Welcome to the American Morts, and the family of Jonathan Mort.
THE MORT FAMILY
,COMING TO AMERICA
May of 1844, perhaps due in part to the near collapse of hand weaving and other
economic conditions, Jonathan Mort and his fiancée, along with the Dorning
family of Cross Lane set sail
Liverpool to America on the clipper ship "Roscius". The passenger list
indicates that in addition to Jonathan and Mary Payne there were seven members
of the Dorning family, two of whom were the Uncles of Jonathan Mort, Joseph and
Jonathan Dorning. The ship landed at New York on the 12th of June 1844.
The Dornings along with Jonathan and Mary then proceeded to Yorkville Wisconsin where they purchased land. On October 1,1844 Jonathan Mort married Mary Payne at Yorkville Wisconsin. The marriage certificate signed by a superior court judge at Racine indicates that Wisconsin was still a territory and was not admitted to statehood until 1848. Other than Mary Payne's marriage and death certificate little is known about her other then that we believe she was born in Lancashire on July 6,1821 as it recorded in Jonathan's ledger. It was commonly believed that Mary Payne earned her passage to America by working as a bondservant. Eric Jones is convinced that Mary Payne worked as a servant for a farmer by the name of Michael Paul who had a farm about a mile and a half from where Jonathan lived. Eric cites as evidence that in the 1841 census the household of Michael Paul included,"Mary Pane, female servant, aged 20,born in Lancashire." It is also interesting that Mary's maiden name is sometimes spelled Paine as on her marriage certificate, at other times as Payne as in her obituary notices. Variations such as Pane, Paine, or Payne were probably due to phonetic spelling, but most likely her name was spelled Payne.
After their marriage Jonathan and Mary made their way to a small settlement on the Wisconsin River outside the present town of Spring Green. In 1844 the settlement of Spring Green consisted of a handful of pioneers and immigrants from England and Wales. It was the most rustic kind of living, and much colder than the relatively mild winters of Lancashire. Twenty years earlier settlers and indians were often at war. Spring Green became known for its shot tower that provided lead shot for soldiers and settlers alike. Jonathan and Mary were able to homestead a piece of land near the Wisconsin river and raise a family from whom we American Morts are descended. From 1847 to 1861 Jonathan and Mary gave birth to seven children, the seventh of whom died in 1862 after one year. We are fortunate to have in the possession of one of our family members a ledger that Jonathan kept from the time he was in Spring Green until they moved to Corning Iowa in 1870. The farm and house, which he built, can still be found on the outskirts of Spring Green. A photograph of the house, which he built and described in his ledger, can be found in the photo section of this book.
In May of 1855, Jonathan's sister Margaret Mort Hill and her husband Thomas and three children left Liverpool on the "William Rathbone" to join Jonathan and Mary Payne in Spring Green Wisconsin. Margaret and Thomas Hill were accompanied by a young man by the name of Joseph Mort who was a son of Jonathan and Margaret's older brother James. Joseph was one Mort who was not very impressed with life in America. In Jonathan's ledger there is a notation on February 22,1856 that, “Joseph Mort commenced (working) December 6, 1855, and quit January 12, 1856." In 1950 Betty Rowe received a letter from Lilly Mort who lived in Lowton, England, identifying herself as the last living daughter of Joseph Mort,” the one who came to the United States and, didn't much like the place."
Like Jonathan and Mary before them Margaret and Thomas Hill were allowed to bring only those items that could be stored in a small wooden box. Of the three small children, William was a baby of thirteen months. Jonathan's ledger frequently mentions the name of Thomas Hill and the wages
earned along with Jonathan and his sons. Four years later Thomas Hill together
with the help of Jonathan Mort purchased forty acres of land from a man by the
name of Garwood Greene and proceeded to build a home. Unaware that Garwood
Greene had mortgaged the land to a man by the name of Gideon Wells, Jonathan and
Thomas were shocked to discover several months later that Gideon Wells began
foreclosure action against Garwood Greene and Thomas Hill. Fortunately Thomas
Hill was able to repurchase the land for an additional seven hundred dollars and
thereby secure a deed to the property.
Gideon Wells as it turns out was the Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. It is an irony of History that while Jonathan Mort was raising a family in Wisconsin the Civil War was raging in the north and the south, and as far as we know the Mort family was far enough removed from what was taking place in the rest of the United States. In any case Jonathan's sons would have been too young to have been recruited for the Civil War, however two of Jonathan’s younger cousins on the Dorning side, Jonathan and Joseph who were living at Yorkville Wisconsin did serve in the Civil War with the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry.
Relatively few descendants are alive today of Jonathan Mort's sister, Margaret Mort and Thomas Hill. Irma Hill Gray who lived to be 101 died in January of 1986, and shortly after Pearl Bossard passed away at the age of 97. One of the intriguing stories about the Mort and Hill families of those early days in Spring Green is about their relationship with another Welsh immigrant by the name of Richard Lloyd Jones who arrived in Spring Green in 1848 from Wales and lived on a nearby farm. One of the daughters of Richard Jones, Jonathan speaks about in his ledger as marrying a Mr. Douglas. The other daughter, Anna, married a circuit rider preacher by the name of William Wright. In 1869 the first son of William and Anna Wright was born who later became America's most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. While Jonathan left Spring Green long before Frank Lloyd Wright became the famous person he was, Pearl Bossard and Irma Gray knew him well. The first and most famous home of Frank Lloyd Wright is at Spring Green and is called by the Welsh name "Taliesin". Taliesin is today an Architectural Institute as well as an Historic Site. Photographs of Irma and Pearl along with her grandparents Margaret Mort Hill and Thomas are in the photo section of this book.
What is known about life in Spring Green from 1844-1870 is best described in a copy of a letter that Jonathan had written in 1872 after the Mort family had settled in Corning Iowa. The letter identifies many of the families living in Spring Green, the cost of food and building supplies, the remedies for sick animals, and even how to make tomato soup. The letter tells how Jonathan and his sons cut poles from the Wisconsin river to plant hops, how much he lost on his crop, and also that his son James married into the Higgins family, "across the river from where we planted hops." Jonathan gives as one of his reasons for making the move to Corning that the price of Hops had dropped from fifty to fifteen cents per pound, and as he says in his letter,” this fetched us some little in debt, and that made us think about selling and going for a new country." His letter also implies that perhaps the severe winters in Wisconsin had something to do with the move to Iowa. He notes that the winters are much shorter in Iowa then in Wisconsin. The letter tells us that Jonathan sold his farm in Spring Green for twelve hundred dollars, which was a tidy sum for 1869. As was mentioned earlier the farm which Jonathan and Mary owned can still be found a mile or so from Spring Green Wisconsin. And for a number of years this farm was owned by Pearl Brossard, a granddaughter of Margaret and Thomas Hill. It was Pearl Bossard who took me to the farm in August of 1979 to meet the owner to whom she had sold the farm. The abstract and deed for the property clearly indicates that Jonathan Mort was the original owner. The central section of the farmhouse Jonathan described in his letter of 1872 is still standing and can be seen in the photo section of this book.
Because they were the oldest James and Thomas were designated to look for new land in Iowa. According to the letter the young men traveled with four yoke of cattle across the northern part of Iowa, crossed the Missouri River near Council Bluffs, and then spent two weeks in Nebraska before settling in Corning Iowa. Actually it appears that the Morts settled in Lennox some four or five miles from Corning. At Lennox the Morts bought a quarter section of land or about 150 acres. After James and Thomas had cleared the land and built homes, they were according to Jonathan's letter breaking over 250 acres of land. The Morts remained in Iowa for about ten years.
Thomas Mort my great grandfather married Hannah Richards on April 15,1873 in Corning, and Jonathan and Mary continued to live with Thomas until the Morts made their move to Nebraska. Whether it was the westward movement of settlers or the fact that a number of Indian reservations were opened to settlers in Nebraska and Kansas, the Morts begin to leave Corning as early as 1880. In January of 1881 James, Jonathan II and Reuben took 3 wagons and seventy-five head of cattle, crossed the river on ice at Rulo Nebraska, and made their way to Burchard Nebraska.
During the crossing the Mort brothers went through a blizzard during which a number of the horses were lost. James cleared a piece of land and built the first house in Burchard. The railroad was underway in southeastern Nebraska, and so James found work laying rails for the Kansas City Northwestern Railroad. Three years after settling in Burchard James died at the age of 36 in 1883 of what was thought to be typhus. He is buried at Mt.Pleasant cemetery near Jonathan and Mary.
There are many poignant stories told of how Laura Mort and her family survived the great blizzard of 1888, of her finding work as a cook in Beatrice to keep her large family together. As a teenager her son Ed lived with my great grandfather Tom Mort. Of all the Morts I think Ed Mort best epitomized the pioneering spirit of the Morts. In a letter he wrote to his granddaughter sometime before he died he describes in colorful language the life and perils of the Nebraska frontier. He talks about the sod houses of the pioneers, of meeting up with Indians who wore washers as earrings, and of that extraordinary event of the Cherokee Land Strip race when Ed Mort lined up with some 10,000 other men in buggies and on horseback to race for land in order to stake a claim.
June 16,1909 Ed Mort married Cora Wilson and for many years worked as a railroad
foreman with the Burlington Railroad until he retired. Of the three children of
Ed Mort, Beth Springer lives in Edgar Nebraska. Very little is known about the
descendants of the two oldest daughters of James and Laura Mort, Mary Liana and
Effa Jane. But about the Reuben Clyde Mort family who settled in Springfield
Colorado we know a great deal due to the large size of this family, and also due
to the efforts of Hazel Jones, Zelma Current and Grace Stagner who organize big
The youngest son of James and Laura Mort was Gerald Mort, born in Oketo Kansas on Oct 15,1883, only four days before the death of his father James. Sometime after the turn of the century, Gerald went to San Francisco and lived through the famous earthquake of 1906. He became a longshoreman and married Edith Crofton. Gerald died on March 19,1957 and is survived by two sons, Roy and Robert Mort, who as young men were professional baseball players. Roy Mort who lives in Benecia California played professional ball from 1931-1941, and as a first baseman played against many of the famous ball players of the day like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Thomas Mort we believe moved to Nebraska either late in 1881 or possibly in 1882. The fourth child of Thomas and Hannah was Eugene Mort who was born in April of 1880 in Corning, and we know that their fifth child, Dora, was born in 1885 in Odell Nebraska. Thomas and Hannah settled on land that was formerly the Otoe and Missouri Indian Reservation. This land had been taken over by the Federal Government and sold to settlers from 1877 to 1883. Thomas and Hannah had eight children of whom Charles, my grandfather, was the oldest.
The sons of Jonathan and Mary were all good carpenters having learned this skill from their father Jonathan. And while this first generation of Morts were primarily farmers, my grandfather Charles became a very successful carpenter and home builder in Nebraska City Nebraska. For his time Charles Mort was a fairly well educated man. In 1892 he attended The Latin School at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. A cousin of mine, Harlan Seyfer, who was a student at the University of Nebraska, was able to find the transcript of courses which Charles Mort took in 1892/93. One of the most interesting courses which grandfather took as a student was the modern equivalent of ROTC, a course on Military Drill. The course met three times a week and the instructor was John J. Pershing who in 1892 taught at the University as a young lieutenant. Much later Pershing would become Commanding General of the Army during World War I. In the office of grandfather hung a framed photograph of General Pershing and a cadet cap that grandfather wore as a student.
The families of Mary Ann Smith, Eugene Mort, and Grace McKenzie would all move to the Northwest in Oregon and Washington in the early 1900s', while the Dora and Guy Patrick family would locate at Napa Idaho. Sadie Mort Bryant and her family and descendants lived first at Long Island Kansas, and later settled in Grand Junction Colorado where she died. Today the descendants of Sadie Mort live at North Platte Nebraska, Rifle and Grand Junction Colorado. Roy Mort, the youngest of the Thomas Mort family lived and died in western Nebraska at Lyman. A son Tom Mort lives in Torrington Wyoming. Jonathan II, commonly known as "Don Mort", settled near Plum Creek in Tate Nebraska, and made a log cabin from the timber near the creek.
On January 1,1883 Jonathan returned to Corning Iowa to marry Phoebe Gibson and brought her by covered wagon to their home at Tate. In the photo section of this book is a remarkably good photograph of Jonathan and Phoebe, taken by a traveling photographer. The Gibsons like the Morts were immigrants from England, and according to Betty Rowe had been coal miners. Jonathan like his father was a skilled carpenter and a successful farmer. Two of his sons, Floyd and Ernest farmed near Pawnee Nebraska, while a third daughter Edith lived for many years in nearby Lincoln Nebraska. A third son Fred farmed at Tate Nebraska, and later moved to Flagler Colorado where he died. Today most of the descendants of Jonathan Mort live at Pawnee, Lincoln, and Nebraska City Nebraska, and at Shenandoah Iowa and Gallatin Missouri.
Following the move to Nebraska Reuben Mort, along with his parents Jonathan and Mary, settled at Tate and as far as we know Jonathan and Mary lived with Reuben for the remainder of their lives. For a few years Reuben and his parents lived at Oketo Kansas near an Indian reservation. A number of stories have come down to us about this period when Jonathan and Mary lived at Oketo. The story is told that Mary who was heavy set would frequently sit on the porch holding one of her grandchildren. The Indian women thought Mary Payne was very beautiful and would bring their papooses to Mary to see if she would help make their babies pretty and fat.
On January 2, 1887 Reuben married Susie Gibson the sister to the wife of his brother Jonathan. In the photo section of this book is a photograph of Jonathan holding his granddaughter Pearl. In 1890 Reuben built a home near Liberty and farmed until 1920. Later Reuben and his family would move to Venango Nebraska where he died on August 24, 1937. Doris Wymore and Goldie Pyle are daughters of Pearl Wignall, and live at Beatrice and Virginia Nebraska. Ward Mort, the son of Reuben was a very successful farmer who also lived at Venango and is survived by a son, Frank Mort, who lives at Sterling Colorado. The youngest daughter of Reuben and Suzie Mort was Faye who married Dale Thornburg and settled in Missoula Montana where a son Robert lives. The two daughters of Faye Thornburg are Norma Trickey who lives at Lincoln Montana, and Marjorie Heinitz who lives at Arlee Montana. Of the Mort brothers Alfred Mort appears to have been the most unusual in that he married his first cousin Margaret Mort who was the daughter of James Mort, Jonathan's older brother in England. Actually two children of James Mort came to the United States, Margaret Mort and her brother Henry Mort. Sometime prior to 1883, Margaret Mort wrote to her uncle Jonathan about coming for a visit to America. After her arrival Alfred proposed marriage and on Nov. 13,1883 Alfred and Margaret were married in Pawnee. Sometime after the birth of their first and only daughter Anna Belle, Alfred and Margaret separated and remained separated until they both died in 1918 and 1936. The descendants of Alfred and Margaret have the distinction of being descended from two sides of the Mort family, from James in England and Jonathan in America.
One interesting sidelight of our history concerns the Joseph Mort who came to America, worked with Jonathan in Spring Green, quit and then returned to England. Joseph was a half brother to Margaret Mort, and when he died in 1912 in Lowton England, Margaret who was visiting her relatives in England attended his funeral. Alfred and Margaret along with Reuben and Suzie, Jonathan and Mary, James and Lester are all buried at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery near Liberty Nebraska. The three grandchildren of Alfred and Margaret Mort are Lavern Clark, Evelyn Weiss(both deceased), and Eldon Clark who lives in St. Petersburg Florida. A great granddaughter of Alfred and Margaret is Marcia Miller who lives in Plant City Florida As was mentioned earlier, Margaret Mort had a brother by the name of Henry Mort who also came to the United States and is noted in the English Mort section of this book along with his sister Margaret. Sometime after 1990, Henry Mort came to the United States and settled in Kansas City Missouri. On Dec. 12, 1994 he married Caroline Kahn and they had four children. May More Handy who was the fourth child of Henry and Caroline More lives in Shenandoah Iowa, and of all the Morts in the United States May is the only one living who is of that early generation of Morts in America. Her aunt was Margaret and her uncle was Alfred.
little town of Tate which played such an important role in the life of the Mort
family in Southeastern Nebraska no longer exists except for an abandoned
building which was once the hotel. In the time of Jonathan and Mary and their
children it was a small but thriving community with a depot for passenger and
freight trains, a school, a grain elevator and several stores. We are fortunate
to have relatives such as Kenneth J. Mort, a grandson of Jonathan who can help
reconstruct for us what the town of Tate was like and what this community meant
in the lives of the Mort family.
The fourth child of Jonathan and Mary was Margaret Mort, born in Spring Green Wisconsin on Dec.22, 1853. Margaret married George Higgins in 1876 in Corning Iowa. George Higgins was the brother of Laura Higgins who married James Mort. Since their seventh child Maude was born at Liberty Near in 1892, it is believed that sometime after 1892/93 the family moved to Oregon. In 1903 George Higgins was killed in a logging accident. Four years later Margaret remarried a man by the name of William Purdue and moved to Montana where she died in Darby Montana in 1938. The Higgins family like the Morts were English immigrants who had settled in Spring Green. Typical of immigrants the children of Jonathan and Mary married spouses who were of either English or Welsh descent.
There is a charming story about Grace Gibson, a niece of Phoebe and Susie Gibson, and one whom many in the Mort family still remember. Although born in the United States, Grace was very conscious and proud of her English ancestry. When Elizabeth II became Queen of England, Grace decided to go to England so that she could be there when the coronation took place. One can well imagine the feelings and family pride that Grace Gibson experienced when she stood along the crowded streets of London watching the royal family passing by. In the following pages are listed the ancestors as well as the descendants of this courageous family of Jonathan and Mary Mort. It is the hope of all of us who have had a hand in putting together this family history, that the children and grandchildren of our generation will come to appreciate the history of our family, the boundless courage of our forbears, the values on which they based their lives, and their love of God, Family and Country.
The Mort Family History has been a collaborative effort by a number of people, many of whom have now passed away. We are all indebted to the late Eric Jones, who was a great grandson of Joseph Mort, the older brother of Jonathan from whom we American Morts are descended. Eric spent many long hours in writing to records offices in England in order to get copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates for the children and grandchildren of Henry Mort. In addition he helped organize and type the genealogical information contained in this volume. I owe a special word of thanks to Henry Henshaw, and to Betty Rowe of Shenandoah Iowa for her outline of the Mort family which helped initiate this project, to Barbara Dennis for her wonderful book on the Dorning family, and to Don Gradeless, a member of another American Mort family, who initially gave a great deal of his time inputting this information on to a computer program. I want to thank all of you for help in sending me your family information. And finally I want to dedicate this book to the memory of my dear parents, Ernest and Mildred Mort, and to my two brothers Gene and Tom who passed away since I completed this project.