By Ruth Morgan
An old trunk provided a discovery of past history when Barrot Morgan of the Morgantown Community started sifting through piles of books, letters and documents found in an old trunk that had stood unnoticed in his home for years. The trunk had survived a fire that destroyed the house and almost everything in it including furniture and crystal that had belonged to his grandparents.
When Morgan decided to open the trunk, he was sure that everything in it had been damaged by the water used in putting out the fire. To his surprise, most of the papers were hardly even discolored and almost all were legible, including the treasured one from his great grandmother to his grandfather, George Decatur Morgan, after he left North Carolina and settled in Oktibbeha County as a young man in about 1845.
As the years rolled on, Barrot Morgan became more and more fascinated with his ancestors and begun reconstructing the story of the Morgan family. His imagination was sparked by the information contained in the trunk from receipts for tuition to the Starkville Female Institute, to land deeds, to bills of lading for a cotton gin purchased by Morgan Bros., the company formed by his father and uncles.
At one time, Morgan Bros. operated a saw mill, grist mill and cotton gin, all powered by steam. “I believe they milled much of the lumber used to construct some of the early buildings at A&M College (now Mississippi State University),” Morgan said.
Morgan’s grandfather was born in North Carolina in 1824. Because his father died when he was young, he was “bound” to a wealthy family where he worked as a hired hand. When he reached 21 and won his freedom, he came to Mississippi with a family by the name of Outlaw, paying for his transportation by tending to the stock.
The Outlaws settled in the eastern part of the county where some of their descendants still live. Morgan became overseer of the slaves who worked on the Outlaw plantation, serving in this capacity until the Civil War when he joined the Confederate Army. He and Outlaw remained friends throughout their lives.
The elder Morgan married Betty Piland, also from North Carolina but whom he met in Mississippi.
After joining the Army, Morgan was sent to Vicksburg where he was captured when the city surrendered. Returning home at the end of the war, he was without a job, since the slaves had been freed. He purchased a tract of land south of what is now Morgantown and moved his wife and little son into a small house on the place.
Outlaw sent wagon loads of provisions to Morgan, enough, according to a family history by Allie Morgan Landrum, to last the whole first year. Outlaw also sent a team of mules to work the crops that first year. Among the trunk papers, Barrot Morgan found many correspondences between his grandfather and Outlaw, detailing business transactions as well as personal matters.
Except for a few years when he was in the Air Force during World War II, Barrot Morgan lived on the same “knoll” where his grandfather built his first home. The log house was moved to Starkville years ago and renovated by his great great granddaughter, Glenda Bell Clark.
Barrot Morgan was a lifelong member of Morgan Chapel Baptist Church, which was established in 1908 with his grandfather as one of the six charter members.
Like most children of the community, Morgan went to school at Macedonia School in Morgantown. Back then it was called “Frog Pond.” The school was established in a two-room building in 1864 with four-month terms, usually November-February. Morgan attended school there until fifth grade when the county schools consolidated and he enrolled at Sturgis where he graduated in 1934. After graduating, he worked at the family cotton gin, and saw mill, and farmed with his father, Doss Morgan.
In 1940, he joined the Air Force and was eventually sent to an air base in Albuquerque, N.M. where he met his future wife, Martha. They were married on a Saturday, and on the following Thursday, he received overseas orders and was sent to a port of embarkation in North Carolina.
Luckily, he never had to go abroad because the war ended. In November 1945, after the Japanese surrender in August, Morgan’s father died. Morgan was discharged in early December. With $8 in his pocket, he rode a bus for three days to Albuquerque where he and Martha packed their belongings into an old trunk and headed for Morgantown.
The couple moved in with his mother, and in 1961 they built a new home at the same site using the lumber from the old house. In 1980, on Christmas Day, the house burned and the trunk was among the few items saved. They rebuilt on the same location.
Retiring from farming, Morgan was assigned to a temporary rural mail route by the Starkville Post Office in 1959 and became a city carrier in 1960. Six years later, he took over Rural Route 1, traveling about 75 miles a day in the Sessums and Oktoc areas. He retired from the postal service in 1978.
The Morgan’s watched their five children grow up in the woods and fields cleared and cultivated by their great grandfather. The information found in the trunk has added to the storehouse of knowledge about Oktibbeha County. Morgan said, “Sometimes I really hurt for my grandfather as I read about his struggles."
"There are a lot of lessons in perseverance here. Makes me feel that I haven’t really done very much compared to him," Morgan said.
In the trunk was an 1851 sales slip charging $36 for a coat, hat and vest; a certificate from 1861 appointing his grandfather overseer of the Aberdeen and Macon Road, a deed to “Swamp and Overflow” land dated December 1856; an 1868 tax receipt for $2.13; and 1869 and 1879 receipts for subscriptions to the Oktibbeha New Era and the East Mississippi Times, forerunner of the Starkville Daily News. Morgan learned a lot about himself by learning about his grandfather. “Sometimes we have to look back to get a new start,” Morgan said.
This article is from an interview with Barrott Morgan in 1988.
Note: I was born and raised in Starkville, but if your name is Morgan, most people just assume you are from Morgantown — well, I am not. Not very long ago, a co-worker in his introduction of me as the speaker for the evening, informed the audience that he had worked with me for many years and that I was from Morgantown. I informed the group that I was not from the great community of Morgantown nor did I share any links to their family tree. Afterward, he said, "For thirty years, I had just assumed since your name was Morgan that you were from Morgantown."