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MURRAY COUNTRY FAMILIES

Elias Camp Morris


John Morris and Elizabeth Driskill, his wife, moved from Rutherford County, North Carolina, in the fall of 1851 to Spring Place, Georgia. Their slaves, James and Cora Cornelia Morris gave birth to a son, Elias Camp Morris, in 1855. James (Jim) had permission from the Morris family to discreetly teach his son and daughter to read and write–even though it was against Georgia law to do so. This enabled Elias to accomplish many great things in his lifetime. In fact, school children in Arkansas routinely learn about this man's accomplishments during Black History Month. There he is considered in the much the same light as Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.

Although local history buffs have long been aware of a letter written by this ex-slave to his former owner, most had thought that the J. C. Morris the letter was addressed to was James Morris of Spring Place, who had also moved to Dalton. Family records have recently been made available that indicate the former slave-owner mentioned above was actually John Morris. The ex-slave's letter to the Morris family indicates genuine affection for his former owner's family. Within parenthesis names have been added or expanded by a Morris family member to make the letter's contents clearer.

"Helena, Ark., May 13th 1897.

Mr. J. C. Morris

Spring Place, Ga.

My Dear Sir,

Having learned when passing through Dalton a few weeks ago that you were still living at or near the old homestead, I told my sister Sarah about it and She wrote you at once, and received a reply today. We were exceedingly glad to hear from you. I have passed through there quite often, and had I known any of you were living I would have stoped off to see you. You perhaps will hardly remember me, I was only nine years old when we left to go to Dalton in 1864. But I have a clear recolection of you and all your people. Your father will remember me if he is living, for I used to carry messages from my sister (Sarah) to her husband Robert (Carver), when he was in hiding from the paterollers (patrollers), God bless your father (Sanders Morris) he was one of the best men that ever lived. I remember your Aunt Lizzie well, and used to nurse for your Aunt Sarah when She lived on the oposite side of the river, while Mr. Varnell was in the war. What has become of her boy by the name of Jeff Davis. I nursed him, though I was so small at the time I could hardly carry him about. You had some cousins that I remember well, the Lollars. Is your uncle Tom (Morris) living? and if so do you know his address. When we left the old place we went to Dalton, and remained there until Whelers raid, and then went to Chattanooga where we lived for more than a year, and from there we moved to Stephenson, Ala., where we remained for twelve years, there my Dear old father and mother, (Uncle Jim, and Aunt Cora as they were called) were buried. We suffered many reverses, sometimes we were well off, but through misfortune we would loose it. But all the Morris'es I ever saw were industrous. I came to this state twenty years ago, and landed on the west bank of the Mississippi river without a dollar. I have been in the ministry for twenty three years, and have served one church in this city as its pastor for seventeen years, They are devoted to me, and I love them, They pay me a salary of $70.00 per month, but it cost much more to live here than there. I can not complain however at the progress I have made in a material way I have a comfortable home in the city, and a good farm which brings from 40 to 50 bales of cotton every year. I married thirteen years ago and have four children, Elias, Austin, Fredrick Douglass, Mattie Ella, and Sarah, You can see with one exception I am holding to the old family names. I am very glad to learn that your children are doing so well, I have striven hard to educate mine, I cant tell you how near I feel towards you and all of those who are left of the family. My father and mother used to talk about you all so much before they died. There are only five of us living now, Sarah, Mary, William, myself, and Pitchford, who was the baby, a little boy when we left. All of us boys learned trades, Jim, and William both learned the black Smith trade under father, and Toliver and I learned the Shoe makers trade, I followed my trade with great profit until I taken charge of a church. I am glad to know that you and I were on the same side of the political question in the last campaign. I was a delegate to the Convention that nominated McKinley and have been in every National convention either as a delegate or Alternate since 1884. I was a candidate for Recorder of Deeds at Washington, D. C., but was defeated by Cheatham of North Carolina. I hope you will get what ever you aspire to, and if I can be of any benefit to you command me, for I flatter myself to say that I stand as well with the party leaders as any colored man in the country. I was very much surprised to hear that Murray County went for McKinley. I live in a Democratic strong hold, but I enjoy the respect and confidence of all the people white and black. Is old Temperance Hill Church still standing? God bless the sacred old spot. I know you will tire of reading this, so I will close.

Very truly yours,

E. C. Morris

Elias Camp Morris

P. S. I can almost feel the kiss which your Grand Pa gave me the morning we left to go to Dalton.

M."

This letter was written in flowing, clear Spencerian script. The original is at the Georgia Department of Archives and History, Morrow, GA; the call numbers are GAr 76-347.

Virtually unknown to folks in Murray County, this former slave led a remarkable life. Through a mix of classroom training and disciplined self-study, he became a well educated man.

Originally a shoe-maker, he became a licensed minister. In 1877 he moved to Helena, Arkansas, where he became pastor of Centennial Baptist Church. He pastored that church for more than 40 years. That church has been placed on the National Registry of Historical Places.

Morris received a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1892 from the University of Kentucky. In 1902, the State Normal School of Alabama conferred upon him the Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Morris's brother-in-law, the Reverend Robert M. Carver, in 1901 wrote a biography of Elias Camp Morris for the Preachers' Magazine, which included the following: "E. C. Morris, D. D., was born in Murray County, Ga., May 7, 1855. He, as well as his parents remained in bondage until liberated by the success of the Union arms over Confederates. His first breath of freedom was drawn in May 1864, when, with his parents, he left the old plantation and moved to Dalton, Ga., a distance of eight miles. He received only a common school education, owing to the fact that his father died before he reached his majority, but by close and careful study at home and the observation of current affairs, his storehouse of information is such as very few men of his advantages have....

In 1884, he organized and set in motion what is now Arkansas Baptist College, an institution which is the pride of the people of the State. For sixteen years he has been chairman of the Board of Trustees for the above-named institution. One of the highest positions which Dr. Morris holds is that of President of the National Baptist Convention, the largest deliberative body of Negroes in the world."

Perhaps the accomplishments of Elias Camp Morris, born a slave in Murray County, now that they are known in the county of his birth, will become part of the county's annual observation of Black History Month.

Readers should be aware that this new information was provided by Joanne Anderson Warmack, formerly of Murray County, now living in Atlanta. She made us aware of what had become of one of the slaves who had left Murray County before the 1870 Census.

 



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