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John Henry Morse – Huntsburg’s Civil War Soldier and Fashion Designer

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John Henry Morse (L), and his sister Theresa Estelle Morse Tate (R) and friends. Clothing made by John Henry Morse is on exhibit at the Huntsburg Historical Society Museum.tif (MP Photo/

By Elaine and Carl Seliskar

One of the outstanding men of Huntsburg in the mid-1800s was John Henry Morse, son of Lewis and Adaline (Reed) Morse.  He was born March 4, 1840 in a log cabin which was built on the southeast corner of what is now Pioneer Road and Clay Street. A larger frame house was erected at that location the following year and descendants of that family still reside there. 

John Henry Morse began his lifelong career as a tailor and designer of men’s and women’s clothing at the early age of just 12 years when he began making clothing for family members. Merribelle Pickett Burton, his great niece, remembered that he was asked by a local Amish man to make him a jacket to wear to a wedding and even brought the fabric he would need, knowing that John Henry made clothes for his family. And, so began a career as Huntsburg’s well known and talented tailor and dressmaker. 

At the age of 22 his career was interrupted on Aug. 5, 1862 when he enlisted in the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry where he served as a Private in Company F, fighting with the Union troops in the early years of the Civil War. He was discharged on July 20, 1863 at Louisville, Ky. on a surgeon’s certificate of disability.   

After being discharged from his infantry company he was able to resume his career making clothing for the men and women of Huntsburg and surrounding towns. Not only did he make beautiful clothes for others, he always dressed himself in the latest fashion. He was reported to have worn a derby hat and diamond stickpin in his cravat when he went out, and the ladies of his family dressed in his creations had to look “just right” before he would allow them to leave the house. If they didn’t pass his inspection, he would pull or tug on their gowns until they looked their best.

Although he lived in the country, his styles were never behind the times. Ever alert to the constant changes infashions, he occasionally made a trip to Cleveland in order to keep abreast of the changing styles. He kept close watch on any improvements to either the cutting, designing or embellishing of his fashions, enabling the people of Huntsburg to have the latest designs.

Very early in his career he became a master of his trade and his work was known to be as good as could be found in any large city. He was never without orders for new clothing, and although he occasionally made men’s suits, his specialty was making women’s gowns, including wedding gowns for many of the young ladies in the area along with special gowns for the mothers of the brides. 

In addition to making clothing for men and women he also fashioned women’s hats, loved to bake and tend the family’s many flower beds, and also operated a barber’s chair for the men in town when he wasn’t designing gowns or sewing. This multi-talented man was never without work and was much admired by all who knew him.

For nearly 50 years, John Henry Morse designed, cut, sewed and fitted his lovely creations on not only the women of Huntsburg, but many other women who came from long distances for his dresses. His reputation as a dressmaker spread far beyond the borders of our township.

In the Geauga Republican Record, Chardon, Ohio, dated 9 September 1910 it was noted that “Last year Morse made twelve silk dresses. In the past six years he has made 100.” The article went on to say that he also made clothing for many of the Amish families in the area. He took wool from the people to a carding mill in Thompson, then he spun the wool, wove it into cloth and made it into clothing. At age 70 he was still making dresses at his home where his 90 year old mother resided with him.  

John Henry Morse died on April 10, 1918 at the age of 78. His obituary noted that “His kind and genial disposition won him many friends. He was always ready to help in times of sickness and need, and made the home a welcome place for all his friends and neighbors. At an early age he joined the Congregational church, and in the early years of his life attended Sunday school and church regularly. Friends and relatives were present at the funeral from Youngstown, Ravenna, Akron, Cleveland, Willoughby, Wickliffe, and Middlefield.” He is buried in the family plot in the Huntsburg Cemetery.

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