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Morebattle Scotland

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Information on the village of Morebattle, near Kelso in Scotland.

George "Celery" Taylor

George Taylor was born at Hounam Grange on February 12th 1803, the eldest son of Andrew and Violet (nee Stevenson). The family eventually grew to five boys and three girls. His parents had gone to America immediately after their marriage in April 1801, but returned as Violet's health had been poor in Cherry Valley on the Mohawk. The family moved from farm to farm, as was the custom, rarely staying longer than four or five years on any one farm. They were at Attonburn, Hoselaw Bank, Holefield, Graden and Ladyrig, while James was growing up. He records his childhood memories of these places and of visiting his grandmother in Morebattle, the Fairs at Yetholm and Kelso and of the various gypsies, tinkers, pedlars, cadgers and beggars who frequented these Fairs. He also describes his schooling, the church and the happenings of the times with regard to the threat from Napoleon.

He made his first visit to Edinburgh in 1823 and describes the stagecoach travel and what he saw in the city. In 1816 he had started as a shepherd, helping his father at Ladyrig, but in 1822 he met and went to work for Robert Renwick who had a market garden and a gardening business, looking after the gardens of well-off in the area. Through this work he met William Mein of Ormiston.

His father had always wanted to return to America but money, which he had lent to others failed to be returned, and he died on August 9th 1829. He is buried in Eckford Graveyard. Andrew Jnr went to America in 1836, following James who had gone in 1823 to settle in Kalamazoo, Michigan. George and his mother moved to Ormiston where he met amd married Helen Robson who was a servant in the mansion house. Their start to married life was tragic as they lost two children in the first three years. Thereafter they had Isabella in 1842, Andrew in 1844, George in 1847, James in 1849 and Violet in 1852. He became involved in the great disruption in the Established Church in 1843, and that same year went on a tour of Scotland with his brother-in-law William Huggan. They went by coach and rail to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paisley, the Burns Country, Stirling, Bannockburn and Loch Lomond before returning to Ormiston. William Mein had died in 1836 and Ormiston had been sold by his son, Robert to the Marquis of Lothian.

In 1846 he was approached to take over the management of a nursery and seedsman business in Forestfield Kelso. This he developed and extended the range of seeds and plants available. He saw the start of the Potato Blight which led to The Great Potato Famine, as he went round selling the seeds. The business flourished, supplying new varieties of garden plants in addition to tree seedlings. He was a keen member of Kelso Horticultural Society and a founder member of Kelso Temperance Society. In 1851, his brother James came on a visit from America to go with George to see the Great Exhibition in London.

His brother Andrew, had, meantime, bought 140 acres of land at Kalamazoo, which he thought ideal for setting up a nursery, should George wish to join him. After much thought and heart-searching George decided to pack up and go with his family to America. George, his wife, three sons and two daughters sailed from Liverpool on the "John Bright" on August 23rd. The ship ran aground off Ireland and they were returned to Liverpool from which they again set sail on a sister ship on 1st September. After spending time becalmed and in the Newfoundland fog, they arrived in New York on October 6th 1855. They sailed up the Great Lakes to Detroit from where they caught a train to Kalamazoo where his older brother Andrew met them. After finding a house to rent and purchasing the essentials for setting up home, they settled in to their new and very different life. George set about discovering the way in which farming was done and deciding how to set up the nursery. One of his most complicated tasks was learning how to milk a cow. On 10th November, his wife gave birth to a son, John.

In 1856, he set up his nursery, starting with seedling trees ordered from Kelso and trying a range of vegetables, including celery which was almost unknown in the area. His tomatoes and cabbage sold without difficulty, but he struggled to sell the crop of 300 heads of celery. By getting local stores and hotels interested in this new vegetable, his business took off. He expanded the range of trees and added flowers and ornamental plants to his stock, buying the seeds from Stuart & Mein of Kelso. His wife who had been ill virtually since John's birth died in 1859, probably from consumption.

In 1862, he came back to the Borders and after a tour persuaded his cousin Jane to leave her work as a housekeeper and come with him to Kalamazoo. They were married on 1st January 1863. In the course of the following year, his eldest, Andrew was drowned, and his new wife died in childbirth along with the baby. His brother, Andrew died very suddenly, leaving George with problems both financial and personal. On 20th January 1870, he married Susan Carter, and later that year, his daughter Isabella also married. The tree business began to struggle as competition grew, so George expanded the vegetable side of the business growing an early pea crop followed by a crop of squashes.

In Autumn 1874, he and Susan came across to Scotland, landing at Greenock, from where he came back to the Borders. He visited many of the places of his childhood renewing old acquaintances and refreshing memories. They also visited London, before returning to Kalamazoo on 6th April 1875. Over the next few years the nurseries were "downsized", with his son James doing more of the work and George less. In 1885, he began to record these reminiscences, and he continued these until the death of Susan in March 1888. He himself died on August 21st 1891 and is buried in Mountain Home Cemetery near his first home in Kalamazoo.

Thus it was that the boy from Hounam Grange, above Morebattle, brought celery to Kalamazoo.

George's life story is now available as the latest in the "Flashbacks" series: "From Kelso to Kalamazoo - The Life and Times of George Taylor 1803 - 1891" edited by Margaret Jeary and Mark Mulhern, is available from Mainstreet Trading Company, St Boswells and other good booksellers.

For the full version of the story, as recorded by George himself, go to: George Celery Taylor

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