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Two scraps of memoranda confirm it. The one reads, “Engaged as teacher in the so-called Tyler and Robinson District at $11 per month, but concluded to go into Hatch's store.” The other relates that “While at the Randolph Academy, Royal Hatch of Strafford called and urged that, at the close of the term, I should engage as clerk in his store, which, with the approval of my parents, was consented to by me, though $11 per month was offered me to teach a District School and board round.”
The decision must have been a deliberate one and based on the longer outlook, for it involved a present loss. The school would pay eleven dollars a month, but the store paid only board. There is no doubt of the practical wisdom of the choice. The boy had already given proof of some business ability, for he has left a fragment of record saying, “In the Spring of 1823, with my older cousin, carried on the sugar orchard of Sam McMaster, and in 1824, one of my father's with Hampden Skinner, where we invited troops of girls and boys on the so-called 'sugaring-off days."
The six months during which he worked for Royal Hatch may easily have been an experimental period, for at the end of the time he left Hatch's store and began to work for Judge Harris, the leading storekeeper of the village. This employment was for a two years' period and to be paid for at a fixed sum per year, forty-five dollars the first year and seventy-five the second. There was nothing invidious or menial in the post: on the contrary, it was probably the most enviable employment open to any boy in the village. As a means of education it afforded a very fair substitute for academy or college.
The general store in small communities, during the quarter-century when Morrill was growing up, was not merely an emporium or a shop; it was an institution. It was the chief meeting-place for the neighborhood, the focus of village interest, the center of news, and the forum for discussion of all topics under heaven. It was no accident that some of the leaders in American public life served for a time in country stores. Lincoln owed much to the education he gained as a storekeeper in New Salem, Illinois; Levi P. Morton, like Morrill a son of Vermont, afterwards VicePresident of the United States, and Senator Aldrich, of Rhode Island, mastered many of the lessons of finance keeping country store. The place which these general stores filled in the community, especially in small and remote settlements, has been admirably described by one of Lincoln's biographers:
The frontier store filled a unique place. Usually it was a "general store," and on its shelves were found most of the articles needed in a community of pioneers. But supplying goods and groceries was not its only function; it was the pioneers' intellectual and social center. It was the common meeting-place of the farmers, the happy refuge of the village loungers. No subject was unknown there. The habitués of the place were equally at home in discussing politics, religion, or sports. Stories were told, jokes were cracked, and the news contained in the latest newspaper finding its way into the wilderness was repeated again and again.
There was no essential difference between such a store as that in which Lincoln gained so useful a part of his training and that where Morrill spent his early manhood. There were differences in local customs and in the emphasis laid upon topics of conversation, but these variations were superficial and slight.
Instructive, entertaining, and undoubtedly valuable as the work in the store was as a stage in Morrill's education, it was only incidental and mere background to the real force and presiding genius of the place. This was “Judge” Harris, the owner of the store, a substantial, successful man, one of the most considerable figures of that part of the State, and a
genuine formative power in the life of his young assistant. The association, begun in 1825, rested on still earlier acquaintance, for Judge Harris and Morrill's father were friends and neighbors, and was destined to last as long as life. Morrill never spoke of his older friend without affection and became his executor at death. So powerful and prolonged was the influence he exerted over the boy's career and character that we are fortunate in having a brief account of him in Morrill's own words, though written many
Honorable Jedediah H. Harris came from New Hampshire at an early age - married Judith, daughter of Reverend Joab Young, and was frequently honored by Strafford, and by the large constituency of his county and State, in places of public trust and responsibility. He was representative in the State Legislature of 1810, '11, '12, '14, '18, ’19, '20, and '21; member of the Constitutional Convention of 1814; member of the Council of Censors of 1827; assistant judge of the county court in 1821 and '22; State Councilor in 1828, '29, and '30; and led the list of Presidential Electors in 1845. By his last will he left a fund to found a library, which was accepted; and it was voted by the town that it should be called the "Harris Library” — now containing about eight hundred volumes.
Judge Harris commenced business as a merchant - actively and sagaciously following it for many years, and interested as a partner all his life - but for nearly thirty years he devoted the most of his attention to farming of which he was passionately fond, and wherein he particularly excelled. He was, perhaps, one of the best-informed practical farmers of the State. His taste was exhibited by the only file of papers he took care to preserve, which was the old “New England Farmer.” His house was long the seat of a generous and widely extended hospitality, and, while he lived, his counsel was more sought after by his townsmen in matters of business, and in reconciling differences, otherwise leading to litigation, than all others. Retaining in his memory the entire political history of the country, of both men and measures, from the period of early boyhood, as a ready political controversialist, he rarely met his peer. When he spoke in public,
always brief, he exhibited great force, clearness, and pungency of wit. He was delightful in conversation - full of repartee, and abounding in a large fund of anecdote. By all those who knew him it will be conceded that he had about him the unmistakable elements of greatness. He died March 8, 1855, aged nearly seventy-one years.
At the expiration of the two years' service to which he was bound, Justin had spent two and a half years as junior clerk in a store and was now nearly eighteen. In this heyday of youth, at the very age for new scenes and new experiences, he gladly joined his cousin Jedediah Morrill who was going to Portland, Maine, to make his way in the world. What precisely were the ideas, motives, ambitions, or desires that led Morrill to leave Strafford remains uncertain. Whether he thought he was making his final farewell to the home of his boyhood; what emotional factors conspired to play a part in his decision, or whether it was inspired solely by the desire to see the world and become a successful merchant, we do not know. He set forth, in the immemorial way of youth, with letters of recommendation in his wallet, his mother's blessing on his head, and in his pocket his father's parting gift - a Spanish silver dollar, which no emergency ever led him to change and which he left among his special treasures when he died. It remains still, carefully wrapped and marked:“One Spanish Mill Dollar (1787) given to me by my father Nath'l. Morrill in April, 1828, as I was starting for Portland, Me. to seek my fortune. J. S. M.”
It deserves to be added that Portland in those days offered an excellent place of training for a merchant. It was a lively port, full of foreign as well as domestic commerce, and gave the young Vermonter opportunities to see all the processes of merchandising and exchange to perhaps better advantage than many a larger place.
Of his life in Portland, Morrill is the best chronicler:
At the end of two years she wrote the service with the Harris firm was closed and I went to Portland, Maine, where I had an uncle, Dr. Jacob Hunt, a brother of my mother — taking with me recommendations from Judge Harris, Judge Cobb, and Dr. Pierce. My uncle introduced me to Daniel Fox, a man of some wealth engaged in the shipping-trade with the West Indies, and I began at once as his book-keeper. But thinking that my training pointed more to a wholesale and retail mercantile business, my uncle found a position for me with Jeremiah Dow, of Portland, then in the dry-goods business, where I remained between two and three years.
Here, as the store was not kept open evenings, I found valuable time for reading and study, taking books from a circulating library, buying some, and borrowing from Mr. Codman, a near-by attorney, who kindly lent me Blackstone's Commentaries, the introductory chapter of which I still remember as a model of good English. To the home of Dr. Hunt, who resided in Saccarappa, a near suburb of Portland, I was a frequent Sunday visitor, going out to Parson Bradley's church and then going home with some of the family. Dr. Hunt was an Old School physician and well read in Scotch philosophy (Stuart's), general English literature, including such authors as Milton, Addison, Sam Johnson, and Goldsmith. His stock of readable books were at once placed at my disposal and I soon became an anonymous contributor to the newspapers. Dr. Hunt was a lover of humor, and when he found any witticism in the contributions of his nephew appeared pleased. These boyish communications to newspapers had their first start at Strafford. It was glory enough for a mere tyro to see his papers in print and sometimes to hear them read aloud by those who were wholly ignorant of the authorship.
In the autumn of 1830 I returned to Strafford on a visit to my parents. The sudden death of Colonel Ralph Hosford, a merchant in partnership with Messrs. Latham and Kendrick, at South Strafford, made it necessary for the latter, who resided in Thetford, to employ some one to sell out the stock in trade and close up the business. My name was favorably mentioned to them by Judge Harris, and they offered me terms that induced my acceptance after obtaining a release from my Portland engagements.
In the early spring of 1834 Judge Harris proposed to me to form