When did B.N. Morris Begin Building Canoes?

Dan Miller

cranky canoeist
Staff member
This is the first of two threads I am starting based on research I have done, with the interest of helping to solidify our knowledge base of Morris history, and dispel some of the myths that seem to be living a life of their own... This thread relates to pinning down as accurately as possible, and a second thread, found here: (http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?8323-On-dating-Morris-catalogs&p=44270#post44270) has to do with dating the series of undated catalogs, including the one reprinted by the WCHA many years ago.

The first catalog known to have been issued by B.N. Morris appears to be the one dated 1893. In this catalog, he indicates that he exhibited at the 18[SUP]th[/SUP] annual exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. Also in 1893, he published a 4-page flyer describing his boats on display at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893.

Later, in a series of undated catalogs, Morris states that he first advertised in Field and Stream in 1887. Also in these catalogs is the statement that he has been in business for twenty one years. However, Field and Stream did not begin publishing until 1895 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_&_Stream). It is possible that the magazine in question is Forest and Stream, which was in publication at that time. To date, I have examined a number of issues of Forest and Stream and have found no advertisement by Morris in the 1887-1889 time period. However, not all weekly issues of Forest and Stream from this period have been examined yet.

Morris’s obituary, appearing June 1, 1940 (newspaper?) states that Morris began building canoes in 1892.

The 1916 Morris catalog specifically states that “the Morris canvas-covered canoes have been on the market for 26 years” putting the start date at 1890. However, an advertisement in Hunter-Trader-Trapper magazine dated March 1916 states that Morris was established 1891.

The earliest true Morris advertisement I have found so far is from The Rudder of January 1892.The earliest mention of Morris I have found to date in the period literature is from The Rudder, Vol. 1, No. 8, January 1891, which has a small statement that reads: “B.N. Morris, of Veazie, Maine, is anxious to build a war-canoe. He says a canvas war-canoe will beat a wood-built Ho-ho-ho-ko hands down.”

Thus, it appears clear that Morris was building canoes at least as early as January 1891, but it is not clear if he was doing so much earlier than that. If anyone has any earlier advertisements, or is aware of Morris being mentioned in the period literature as building canoes earlier than this, we would all appreciate knowing about it.
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Thanks for all the work on this, Dan. This and the catalog information fit what I've noticed in going through Paul Miller's correspondence (business letters written to Morris, none of which is earlier than 1892 as I recall)... and looking at the list of dealers in Morris canoes, which (in the case of Charles Molitor) fit the new date.

There have been two canoes with metal plates where the company name is "Morris Canoe Factory" rather than "B.N. Morris Company"... I'm hoping to run into old ads or some other source with this name, thinking it must date before the company was officially named B.N. Morris.
Morris also advertised in the magazine "Judge" (a predecessor of The New Yorker)... if anyone runs into these, it would help with our research. One of Paul's letters mentions seeing an ad in an 1893 "Judge".

In 1892, Morris is just a "Practical Canoe Builder and Canoeist..."


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This is all consistent with the information I have been able to find in the Maine Register research that I have been doing as described at http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?7166 here. The 1891 edition has no listing for B. N. Morris but the 1892 issue identifies him as a manufacturer of canvas canoes in Veazie.

I also went through Veazie today and took some pictures of his family's plot in the Mount Hope Cemetery if anyone is interested.

Good stuff. Here's more to support the early 1890s as Morris' entry into the canoe building business.

he indicates that he exhibited at the 18th annual exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association

The first exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association was held in 1837. If this were an annual event and we trust that Morris would have been in business in 1854. Another reference indicates that the Exhibition occurred every two years. That would place the 18th Exhibition in 1891. However, exhibitions weren’t held every 2 years either. Some were held in even years, and the 1881 event was the 14th. At least by the 16th (Fall, 1887), the Exhibition was said to be triennial. In any case, the 18th was held in the Fall of 1892.

Morris was the only builder listed there other than A. McDonald, Jr. of Everett, Mass, who displayed a rowboat. Morris’ listing reads: “B.N. Morris, Veasie [sic] Maine. – Canvas Boats and Canoes. - These are made by drawing a canvas covering over a frame, the canvas being made impervious to water by being treated with filling and varnish. The advantages of this class of boats is in their lightness and moderate cost. The models of the several boats and canoes were good, and the workmanship and material excellent. The award is a Bronze Medal.”

The fact that he is listed by name only (other listings are by company names) suggests that this late 1892 exhibition was near the start of Morris' career, supporting 1891 or so as his start.
Thanks for setting me straight on the MCMA - I assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that it was an annual event.

Morris seems to have mostly used just his name to refer to his business until 1916 (or maybe slightly earlier), when it becomes B.N. Morris, Inc.
Add into this the fact that Bert Morris was born in 1866 and was therefore 26 in 1892. Big brother Charlie (born 1860) may have paved the way in the Morris canoe business. Charlie's wife died of a ruptured appendix in 1893, leaving him with a young daughter to raise... this may have been one reason Bert took the reins.

I'll attach a picture of Charles A. Morris, taken in 1927-- a year before his death at age 68. His family generously shared this photo.



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I have a 1893 Morris Canvas Boat and Canoe catalog that states that he exhibited boats at the 1892 Mechanic Exhibition in MA but gives no indication when the company started. One would have to assume that the company had to be in operation sometime before 1892.

According to an interview with BN's brothers ,Charles Morris's Grandson, Charles King, it was Charles that started the canoe building as a side to his carriage and casket company and Bert took it over building in the upstairs of the family home.

In the 1953 "Veazie Review" put out by the Veazie Congregational Church, the Veazie Canoe company was first started in 1882 by Charles Morris in the house then owned by Bertrum King, and it latter became the B.N. Morris Co.
The 1882 date certainly sounds kind of early but Charles was older than Bert and he already operating a woodworking shop. It would not be unreasonable that he was doing a bit of boat-building since he was located right on the Penobscot River. At some time Bert took over the boat and canoe building part and by 1892 had a serious company.
Splayed; past participle, past tense of splay (Verb)
Verb: 1.Thrust or spread (things, esp. limbs or fingers) out and apart: "her hands were splayed across his broad shoulders".
2.(esp. of limbs or fingers) Be thrust or spread out and apart: "his legs splayed out in front of him".

They dont have stems, but I wonder if the caskets had any splayed parts that made them easily identifiable - besides the occupants?:D:D
Well, the Morris grave stones shown below list Charlie's birth date as 1859 and Bertrum King's as 1882 so it must have been a different Bertrum King who owned the house where the Veazie Canoe company was started in 1882.



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I don't doubt that an early version of the BN Morris Company could have been called the Veazie Canoe Company, but the Veazie Co. with the catalog and the Veazie canoes we have seen (Denis and I have two) aren't early canoes, but are consistent with post 1900 canoes-- one matching nicely our pre-1910 era Morrises and one looking much like a c.1915 Morris (with the curved style deck-- which includes a Veazie decal). Our very-early-appearing Morris (which looks much like the drawing of a canoe in the early ad Dan posted) has the metal BN Morris tag.

In 1882, Charlie Morris would have been 22 and Bert 16. Henry Thoreau and his brother John built a boat when they were in their early 20s and sailed/rowed/paddled about. Young guys and water rats love messin' about in boats... maybe the Morrises brothers got started after building boats for their own use. They had a camp (lake cottage) on Pushaw Lake and Charles built lapstrake rowboats which they used for fishing.

I'll attach a picture of the Morris family home-- canoes were built in the upper level of the second part of the house in the picture prior to building the factory. Charles continued to live in this house and it passed to his daughter and then grandson Charles King. Charlie Morris built canoes here after the fire destroyed the factory. And, as previously shared, this house had the first flush toilet and first telephone in Veazie and the horse was named Gypsy :).


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Bertram King was the husband of Gladys Morris, who was Charlie's daughter. Bertram and Gladys raised their family in the house, inheriting it when Charlie died in 1928. The house was originally owned by the maternal side of the Morris family-- Sophronia Rollins married Albion Morris. The Morris name was originally "Fish" but I am unsure why the change was made to Morris. The father of Bert and Charles, Albion Morris, was born Albion Fish but his father changed the family name to Morris. Fish canoes? It works...
Forest and Stream 1892 Link

Some good stuff in google books. Forest and Stream 1892 letter to editor;

Canvas Canoes
Editor Forest and Stream
A mutual acquaintance of ours some weeks past inquired through this Journal after a suitable canvas canoe to which he might apply oars one having sufficiently stiff gunwales If be requires a folding boat then my experience would be of little use to him Some two weeks ago I received a canvas canoe from Maine wbich for beauty stiffness and seaworthiness simply surpasses all my expectations She has gunwales stiff enough to fasten a horse to bow facing oars could be easily adjusted and used indefinitely with no risk whatever to tbe boat She is ribbed full length and covered by closely fitted cedar boards about J in thick and covered outside with heavy canvas painted Wetgni about 45ibs Outside of ber beauty and ease under paddle she has this advantage over all wooden boats In that she can be turned bottom up in the hot sun for weeks and then when dumped overboard is absolutely dry I should advise our inquirer to address Mr BN Morris whose advertisement be mav see in tbls paper and perhaps he may find something nearer perfection than he already has. Rag Boat
Nokwalk Conn June 10


Here is link to actual ad (image quality is poor); http://books.google.com/books?id=yU...irOSjRYvlCiHXvF0ca-A&ci=69,210,251,100&edge=0

Lots of material here on other manufacturers.
American Historical Society 1919

American Historical Society 1919

B. N. MORRIS—As head of the Morris Canoe Company, builders of Canoes at Veazie. Maine, and dealers in fittings, paddles, and sailing and rowing outfits for such craft, Mr. Morris conducts a prosperous business which in normal times employs from forty to fifty men in furnishing that now indispensable part of a summer outing on river or lake. Mr. Morris is a thorough master of canoe construction, and has made his name a familiar one among canoeists. He is one of the leading men of his community and well known in Bangor, his residence. He is highly esteemed, both as business man and citizen.

Here is a portrait of B.N.Morris