On July 21, 1823, Morris Officer was born in Holmes County, Ohio. In the early years of the Officer household, religion did not feature prominently as a family activity. According to Morris, his father did not ascribe to any particular religious faith until some years later when his son left for theological training. Morris’s mother identified herself with the Methodist Episcopal tradition. At thirteen Morris was baptized after the entire family became afflicted with scarlet fever and a sister died from the illness.
He became a member of the Lutheran Church in 1842. He studied at Wittenberg College, Wittenberg, Ohio where he paid for school by tutoring and raising money for the college. While at Wittenberg he began to think of serving the church in the foreign mission field. It was always his wish to work in Africa. He felt there was greater need there than in other places. He could not get the Lutheran Church to become interested in this type of work and support him. So instead he decided to take up work in Liberia through the American Missionary Association (AMA). Officer stipulated that while he would go under the auspices of AMA, he would maintain his ties to the Lutheran Church and if he could get his church to support his work, any field he founded would become a field of the Lutheran Church.
Officer left for Liberia on Christmas Day 1852. At home he left a wife who was too frail physically to travel with him. After 18 months at the Mendi mission, Officer returned to America to lift up the cause of mission work in Africa before the Lutheran Church to see if he could solicit its support. Like others who advocated work in foreign mission fields, Officer found a church that believed in the cause, but he could not convince church members to finance such work. In 1855 the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the United States in America was swayed by Officer’s pamphlet, Plea for a Lutheran Mission in Liberia,
to such an extent that it authorized the start of a mission field in Liberia under the auspices of the General Synod, but it left all fundraising for the mission to Officer.
Officer traveled the country making his case for congregations’ support of mission work in Liberia. Along the way his message was greeted sometimes with opposition or at best indifference. Despite the various resistances he encountered in his travels to congregations across the country, by 1860 Officer managed to secure approximately $3000 for the mission. He took this and a co-worker and set off for Liberia on February 23, 1860. Upon arrival, once land for a mission and mission settlement was secured, Officer established a chapel and school, preached in villages surrounding the mission area, and secured the services of another missionary to act as teacher at the school. Officer worked at the mission for a year before he was forced to return to the States because of his health.
Officer was never able to return to Liberia because of his poor health. Instead he turned his attention to home mission work which he approached with the same enthusiasm. He continued to perform home mission work until he retired in June 1871.
Records date from 1848-1874 and include two microfilm reels of journals and diaries of Morris Officer, one folder of carbon copies of typewritten transcripts of a portion of Officer’s journals, and one folder of copies of pamphlets Officer wrote about mission work in Liberia. There is also one folder of biographical material pertaining to Officer that was added to the collection to provide background on Officer, but it is not considered part of his personal papers collection.