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Morton-Halsey family papers

Identifier: MSS 3995

Content Description

The Morton and Halsey family papers and addition (MSS 3995) contain family letters and some business letters, financial and legal papers, diaries, ledgers, printed items, and photographs belonging to the family of Jeremiah Morton (1899-1878), his wife Jane Smith Morton, and his son-in-law Joseph Jackson "J. J." Halsey (1820-1907) Halseys' wife, Mildred Halsey and their children and grandchildren with the family papers spanning from 1838 to 1951 in Culpeper, and Orange County, Virginia as well as the Halsey branch of the family from New Jersey, and Abraham Halsey (J.J.'s brother) in California.

The collection contains documents, ledgers, and correspondence that Jeremiah Morton and J. J. Halsey owned and sold enslaved persons. Jeremiah Morton was involved in the internal slave trade between Virginia and Mobile, Alabama (ca. 1847-1863) with accounts, descriptions, and values placed upon enslaved persons including itemized tax receipts This book doubles as a notebook of legal questions with page references and sections headed "The Rights of Things," "Toller's Law of Executors," and "Reeves Domestic Relations."

Content Note: The correspondence particularly from J. J. Halsey contain references or imagery involving racism. In addition to the numerous enslaved persons in this family, J. J. Halsey and other family members often slur African Americans in correspondence throughout the collection.The purpose of this note is to give users the opportunity to decide whether they need or want to view these materials, or at least, to mentally or emotionally prepare themselves to view the materials.

There is also an 1855 registration form for Andrew Johnson, "a person of colour," indicating his status as "born free in the County of Orange, Virginia," and identifying him by his color, stature and marks or scars upon his face, head or hands.

Topics include the Civil War with J. J. Halsey fighting for the Confederacy and his brother Edmund fighting for the Union Army, reconstruction, African Americans holding office and politics, alcohol addiction, mental illness, agriculture, economy, coal, mining, White Sulphur Springs, and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Brief mention of the Spanish American War, moonshine, domestic abuse, divorce, education, Virginia Female Institute, Virginia Military Institute, Princeton University, University of Virginia, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

There are Civil War accounts including the Stonewall Jackson Valley Campaign and the mention of many Generals such as Robert E. Lee, [Richard Stoddart] Ewell, William Tecumseh Sherman, and battles in Elk Run, Harrisonburg, New Market, Richmond, Mount Jackson and the surrender at Appomattox at Wilmer McLean's house. There are also two pages from the notebook of Mildred Halsey, which offer a day-by-day account of life while her husband is at war and Union forces occupy nearby areas. J. J. Halsey wrote that their house was between the “cannon of both armies.”

Most of the letters include typed transcriptions which explain relationships of the family members which start with Jeremiah Morton through to his great-grandchildren, Louisa "Lou" Halsey b.1880, Caroline Virginia Halsey Stearns b.1878, and Frank "Buddie" Halsey b. 1881, Fannie Dickenson (b. 1884), James "Short" Halsey b. 1889, and step-children Hattie, Willie, and Anne "Mate," Helen Halsey, Jamie Alexander (engaged to "Georgie",) Celia Alexander b. 1886, and Mildred Alexander 1877-1890, and step-children and eight children of Robert Ogden Halsey and Ella Halsey.

There is a lengthy autobiographical account of the career of William "Extra Billy" Smith, written in 1873 when Smith was running for U. S. Senate. The account includes his election to public office as Virginia state senator (1836), governor (1845), and U. S. congressman (1853-1859), and describes some of his Civil War experiences.

The correspondence of J. J. Halsey also includes letters and maps concerning the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, and correspondence and papers related to Dr. Bee Bartow Halsey's case with the newly formed state board of medical examiners, contesting their right to license physicians.

Related materials include essays and verse by J. J. Halsey, materials relating to the rebuilding of "Lessland," Dr. Bee Bartow Halsey's examinations at Williston Seminary, Virginia, and papers concerning tuition for Irena Louisa Halsey at Piedmont Female Institute.

Series 4: The ledger series of the collection consists of eighteen volumes from 1812-1882 including Jeremiah Morton's account book regarding the sales of enslaved persons, Dr. R. Brigs ledgers dated 1812-1819, contain medical procedures like pulling a tooth. Other ledgers are from residents of Madison, Orange, and Culpeper counties. Some are in the hand of J. J. Halsey, while other volumes bear the names of Charles B. Porter, John A. Porter, B. W. Brown, and Nalle, Fishback and Company.

Selected list of correspondents: Jeremiah Morton: John B. Barbour, Jr., Robert Bolling, W. B. Caldwell, Allen T. Caperton, Reverend John Cole, R. H. Dulany, Frederick Gamble, Jedediah Hotchkiss, G. W. Leyburn, R. H. Maury, William Maury, A. M. Phillips, Riggs and Company, B. T. Sage, Slaughter, Franklin and Company, Alexander H. Stephens, George Terrill and B. R. Wellford. Joseph J. Halsey: John H. Antrim, J. L. Archer, Robert Bolling, W. C. Conrad, Peter V. Daniel, James Gaven Field, Dr. Jeptha Fowlker, A. J. Gordon, Colonel W. W. Gordon, Andrew Grinnan, Cornelia Grinnan, Ella Grinnan, M. G. Harman, General Eppa Hunton, General John D. Imboden, H. C. Marchant, Norton Marye, R. H. Maury, William Maury, B. T. Nalle, Phillip Nalle, Samuel H. Newbury, R.V. Richardson, William C. Rives, John Robertson, Taylor Scott, Francis H. Smith, John K. Taliaferro, Jacquelin P. Taylor, Tazewell Taylor, George Terrill, John Timberlake, C. S. Todd, Charles Wagner, Thomas P. Wallace, George Wederburn, and John Woolfolk.

There are also Morton's or Halsey's personal records, including their accounts with area merchants and residents of Madison, Culpeper or Orange counties, Virginia, whose affairs were handled by J. J. Halsey. as a lawyer. Individuals and firms listed are: William C. Austin, Beechwood and Mallory, John Blackwell and Hannah Blackwell, Charles G. Britt and James Beckham, Bushrod Brown, Thomas Brown, Thomas, Frances Bunley and Susie Bunley, M. A. Carter, John Clark, James Clark and Reuben Clark, William D. Clark, Timothy Costello, J. W. Crittenden, Sarah A. Daniel, William P. Eliason, Adam Everheart, John Gaurd, John Glaspell and Mary Glaspell, Gray Family, Thomas I. Green, R. W. Hall, James Hansbrough, Jane Hansbrough and Peter Hansbrough, Eppa Hunton, Parchal Hutchenson, Philip Johnson, James Jones, Thomas A. Keith, George Morton, Thomas Morton, Martin Nalle and Philip Nalle, Lewis Nelson, George Pannill, Charles B. Payne, W. S. Peyton, Colonel John A. Porter, John C. Rayland, William Rixey, Reverend W. F. Robins, J. W. Shadrack and John H. Somerville, Samuel Shadrack, George A. Sleet, Daniel W. Smith, James Somerville, E. W. Stearns, Steeles Tavern, Augusta County, Virginia, James L. Stringfellow, John Terrill, C. R. Van Wyck and L. D. Winston, John Vaughan, C. S. Waugh and N. B. Waugh, [John] Thomas Morton Wharton, Wharton and Nalle, William Wharton, Colonel Bruce Williams, Walter C. Winston, Winston family, and Isaac Willis.

The collection also contains a land grant from Patrick Henry, as Governor of Virginia, to Uriel Mallory as assignee of William Morton, 1782 November 8 (in the existing collection)


  • Creation: ca. 1833-1951

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Jackson Halsey (1820-1907) was born in New York to Samuel Beach Halsey (1796-1871) and Sarah Dubois Jackson (1803-1859) -no relation to Stonewall Jackson found- and raised in Morristown, New Jersey. He was educated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University)and accepted a teaching position in Fredericksburg, Virginia at the Classical and Scientific Athenaeum in 1842. While there he met and married Mildred "Milly"Morton (1825-1906?) in 1846, daughter of Jeremiah Morton (1799-1872) and Mary Eleanor "Jane" Smith Morton (1801-1876) from Morton Hall ("The Hall" near "Lessland") an estate in Racoon Ford, Orange County, Virginia. He was admitted into the bar in 1847 and moved to the Morton plantation to farm and practice law in Culpeper County, Virginia.

He became an increasingly close friend and business associate of his father-in-law Jeremiah Morton. Halsey served as a captain in the 6th Virginia Calvalry Regiment during the Civil War. In 1863, in response to a charge that he had been away without leave, Halsey wrote an account of his wartime activities until that time: a cycle of activity, failing health, leave, recovery, and return. After the war, Halsey was a shareholder of the Orange, Alexandria and Manassas Railroad, owned a saw mill operation and mining operations, and was an Emigrant Aid and Homestead Company agent for the sale of large tracts of Virginia land.

A large landowner and important political figure in the region, Jeremiah Morton lived at his nearby plantation "The Hall" (locally known as Morton Hall). . . According to family tradition, Morton christened the 441-acre tract Lessland because it contained 'less land' than his other properties Moreland and Stillmore."Lessland" was damaged by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt in 1871 by J. J. Halsey who had purchased the land from his father-in-law in 1854. Halsey died at "Lessland" in 1907.

J. J. Halsey and Jeremiah Morton were strong supporters of the South and its institution of Enslavery. Halsey's correspondence with his brother Edmund Halsey and Samuel Halsey showed their different views of the North and South on subjects such as slavery, abolitionism, secession, the elections of Presidents Buchanan and Lincoln, the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, reconstruction, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

The Morton-Halsey family had many enslaved persons who are mentioned by first names, Douglass, Edmonia "Monie," Jerdome, Lucas, Melinda, Judy, Linda, and George to name a few. There is an account in the correspondence that Joseph Morton "Mort" Halsey had an encounter with "Lummie" (Columbia Conway who was employed by the family) and she became pregnant with his child and took him to court. J. J. Halsey often writes negative accounts of African Americans.

Jeremiah Morton was born in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, Virginia, on September 3, 1799. He was the son of Jeremiah Morton and Mildred Garnett Jackson. He was left without parents at a very young age. It is likely he was raised by his paternal grandmother, Jane Morton. He attended a private school and Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), in Lexington, Virginia from 1814 thru 1815. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1819, studied law, and was admitted to the bar. He practiced at Raccoon Ford, Virginia until sickness (probably from his earlier engagement in the war) ended his legal career. He then engaged in agricultural and political pursuits.

He was elected as a Whig to the Thirty-first Congress and served from March 4, 1849 until March 3, 1851. He was unsuccessful for reelection to the Thirty-second Congress and resumed agricultural pursuits. He was a member of the State secession convention in 1861 and was appointed as a colonel in the cavalry by Virginia Governor John Letcher. He attempted to amass food during the shortages of 1864. He was appointed trustee of the Theological Seminary of Virginia at Alexandria. He died at Lessland in Orange County, Virginia on November 28, 1878 and was buried in a private cemetery at his old home Morton Hall. He may have suffered later in life from failed ventures including the purchase of Sulpur White Springs. Several family members throughout his line struggled with mental illness and the ailment alcoholism.Family and business fortunes plummeted following the Confederate defeat. He wrote about it to his brother, Senator Jackson Morton of Milton, Florida; and Jackson's son, W. Chase Morton; and with Henry Ahrens, a Florida businessman.

J. J. Halsey and Milly Halsey were the parents of Fannie Morton Halsey Dickenson (1848-1936) who married James Cooper Dickenson, Annie (Nannie) Augusta Halsey Alexander (1850-1917) who married James Porter Alexander, Jeremiah Morton "Mort" Halsey (1852-1921) who married Irena Louisa Stearns (1854-1886), Robert Ogden Halsey (1854-1939) who married Ella Halsey, and Dr. Bee Bartow Halsey (1862-1918 born Thomas Jackson Halsey) who married Delia Halsey.

Irena "Rena"Louisa Stearns died after childbirth in 1886. Mort Halsey suffered from severe alcoholism and was often absent as a single parent, while he was either uanble to stop drinking or at a hospital for treatment. He and Rena had three children, Caroline "Virginia" Halsey [Wilkinson] b. 1878 who was committed to Western State in Staunton, Virginia in 1900, Irena Louisa "Lou" Halsey b.1880 who attended Virginia Female Institute and seemed central in keeping her family together even though they were often sent in different directions, as they were raised by their grandparents, guardians and nurses, and Franklin Stearns "Buddie" Halsey b. 1881 who was very close with his sister Lou and married his first cousin Fannie Dickenson. Lou Halsey married Charles Palmer Stearns, (her first cousin).

Fannie Morton Halsey Dickenson and James Cooper Dickenson were the parents of Fannie Dickenson (b. 1884) married Franklin Stearns "Buddie" Halsey, James "Short" Halsey b. 1889, and step-children Hattie, Willie, and Anne "Mate." "Buddie" struggled with alcohol, and Fannie Dickenson Halsey divorced him. (mention of domestic abuse also).

Annie Alexander and James Porter Alexander were the parents of Jamie Alexander who was engaged to [Georgie], Celia Alexander b. 1886, and Mildred Alexander (1877-1890).

Robert Ogden Halsey and his wife Ella were the parents of eight children including Nellie, Joe, Susan, Edmund, Morton, and Janie.

Dr. Bee Bartow Halsey (1862-1918) and his wife Delia were the parents of Helen Halsey and they lived in Prescott, Arizona. Dr. Halsey may have struggled with alcoholism later in life.

Also mentioned are the siblings of J. J. Halsey, his brother Abraham Halsey (1831-1900) who made his fortune in California, Ann Eliza Halsey (1827-1868), Susan Electa Halsey (1829-1899), Stephen Halsey, Samuel S. Halsey (1835-1889), Cornelia Van Wyck Halsey (1838-1915), and Edmund Drake Halsey (1840-1896)


22.4 Cubic Feet (Two cubic boxes and one letter size document box added to 39 document boxes.)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was a gift from Mildred E. Towe Tyner to the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia Library on 24 June 2021.


Content Note: The correspondence particularly from J. J. Halsey contain references or imagery involving racism. In addition to the numerous enslaved persons in this family, J. J. Halsey and other family members often slur African Americans in correspondence throughout the collection.The purpose of this note is to give users the opportunity to decide whether they need or want to view these materials, or at least, to mentally or emotionally prepare themselves to view the materials.

Morton-Halsey family papers
Ellen Welch
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States