The Search for Samuel Morris

Dr. Charles 'Tim' KirkpatrickFor all that researchers were able to discover about Samuel Morris, there was much that remained unclear about his early life -- even Morris himself was unsure of his actual birthday.

In the winter of 1988, an expedition to Liberia was formed to unlock the mysteries surrounding Morris' origins. Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick, professor emeritus at Taylor, and David Ryan '81, set out on a 12-day journey to explore and document the homeland of the man known to his people as Prince Kaboo.

Since that first journey to Liberia, Kirkpatrick has returned on three other occasions to seek information regarding Morris’ personal journey. His most recent visit Link to SCAA info. took place in March and April, 2010.  

Read Kirkpatrick’s reports from the trip.

Liberia Videotaping Safari, 1988 – Charles Kirkpatrick

Many of you prayed for and encouraged Dave Ryan and me on the trip to Liberia. We were conscious daily of God's intervention in our behalf. In our minds, the trip was a great success. Following are some notes from the journal one of us kept. I hope it lets you share some of the excitement and difficulty we were privileged to experience.

12/12/88

I almost have to pinch myself to be sure I'm awake and that this trip to video tape Sammy Morris' origins is not a dream. Dave feels the same kind of awe about it. He has never been further than Haiti in his travels.

When we arrived in the Monrovia airport we caused quite a ripple among customs officials with the $9,000 worth of video equipment. Two African friends who met us negotiated with customs and security for 4 hours to let us bring stuff into the country. The authorities finally let us through with everything except a $1,000 deposit (all my money, virtually) which they said we would reclaim upon leaving the country.

12/14/88

We got to the airport early for the 450 mile flight to Harper City which, we're told, is near Sammy's home. We were on a six-seater piper with twin engines. The weigh-in procedure was interesting. The people were weighed as well as the luggage. Our equipment came to as much in excess weight as an extra person, so the fare to Harper was $225 altogether. We don't have $225 for a return trip so we'll be coming back by road.

The flight was very good. Wolfgang, the German pilot, accommodated us by circling once around Garraway (our eventual destination) and once around Harper City before landing. We have some beautiful footage of both towns from the air. We learned upon arrival in Harper that Joseph Theoway, the man who was to provide our transportation in the South, had a serious accident: wrecked his truck and put himself in the hospital. This meant that we had no ride to our next destination: Garraway, where the whole Methodist district was waiting for us in order to begin the centennial celebration. After half an hour, a local pastor found us a ride on a Ghanaian fishing boat. Dave was aghast at the thought of going by sea and at having to spend 40 of our precious dollars on boat fares. I was just as firm in arguing that we had to go. I won the argument but wasn't absolutely sure I should have insisted when I saw the boat.

We came ashore in Garraway at the same spot William Taylor and his missionaries did 100 years ago. Instead of spear-wielding warriors who greeted his party, we were met by smiling, welcoming Christians. Accounts of Taylor's arrival state the Garraway warriors put down their arms as a result of hearing the missionaries singing as they headed ashore in their surfboat. In 1988, it was the people of Garraway that did the singing -- what a contrast Christ brings. What a privilege to experience again the oneness He gives among believers of different cultures. We were first led to the newly re-decorated Methodist church and were royally treated with numerous welcoming speeches by church and civic leaders (including the Grand Chief of Garraway). The speeches were interspersed with lots of beautiful tribal and western songs of the church. Dave was more astounded by it all than I was. After the church ceremony, a parade formed with dancing, singing, and drumming. We went to the town cemetery where we were reminded of the high cost in human lives that it took to spread the Gospel in these parts. There were a dozen or so graves of missionaries and their children. Then we were led up to the top of Yudo hill where the missionary dwelling once stood. The hill is a prominent one and attracted Bishop Taylor's attention as an ideal spot for missionary residence away from the mosquito-prone lowlands nearer the shore. The house today is just a decaying remains of cement blocks and beams. The last missionary left here in 1934.

We stayed in the home of Mrs. Felicia H. Badio, a prominent Methodist lay leader and civil servant. She offered us separate rooms each with a queen-size bed and went to great efforts to make us feel at home. We didn't sleep too well in the wee hours of the night. The mosquitoes didn't leave us alone in spite of our having plastered ourselves with Deep Woods Off repellant.

12/15/88

We were conducted on a sight-seeing tour of the town by 2 young men from the church. Garraway has some idyllic tropical beauty. The harbor mouth is guarded by some huge majestic rocks, some on shore and others sticking up out of the sea. Back at the house, we were told that arrangements were complete for us to go across the river to the village of Po River -- the town that may have been Sammy's home. We loaded our "precious" equipment into a leaking canoe and headed across. We were greeted by an enthusiastic group of church and civic leaders in "Sammy's home town". A group of women sang and clapped and danced their welcome. We went to the Methodist church and a pastor, who is also a local historian, recounted the same legend I heard of last year about "the man who never returned." Incidentally, if Po River is Sammy's home town, there is a building project that someone in the States interested in the Morris saga might want to take on. The main church building in town has the cement walls mostly up and could be completed with a roof for "only" $5,000 US dollars. Wouldn't it be great if current and past residents of Morris Hall would raise this amount and "build a church in Sammy's hometown?" The local church leaders would thank me for mentioning it.

After lunch back in Garraway we set up the recording equipment outside the church and taped the former great chief of the town (Weah Tieh Wallace) as he recounted in traditional style the arrival of the missionaries in 1888. Wallace's description makes clear the considerable influence that the missionaries had in putting an end to the tribal wars. The conflict that had been going on for 20 years gradually "ground" to a stop in the first couple of years after the Christians came. The church had a rousing farewell service for us at 8 p.m. It was a heart-warming spectacle of traditional music, speeches, dances and gift-giving. Dave and I each gave responses. He praised God for making the experiences such a good one -- for delivering him from his initial fears and helping him make some real friends in Garraway.

12/16/88

We were told to be ready for the return trip to Harper City by 8 a.m. We had everything packed on time but activities transpired at a much slower pace than expected. It was the true, leisurely, beautiful lack of urgency that I've come to love on this continent. Numerous people from town stopped in to greet us from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Mrs. Badio cooked a lavish breakfast with chicken and sauce, rice and plaintain bananas. I was offered (as well last year) the chance to have a local school named in my honor. Dave thought I managed to decline graciously enough. We were given additional gifts: a basket of oranges by Mrs. Badio and a huge avocado by another church "mother."

Finally we picked up everything and headed for the boat. The journey to Harper City was fairly uneventful. The first news to greet us upon landing was that Joseph Theoway was out of the hospital and arranging to get his truck repaired. We were taken to the home of Dr. Bolton Williams, where it was good to relax, sleep, catch up on writing, enjoy the scenery and have fellowship with some special friends in Christ.

12/17/88

Our last full day in Harper. We had been wondering since arriving if it would be possible to set up a showing of the "Angel in Ebony" tape we brought along. The pastor at Mt. Scott, the main Methodist Church in town wanted to make a whole evening service of it but our TV set is only 9-inch so I encouraged him to consider a private home showing. The Williams home would have been OK, but the [electricity] in town had not reached their house in several weeks. They had lights strung on their Christmas tree, but no power. To our surprise, power came on about 5 p.m.! It really seemed like Christmas when the tree lit up. When word got around the church leaders met at [the Williams'] and we showed the tape there. Everyone seemed impressed with the Sammy Morris story. Joseph Theoway was especially moved. Like the Taylor young people depicted in the movie, Joseph says he sensed God speaking to him about entering the preaching ministry full time.

12/19-20/88

Because we were short of funds and because we wanted to see Liberia between Harper and Monrovia a bit "as Sammy did", we decided to go by bus or truck. "Everyone" was trying to find rides home for the vacation/holiday season. We booked a ride on an open truck due to leave about 2:30; cost was $25 each. The operator promised that only 45 would be allowed on, but there were more like 65 people, plus chickens, goats, and masses of luggage on board when we finally left at 4:30.

At the edge of town Mamadee, the driver, stopped to pick up 30 more people. There was no room for them, they just had to crowd in. That began what will live in our memories as the most difficult part of the trip: 24 hours of dust, rough, tedious travel. We encountered 15 or more road blocks set up by various army, police and immigration authorities.

Often everyone had to get off the truck to have papers checked. The baggage was gone [through] over several times, and we feared further delay if the video stuff was found. It never was! At every stop the driver had to shell out bribe money, ranging all the way from two to 25 dollars! Some stops consumed an hour or more. Anyway, we dragged into Monrovia Tuesday afternoon with our back-sides very sore from sitting on hard seats and with a layer of dust all over. Dave and I are overwhelmed with the thought that the local people put up with that kind of treatment all the time. Mothers struggled with their babies, some of whom were sick. Three chickens died from the heat and lack of air. One of the goats almost did.

12/22/88

We videotaped an interview with Joseph Theoway's dad (with the same name) who is a Representative in the National Legislature. He "wrapped it up," so to speak, relative to the research into Sammy's past. He comes from the Garraway area and gave us specific dates of tribal movements and Kru/Grebo battles that fit remarkably well the narrative Sammy gave of his boyhood years. Po River looks more than ever to us like Sammy's hometown. Garraway could not have been the "enemy" though, because the Grebos of Garraway were always allies of the Kru in Po River. Po River and Garraway were involved together in a long series of wars that lasted from the early 1860s til 1889. Most of that time they were harassed and dominated by a coalition of other Grebo clans located to the south. The Garraway/Po River faction won this prolonged conflict in a final decisive battle the year after the Methodist missionaries arrived in 1889. Rep. Theoway feels that the Grebo town of Nemeah is where Sammy was likely held and from which he escaped in about 1886.

The work of the Methodist missionaries began to bear fruit in the lives of the Garraway people right away. The Christians in town feel that God intervened to help them win against improbable odds in 1889. Following that battle, the Garraway warriors never fought a major tribal war again. They began to be known as peaceable Christians. In contrast to this, Grebo wars waged against Liberian government by other towns to the southwest went on til well into the 20th century.

We went to the home of Methodist Bishop Arthur Kulah for a remarkable evening. We showed "Angel in Ebony" again and I made a presentation to the Bishop of several gifts from Dr. Kesler and Taylor University: 1) the video tape, 2) a copy of Baldwin's book about S. Morris and 3) ways in which Christians in the US and Liberia should celebrate the centennial of Sammy's coming to the US.

12/23/88

Leaving day! We got to the airport two hours early so we could pick up the $1,000 deposited for the video equipment the night we arrived. The customs man who had the money was not there. Joseph was confident he could pick it up Saturday morning at 8. Neither Dave nor I was willing to miss the flight home to wait and find out.

We flew away from Monrovia after a warm send-off by Joseph and a friend named Samson who had come along. What an astounding trip! I feel it was a great success. I'll really think so if the money is recovered.

12/24/88

Christmas Eve and we are in the air over New York as I write this last entry. Just found out that Kennedy Airport is fogged in and we have to go to Philly. God only knows if I will make it home to my lovely family for all or part of Christmas Day! But in spite of the uncertainty (uncertainty seems to have been our "watchword" this trip), all is well. Dave and I just agreed on that with a Liberian handshake.

P.S.
We did not make it home until midnight on Christmas Day. We did get the $1,000 back. We are currently working on production of a half-hour documentary from the material gathered in Liberia, New York, and Fort Wayne. We will keep you posted on the progress of this venture.

Liberian Adventure, 2010 - Charles Kirkpatrick

3/23/10

All has gone well on this African adventure. My passport with the needed Liberian visa was delivered to an address in Indianapolis just minutes before I had to leave for the airport last Thursday. I met up with the Liberian colleagues at Dulles airport in Washington, and we were on our way!

We have been anticipating a visit with the President of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I had an art piece in one of my bags which is entended as a gift to the President. When the customs official at the airport learned of the purpose of that item, she waved my things through with no complications. t appears that our appointment with the President will be at the end of this week.

We have had a helpful visit with the Chairman of the Land Commission relative to obtaining the deed for the 30 acre piece of land in Greenville, Sinoe County, where the Samuel Morris Educational Center will be built. The Chairman promised to place the completion of this document on "fast track," indicating that we could receive it before we leave the country in just over two weeks.

Our coming and planned trip to Sinoe County next week has attracted media attention. There was a nice article in the "Inquirer" newspaper about it. They say that the roads to Sinoe are "challenging." We are excited about the adventure because of the important things we anticipate doing when we get there.

The spiritual fellowship among the team members has been special. Keep us in prayer that all the goals of the trip may be realized.

3/29/10

This has been an incredible day for me. We received our appointment to meet with Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last Saturday. The appointment was this afternoon (Monday) at 2 PM. Three members of our group made statements as to who we are and what we are doing in Liberia. We had a total of five gifts we gave her.

My part was to tell of the interest of Taylor University in seeking to partner with the Sinoe County Association in the Americas, to bring awareness of the Samuel Morris story to Liberia. An incorporation has been established here with the name Samuel Morris Legacy Committee, run by Liberian Christian leaders with very professional positions in church and government. We propose to build an educational enrichment center in Sinoe County as a memorial to Morris.

I told the President that my account of why Morris is important to Taylor University would be brief, and that she might think it incredible till she read the books we gave her. She was really taken with the story of how his influence helped to save Taylor University from bankruptcy in the 1890s. She commented after I had finished, "But how did he do it?" We tried to explain that one can only explain the Morris phenomenon by giving credit to the power of the Holy Spirit. She understood that. She is a fervant believer herself. She finally said, "Well, I guess I will have to read the books right away."

This was another example to us of the many people who encounter the life and inspiration of this young Liberian from long ago, and who are moved profoundly by it. President Sirleaf promised to do all she can to facilitate the project we are seeking to do in Sinoe.

That is where our delegation is going tomorrow. We have hired a 4-wheel drive vehicle to take us over the rough, muddy roads. The journey will take 10 or 11 hours, they say. Living will be more spartan in Sinoe County's county seat of Greenville. But we feel that we are up to the challenge. eep us in prayer that we may get some good work done to lay the groundwork for the eventual establishing of the program there that will memorialize Morris, and hopefully bring a better understanding of the Christ that he loved and served passionately.

Liberia, in general, is coming back to life in a profound way since the civil war ended six years ago. Sinoe County has been much more slow in its recovery. Who knows, maybe God will use the story of Morris and the Center that we hope can be built in his memory to bring spiritual and social recovery.

4/14/10

"The Lord is risen!" We are having a wonderful celebration the day here in Monrovia. The same triumphant music and messages are thrilling hearts here as well as in the U.S. t is all the more thrilling to those of us on this mission to "bring Samuel Morris back to his homeland." He was a Spirit-filled young man who lived in the power of the risen Christ. Everywhere in Liberia, as we have told his story, people have responded warmly.

We traveled to Sinoe County this week. It is two hundred miles down the coast from Monrovia, near where Morris probably grew up as the son of a chief of the Kru tribe. We spoke with numerous civic and church leaders and were interviewed on a local radio station. The news of our proposed project to build a Samuel Morris Learning Enrichment Center in the county seat of Greenville has generated considerable excitement in this area struggling to come back from a devastating civil war.

The local Land Commissioner and Land Inspector took us to the piece of land in town that is owned by the Samuel Morris Legacy Foundation. (That is the legal name under which this project has been registered in Liberia.) As we stood on this beautiful piece of land where, God willing, the Morris Center will be built, we praised God for leading us in this venture. We pray that the spiritual and educational goals of the ministry that will be established there will bring revival and blessing to the young people of the community, as Morris' life and testimony brought blessing to Taylor University 120 years ago.

Some of us are leaving Liberia and returning to the U.S. this Wednesday, the 7th. We look forward to having the opportunity to share with more details about this amazing adventure.

4/23/10

Let me say at the outset that I am deeply grateful for [Taylor’s] support of the Liberian journey with budgets, encouragement and prayers. The need for "miraculous" intervention was evident even before I got on the plane. My passport was lost in the U.S. mail system for ten days and found in Philadelphia just two days before departure time. A member of our team hand-carried it (drove) to Washington and personally saw to its processing at the Liberian embassy by Wednesday afternoon, the day before I was to leave from Indianapolis. He sent it overnight to the Starbucks location in Indianapolis. It arrived there ten minutes before I had to leave for the airport.

Needless to say, the other team members were greatly relieved when I arrived on time at the Washington Dulles boarding gate for the flight to Monrovia. It was a sign to all of us that God was blessing our journey.

We were met in Monrovia by drivers who had brought vehicles belonging to the United Methodist University. Dr. Emmanuel Bailey, President of the UMU, welcomed us to his beautiful home, where we enjoyed comfortable lodging and tasty meals while we were in the capital.

One of many official appointments we had during the first week in Monrovia was with the Samuel Morris Legacy board of directors. They are the official trustees of the incorporation under which the Morris interests will be managed. I was impressed with the make-up of this board. Among them there is a lawyer, several high-ranking business and NGO leaders, a university president, an assistant to one of the senators in the legislature,and the Director General of the General Services Administration for the entire country. Several among them see the President of the country on a regular basis.

A visit by our group to see the President seemed both crucial to our goal of finalizing the deed for the Morris Legacy property in Sinoe County, and improbable, at least to me. The President has to sign all such deeds due to the conflicting claims to land caused by historical factors. Whether she would have time to see us was another matter. My SCAA friends have many contacts in Monrovia. One is a lady named Medina, who is President Sirleaf's personal confident and advisor. By Saturday of that first week in Monrovia, we learned that Her Excellency had agreed to an appointment for the following Monday.

We were ushered into her conference room right on time. President Sirleaf was moved by the story of Samuel Morris. Her questions regarding his life and influence, and the tone of her voice in making this inquiry, showed that she was deeply touched. She asked her personal attendant to keep the two books we gave her about Morris handy so that she could read the story more fully. She also promised to do all she could to see that the deed to the Morris property was finalized as quickly as possible.

We left two days later for our week-long visit to Sinoe County. All of my Liberian colleagues spent their childhood years in Sinoe or have close relatives there. We were warmly greeted by all sorts of officials and public figures in Greenville and surrounding towns. We stayed in one of the nicest homes in town owned by an uncle to one of our delegation members. All of my colleagues were deeply moved with the emotions of "coming home." They openly showed those emotions as they let me in on their memories. It led to a wonderful sense of bonding among us.

Visiting the Morris Legacy Foundation property was a highlight of the Sinoe visit. The County Land Inspector, his deputy and the Land Commissioner showed us the property.

Let me conclude with some summary "convictions" I sense as a result of this memorable journey:

  1. God has led Taylor University and the SCAA in pursuing this joint venture. The leading of the Spirit throughout this trip seemed to confirm this.
  2. The building of the Samuel Morris Learning Enrichment Center would serve a crucial need in the Greenville area, to bring hope to the community, and give a spiritual and educational uplift to the children and young people there.
  3. Also, this center could well serve as one of Taylor's Centres for Global Engagement under the Lighthouse program. If the SCAA/TU partnership should decide to move forward fairly soon in building the Morris Center and adjacent two-apartment staff housing unit, the Lighthouse involvement could begin in two years or so.
  4. Fund raising goals for this project would be modest. The architect's estimate for the cost of construction is about $200,000.

Our delegation sensed that the actualization of this project would be a way to "take Samuel Morris back home," so that his life and message could be known to the people of Sinoe County and eventually to all of Liberia.

Could it be that God wants to bring that war-ravaged region of Africa "back to life" partly through the influence of this young man who was used to change our own university in a similar way more than one hundred twenty years ago?

Did You Know?

Like most stories of great significance, Samuel Morris' has collected its share of interesting facts as well as myths and speculations. The following are just a few items about Samuel Morris that you might find worthy of note:

His Date of Birth

When interviewed by a Fort Wayne reporter, Samuel Morris could offer no date for his birth and could only estimate that he was 20 years old.

His Origins

On his deathbed, Morris gave a conflicting account of his own origins. Morris said he was stolen from an area near Guinea and taken to Liberia, where he was adopted by a Kru chieftain. Whether the reporter was unable to understand him clearly or Morris was suffering from the onslaught of his illness is unknown.

His Favorite Bible Verse

According to Jorge O. Masa in The Angel in Ebony, "The 14th chapter of St. John, Sammy's favorite chapter in the Bible, is very suggestive of his Christian faith and life. On Sunday evening when the students in the dormitory would pay a visit to one another, Sammy's guests were always requested to read this chapter.”

His Favorite Hymns

Many times when Morris would visit the homes of his friends in Fort Wayne, he would request the singing of Jesus is Mine and Behold the Bridegroom.

His Own Words

Little is left of Morris' own writings. However, a few quotes are known, including:

  • "Bread is one thing, stone is another. I once saw a stone with gold in it and they told me it was worth more than a barrel of flour. But when I am hungry I cannot eat that stone, I must have bread. So my soul cannot be satisfied with anything but Jesus, the bread of life."
  • "Living a religious life is like eating meat. Some parts of the meat are lean and you like them very much. Some parts are fat and you do not like at all. But you must eat both lean and fat to be healthy and strong. So religion has its joys and crosses; you love joys but you draw back from crosses. However, you must take both of them to become strong, healthy Christian."

The Missing Window

One of the most interesting myths regarding Samuel Morris is the report given by an elderly church curator in Fort Wayne of a stained glass window depicting Morris. It is said to have been displayed in what is now First Wayne Street United Methodist Church prior to renovations done in the late 1950’s. Neither the window nor any information regarding its current whereabouts has been discovered.

His Headstone

Following his death in 1893, Morris was buried beneath a small, 16-inch headstone in a poorer section of Lindenwood cemetery. When Taylor's senior class of 1928 had his grave relocated and a new headstone dedicated, the location of his first resting place was lost forever.

Further Resources

Much has been written about Samuel Morris. The following links are a good start to find out more about his life and story: