Wednesday, August 29, 2012

William T. Morris

William Thomas Morris was born in Dukinfield, Cheshire, England on 17 May 1861 to William Morris and Sarah Durham. He weighed 11 lbs when he was born. Father William was a farmer and later was a coal miner. He was a baby as his family traveled from England over the sea and across the plains to settle in Parowan, Utah.

Parents, Sarah and Will
The family traveled from Liverpool to New York on the Mancester.

William T. with his parents and siblings on the register of the ship, Mancester.

They traveled to Florence, Nebraska (now Omaha) and then from there to Utah in the John R. Murdock company. His father, William, carried his one year old son most of the way. Baby Will was not well most of the trip, but made it safely with his family on 10 October 1862.

While in Florence (before leaving with the ox team en route to Salt Lake), Will learned to walk. Will was the only young child in that company who survived the trek, except for a few babies who were born on the way. His sister Sarah Jane died in Wyoming of Mountain Fever.

When on their trek to Utah, Will’s mother sang to him and she nursed him. One day, he threw back his head and sang the whole lullaby back to her. She was startled and a little unnerved at the experience, but it was a sign of the influence that music would be in William’s life. He eventually sang and played the violin very well.

Will had 5 sisters, all born in England, and three brothers, each born in Parowan. Of this family of 9, four died before adulthood. One baby sister died in England, Sarah Jane who was 10 years old when she died on the plains, and twin brothers who died of Cholera when Will was three. One of his first memories was of his mother setting him onto her lap and weeping bitterly after burying the last baby.

When Will was a boy, President Brigham Young was on his was to St. George and stopped in Parowan to attend a meeting. President Young asked Will’s uncle, Thomas Durham to sing. Will remembered the Prophet standing with his elbows on the pulpit during the song.

Will started school at 7. At 10 he started his first job in a lath mill. This may have started his love for working with wood. In his later years, he made and sold inlaid furniture so well made that the joints could not be detected by the eye or the hand.

At 13, Will joined the Sunday School Choir. He sang alto with the girls until his voice changed, when he started singing tenor, and he didn’t care when the other boys teased him about it. He did so well in this choir that he was asked to sing in the ward choir. Later in life, Will and his wife sang quartets with William T. Jr. and his wife and were invited all over Southern Utah to sing.

Will was baptized on 22 July 1877 when he was 16 years old. "He had gotten the idea that it would be a most awful thing to do anything wrong after being baptized and didn't want to be baptized at 8. So his wise parents waited patiently until he was ready." Will also took our his own endowments at 16.

At this time Will learned to shear sheep and was making good money. With his earnings, he bought his first real violin. Previously, he had been teaching himself to play on a toy violin. He had aquired this toy from a friend in a trade. Toy violin for a pocket-full of marbles. Sensible little Will made a good trade that day.
William on the 1880 census with his parents.
William and O’Lena Christina Mortensen were friends growing up and their friendship grew over the years. They were married in the St. George Temple on 24 March 1882 when Will was 20 and Lena was 18.


The couple had their first 2 children in Parowan: William T. Jr (1883) and Anders Marion (1885). Then the family moved to Colorado where Lena’s siblings and mother had lived for almost 2 years. (See Lena’s post for more information.)

In Colorado, the Morris family found the land to be uninviting but soon made some precious associations. The family introduced the May Day celebration to the San Luis Valley. Also, Will played his violin for dances, weddings, and funerals, was involved in choirs and he acted and directed community productions.

Five more children were born to Will and Lena while they lived in Colorado: Lena Isabella, known as Isa (1888), Cora May (1890), Earl Raymond (1893), Una Millicent (1896) and Alfred Serenus (1899).

Anders was not well since the family left Utah and in 1895, he became ill with pneumonia. Just a few weeks after he turned 10, Anders died and was buried in Sanford, CO.

In 1900, the family experienced another shock when Will suffered a severe heart attack. He was told that he needed to live in a better climate. The family was grateful that he was alive. He and teenage Isa took a train back to Utah and Lena stayed behind to sell their home and belongings in order to get enough money for the rest of the family to travel to Utah.

Back in Parowan, the family needed a home. Will accepted his parents’ offer to build an addition onto their home so the family could be close. Will’s father William was blind and in his 80s at the time. Will made adobe bricks out of clay with the help of his daughter Isa.

1900 Census in Parowan shows William and his daughter Isa.

1900 Census in Colorado also shows William and Isa with the rest of the family although both census records were recorded in June of that year. Lena must have had them add Will and Isa although they were in Utah.

1900 Census, cropped.

In Colorado, Will had done anything he could to earn money for his family. He did field work, mill work, and contracting. He even did some carpentry work for a man named Fred Meyer who owned a couple of big stores in New Mexico. Back in Utah, he did the same. He also was hired on occasion as a professional musician for extra money.

At this time, Parowan was almost totally democratic, politically. Will decided to run for County Clerk on the Republican ticket. He put together a singing group and went through the county campaigning to music. He won the election and remained in the job for 12 years. He was the third County Clerk in Iron County after Utah became a state. The steady income allowed the family to get out of debt and to begin to invest in the future.

Their last child, Angus was born in Parowan in 1903.

Morris family in 1903.
Rear: Will Jr., Cora, Earl, Isabelle.
Front: Will, Una, Alfred, Angus, Lena.

In 1904, Will bought 115 acres of fenced land with a house, a barn, and a flowing spring for $350. He and his boys Will and Earl worked every spare hour they had to clear, plow, sow, cultivate and harvest the land. They drilled a well and made a holding pond for irrigation water. Eventually they bought more land and worked it. Lena and the girls kept the house and helped with chores on the land. Over time the farm prospered. They also raised dairy cows and sheep.

This was a very busy time for Will. He was working eight hours a day as County Clerk and at least that much more on the farm five days a week. Saturdays he worked on the farm from dawn to dusk. He also was still involved with his music. He played his fiddle with an orchestra, taught music lessons occasionally and had many music related callings at church as well as other leadership positions.

Will and Lena in 1907
Will still had some heart “spells.” He would put a nitroglycerin pill under his tongue and wait. When the pain subsided, he would rest for a time and then go back to work.

1910 Census

In 1912, Will chose not to run for County Clerk reelection. The farm was prospering and the family was growing up. He was enjoying teaching music and found that it was too much. He took the position of Assistant County Clerk to help train the new clerk.
In August of 1912, Will and Lena’s son Earl died in an accident while working at the sawmill in the mountains above Parowan. He was 19 years old.

In June of 1913, Will was returning a cultivator to a neighbor when a sudden storm came in. Rain was falling so heavily that he had to stop the team and wait for a few minutes. When he started again it felt as if someone had hit him on the head with a club. He thought to himself, “That settles it.” When he came to, he was lying in the mud in the road. The wagon’s wheels had passed over him and the team was a quarter of a mile down the road. He struggled to get up but finally did. He got the horses , returned the cultivator to its owner and went home in pretty bad shape.
He had been struck by lightning and for years afterward, Will could tell when a thunderstorm was coming by the ache in his head.

Christmas was always special to the Morris family. Lena grew with Danish traditions and Will with English traditions. The family got the best of both worlds. It was a time for family and Blue Bell Farm was the gathering place and many families would stay overnight for several days.

The winter of 1919 was very cold. In fact, two feet of snow had fallen early in the year and did not completely melt until late spring. That was the year of the flu epidemic. Lena caught the disease and became very ill. One morning, after Will have been out all night caring for the animals, Lena voiced her concerns about Will wearing himself out. She had never wanted to sell the farm until then. They sold the farm for $24,800.

1920 Census
They used some of the money to visit friends and relatives in the San Luis Valley and then stayed with relatives in Mesa from November 1920 to May 1921. Angus was the only child at home and this point and he went to high school in Mesa that year. In the warm climate, Lena’s health improved.

Back in Parowan, the couple was looking forward retirement. On August 24, 1921, Bishop Hugh L. Adams asked them to serve a mission in the St. George Temple. They accepted and began work there five days later.

One of the first things Will did at the temple was work for his two sons who had passed away.

Within a few months of their temple service, Lena became ill with pneumonia. Although it seemed she was recovering, she passed away on 4 February 1922. Will stayed with relatives for a short time but his family could find no way to comfort him. So, he returned to the temple where he found some sense of peace.

Will: "Then for the first time I realized how utterly helpless and alone a man can be when his life's companion is taken away from him."

In the temple, he was reacquainted with Wilhelmina Cannon Sullivan, a friend of Will and Lena’s and Temple Matron when they served together. This friendship quickly turned to an engagement. They were to be married in October but when they spoke to Mina’s father, David H. Cannon, who was also the Temple President at the time, he simply asked, “Why not now?” The couple married in May 1922 in the St. George Temple.

This attachment may have been helped along by Lena herself. During her battle with pneumonia, Lena told Will that if anything should happen to her, he was to take care of Mina.

Mina had three children from a former married. At this time they were 23, 20, and 17 years of age. All three were sealed to Mina and Will on their wedding day. The families were close throughout their lives. In fact, Will’s son Alfred married Mina’s youngest daughter in 1923.

Will lived in the “Cannon Home” in St. George from 1922 to 1944. Will and Mina purchased the home from her father with the stipulation that her father live there and consider it his until after his death. Mina was delighted because she and her three children had all been born in that home.

David H. Cannon died of a heart attack on 24 December 1924. His new son-in-law, Will, held him in his arms as he died.

The couple had almost five happy years. Mina died 22 March 1927 due to kidney problems.

Again, Will was alone. All the children were married and settled. A man with a great capacity to love and be loved, Will was alone and desolate. Again, he could peace in the temple. Work there as well as music helped filled the emptiness that he felt for the next year.

One day as Will was working at the Doorkeeper at the temple, he took the recommend of a lady from Paragonah. Her name was Eliza May Robinson. She continued to come to the temple and they became better acquainted. Eliza was 56 year old woman who had never been married. When Will asked her brother if he thought she’d be interesting in “going out” with him, her brother told him that Eliza ran away every time a man came to the house.

Will and Eliza were married in April 1928 by George F. Whitehead, the Temple President. For the next 18 years, Eliza May gave Will all the love and affection she had.

On 2 September 1929, Will was appointed Assistant Temple Recorder. Six months later, on 25 March 1930, he was made Recorder. He held that position for almost seven years.
In 1935, Will became seriously ill. He was in bed for three months and unable to feed himself for seven weeks. He attributed his recovery to Eliza May and her constant care.

In 1941, Will suffered a severe heart attack that kept him in bed for several weeks. Again, Eliza May nursed him back to health. This attack, however, was the beginning of failing health that would plague him for the rest of his life.
Will had always had a workshop next to the house, where he did beautiful woodwork. As he was recovering from his illnesses, he found himself working in the shop more and more. During this time, he and Eliza May also enjoyed several vacations.

Four generations in 1943: William T. Morris, daughter Cora,grandson G. Morris Rowley and great-granddaughter Audrey Lorraine.

In 1944, Will sold the “Cannon Home” and bought another home. It was renovated before they moved in and Will immediately set out building a new workshop where he worked until the last few weeks of his life.

As a baby, Will was almost too frail to make it across the ocean and the plains, but his body grew into a strong, industrious man who lived to within a month of his 85th birthday. William T. Morris died 18 April 1946 in St. George, Utah. He was buried on April 22nd in St. George, Utah.
William's death certificate. There is a note that 14 days before his death, a doctor removed a mass from his neck, but he died of intestinal obstruction.


Eliza May lived another two years.

Grandson, Richard M. Rowley wrote:
“Grandpa Morris was always up with his times or ahead of them. He read novels and collected them…New gadgets intrigued him. He had the first folding Kodak camera I ever saw. In his workshop, along with his old wooden joiner’s plane were power tools of many kinds. He owned a typewriter at a time when they were not household items…He engaged in many activities straight-laced people of his time frowned on [including] play-acting and popular music…He even published a popular song, "Marching to Victory."

“But as much as he enjoyed the things of the world, he kept his perspective. He used his musical talents to praise the Lord and to promote the highest human virtues.”

Click HERE to see William's headstone on Find A Grave.

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