Shelby County, Indiana
Sylvan Baldwin Morris
Katherine Knox, whose birth occurred in Ireland, was the fourth of a family of nine children, three sons and six daughters; when she was quite young her parents came to America and settled near Lebanon, Warren county, Ohio, where the father engaged in agricultural pursuits and in due time became one of the prosperous men of his community as well as a public-spirited and influential citizen. Miss Know grew to mature years under excellent home discipline and early gave evidence of a strong mind, well balanced character, and the amiable virtues which subsequently shone with peculiar luster and made her life an influence for good on all with whom she was brought in contact. In mingling with the young people of her neighborhood she finally became acquainted with an excellent young gentleman by the name of Sylvan B. Morris, between whom and herself a mutual admiration soon arose, which, ripening into the tender passion, finally resulted in marriage, the ceremony taking place at the family homestead not far from the town of Lebanon.
Whenever and wherever an individual has arisen and acted his part on whatever plane, high or low, his career entered into the composition of the one sublime drama of humanity; the projected and undying influences on his deeds and their fate are with his fellows; now and ever and for all time to come, they are destined to modify the march of progress and the currents of history. Hence the biographer is as much impelled to seek and trace the origin of remote events affecting the conditions and career of the one whose story he essays to tell as he is to weight with as accurate a nicety as possible, the various causes which influence his subsequent life and fix their destiny. In placing before the reader a brief, but as we trust efficient and correct review of a career which as much perhaps as any other has influenced the history of Shelby county and added stability to its institutions, recourse must be had to genealogy, for to know such a man well, it is necessary to have some knowledge of those from whom he sprang and to whom he is indebted for the attributes and characteristics which have made him an influential factor of the body politic and a leader among his fellows. In tracing the history of Sylvan Baldwin Morris it is learned that the family which he has the honor to represent had its origin in Wales on the paternal, Scotch on the maternal side, and that among his remote ancestors on the distaff side was the distinguished scholar and divine, John Knox, than whom the world has produced no greater preacher nor more fearless reformer. This celebrated man was not only the originator of Protestantism in Scotland, but by the master strokes of his genius succeeded in keeping the cause alive and placing it upon such a firm basis that those who came after him could carry the work along lines which he had planned and projected. In an early day certain members of the Knox family emigrated to Ireland, among the number being a lineal descendant of the above divine, who established a home in the Emerald Isle and became the father of several children, from one of whom was descended Katherine Knox, mother of the subject of this sketch.
In glancing at the subject's paternal antecedents it is only necessary to state that his descent from the famous Dodd family Pennsylvania settles at once the matter of his respectability and high social standing, his father, the Sylvan B. Morris referred to, having been a son of David and Sarah (Dodd) Morris, the latter a daughter of Thaddeus Dodd, one of the founders of the family and among its most honored members and noted Presbyterian divine.
David Morris was a native of Wales; he came to America in 1700 with two brothers, and located in Pennsylvania, where there finally arose three branches of the Morris family, one of which went to Virginia, another to North Carolina, the third remaining in Pennsylvania, where the original settlement was made. They were a prosperous and prolific people and furnished the country not a few men who became distinguished in the public eye, among the number being Robert Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the leading financier of the government during the Revolutionary period. It is a fact worthy of note that all or nearly all of the early members of this family entered professional life and achieved distinction in their respective callings: some becoming ministers, others lawyers and physicians, among the latter being the subject's father and grandfather, both of whom were graduated from the old Franklin Medical School of Philadelphia, and rose to positions of prominence in their profession. Isaac Morris, the subject's great-grandfather, was a learned minister of the Presbyterian church, and his brother, Thomas Morris, represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate in an early day, and was one of the first Democrats in official life to abandon his party and raise his voice against the institution of slavery. Another brother, Bethuel F. Morris, came to Indiana in early times, first to Brookville, then to Indianapolis, and took a prominent part in the settlement and development of these places. He served as Circuit Judge while living in Indianapolis, and attained eminence in legal circles. After serving as Judge he became cashier of the old State Bank at Indianapolis, in which city he died.
Soon after finishing his medical education Sylvan B. Morris, father of the subject, was induced by a friend by the name of Nicholas Van Pelt, to come to Shelby county, Indiana, where in 1821 the latter had bought a large body of land which he was desirous of having improved. Accordingly in the spring of 1821, the young physician left his home in Ohio, and in due time arrived at his destination on Flat Rock creek, and became an inmate of his friend's cabin. Although few families as yet had made their appearance, the country being wild and infested with Indians and ferocious animals, Doctor Morris began practicing his profession. After spending the spring and winter with Mr. Van Pelt, he changed his abode to Shelbyville, which, through the joint intercessions of himself, John Walker and Major Hendricks, father of the late Gov. Thomas A. Hendricks, was subsequently selected as seat of justice for the newly organized but sparsely settled county.
The coveted honor of the county seat was not obtained without a very animated rivalry between the friends of Shelbyville and Marion, of which an account will be found in the historical chapters of this volume. The doctor was an active participant in the contest and rendered valuable service for the former place. Purchasing two quarter sections of land south of the village, but now included in the city limits, he built a cabin which was used for the twofold purpose of dwelling and office, and in addition to the duties of his profession he manifested such an interest in public affairs and labored with such zeal to promote the advancement of the town and county that he was afterward (1826) elected Clerk of the Shelby County Circuit Court, being the second man to fill the office owing to the death of Hiram Aldredge, the first Clerk, when he (Doctor Morris) was appointed. He took the census of the county in 1828. He served twice as a member of the Legislature.
Dr. Sylvan B. Morris was twice married. By his first wife, who died in 1835, he had three children: Sylvan B., of this review; John Knox Morris, and a daughter by the name of Martha, all but the subject deceased. By a subsequent marriage with Mrs. Anna J. Adams, widow of Dr. David Adams, the doctor became the father of three children, all born and reared in Shelbyville.
Doctor Morris was a man of wide intelligence, a skillful physician and surgeon, and for a number of years took an influential part in city and county affairs and became a leader among his fellow citizens. He assisted in organizing Shelby county and locating the county seat, helped lay out Shelbyville, and by his activity in promoting the material progress of the town, rose to a position of prominence such as few if any of his contemporaries attained. The death of this excellent man and praiseworthy citizen occurred in 1843, and the memory of his life of service perpetuated in the affections of a grateful people constitutes his most endearing monument.
Sylvan B. Morris, a brief review of whose career is embodied in the following lines, was born in a buckeye log cabin which stood north of the first alley west of Harrison street, near Franklin street, in Shelbyville, on April 7, 1830, from which date to the present time he has been interested in the town and is now its oldest native born citizen, and among its most prominent residents. Reared in a backwoods village, where social conditions were rather crude, his early experience was considerably varied, his childhood and youth spent in touch with strong and virile men of the times, imparting a valuable practical knowledge, well calculated to prepare him for the life he was subsequently to lead. The first school he attended was taught in a brick building, the first brick school-house in Shelby county; the teacher was Mrs. Kent, wife of Rev. Eliphalet Kent, having been sent to this part of the state as a Presbyterian missionary in 1828. Reverend and Mrs. Kent spent the fall and winter of that year in a single apartment made by boarding up the front porch of the Morris cabin, which though limited as to room and rude in its appointments, afforded a fairly comfortable place in which to eat, sleep and cook, until a larger and more convenient dwelling of their own could be provided. Young Morris persevered in his studies in the village schools, and after finishing the common branches took a three years' course in the academy at Lebanon, Ohio, where he went after the death of his father in 1843. On quitting school he was apprenticed to Robert Knox, a relative, who kept a large general store, and was five years in that gentleman's establishment, during which time he acquired a thorough knowledge of the business and became quite efficient as a salesman. When the Mexican war broke out he presented himself for enlistment, but was refused on account of his age, although his robust constitution, ruddy complexion and general healthful appearance deceived the enlisting officers who were at first inclined to accept the young man and enroll him as a recruit.
After serving his apprenticeship and remaining two additional years with his relative, Mr. Morris in February, 1855, engaged in the mercantile trade upon his own responsibility, and from that time until 1875 conducted a large establishment at Lebanon in connection with which he also ran a branch store at Franklin, seventeen miles south of Dayton, during the Civil war, both enterprises proving signally successful and earning for him a wide reputation as a sagacious, far-seeing and eminently honorable business man. While living in Lebanon, during the strife between the North and South, Mr. Morris organized Company A, Twenty-seventh Ohio Regiment, National Guard, of which he was made captain and continued as such until discharged from the United States service after about four months' active service in West Virginia. In the early part of the war he was placed on the sanitary commission, and later enrolled in the One Hundred Ninety-fourth Ohio Infantry for one year, at the expiration of which time he retired from the service with the rank of lieutenant, his regiment being mustered out at Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1865.
During his residence at Lebanon Mr. Morris took an active part in public affairs, filled various municipal offices and was untiring in his efforts to promote the interests of the city. At the close of the war he consolidated the stores at Franklin and Lebanon and continued at the latter place until transferring is interests to Shelbyville in September of the year 1875. In this rapidly growing city he found a broader and more favorable field and during the two years ensuing, his business advanced so rapidly as to render necessary additional quarters; accordingly in 1877, a new site was purchased and a building more in keeping with the demands of the times, erected. By reason of the continuous growth of the business, five successive additions have been made to the building since the above year and today the store is not only the largest of its kind in Shelbyville, but one of the largest and most successful mercantile establishments in the central part of the state.
Mr. Morris has ever pursued a straightforward course and by adhering to strict business principles and treating his customers with fairness and courtesy has gained the reward which invariably comes from honorable dealing. He was the first merchant of Shelbyville to establish a strictly one-price system and to him also belongs the credit of being the first person to employ female clerks in his establishment, both being considered innovations of doubtful expediency, but time has fully demonstrated his wisdom and foresight in these as it has in many other instances where he has taken advance grounds. Since coming back to Shelbyville, Mr. Morris has filled many positions of honor and trust, in all of which he has displayed ability of a high order and made every other consideration subordinate to the interests of the public. He has frequently been elected to the City Council, served as Mayor, and was one of the organizers of the Forest Hill Cemetery Association, besides being many years treasurer of the Dayton Building and Loan Association of Shelbyville. In 1854, he was initiated into the Order of Free and Accepted Masons, and for a period of fifty-four years has been a faithful and consistent member of the branches of the order and still takes an active interest in the work of the same, and demonstrates its sublime principles and precepts in his daily life.
He is also identified with the Grand Army of the Republic. In politics he is a zealous supporter of the Republican party, and the Presbyterian church holds his religious creed.
Mr. Morris was married at Harrison, Ohio, to Myrtilla John, daughter of Doctor Jehu and Emily (Looker) John, of Cincinnati, the wife being a cousin of Dr. John P. D. John, ex-president of Depauw University, and one of the distinguished scholars of the West. Four children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Morris, Herbert, Harold K., Robert and Florence, who is now the wife of Dr. H. M. Toner, of Phoenix, Arizona. The sons are all in Shelbyville, and identified with the mercantile business which the father established, and which in 1895 was incorporated for thirty-five thousand dollars, being by far the largest dry goods house in Shelby county, and as indicated in a preceding paragraph, among the most successful in the state.
That Mr. Morris has lived to noble purposes and measured up a high standard of manhood and citizenship will be conceded by all who know him, and that his influence has ever been on the side of right and for the best interests of the community, will not admit of denial. In brief, his life is a striking illustration of the possibilities that lie before the young men of our free country. His industry, energy and high moral integrity have been prominent throughout his entire career and he occupies today a conspicuous place among the men of mind and heart to whom the city of Shelbyville is indebted for the prosperity which it enjoys.
Chadwick's History of Shelby County, Indiana by Edward H. Chadwick, B.A., assisted by well known local talent, B.F. Bowen & Co, Publishers: Indianapolis, IN, 1909., pg 333-338.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming
Sylvan B. Morris, Shelbyville's merchant prince, and most enterprising citizen, was born in this city, April 7, 1830, and is the son of Dr. Sylvan B. Morris and Catherine (Knox) Morris. His father was one of the first settlers of Shelby County, having come here in a very early day from Washington County, where he was born November 25, 1795. His mother was born in Londonderry, Ireland, in 1801. They were married at Lebanon, Ohio, May 25, 1825. To this union were born: Martha H., Sylvan B., and John K. Sylvan B., remained in Shelbyville until about fourteen years of age, when he went with his parents to Lebanon, where he received most of his schooling. He gained considerable experience in the dry goods business, and in the fall of 1854, began to do for himself as a merchant in the latter place. He was married to Miss Myrtilla John, of Harrison, Ohio, May 24, 1854. Mr. Morris carried on the dry goods business in Lebanon, Ohio, for twenty-one years, and also, during two years of that time had a branch house in Franklin. In September, 1875, he moved his store to Shelbyville, and it was not long until his trade began to grow exceedingly. He has built several additions to his original store-room and now has perhaps, the largest and best organized dry goods emporium in Indiana, outside of the metropolis. He has his store conveniently divided into different departments. In connection with dress goods, carpets, notions, etc., he has lately added a merchant tailoring and gents' furnishing goods department. He has lately put in a patent cash delivery which greatly facilitates the duties of the clerks. Politically, Mr. Morris generally votes the Republican ticket, and has been a member of our City Council, and also one of the Board of Trustees of the public school. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, and has been advanced in that order to be a Knight Templar. His wife and he are members of the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Morris' success has resulted from two causes: first, a wonderful energy, and second, a remarkably good judgment in the selection of as well as in buying goods. Mr. and Mrs. Morris have five children: Sylvan H., born May 26, 1858; Harold K., born April 8, 1861; Florence, born June II, 1866; Robert L., born June 5, 1869, and William H., born December 26, 1872.
History of Shelby County, Indiana, "Shelbyville Sketches," page 516-17, Chicago: Brant & Fuller, 1887.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming
The present commercial importance and prosperity of Shelbyville are unquestionably due to the wisdom, foresight and enterprise of her distinguished themselves in the commercial arena, that their names and careers should be commemorated in the pages of history. As a representative of this class, we present a brief outline of one who has fairly won the leading position which he holds to-day among the merchants of Shelbyville. His father, Dr. Sylvan B. Morris, a well known pioneer of this county, was born in Washington Co., Penn., Nov. 24, 1795, and was a son of David and Sarah Morris, natives of the Keystone State, of Welsh descent, who moved to Ohio, settling in Warren Co., when Dr. Morris was a small boy. His uncle Thomas Morris, was the first Anti-slavery Senator west of the Alleghenies, and was a man of ability and prominence in that part of Ohio. Dr. Morris grew up in Warren Co., and there received his education in the Lebanon Academy, afterward attending Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, from which he graduated, immediately locating his office in Lebanon, Ohio. In the spring of 1821 he came to Shelby Co., Ind., and opened his office at the house of Alexander Van Pelt, at the mouth of Conn's Creek, where he remained until Shelbyville was laid out, in July 1822, when he moved to that point. He was married in Lebanon, Ohio, May 25, 1825, to Catherine Knox, who was born in Londonderry, Ireland, in 1801. Three children was [sic] born to this marriage -- Martha H., Sylvan B., and John K. Dr. Morris was an Assessor and Land Appraiser of this county, and in 1828, he was elected Representative of Shelby Co., and in 1831, he was again chosen to represent the county in the State Legislature. In 1829, he was elected Clerk of Shelby County, serving continuously until his resignation, in February, 1843. His wife died Sept. 4, 1835, and Dr. Morris was again married, to Frances Henderson, of Lebanon, Ohio, to whom have been born three children --- Kate G., Anna J. and Frances. Soon after his resignation of the clerkship, Dr. Morris died, this sad event occurring Sept. 6, 1843, casting a gloom over the whole community, which time alone could dispel. He was one of the best-known pioneers of Shelby Co., a man of honest, sterling traits of character, who wielded the best amount of influence, and who is yet remembered and spoken of in words of kindness and respect. Bringing to this county his large fund of medical and literary knowledge, he at once stepped to the front as a leader in everything that would build up or benefit his adopted county, which position he held until his death. His widow was married to the Rev. E. Kent, and had two children by this union, one of whom is living, and is the wife of Warren Synder. Mrs. Kent died Nov. 18, 1848, dying as she had lived, a good Christian. The subject of this sketch was born in Shelbyville, Ind., April 7, 1830, and here remained until he was 14 years old, when he went to Lebanon, Ohio, receiving his education in the schools of Shelbyville and Lebanon. In the later city, he learned the dry-goods business, and, in the fall of 1854, he began in business for himself. He was married at Harrison, Ohio, May 24, 1854, to Miss Myrtilla, daughter of Dr. and Emily (Looker) John -- he a native of Pennsylvania and she of Ohio. Mrs. Morris was born in Brookville, Ind., and has had six children, five of whom are living. Mr. Morris carried on the dry-goods trade in Lebanon, Ohio, for twenty-one years, and two years of that time had a branch house in Franklin, Ohio. In September, 1875, he opened a dry-goods house in Shelbyville, and soon took a leading place among the business men of this city. In 1880, he built an addition to his store, and has now the most extensive dry-goods establishment in Shelby Co., and one of the finest in Indiana. Politically, Mr. Morris is a Republican, is a member of the City Council, a Knight Templar of the Masonic fraternity, and he and wife belong to the Presbyterian Church. Soon after opening his store in Shelbyville, he secured a large trade, which has been constantly increasing, until his trade to-day is astonishing for a city of this size. This success is evidently attributable to the fact that his stock, both in quantity, variety and quality, is such as to command the attention of the public, and his prices in harmony with the views of purchasers. His long experience in the trade and extensive facilities for buying, enabled him to offer for the inspection of the people of Shelby Co., a stock equaling in quality, variety, richness, style and price, that of any establishment in this part of the State. Mr. Morris is a gentleman of pleasant, affable manners, polite and attentive to all comers, possessing quick, keen perceptive faculties, and endowed with wonderful systematic driving energy in the prosecution of his business. Since his coming to Shelbyville, the dry-goods trade has been completely revolutionized, and the old-fogy manner of doing business has had to give way to the modern idea of quick sales and small profits. Mr. Morris is a man of the strictest honesty and integrity in all his dealings, a man whom every one respects for his enterprise and public spirit, as well as for his high moral character and rectitude in all the relations of life.
Atlas of Shelby Co., Indiana, Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co, 1880, pg 28, 35.
Copied by Phyllis Miller Fleming
The Shelby Democrat
February 13, 1879
VOL. 1; No. 37
from the article, SMILING SHELBYVILLE!
is proprietor of the extensive dry goods store in the north-west angle of the Public Square. Mr. Morris is not only a native Hoosier, but was born in Shelbyville, in the year 1830, in a small cabin on West Franklin street, on the lot now owned by N. D. Robins. His father, Dr. S. B. Morris, was the oldest and first physician in Shelbyville, and completed the first term of County Clerk for Shelby county, being appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Hiram Aldridge, in 1829, which position he filled so acceptably to the people that he was re-elected, from time to time, until the year 1842, when, on account of ill-health, he declined a re-election. He failed rapidly, and departed this life in September, 1843. After the death of his father the eldest son, S. B. Morris, went to Lebanon, Ohio, where he served a seven years apprenticeship in a dry goods store. After serving his apprenticeship he clerked until February, 1855, when a partnership was formed under the firm name of Morris, Benham & Co., and he went into the dry goods business for himself. This firm owned and run [sic] a branch store at Franklin, Ohio, besides their house at Lebanon. After twenty years of successful business, he sold out his interest to his partners, in the year 1875, and came back to his native home. He opened a irst-class store in a portion of the rebuilt Phoenix block, and remained there for two years, and on the 24th of September, 1877, moved into the new and commodious room he had built expressly for his business. Mr. Morris knows from his long experience in the trade, what and how to buy, and as he makes his purchases largely from first hands, he is enable to sell goods at remarkably low figures. He has built up a large trade, which fact, of itself, is a sure guarantee of honorable dealing. Finding more room necessary to successfully carry on his business he has made arrangements for the erection of an addition to his already large store-room, which will be ready for occupancy in a few weeks, giving him facilities second to none. He carries an immense stock whcih, being complete in every department, constitutes a first-class dry goods store. He has a force of twelve assistants, who vie with each other in their attention to customers. The business of the store is conducted in metropolitan style, and the admirable order preserved in the salesrooms makes it a pleasure to drop in, if only to look at the busy scene. An invitation is extended to everybody to call and examine goods and prices. "No trouble to show goods; they rather like it."
Next biography in the "Smiling Shelbyville" newspaper article, Charles E. Karmire.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming
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