Biography of J. B. Morgridge
Madison County, Ohio Biographies





J. B. MORGRIDGE, Plain City, was born in Washington County, Vt., August 2, 1814, of parents Richard and Sallie Morgridge. Less than two years later, the parents resolved to emigrate to the West, and, June 4, 1816, found them together with their earthly possessions, all of which were contained in a wagon, especially built for the occasion, termed a mover's wagon, en route for Ohio, which State they believed afforded the most promising field of labor and the surest reward for industry, the only legacy they could hope to transmit to their children. The distance was great, being 900 miles, and the roads new, and in some places almost impassable, yet with a determined purpose, the pioneer leading the way, the journey was accomplished, and the 18th of September found the family sheltered in a small cabin in Licking County, every member of which was afflicted with the ague. Our subject says that one of his earliest recollections was his first shake in the above mentioned cabin. A year later, the father, by way of availing himself of the convenience and benefit of Western institutions, sold all his chattel effects, which, together with some currency, he converted into bills of the Muskingum Bank, located at Marietta, then the leading bank of the State. Four days later, when in Newark, where he had gone to make some purchases, he learned that the bills were worthless, the bank having broken two days prior. It was then that the inheritance above referred to was fully realized and possessed. It had been their intention to locate in Hamilton County, but the sickness referred to prevented. In the fall of 1820, the family removed to Madison County, settling on land upon which the subject now resides, which had previously been bargained for with Walter Dunn, then in Chillicothe, to whom the early settlers of this county will ever be grateful for the kind and long indulgences extended to them on over due payments. The father in moving to this county, impoverished as he was, was compelled to contract some debts in procuring an ou fit in the way of a team and implements to begin farming. For two years a general sickness prevailed in this locality, and the seasons were unfavorable for crops, which, together with great scarcity of money in the country at the time, the year 1824 still found him in debt, and with the expenses incident to a large family, unable to pay. He was sued by his creditors, who, in their eagerness to collect, sold him out, letting articles go at far less than their value, thus depriving him of the only means he possessed, and which would have enabled him, in the near future, to have canceled their claims. When all was gone and the creditors unsatisfied (there being then no chattels or homestead exemption too sacred to be attached by execution as now), and while explaining to the creditor that he had no more property or money with which to pay, and in the presence of his family. the creditor said: "If that be so, I demand that you, Mr. Constable, lay upon the body of this debtor, Richard Morgridge, and take him forthwith into the jail of this county, as is my right and pleasure to do, and there keep him till my claim be fully satisfied." Says the subject of this sketch: "I was then ten years of age, but at no subsequent time in my life have I ever felt such intense indignation as I did at these proceedings, but whether the officer or the law was at fault was not so clear in my mind then, but that creature, that creditor, from that moment, was a brute in my mind and sight and of life long abhorrence." The mother passed the remainder of the day and evening with tears in her eyes. At 5 o'clock in the morning on the day following, Richard Morgridge, the debtor, tired, wet and hungry by walking all the way from London in mud and rain, knocked at the door, and was unexpectedly, but joyfully, admitted. He not having provided for the expense to the county, as the law required, was released. Under the hardships of a new country, the cares and wants of a large family and misfortunes beyond his control, his health and resolution gave way never to revive. Our subject says: "The purposes and fixed resolution of my life rushed and sprang to my mind at the scene just related. I then most fully realized that poverty was most humiliating and inconvenient, that debts and creditors were the king of tyrants, and have ever since strove to be free and would here say to every young man, avoid debts if you value your comfort or hope for freedom." Our subject with the encouragement and assistance of his mother from this period until about 1833, and jointly with her became the real owner of 130 acres of the land bargained for by his father with Mr. Dunn, and under circumstances not to fear old creditors. About this time Mr. Morgridge was invited to teach the neighborhood backwoods district school at $9 per month, which was then the customary salary for that honored position. Of books, up to this period, he had seen few, and hardly owned any, his mother having been his principal instructor, he never having carried a slate, arithmetic, geography or atlas, history or grammar into a schoolroom; the little he had mastered had been accomplished by the hickory bark fire light at home. An examination was required to test his fitness for the position, which ordeal he passed, paid the required fee of 25 cents to the Board of Examiners, took charge of the school and remained employed in that capacity for eight or ten quarters, and among his pupils have been farmers, mechanics, inventors, machinists, surveyors, engineers, architectural draftsmen, merchants, Sheriffs, County Commissioners, lawyers, doctors, legislators, and, says Mr. M. "I remember of one minister, which, perhaps, was an accident." Previous to and about the period of his teaching, Mr. M. passed the summer seasons in herding cattle in droves of from 200 to 250 head on the then unfenced and unimproved wild prairie in the northern part of this county, and in this employment he made the acquaintance of many of the pioneer drovers, among whom were Comstock, Williams, the Weavers, Guy Buel, Pool & Miner, as well as the large grazers, Gwynne, Wilson, Fullington and the Wildmens. Mr. M., believing that estates were, in most instances, largely the result of growth, directed his attention in main to the growing of young stock, and purchased, as he was able, smalls parcels of land. His first venture as a drover was in the year 1840, when he purchased 1,400 head of sheep, and drove them to the State of Wisconsin, and there disposed of them to the pioneer settlers of that region, stopping ten or twelve days at Chicago to graze the herd on the wild prairie, worth then only from $5 to $10 per acre. During the decade beginning with 1840, he was engaged in the cattle business, buying West and driving to the Northern and Eastern markets, and to the feeders in Pennsylvania. having to cross the mountains and ford and swim the intervening rivers. In 1850, he drove cattle which he purchased in Iowa through on horseback to the city of Philadelphia and returned to Ohio on the same horse. He has driven cattle in herds of 150 to 250 from Illinois to Philadelphia, requiring a period of about twenty five days to Ohio, and from thence, through the State of Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia about forty five days, at an expense of from $2.50 to $3.50 per head, swimming such rivers in the course of the drive as the Sangamon, Kankakee, Illinois and Ohio. After 1850, Mr. M. turned his attention more closely to his farm, which, in the meantime, he had increased in number of acres, but added not much to its productiveness. The lawfully established roads in this locality were few, and at once steps were taken by our subject in petitioning for such, and he became instrumental in the laying out and establishment of some three county roads, in all about fifteen miles, which have been found to be on such useful routes that the county has since improved a part and taken steps to improve the remainder by piking and graveling them. The most needed improvement was to drain the lands, which was not so easily accomplished, though quite a large tract of country was similarly situated, including a large portion of three townships, Darby, Canaan and Monroe, the topography of which was little understood, and so peculiarly was this body of land situated that any place or location of ditches less comprehensive than a system that would drain the whole, must have been a failure. To reconcile the views of some 1,600 persons owning not less than 20,000 acres of land, of which some of them were non residents of the county, but none the less watchful and jealous, but mainly all neighbors, was no easy task. Especially as each one. in justice, law and equity was to contribute or be assessed, if the needed improvement was to be made. Without draining, this large tract of land was not only unhealthy, but almost useless for agricultural purposes. Notwithstanding the difficulty and unpleasantness of the task, the individual, as well as the public or common interest, Mr. M. had in this matter compelled him to draw up and present petitions to the Commissioners of the county at different times, though all in aid of the same object, a complete system of this most useful and necessary improvement, and by the cooperation, assistance and topographical observations and the engineering skill of Dr. J. Converse, the work was accomplished, which includes a public county ditch of twenty two miles in length, with more than that length of tributary private ditches, at a cost of nearly $200,000, which, however, has not been without its benefits, as the lands drained have enhanced in value from $26.75 to $90 per acre. and the land has become second to none in any part of the State. All unkind neighborly feeling and difference of opinion and grievances of unequal assessments and benefits have been about reconciled, and this, too, without any deplorable or fatal results, except in one instance. Mr. Morgridge is truly grateful to Providence for what he has received, and proud, too, of the improvement the county has made, but prouder, he says, "of that representative of our county who was mainly instrumental in the repealing of that barbarous law that sent my father to the jail of my county for no crime but debt." He is now reposing in a comfortable home, on an extensive tract of between 2,000 and 3,000 acres of most excellent land, located in Darby Township, in the northern part of the county, some of which is the reclaimed land, which must be almost sacred to the possessor. He began life under the most trying circumstances, as is seen in this sketch, but with the early and fixed and determined purpose above related, as expressed in early youth; he has become possessed of a large estate. May the evening of his life be passed in happiness.

From:
History of Madison County, Ohio
Published by: W. H. Beers and Company
Chicago, Illinois
1883


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