A Large Influence for Good

Bust of Bernice MorrisonHer name was Bernice, though it seems many, including Carr Pritchett, spelled it Berenice, with an e in the middle. Is it pronounced the same? I don’t know; I assume so. I’m sticking with Bernice.

She comes from a time before the war, when Middle-Missouri had plantations and those plantation owners had slaves. Those slaves tended the tobacco and hemp fields and those crops made Bernice’s grandfather very, very wealthy. William Daniel Swinney, known simply as “the captain,” and his wife Lucy Ann (Jones), raised Bernice from a young age. Her mother had died when Bernice was just five and her father when she was just nine years of age.

Sara Catherine Swinney was Bernice’s mother and she died at the age of twenty-eight. Much research on my part has come up with nothing concerning the cause of her death. What I know for sure is that she was adored by her father. On her massive gravestone in Glasgow, MO, in huge letters, just one word at the top: “Kate.” And, doing a general web-search for “Kate Swinney” will give you numerous results for the Paddle Wheeler named for her. Also, confusing some researchers is the fact that the Riverboat Kate Swinney met with an explosive end at what, to this day, is still referred to as Kate Swinney Bend in the Missouri River. So, the Riverboat Kate Swinney gave up the ghost in an explosion, but Sara Catherine, well we just don’t know yet.

Bernice was born in 1856 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father William M. Morrison, who had given himself the middle initial “M” just to stand out from his uncle of the same name, was much older than Kate and already wealthy. Born in 1814, his first wife was Mary Bissell, the daughter of Lewis Bissell, also of St. Louis. William’s father James Morrison had started early in the fur trading business in Missouri and built up quite a business. In 1854 he married Kate Swinney in Glasgow Missouri. He was 40; she was 21 years of age. Bernice was born two years later.

C W PritchettCarr Waller Pritchett, the second of our main characters, was born in 1823 in Henry County Virginia. He was one of ten children of Henry Pritchett and Martha Myra Waller who, in 1835, moved the family to Missouri. (Side-note: The Swinney’s also hail from Virginia and hence the Southern lifestyles and traditions which permeate our entire story. Indeed, a challenge for me has been to embrace the love and care that these pastoral Methodists exhibit, yet come to grips with the slave-ownership that made them wealthy and able to give back to their communities in such grand style.) In 1843 Pritchett attended St. Charles College (near St. Louis), then, one year later, he is ordained as a Methodist Minister. In 1849 he marries Betty L. Smith and in ’51 they move to Glasgow, Missouri, which is the locus of our story. His professional science career starts at Harvard University where he attends in 1858 and studies mathematics and astronomy.

One last character to introduce and that is Bernice’s uncle and Kate’s brother, James Oswald Swinney. He was born in 1827 and lived to the age of 93. We’ll learn about him as our story progresses.So, the main characters are set: Bernice Morrison, C. W. Pritchett and James O. Swinney.


All of them were Methodists. And, I must confess, that as a life-long Methodist myself, this was part of the attraction of the whole story for me. But, not simply: they’re Methodists; I’m Methodist, therefore it’s interesting. No, it much broader than that.Indulge me for a few moments while I relate to you a chapter in my life.Years ago I was fortunate enough to be asked to help chaperon at a unique church camp called Science Camp.  It was to be held at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri. The seven summers I did this were some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. After a few years of doing the event, the director allowed me some time in front of the kids with the topic of my choice. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the focus of the camp was the intersection of Faith and Science. This was and is one of favorite topics and the kids were all smart and attentive. My pet name for the camp was always “Geek Camp,” knowing full well that I was one of those geeks. In fact, use of the word “camp” is definitely stretching the words too far. We stayed in dormitories and our exercise consisted of swimming in an indoor pool. Geeks don’t like the sun, you know.