Uriah Jackson Morton, state legislator, minister, farmer, and Confederate veteran, was born on June 21, 1846, in Blount County, Alabama, to Margaret Vianna (Blackburn) of Alabama and Marshall J. Morton, a Methodist preacher and farmer from South Carolina.
Uriah grew up assisting his father on the family farm in Alabama and as a teenager enlisted with the Confederate Army in the Civil War. He held the rank of private under Capt. Samuel Henry in Company F of the Eighth Alabama Cavalry (though his CSA gravestone indicates service in Company J). He was captured when his company surrendered to Union forces at Citronelle, Alabama, on May 4, 1865; service records indicate Morton was paroled ten days later.
Returning home following the war, Morton married Malvina Kiker of Georgia on January 9, 1867, in Marshall County, Alabama, and the couple had ten children: Elbert, Martha, Charles, Rufus, Sarah, Julia, Eunice Abigail, Lester, Margaret, and Mary. The Mortons relocated to Texas around 1869, shortly after the birth of their second child and initially settled near present-day Murchison in Henderson County. Around 1871 they moved to Erath County and settled on land near Harbin, where Morton again took up farming and followed in his father’s footsteps as a Methodist minister, carrying out most of his ecclesiastical duties as a traveling preacher. According to a June 24, 1927, edition of the De Leon Free Press announcing Morton’s eighty-second birthday celebration, “He has preached for more than half a century, serving the church in that pioneering period when the old-time circuit rider carried his saddle bags over the cow trails of a wild and uncharted district where good roads were unknown and where the meeting house was all too often merely a brush arbor.” Morton was active in church leadership at the regional level and served on the Joint Board of Finance for the Northwest Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Morton’s agricultural interests led him by the mid-1880s to join the Farmers’ Alliance, which by the early 1890s had become intertwined with the burgeoning People’s Party of Texas. The then-fifty-year-old Morton was elected to represent Erath County in the Texas House of Representatives in November 1896 and was sworn in as one of seven Populist representatives (along with two incumbent senators) when the Twenty-fifth Legislature convened on January 12, 1897. Speaker L. Travis Dashiell appointed Morton to the standing committees overseeing insurance, statistics and history; mining and minerals; and state asylums; as well as the special committee tasked with examining the administration and condition of the Texas Confederate Home for disabled and indigent CSA veterans in Austin. Morton authored no significant legislation and introduced only two bills in the regular session but was outspoken during a busy special (or “called”) session that saw the passage of nine bills from the House floor. His activity as noted in the session’s House Journal reflects a legislator voting in line with Populist principles, often in tandem with fellow Populist William A. Skillern of Nacogdoches County. Morton spoke out in favor of fixed salaries for county and state officials and decried the “railroading” of an appropriations bill as “contrary to the liberal spirit of true and sound democracy.” He also opposed a bill that would have provided worker safety regulations in railroad yards while ignoring the need of similar safeguards for miners and factory laborers and denounced the act as “class legislation pure and simple.”
The Twenty-fifth Texas Legislature marked Morton’s last term in elective office, as he declined to run for reelection in 1898, but he remained active in the ministry following his departure from public life. According to Morton’s son-in-law, George Morgan, Uriah’s family moved to the Turkey Creek community of Comanche County in 1908 and joined and attended a local Baptist church because no Methodist parsonage existed in the area. In 1910 Morton joined forces with other early settlers of the De Leon area who had emigrated from Alabama to coordinate efforts to organize and build a Methodist church that would be named Morton Chapel Church in his honor (his family constituted the majority of its charter members). The structure still existed in 2012 south of the town of De Leon. In 1922 Morton briefly relocated to the town of Dublin, where he continued with his traveling ministry until his own ill health forced his retirement.
Morton had given up farming and the ministry by 1925 and settled into life as a widower at the home of his daughter and son-in-law in De Leon. He died of “indigestion” complicated by age on August 3, 1937, at age ninety-one, and was interred with Confederate honors in De Leon Cemetery in Comanche County.