Friday, July 25, 2014

Calvary Morris (1798-1871)

Portrait from the "Athens Home Coming Reunion", published 1904.

   The state of Ohio has lucked into the good fortune of being represented in Congress by a great many oddly named figures, including such men as Eleutheros Cooke, Philadelph Van TrumpAdoniram Judson Warner and Lycurgus Luther Marshall. Calvary Morris, a long time resident of Athens County, represented Ohio's sixth district in the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms, having earlier been a member of both houses of the Ohio legislature. With a name that's truly one-of-a-kind, Mr. Morris was for over thirteen years one of a great many "faceless" politicians that I've found, and despite many attempts at trying to locate a portrait of him, Morris continually stymied me out of a picture. As luck would have it, however, late yesterday a portrait of Mr. Morris was located (quite accidentally in fact) via Absolom Mattox's "Athens Home Coming Reunion", a 1904 work centering on the history of Morris' adopted home city of Athens, Ohio. The rare picture of Calvary Morris above marks the first time that I've seen a portrait of him, having first located his name via the "Political Graveyard" website way back in 2001. Truly amazing!!
   While he may have been a resident of the Buckeye State for a good majority of his life, Calvary Morris was not born in Ohio, his birth instead occurring in Charleston, West Virginia in January 15, 1798, being one of nine children born to John (1751-1818) and Margaret Droddy Morris (1758-1818). The meaning behind Morris' unusual first name is unknown at this time, but its origin may lie in an area called  "Calvary" (a Latinized name for the biblical land called Golgotha) which is noted as being a site outside the city walls of Jerusalem where Christ's crucifixion occurred.....Whatever the origins of his name, it was certainly a peculiar name to give a child! 
   Morris' early life was spent in the state of his birth, where he is recorded as "laboring on a farm" as well as having limited educational advantages. He married in March 1818 to Athens, Ohio native Mary Polly Jewett (1797-1871) and fathered four children, Charles (1823-1919), Martha (born 1833), Jewett H. (born 1833), Emarine (1821-1827). A year following his marriage he relocated from Virginia to his wife's home county of Athens, where he would reside for the remainder of his life. Shortly after his arrival Morris established a homestead, as well as purchasing five acres of land on which to grow crops.  In mid-1819 he was offered a teaching opportunity in town, and despite his lack of formal education, took the post after being allotted three weeks time to study up on the subjects he was required to teach.
    After four years of teaching Morris won election as Athens County sheriff in 1823 and was returned to that office two years later by a near "unanimous vote." In 1827 he was elected as one of Athens County's representatives in the Ohio General Assembly and was reelected the following year. The year 1829 saw Calvary Morris be elected to the Ohio State Senate, serving here until 1835. In his final year in the senate Morris won a third term in the house of representatives, and during this term became a leading voice in the assembly for the construction of the Hocking Valley Canal. His backing of a bill for the canal's construction was passed in February 1836 and in that same year was rewarded for his work by receiving the Whig nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives. In November of that year, Morris defeated his Democratic opponent Nahum Ward by a narrow vote of 3, 780 to 3, 703.
   Taking his seat at the start of the 1837 Congressional session, Morris would be reelected as a representative in 1838 and 1840, in the latter year besting Democrat nominee George House by a vote of 8,724 to 6, 882. During the 1841-42 term Morris served on the committee on Invalid Pensions, and was not a candidate for renomination in November, being succeeded in office by Henry St. John (1783-1869)

   After leaving Congress Calvary Morris settled into private life in Athens, where he would engage in wool-growing, and was noted by the 1869 History of Athens County as having introduced "fine-wooled sheep into the county." He would remove from Athens in 1847 and resettle in Cincinnati, where he resided for several years. Morris moved back to Athens in 1854 and was soon after elected as county probate judge, holding that office until shortly before his death, which occurred in Athens on October 13, 1871. He had been predeceased by his wife Molly in July of 1871 and both were interred at the West Union Street Cemetery in Athens.


  1. Very informative and great to see a picture of this guy - I recently bought a big box of vintage letters and I have traced one of them that is from this man dated 1837 - Really cool to have the letter in my hand and read about this guy who wrote it so many years ago. Thanks for this site

    1. Amazing! One can only wonder how many letters written by Calvary Morris still exist after nearly 180 years. You may have the only one! Thank you for commenting!--Andy