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The Road Starts at Home

I spent months searching ship passenger lists looking for Thomas Morrison. But I would never find him this way.

A print of Norwich from the west in 1850
As George Morrison, the family patriarch in the play, says, “The story I'm going to tell you, it's true. It did happen, more or less the way you’ll see it. Details change, or get lost, or filled in, as they get they passed through time, generation to generation.”

When I wrote those words, I didn't realize how true they would be. Years ago, I spent months searching ship passenger lists looking for Thomas Morrison. But I would never find him this way.

That's because Thomas Morrison was born on Feb. 9, 1837, in Barnet, Vermont, a town that was settled by Scots from Perth and Sterling about 60 years before. His parents, John and Elizabeth, had come to the United States from Edinburgh around 1833, probably by way of Canada.

The Morrisons had arrived with two sons, John Jr., born in 1823, and Charles, in 1832. After they arrived in the United States, Elizabeth gave birth to three more: James, in 1834; Thomas; and William, in 1843.

1850 U.S. Census for Framingham, Massachusetts, shows the Morrison clan. The father, John, had died in 1847.

In 1850, the family was living in Framingham, Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Census for Massachusetts. John Jr. was working as a spinner; Charles and James were both laborers; and Thomas and William were in school. Elizabeth was a widow. John had died three years earlier of consumption. By 1856, the Morrisons had settled in Norwich, Connecticut.

Frances Victory Cox was born on Dec. 20, 1839, in Greeneville, Connecticut, a section of Norwich. Her father, John Q. Cox, was a blacksmith and carriage maker, like his father before him, born in Boston. Her mother, Mary, was born in Newport, R.I.

The 1850 Norwich Census for the Cox family.

In 1850, Frances was 10 years old, living at home with her parents, according to the U.S. Census. Her older brother Charles, 19, was working with her father in the carriage business. Her older sister Mary, 16, was also still at home. Frances was attending school, as were her sisters Sarah, 12, and Anna, 6, and brother, John, 14. The census also lists two other men in the household: Lorenzo Hill, 21, and Theodore Fuller, 18, both reported, like John Q. and Charles Cox, as carriage makers.

John Q. Cox's work was fine enough to draw the attention of The New York Times.

Norwich is an inland deepwater port, and with regular ship and rail service, the harbor was bustling in the early 19th century. For John Q. Cox, business must have been good. He was a successful Yankee merchant.

On July 4, 1856, Frances Victory Cox and Thomas Morrison were married by the Rev. Thomas Morgan, rector of Christ Church Episcopal in Norwich. On the Town Hall registration, Thomas Morrison listed his age as 21, though he was 19. Frances listed her age as 17, though that birthday was still six months away. For John Q. and Mary Cox, their daughter's marriage may have been a disappointment. The boy she had chosen was a laborer, Scottish, an immigrant's son. They were Yankees.

Barely nine months later, on May 3, 1857, Thomas and Frances recorded the birth of a son, George B. Morrison. The middle initial, B., could stand for Baker, Frances' mother's maiden name.


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