Royalty Connected to Ross County

Royalty Connected to Ross County


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This file was contributed for use in the OHGenWeb Ross County
by: Jack Morter


It has been almost a century and a half ago British royalty graced the streets of little South Salem in western Ross County. From Kensington Palace in London, England to a small frame house in a hamlet in the Ohio Southland reflected quite a remarkable contrast in life styles, but one that was borne with dignity and grace by an older half sister of Queen Victoria. Her name was Mary, the daughter of the Duke of Kent and a granddaughter of King George III - during whose reign the American colonists revolted and successfully fought for their independence.

Following the death of King George III in 1820, his eldest son, George IV, succeeded to the throne and reigned as king for only ten short years before his death in 1830. Leaving no heirs, the throne passed to his younger brother, William IV, who then occupied the throne even less time, dying in 1837. He, too, had no heirs and the crown was then passed to the family of the next youngest brother, Edward, who had died in 1820. Edward had been twice married and by his first wife had fathered Mary. By all rights, upon the death of her uncle, King William IV, Mary would have ascended to the throne becoming Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India. But, alas! Mary, who had been born in March of 1818, had committed the unforgivable sin of European royalty: she had married a commoner! And because she had joined in holy wedlock to one not of royal bloodlines, by the time of her uncle's death in 1837, she had already been disinherited and shunned by her royal relatives.

And thus it occurred that the right to the throne fell to her younger sister - Victoria - who had been born less than two years after Mary to Edward and his second wife, Victoria Maria Louisa - a sister of King Leopold I of Belgium. Queen Victoria's reign from 1837 until her death in 1901 was the longest in British history and is chiefly remembered as one of - peace and prosperity."

But this story is not about Victoria but her older sister, Mary, who followed her heart to a life of hard work and privation living her last days in a small town thousands of miles and an ocean away from her native land where she could have led a much pampered and luxurious existence. Although she was highly educated and primed for the role of queen, young Mary fell in love with Blythe Jagway Morter - a stonemason by trade. Details of their love story are now lost to memory but it can fairly well be presumed the couple met when Morter was employed to work on the palace grounds where Mary lived. Bluebloods live secluded lives and it is hard to imagine how else Mary could have gotten to know a day laborer so well she could fall in love with him. Despite the chance she might someday fall heir to the throne, her love for B.J. Morter overcame any desires she might have harbored for power and fame. When only eighteen years of age she disavowed her heir ship, received a small dowry from her family and was ostracized from the royal House of Hanover. Less than two years passed before her uncle William died and her sister Victoria was crowned queen.

Just how long Mary and B.J. Morter remained in England is unknown but a few years after their marriage the decision was made to move to America. Family tradition relates that B.J. left Mary (with their several children) and traveled to the United States to find a suitable home in their new country. What attracted Mr. Morter to the hamlet of South Salem in southern Ohio is yet another of those questions which family history and local folklore fail to answer today. But there is a good possibility that perhaps a relative or close friend had already settled in this part of southern Ohio and had written to Mary and B.J. about the fertile land, prospering cities and town sand excellent job opportunities the region offered. Regardless, B. J. Morter found his way to South Salem and in 1850 bought a town in lot within a stone's throw of the village's large academy building that had been erected only eight years earlier. He then contracted with local carpenters to erect a modest frame house suitable for his wife and children. Once the home was under construction Morter wrote Mary she should leave for America and he would meet her in New York City. But sometimes the best-laid plans go awry and B.J.'s family did not show up when expected. When this occurred he became alarmed and set sail for England. But Mary had received her husband's letter and had made the necessary preparations to leave her native land. It simply took longer than B.J. expected and in an ironic twist of circumstances, as he was sailing east across the Atlantic for the British Isles, Mary and their six children were sailing west to America.

Upon disembarking in New York City and not finding her husband, the almost penniless Mary Morter exhibited courage and resourcefulness. During the several weeks she and the children were forced to wait for B.J.'s return, Mary managed to find work to pay for their room and board. She utilized her talents of making lace and crocheting - skills she had quite possibly learned as a young girl being raised in much refined royal society.

When B.J. Morter returned from England the family began their arduous overland Journey to Ohio, probably traveling by stagecoach and canal to, their new home in Ross County. Upon arriving in South Salem the Morters discovered their house was still not completed: some of the windows were not yet installed and much of the fresh plaster inside the house was still wet. But having nowhere else to live, the family moved in and made the best of it. But the long trip across the sea, several weeks working in New York City, the rough inland travel to Ohio and finally moving into what had to be a damp, drafty house proved too much for the 33 year old mother of six. Not long after moving to South Salem, Mary developed a bad cold and in her already weakened condition she contracted tuberculosis. Living, in an age when TB was poorly understood and medical techniques were primitive at best, the young wife and mother was doomed. The following spring - on April 16, 1852 - Mary Morter died and was interred in the village cemetery within sight of her little home. She had surrendered her hope of becoming queen when she married a commoner and she consequently surrendered her life as she sought a happier existence for her family in a foreign land far from Kensington Palace in London.

Skilled as a stonemason, B.J. Morter carved his wife's tombstone. It is a fairly small headstone with a simple design. However, close to the bottom of this sandstone tablet - near the grass line Morter carved an interesting one - word inscription: ҔhinkӮ Precisely what he wanted passersby to contemplate after reading his inscription is not known but perhaps he was hoping they would reflection his noble wife's momentous decision which changed her life's course from one of luxury, power and fame to one of obscurity, hardship and a much shortened life pan.

Following Mary s tragic death, the heartbroken husband left South Salem. Unable to care for his six children, Morter was compelled to let them be taken by friends and families who volunteered to raise them. The siblings were thusly separated from one another and it is believed the younger children grew up never knowing whom their birth mother had been. Morter ended up in Licking County, Ohio, where he remarried. From all indications he lost touch with his children and his ultimate whereabouts has been undetermined. Of the six Morter children, only two are known about today.

William I. was ten years old [my great-grandfather] when his mother passed away. He was raised not far from the South Salem area and took up farming as his vocation. He lived much of his adult life in Fayette County near the communities of Staunton and later, White Oak. He is buried at Bloomingburg. It has been said that on many occasions William told the fascinating story of his parents and of his mother's relationship to Queen Victoria. A number of William's grandchildren still live in the area today.

William I. Morter's sister, Emily Harriett Morter, also was reared in the general vicinity of South Salem and married Isaac Mowbray of nearby Greenfield. Their son, the late Forrest Mowbray, is fondly remembered by many today as a popular educator who spent many years teaching in the Washington Court House and Greenfield school systems. In an interview in 1965 with the Chillicothe Gazette, Forrest Mowbray confirmed his family's royal heritage and gave several details of his grandparents' story that had been passed down from his mother.

Today, the village of South Salem isn't much larger than it was when Mary Morter made her home there. The old academy building remains standing, as do several of the town's original homes including the Morter house. As one walks the streets of this quaint, picturesque hamlet, it is difficult not to wonder if Mary Morter, her frail body wracked with disease, lying on her death bed, regretted the day she made her life - altering decision to marry the man she loved and to not look back on what might have been.