You Little Dickens!

MarySusanMorrisFordMy mom has told me a story about my relationship with my Cherokee maternal great-grandmother, Mary Susan Morris Ford, ever since I was old enough to talk. Unfortunately, I was only 14 months old when Grandma Susan passed at 73 years old.

The story goes like this.  My great-grandmother went to sleep one night and when she awoke the next morning she was completely blind probably due to glaucoma.  Despite her blindness, her favorite pastimes were knitting and crocheting and I was highly interested in her and her hobbies.  However, when Grandma Susan would leave the room for any reason I would toddle over to her chair, grab her yarn and needles and either take off on a run or try to hide them under the seat where she had been sitting. I’m told Grandma Susan would chuckle each time, retrieve her goods and say to me, “You, little dickens!”

littledickensknittedmouseAccording to, “Dickens” is a minced oath. It stands for Devil. A little Dickens is an imp. Used familiarly, it is usually affectionate.  The phrase “what the dickens” was coined by William Shakespeare and originated in The Merry Wives Of Windsor Act 3, scene 2, 18–23.

And to add irony to this story, little did anyone know that I would become the mother of “three little dickens,”–ah–Dickinson’s, that is.


To my knowledge, no one in our past or present-day family has researched our Cherokee heritage. However, mom at 87, often looks at her arms and says that they remind her of her Grandma Susan’s; “except grandma’s skin had more of a red hue to it”.   Mama also is the only family member alive who remembers her grandmother telling her that she was full-blooded Cherokee–a powerful detached tribe of the Iroquoian family. And Grandma Susan’s father, Gideon W. Morris, passed away when she was only five. So, again, immediate family information about our Cherokee heritage was not handed down from generation to generation.

Our Morris family branch hailed from Virginia and North Carolina. My recent research confirmed that the Cherokee Nation formerly held the mountain region of the south Alleghenies, in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee, and northeast Alabama, and claiming even to the Ohio River when they were first met by De Soto in 1540.

Cherokee wars and treaties

Seven clans are often mentioned in Cherokee ritual prayers and in the printed laws of the tribe. They seem to be connected with the “seven mother towns” of the Cherokee, described by Sir Alexander Cuming in 1730 as having each a chief, whose office was hereditary in the female line.

Numbering about 22,000 tribesmen in 200 villages throughout the area, a series of battles and agreements around the period of the Revolutionary War (1763-1787) effectively reduced Cherokee power and landholdings in Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and western North and South Carolina, freeing up this territory for speculation and settlement by the white man.

Today’s Cherokee Nation is the federally recognized government of the Cherokee people with sovereign status granted by treaty and law. Its capital is the W. W. Keeler Complex near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation has operated under a constitutional form of government since 1827. Today there are more than 320,000 registered Cherokee citizens, making it the largest Native American tribe in the United States.  And, for now, this is where my story pauses.  That is until I find new discoveries that can place my Morris family within a particular clan and village before 1798 when my third great-grandfather, James Thomas Morris, was born in Virginia. James was Mary Susan’s grandfather.

3 thoughts on “You Little Dickens!

  1. I’m with you, though a couple of generations down the line. My aunt recalled her Cherokee grandmother with great fondness. I am searching on to trace, but the road has been fraught with challenges. The more I learn of history, the more I can piece together bits that normally I may have discounted.

    It is a great idea to write what you’re learning here. I thank you for taking the time to do so. Good luck with your journey!


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