Who is Morell Fuller, and why should we think of him on Independence Day? Morell was an early settler of Fullersburg, Illinois, one of twelve children born to Candace and Jacob Fuller, who moved to this area from New York in 1835. Morell's older brother, Benjamin, was the founder of the village, which was called Brush Hill before its name was changed to Fullersburg. As stated in The Fullers of Fullersburg by George Ruchty, "The sons and daughters of Jacob remained in the area and it was said the inhabitants were either Fullers or married to the Fullers."
Morell and his siblings adapted to pioneer life during the early Settlement Era. When the family first arrived, some of the local Potawatomi were living along Salt Creek in their village called Sauganakka. The Fullers became friends with these Native Americans before their forced removal after the Black Hawk War; Benjamin even taught them how to shoe their ponies, and his son John was given a pony as a gift in reciprocity.
Morell, who was born in 1829, was musically talented, and although he never took lessons, he could play the fife, violin, and drums. The people of Fullersburg enjoyed social activities such as musical events and debates. As the village grew, many of the local residents became active in the Underground Railroad, particularly after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, mandating strict penalties for those who assisted escaped slaves on their journey to freedom. Morell's sister Harriet was married to John Coe, a known "conductor" in this highly secret transportation network. One of the stations in the railroad was in the cellar Graue Mill, along Salt Creek in Fullersburg. Eventually the Civil War broke out, and Morell enlisted with the Illinois volunteer infantry, 105th regiment. He was a drum major during his service from 1862-1865, and he fought in the battles of Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Creek, and Atlanta; he also accompanied Sherman on his famous march to the sea.
Morell returned to Fullersburg after the war ended in 1865 and was married in September of that year to Ellen Mackinder, whose parents were from Lincolnshire, England. Morell settled into civilian life and contributed to the community through his musical talent. George Ruchty writes about the veteran's annual tribute to Independence Day:
Fullersburg had the original one man band. Every Fourth of July, Morell dressed
in his Civil War uniform, strode past my home, beating a fast march step on his
drum, until he reached the corner of Ogden and York. He would stand in the
middle of the road for ten or fifteen minutes, minus an audience, pounding away
on his drum. At the first beat of the drum my father would jump out of bed, grab
his shotgun, and rush out of the house to an old tree that hung over the walk.
Here he would hide until Morell was directly under the tree. My father would
then hold the old shotgun over Morell's head and fire both barrels. The old soldier
would never miss a beat nor would he chance a quick glance to the right or left.
He would continue on as if nothing had happened.
Morell's ability to keep playing his drum without missing a beat despite the distraction of a shotgun blast overhead demonstrates his fortitude, which was likely to have been shaped during his service as a Union soldier. He also continued to entertain his friends with his musical talent. Ruchty writes that in 1902, a member of the extensive Fuller family bought an instrument that could record sounds, or a "graphaphone." Morell was skeptical of this device; he was asked to play his violin so that this new invention could be demonstrated. He chose a well-known tune but added a few extra notes, which the graphaphone picked up, thereby convincing him of its authenticity.
Morell passed away in 1912. He and his wife Ellen had two children; their son died in infancy, and their daughter Nella Fuller Brookins became a primary teacher in the Fullersburg School. Morell is buried in Historic Fullersburg Cemetery, and every Memorial Day his name is announced during a flag-changing ceremony along with the other veterans who are laid to rest in this peaceful, wooded site. His drum and fife have been displayed in the cellar of the historic Graue Mill, where fugitive slaves once were sheltered. (See photo of drum, above.) Morell Fuller's remarkable legacy will continue, as he is a true patriot, and he will not be forgotten.
Note: George Ruchty's The Fullers of Fullersburg can be found in the "For You" section of this site.
Sue Devick, M.A.