Joseph Morton (1750-1826) of Charles County. Although the third or fourth son of Thomas Morton, Joseph was nevertheless entrusted as co-executor of his will and was by all accounts a successful landowner. After the War of 1812, half of his children relocated to Georgia and then Alabama.
Joseph left behind six sons who were perhaps even more prosperous than he, but only one grandson named Morton lived to adulthood and he died without children. Accordingly, none of Joseph Morton’s numerous descendants today bears the surname Morton (except a few descendants through marriage to a Morton cousin).
Joseph Morton’s approximate date of birth in 1750 (or more likely a little earlier) can be calculated from a family bible record of his death in 1826 with the round number “in the 75th year of his age”.
He would have grown up on his father’s plantation “Wood’s Joy” near Truman’s Point and in 1772 he was styled as a Planter of Prince George’s County. In March of that year, Joseph and his brother George moved a few miles south when they purchased from Ignatius Hall of Charles County for a consideration of £210 the plantation “Canterbury”, lying on the north side of Fresh Run near the plantation of John Hunt called “Hunt’s Venture”, but they were not to take legal possession of the property until after the death of their father. That clause may have been one of their father’s maneuvers to control property while alive but also circumvent the widow’s thirds upon his decease. In 1774, Joseph had surveyed 31 acres in Charles County as a land grant, which he named “Morton’s Choice”.
The Revolutionary Period
“Canterbury” was the first of several land purchases in Charles County and for the rest of his life Joseph was resident in Charles County. Joseph and George are listed there in Bryantown Hundred in the Constable’s Census of 1775, took the Oath of Allegiance to the State of Maryland in 1778 and joined the Maryland Militia, where they appear on the 1777 list in the company led by Capt. Peter Wood. Joseph worshipped at the Oldfields Chapel of Trinity Parish in Charles County.
1778 was also the year that the Mortons began a long-lasting connection with the Billingsleys of Stafford County, Virginia. On January 3, 1778, the register of All Faith’s Parish, just over the border from Thomas’ home into St. Mary’s County, Maryland, records the marriage of Joseph “Moreton” and Catherine Billingsley, performed by the rector of the parish. Based on 19th-century correspondence, it seems that Catherine was the daughter of James Billingsley, who was born in St. Mary’s County but about 1750 had moved across the Potomac to Stafford County, Virginia, where he married Nancy Reeves. Presumably, Catherine Billingsley grew up in Stafford County but was a frequent visitor of her father’s family back in St. Mary’s County, where she met her future husband. In 1788, Joseph Morton and Robert Gill of Charles Co were sureties for Zachariah Billingsley of Spotsylvania Co. who had been appointed guardian of Betsey Billingsley. This pattern would continue in the next generation: several of Joseph Morton’s siblings moved to Stafford County in the 1790s and his children maintained contact with their Morton and Billingsley aunts, uncles and cousins in Stafford County. Eventually, several of Joseph’s children moved to Autauga County, Alabama as did Catherine’s brother Clement Billingsley (1753 – 1841), for whom the small town of Billingsley, Alabama, is named.
These were the years of the Revolutionary War and there were great difficulties locally due to the interruptions of the tobacco commerce. His father was in failing health and had made his will in 1779 and made provisions for the division of his properties.
Accordingly, the newlywed Joseph Morton made a plan for his new life and new homestead. In 1781, together with his brother George again, he bought 92 acres, one sixth of the plantation “New Brandford”, from Eleanor Miles of Charles County for 17000 lbs. tobacco, witnessed by John Morton (Chas. Co. Justice of the Peace). The property was transferred “in estate tail”, which means it can only be passed on to descendants of Joseph and George, but not to other heirs they might have —not an unusual requirement, but sensitive in the context where Thomas Morton’s assets would later be disputed by his widow.
The following year, his father Thomas died, and he inherited a negro woman Nell and her increase and half of the stock and household furniture his father had already given him. More importantly, Joseph was co-executor of his father’s will, along with his step-mother Urslee Brightwell Morton. When she discovered that there was almost no property left in the estate (since her husband had put it in the names of children by his first marriage), a dispute arose and she went to the General Assembly for satisfaction. It might be assumed that the relations between Joseph and his full-blood siblings were tense with his step-mother and his half- brothers and sisters. But Joseph was a witness to the will of Urslee’s brother-in-law, Elias Oden, in 1787 and a surety for his widow and executrix Catherine Brightwell Oden.
After the war, Joseph and George now bought properties individually and eventually divided their common holdings. In 1790, Joseph bought 36 acres of “Foxes Race”, a plantation adjacent to his dwelling plantation (as “New Brandford” was now described) for 4000 lbs tobacco from Zachariah Johnson of Charles Co. In 1796, for £200, Joseph bought out George’s interest in Canterbury and New Brandford which they had purchased jointly in previous decades. In 1808, Joseph purchased from Zachariah Moran for £266/1/8 the 54 acres of “The Four Brothers”, running along the road from Bryantown to Coole Spring and bounded by the estate of Andrew Moran.
Joseph Morton kept close company with his neighbors the Smoot family. He witnessed the wills of two Smoot brothers, Samuel Smoot in 1792 and then Josias Smoot in 1796; and twenty years later one of Joseph’s daughters married the Smoots’ great-nephew. From the heirs of Josias, in 1804, he bought 56 acres of “Maidstone” in Charles County for £98. Josias’ estate also included part of “New Branford”, and the will of Charles Smith Smoot in 1807 conveyed to his wife Rachel the plantation on which Samuel Burroughs then lived known as “Foxes Race” of 100 acres. In 1783, Joseph Morton witnessed the will of Hezekiah Farrand, one of his neighbors on New Blanford. In 1799, Joseph Morton was one of the appraisers of the inventory of Levin Sothoron of Chas. Co. and again the following year for the real estate income of the minor Levin Sothoron, Jr.
Beyond Southern Maryland
By this time, Joseph and Catherine had nine children who faced an uncertain future. The entire area north and west of Benedict was hard hit by the War of 1812 and it is likely that the Morton farms suffered from the British invasion and confiscations in 1814. But the exhaustion of the soil from tobacco cultivation and the general economic decline of Southern Maryland had already been a fact since the Revolution.
The best hope was in new land in new territories. A number of Joseph’s siblings had moved west across the Potomac to Stafford County, Virginia in the 1780s. But the next generation, Joseph’s children, went in a different direction— five of them headed south together to Georgia and then Alabama [Page in progress]. Two daughters married and moved to Washington DC. Only two sons, James and William, stayed in Southern Maryland along the Patuxent River.
But there was still the Stafford County land to deal with. The 1800 land list there includes a Joseph Morton with 348 acres and “George Morton & J. Morton” with 233 acres. The brothers George and Joseph Morton had jointly acquired property in Charles County, so it would not be surprising to see them linked here too, perhaps via their father’s circuitous acquisitions. But further research is needed because there was also another George and Joseph Morton in King George’s Co, Va.
The early record books of Stafford County were destroyed in the civil war, but there survives an old index book: “In 1817-1819 there is a deed ‘Billingsley from Morton & wife.’ Lib. CC, fol. 264, folio 264 appears to be near the end of this book and the date is probably 1819. In Lib. DD, fol. 32, 1819181 was recorded a certificate of Clement Billingsley concerning slaves. In the same book folio 313 and probably in 1821 ‘Clement Billingsley made oath he was Ensign.’ They resided in Stafford County to 1823 then sold out to Chadwell, his brother in law. (Deeds Lib. EE, fol. 414.) They moved to Autauga County, Alabama where he engaged in farming and where they spent the rest of their days.” (Harry Alexander Davis’ 1936 book, The Billingsley Family). The reference to “Billingsley from Morton & wife” suggests that Joseph Morton was finally liquidating some of his land in Virginia probably with a sale to his brother-in-law Clement Billingsley.
From their marriage in 1778, Joseph and Catherine Billingsley had nine children who are named in his will. He does not appear in the 1790 census, but in the 1800 Census, besides Joseph (over 45) and his wife (under 45), there were a young man and woman aged 16-25, two boys 10-15, and two little boys and two little girls under 10 (and 12 slaves). This list fits well the ages of his known children (although one of the older sons must have already moved out).
But by 1810, only three children were at home with the elderly Joseph and his wife: a young man and woman aged 16-25 and one girl 10-15 (and 15 slaves). It is likely that the five older boys were in the household of Alexander Morton. In 1820, we find just Joseph and a young woman aged 16-25 (and 16 slaves). Perhaps his wife was staying with one of their sons?
Joseph Morton’s last will and testament was dated March 25, 1826 and he died a few months later according to a family bible: “Joseph Morton departed this life Anno Domini 1826, 26th June in the 75 year of his age.” His tombstone does not survive, but he was either buried at home or at one of the two churches of Trinity Parish as were three of his sons.
His wife Catherine’s death in that same bible is now illegible, but December 22, 1832 is the date on her tombstone at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Calvert County, in the family plot of her son William Morton.
The area around Hughesville had become Joseph’s home and he had assembled a large property there which would be passed down to his son William and his heirs until sold out of the family in 1871.
Children of Joseph Morton and Catherine Billingsley:
3.1) John Morton (1778? – 26 March, 1839), d.s.p. Autauga Co., Alabama
His tombstone says “about 65 years of age”. If that is accurate, he would have been born in 1774 by an earlier wife of Joseph Morton. More likely, the tombstone is an approximation, and his status as the eldest child suggests he was born in 1778 or 1779.
3.2) Ann Morton (Wood) (1779/80- ), died in Georgia [Page in progress]
She married Henry Wood. They moved to Morgan County, Georgia and are buried there, but their children continued on to Autauga Co., Alabama with their Morton uncles. Children: Dr. John A. Wood, Mariah E. Wood (m. Jones), Joseph Wood, Catherine Ann Wood (m. DuBois), William Wood
3.3) Thomas Morton (1781-1847), d.s.p Autauga Co., Alabama
3.4) Alexander Morton (1783-1838), d.s.p. in Autauga Co. Alabama
3.5) James Morton (1785/6-1842) lived near Benedict in Charles Co.
He married Priscilla Mary Wilson “Maria P.” Thomas. He partnered with his brother William in numerous land deals. Children: Margaret E. (m. Smoot), John C., Ann Maria (m. Estep), Mary Emily (m. Middleton, Bowling), Catherine “Kate” Priscilla (m. Adams), Susannah Rebecca (m. Lawrence)
3.6) Richard Morton (1791-1857), d.s.p. in Autauga Co., Alabama
His large estate gave rise to several lawsuits among his nieces and nephews.
3.7) William Morton (1794-1857), moved to Calvert Co., Maryland
marr: (1) Ann Catherine Turner, with children Joseph, Mary Catherine (m. Henry E. Morton); marr. (2) Catherine McPherson, with children Rachael Ann Etheldra (m. Bowen), Margaret E.
3.8) Mary B. Morton (Smoot), (1795-1857)
She married Walter Smoot of Georgetown, and they had one child. All descendants are through their granddaughter Mary Ann Smoot (m. Matthews).
3.9) Susan Morton (Posey) (1799/1800 – 1838), died in Washington, DC
She is apparently the girl aged under 10 in her father’s 1800 household, but also counted as under 10 in 1810, so probably she was born just before the 1800 census. She marr. 1/26/1826, Peter Dent Posey (1803-1885) of Harrison Posey and Ann Dent. She died 2/23/1838 and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery (Saville Lot). Children:
- 3.9.1) James T. M. Posey (1829-1848) single, buried in Alabama. “T.M” suggests “Thomas Morton”
3.9.2) Mary Ellen/Ella Posey (183o/2-1918) marr. 1852 John Wm. Burroughs (1825-1884)
3.9.3) Margaret E. Posey (1832-1841)
3.9.4) Catherine Anne Morton Posey, marr. Samuel Claggett Bussey (of D.C)
3.9.5) Susan Posey (1838-1922) (of D.C). marr. (1) Thomas Truxton Houston, (2) James Hamilton Saville.