As Mary sat down in the firm wooden chair in front of the large boxy camera in the photographer’s studio in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, she called her little great grand-daughter, Olivette, to come over to her. Mary held her tightly just as she had done so many times with her own children. While the photographer adjusted the camera, her thoughts drifted with sadness to the faces of her children and husband who were no longer with her. Only three of her eight children had survived to this day in 1898.
Elizabeth, her first child, was born only a couple of months after her first year of marriage to her husband Thomas Sanders Morgan. Mary was 18 when she married him in January of 1843. He was 23. Together they made their home in Hazlehurst. But before Elizabeth reached 3 months of age, her sweet little life was over.
Within six months Mary and Thomas were expecting their second child. Joy and hesitancy filled Mary’s heart. Would she see this child grow up or would this baby be taken from her as well? But she would not let herself think about that possibility. On October 21, 1845, Andrew Jackson Morgan was born. What a fine healthy baby boy he was!
Within a year and a half, on March 11, 1847, Aletris Ellen Morgan made her appearance in their family. Then Robert Polk Morgan was born two years later. Almost exactly two years after Robert, Katherine Belmont Morgan was born. Mary would become pregnant again and in December of 1853, she gave birth to Thomas Edwin Morgan.
With Andrew, now 8 years of age and able to begin helping his father in the family business in town and Aletris, 6, able to help with her little brother Robert, 4, and Katherine, 3, this allowed Mary time to spend with her newest little one. Soon Mary became pregnant again and in September of 1855, at age 31, Mary Lenora Morgan, her namesake, was born. But there were other things occupying her and Thomas’ thoughts. Business was difficult and the political climate within the Union was becoming more volatile everyday.
In late 1857, her son Albert C. Morgan was born. He was a sickly child, but survived despite the odds. Andrew was now 12, Aletris 10, Robert 8, Katherine 4, Thomas 3 and Mary 2. Her husband, Thomas, was working hard at the store everyday. She worked hard at home tending the house and children. They were living life, but both were becoming more conscious of the fact, with the political rumblings they heard, that the union of the nation was precarious. If the individual states in the Union could not work out their differences, there would be a division of the nation that would not happen without great cost.
Before Albert’s first birthday, in October of 1858, Thomas had to be away on business in Gallatin, Tennessee. But before he returned home her beloved husband died unexpectedly. He was 39. Mary’s husband of 15 years, gone! What would she do? There was so much uncertainty for her family, the business, her beloved Mississippi, and her nation. She found someone to operate the business and she began working as a hotel housekeeper in town. She decided she would also take in boarders to make ends meet since she had so many young mouths to feed.
By 1860, life was difficult for the family without her husband’s presence and provision. Andrew now almost 15, helped in any way he could. And for reasons uncertain, maybe to ease the burden on her mother, Aletris, 13, went with her beau, John Thomas Broome, 25, across the Mississippi River into Richmond, Louisiana (now Tallulah, LA) to be married. This town would be completely burned by Union troops within two years.
Civil war broke out the next year and 15-year-old Andrew, joined the Confederate troops that were mustering in Hazelhurst. Son-in-law John Broome also enlisted in a Mississippi regiment. But by June of 1862, her dear son, Andrew Jackson Morgan, 16, was killed in the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia.
For the rest of the war she was without a husband or other man of any age to help her or comfort her while the war was raging nearby. She was only 40 miles from General Ulysses Grant’s troops when they marched through her beloved Mississippi to lay siege to Vicksburg in 1863.
After the war, her sorrow would not end. In 1872, her son Thomas would die at the age of 18. In 1876, Robert would die at the age of 26. Albert, her youngest child, would succumb to sickness at age 35 in 1893.
Mary’s three daughters would be her only children to accompany her through the rest of her life.
That is why the woman wore black. Death had become part of her life.
Mary Currie Morgan is my third great-grandmother and John and Aletris Broome are my great-great grandparents.