Morris has extensive collection of naval store items

By Justin Schuver

From the outside, it’s an unassuming metal shed. But inside, there’s an extensive collection of naval store items that few can match.

The collection belongs to Jim Morris, a retired chief deputy with the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Georgia was the world’s leading producer of naval stores, which are materials extracted from southern pine forests and used in the construction and repair of sailing vessels.

Typical items included in the naval store classification include lumber, railroad ties, rosin and turpentine. Most of Morris’s collection is from the turpentine naval stores industry. Turpentine, which can be used as a paint thinner and for other uses, was one of the main products that could be distilled from the southern pine forests prevalent in southwest Georgia.

“The two main byproducts, from distilling the pine tree’s oleo resin, were turpentine and rosin,” Morris said. “Rosin was used to caulk ships and prevent them from leaking, so it was a very highly-traded commodity.”

Morris explained that he found some of his collection outdoors, while other pieces were purchased from other collectors. He pointed out that many hunters may still come across artifacts from these turpentine stills, especially clay “cups” that were used to hold the products.

“There have been many times when I’ve gotten a call from a hunter who came across something unusual in the woods and wanted me to take a look at it,” said Morris, who still works part time for the sheriff’s office. “I don’t mind helping out, it’s an enjoyable hobby for me. I don’t watch much TV; I just work on my collection and researching history.”

Morris’s home includes a shelf of red books, which contain photographs and drawings of various items in his collection. He estimated that he can identify and appraise a found item about “90 percent of the time.”

“As long as it’s something historic, I’m glad to tell people what I know,” Morris said.

Morris offers his appraisal and research free of charge to anyone who may be interested in naval stores or other historic items. He can be reached at (229) 726-9291, or by email at rosin200@yahoo.com.

Morris, who grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., worked full-time for the sheriff’s office for 35 years. He said he developed a love of collecting historic artifacts by enjoying arrowhead hunting as a child.

“I probably collected arrowheads from when I was 12 years old until I was 50 or so,” he said. “Eventually I sold my collection and started to focus more on the historical artifact side.”

Morris’s collection also includes a large variety of items that Europeans traded with the Native Americans. Some of these items included bells, bottles, buttons, cutlery, and even musical instruments like the Jew’s harp.

“The Europeans would trade these items for furs and food to survive,” Morris said. “The natives didn’t have glass or metal or anything like that, so those traded items were very popular. Plus, the different nations were each trying to claim land, so they wanted to keep peace with the natives.”

Morris said his collection features items from as far away as the Great Lakes region, to as far west as Louisiana. He has some items from Europe, but tries to keep the focus on American artifacts.

“It’s just thrilling to be able to learn something about our nation’s history,” he said.

Morris pointed out that any item he found outdoors was discovered on land where he was permitted to search. Obviously, nobody should go treasure seeking on land without getting the permission of the landowner, he said. He began to move toward the naval store items because “it seemed like very few people were collecting them.”

“These stills were all over the Southeast,” he said. “And there’s a number of them that still haven’t been found yet. That’s why hunters and outdoorsmen will still come across the items every now and then. Many of the items are still on top of the ground, and don’t even require any digging to find.”

Morris said he’s not sure how long he will continue amassing his collection, and eventually plans to give much of the items away to museums and other historical collectors. But until then, he’ll continue learning and discovering as much as he can.

Morris is married to his wife, Darlene, who is a nurse at Bainbridge Memorial Hospital. They have five children and six grandchildren.

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