may see in it the actual rooms where Washington lived…. Its hall is fine; its rooms are wainscoted and paneled from floor to ceiling with heavy cornices. The woodwork, old as it is, remains perfect to this day, and the door-knobs, latches, and fastenings are of a good fashion, unspoiled by modern improvements. Some of Washington’s furniture from his other places of residence have been added to the house, and every room is rich in suggestions of the storied times of the last century.”
The association with Washington had shielded the house from incompatible change.
The family added furniture inherited from the Canby and Morris families to enhance the look “suggest[ing] … the last century.” Late-eighteenth century chairs are placed in front of the windows in the room photographed by young Marriott Morris; note also the “old but perfect” woodwork and tiles around the fireplace:
A colonial tall-case clock stands in the hallway in another cyanotype by Marriott:
Family members broadened their interest to the house’s entire history and its neighborhood. They collected any information on the house’s first known owner, David Deshler, they could obtain including a genealogy. Elliston wrote “Memories of Old Germantown” for the 1903 Annual Report of the Site and Relic Society of Germantown in which he reminisced about the buttonwood shade trees planted by his father. He mourned the loss of the majority of the trees but praised the Society for saving the last tree threatened by “supposed improvement.”
A favorite document of mine in this collection relates to Elliston and Martha’s promotion of the House’s history.
They created as a favor to be distributed at the Perot Family Reunion in 1889 a mounted photograph. (The House appealed strongly to that family because the Perot brothers had shared the house as a summer retreat in the early nineteenth century before Samuel Buckley Morris, who had married Hannah Perot, bought it). The card has a photograph attached on one side and this text mounted on the other:
WASHINGTON’S RESIDENCE IN 1793.
This house, No. 4782 Main Street, Germantown, Philadelphia, was built by David Deshler in 1774 and 1775. At the time of the battle of Germantown in 1777, it was taken possession of by Sir William Howe, commander-in-chief of the British Army, as his head-quarters…
Martha and Elliston commissioned a souvenir worthy to be available at the site today.
Today, the Deshler-Morris House is just as beautiful as it was over a century ago, thanks to the historic preservation efforts begun by the Morrises and continued by the National Park Service. Here is a 2010 photo of the Deshler-Morris House:
Here is a 2010 photograph of the Deshler-Morris House tea room, looking much as it did in Marriott Morris’s cyanotype, above:
It is probably not a coincidence that the Morris family began working to preserve the history of the house in 1876 during America’s Centennial Celebration. In that year, Philadelphia was proud host to the Centennial Exhibition, the United States’ first major World’s Fair. The event attracted over nine million people to the city and fueled a explosion of interest in America’s colonial and Revolutionary periods. For more information on this Centennial Exhibition, check out the Free Library of Philadelphia’s excellent website on the topic.
As the Morris family recognized, General Washington’s stay in the house was (and is!) certainly an important part of the house’s history, but there is so much more to the story of this historic house. Here, in a nutshell, is a brief version of the long and interesting history of the Deshler-Morris House:
The story of the Deshler-Morris House begins with a German immigrant named David Deshler, who arrived in America in 1733 at age twenty-one. By 1739, Deshler had begun a successful business as a paint and hardware merchant and started a family with his wife, Mary Le Fevre. David and Mary converted to Quakerism and became quite prominent within their meeting; they donated to a variety of charities and David was active in local politics. In the 1750s, Deshler decided to build a summer retreat for his family in the growing community of Germantown, six miles northwest of Philadelphia. He purchased a two-acre tract of land on Germantown’s Main Street in 1751-52 and constructed a two-story home where his family spent many happy summers. In 1774, Deshler completed an elegant addition to the home.The home, however, sustained damage in the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. British General William Howe had removed the bulk of his troops from their occupation of Philadelphia and pursued the American army to Germantown, where he and his staff made their headquarters at the Deshler house. After dealing the American troops a devastating defeat, Howe remained at the Deshler house for about a week before moving on to capture Fort Mifflin on November 16th.
In 1782, Deshler advertised the house for sale in the Pennsylvania Gazette. While his reasons for selling the house are not entirely clear, it is possible that he hoped to avoid some of the costs associated with repairs to the home.
When Deshler died in 1792, the home was finally sold to Isaac Franks, a prominent Philadelphian and owner of a successful brokerage firm on High Street—a central location that allowed him to make many important personal contacts, including President George Washington. Franks, formerly ensign of the Seventh Massachusetts Regiment, was not in good health and had sought out the home in Germantown as a peaceful retreat for his family.
In the summer of 1793, an epidemic of yellow fever swept through Philadelphia. President Washington left the city for his home at Mount Vernon for the summer, but made arrangements to rent the Germantown house from Franks, who had temporarily relocated his family to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Washington took residence in November of 1793, and the house became the seat of government from November 16-30, 1793. Four cabinet meetings were held there before the President returned to Philadelphia. Washington apparently liked the home, as he returned in the summer of 1794. He and Martha, along with their two adopted grandchildren, spent a quiet summer in Germantown, entertaining occasionally and enjoying the beauty of their surroundings.
After the Washington family departed the home, Isaac Franks and his family returned and resided there until 1802, when they sold the house to brothers Elliston and John Perot.
The Perot brothers, born in Bermuda, arrived in Philadelphia in 1784 and became partners in a successful mercantile business. Their families enjoyed the home as a summer retreat for many happy years until 1836, when Samuel B. Morris married Hannah Perot, Elliston’s oldest child, and purchased the residence from Elliston Perot’s estate.
The home remained in the Morris family for three generations, from 1836 until 1948. In the century that followed, the Morris family grew and became the prosperous, fascinating family that has begun to emerge in this look into the Morris Family Papers. In 1948, the family of Marriott C. Morris continued the tradition of historic preservation begun by Elliston and Martha Morris during the Centennial of 1876 when they donated the house to the National Park Service.
(History of the Deshler-Morris House adapted from the Historic Structure/Furnishings/Grounds Report on the Deshler-Morris House by Anna Coxe Toogood, 1974)
As someone who likes to (try to!) cook, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to attempt one of the Morris family’s recipes in my own kitchen. I chose to make the Lemon Pie, as it didn’t require any unusual or expensive ingredients and had fairly simple instructions. Here is the recipe, as transcribed by Margaret from the Morris papers:
4 eggs & one extra yolk –
2 cups sugar –
Juice and grated rind of two lemons –
5 desert [sic] spoons flour wet with a little water to make smooth
2 cups water –
Beat yolks & sugar [,] add flour – then lemons, whites & water
Bake in pretty slow oven [in different handwriting]
After combining all of the ingredients according to the brief instructions, I was sure the recipe would be a failure. The mixture that emerged after combining the water, lemons, sugar, eggs, and flour looked like a watery mess. It didn’t resemble a typical thickened pie filling in any way—it looked like pale yellow water with the occasion piece of lemon zest floating around. Not exactly appetizing.
I decided, however, to persevere. I poured the mixture into a 9×13 pan and put it in the oven at 275° for one hour—my interpretation of the direction to “bake in a pretty slow oven.” When I checked the oven after twenty minutes, little had changed and the mixture was as watery as ever. At the end of an hour, though, it became clear to me that the Morris women knew what they were doing. The mixture had finally thickened to a custard-like consistency and developed a bright yellow hue. After cooling the dessert and enlisting the taste-testing skills of my husband, we discovered that it in fact had a lovely flavor—bright, sweet, and clean with a hint of lemony tang. It was slightly reminiscent of lemon meringue pie filling, but without the familiar gelatinous texture.
I decided to dress it up with a few crumbled vanilla cookies and some whipped cream, and it served as a satisfying Sunday dessert. Despite what I thought was a rocky start, the recipe was a success and I will definitely make it again, with only a few minor alterations (less zest, more flour). It was tasty, easy to make, and composed mostly of pantry staples. In an age when so many of our foods are composed with dozens of ingredients we can’t even pronounce, it was refreshing to make such a simple and satisfying dessert.