Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Talking Spirits IX, Part 4

During any war, those serving on the home front are equally as important as those fighting on the front lines. Not only are they the ones who keep homes, families and businesses going, they also provided medical, spiritual, and economic support to the soldiers. Harriet Grannis Morris (Lauren Peterson) was one such woman. Her husband William was a lawyer and the son of Lewis Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Mrs. Morris was a member of the Women's Aid Society during the Civil War. The Women's Aid Society raised money for medicines, nurses, and medical inspectors to improve sanitary conditions among the soldiers. Along with her work in Madison at the Harvey Hospital and with POWs at Camp Randall (articles here and here), Harriet Morris also wrote numerous letters to the boys from home, sending them care packages of shirts, woolen socks, and blankets. For some, these items could mean the difference between life and death during a winter campaign. Many of those who received her letters and gifts wrote back to thank her, such as the soldier portrayed here by Jason Valentine.

The last individual met on our tour was young Bascom B. Clarke (Seb Harris), who spoke of his experience as a young boy living in the south during the Civil War, and how he came to reside in the north. His is a true "rags to riches" story.

The family had been headed to Texas with two mule wagons in 1857 when they decided to settle in Mt. Adams, Arkansas. In 1963, the town fell victim to malaria. Completely surrounded by Union troops, Clarke's father managed to slip across enemy lines to another town for quinine, but not without cost. Though he saved most of the town, he himself contracted malaria and died. The following year, Bascom's mother passed away as well. The older children scattered across the south, while 12-yr old Bascom was taken in by a farmer, Mr. Smith, who had eight children of his own whom he abused regularly.

For months Bascom endured the abuse. As the area became more dangerous to live in, Smith convinced passing Union troops that they were Northern sympathizers trapped in the South, and were removed to a refugee camp behind Union lines. Bascom had always heard terrible stories about the Yanks, how cruel and heartless they were, and was surprised to be treated better by them than he had the Smith family. Hearing stories of the fertile farmland and how anyone willing to shuck corn could earn a decent living, Bascom Clarke soon found himself on the deck of a boat headed north to Indiana, nothing to his name--not even shoes--save the clothes on his back.

After laboring on an Indiana farm for several years, Clarke began clerking at a drug store in 1870, before receiving an appointment as postmaster from 1874-1883. From 1877 to 1882 he owned and published the Colfax Chronicle and was a traveling salesman for several years before coming west to Madison in 1890, where we proved himself a staunch businessman.

Among his many accomplishments were the organization of Union Transfer and Storage, the founding of the Dane County Telephone Company, the founding of the nationally distributed American Thresherman Magazine, and the publishing of two books on masonry.

No matter how wealthy he became, Clarke never forgot where he came from or the hardships endured as a boy. He was a generous philanthropist, particularly where the poor youth in the community were concerned, and campaigned to fill the stockings of Italian immigrant children each Christmas. This, no doubt, gave way to the current Empty Stocking Club founded back in 1918--eleven years prior to his death. B.B. Clarke Beach was named in his honor.

Quite an accomplished life for a poor southern refugee with nothing to his name!

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