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REPRINTED FROM THE ASHTABULA STAR BEACON, ASHTABULA, OHIO

Mother, son write books about founding fathers
By CARL E. FEATHER  Lifestyle Editor
CONCORD TOWNSHIP - Like mother, like son.

Concord Township resident Elaine Lillback, 81, is the author of three books, the most recent dealing with John Morton, a "forgotten" signer of the Declaration of Independence. Her son, the Rev. Dr. Peter Lillback of Bryn Mawr, Pa., co-wrote with Jerry Newcombe "George Washington's Sacred Fire," an exhaustive (nearly 1,200 pages) biography of George Washington that defends Washington's religious convictions. The book is a national nonfiction best seller with more than 21,000 sold.
Elaine's expectations for her John Morton biography are much more modest: She bore the expense of producing and printing 500 copies of the 128-page book.

Elainewbook
ELAINE LILLBACK, 81, of Concord Township, holds a copy of the John Morton biography she wrote and published. A retired elementary teacher with a Finnish background, Lillback has been fascinated with Morton, also of Finnish background, since childhood. This is her third book.
CARL E. FEATHER / The Star Beacon
For Elaine, a retired fourth-grade teacher, writing Morton's biography was about heritage. The Perry native is of Finnish ancestry - her father, John Henry Tikka, was from Sortavala, Finland. His birth home was in Karjala, Finland, which is adjacent to Savolaani, where John Morton's ancestors originated.
Morton (1724-1777), was born in Ridley, Pa. His parents were second cousins; their great-grandfather was Marten Martenson, who was born in Finland and later moved to Sweden. His son, Marten Jr., was the father of John Morton Sr., whose son, also named John, was born after his father died. A few years later, John Morton's mother married again, to John Sketchley, a well-educated surveyor from England. He took a great interest in his step-son and made sure he received a sound education.
The junior Morton filled numerous civil offices in Pennsylvania and was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1756. He attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and was appointed associate judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1774.
His place in national history was secured when he cast the decisive vote for independence as a Continental Congress delegate from Pennsylvania. He died shortly after that, but the personal ramifications of his action haunted his family throughout the war for independence. His son, a medical doctor, was taken prisoner by the British and died aboard a prison ship in New York Harbor. His wife fled their home in advance of the British, who destroyed Morton's house.
Elaine says it's a story of courage and sacrifice that needs to be told to contemporary readers.
"I think it is something that is important to every American," she says. "Our America is America because these people dared to stand up to the king and the Red Coats who were in the country. All these signers lost their homes, wealth, families."
Morton's accomplishments and heritage were often discussed in the Tikka home as Elaine grew up.
"My father was always very proud of anybody who had Finnish ancestry," Elaine says. "He liked to talk about it and share their stories with us."
Elaine carried this interest into adulthood and, as a teacher, incorporated the stories of Finnish immigrants into her social studies lessons. She often wondered why Morton's life had not received a complete treatment in a book - his biography appears in books devoted to signers of the Declaration of Independence, but a dedicated volume appeared to be lacking.
Then, in 1998, Elaine purchased a book, "New Sweden on the Delaware," by C. S. Weslager. The book provided historical background on the events that resulted in Morton's family coming from Sweden to the New World.

Elaine says after Finland came under Sweden's control in the 1500s, thousands of Finnish farmers, who used the slash-and-burn method of establishing farms, moved into Sweden to clear the forests and create farms. However, when copper was discovered in Sweden, the king threatened the farmers with imprisonment for cutting the forest, which was needed to smelt the metal. Their lives closely tied to their farming methods, many of these Finns opted to leave Sweden and colonize "New Sweden" on the Delaware River.The Swedes built Fort Christina on the Delaware River in 1638 and laid claim to the area. The Morton family was part of the wave of settlers who followed.
Elaine tracked down both English and Finnish books about Morton and his ancestors. She says her ability to read Finnish (she translated the Finnish novel "Elma" by Charles Potti into English) was of great benefit.

Peter assisted her research by obtaining copies of the Journals of the Continental Congress from the Library of Congress. Indeed, she asked her son to write the book. "But he said, 'Mom, I'm so busy, I think you should do it,'" Elaine says. Peter did agree to edit the manuscript.

In addition to reading books, journals and letters, Elaine researched Morton's life by visiting Finland (she's been there six times) and the New Sweden area of the United States. Photographs from those travels illustrate the book, along with 15 drawings by Elaine.

She wrote the book with both junior and senior high school students and adults in mind. Elaine took liberties in the narrative so, at times, it reads more like a historical novel than a straight biography. She emphasized the struggle Morton experienced as he tried to reconcile his faith's message of submission with his personal passion for freedom and justice.

"John Morton was a man who cared about other people," she says. "He learned law and was able to help people. He was always doing deeds of mercy, helping the poor."

Elaine's book sells for $25. Sellers include Artful Hands on Main Street in Painesville, Treasures of Finland on High Street in Fairport Harbor and the Finnish Museum, also on High Street. She will hold a book signing at Borders in Mentor Feb. 10 and plans to be at the FinnFest USA in Ashtabula this summer. Peter is scheduled to be a speaker at the festival, as well.

She also sells the book by mail for $27. Send check to Elaine Lillback, 10487 Johnny Cake Ridge, Painesville, OH 44077.

Elaine is already thinking about a fourth book, which will be about the family of her late husband, Eugene, a math professor at Kent State University-Ashtabula Campus. She says the book would focus on the experiences of his Finnish ancestors in Fairport Harbor and Painesville. The family's home in Fairport Harbor was a popular gathering spot.

"They used to entertain all the time," she says. "Grandpa said 'She's got too much company and I can't afford it and I'm going to move her to Painesville.'"

For information on Peter Lillback's books, go online to providenceforum.org. Lillback is president of the forum and senior pastor of Proclamation Presbyterian Church.

Star Beacon Print Edition: 1/4/2007 Reprinted by permission from the Ashtabula Star Beacon, Ashtabula, OH.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

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