The Morgan affair:|
What happened to Morgan
Investigating A speculation
by Allison D. Bryant, P.M.
Gladwin Lodge No. 397, F. & A. M.
My paper is based on some research inspired by James Fairbairn Smith. In his book Michigan Masonic Tracing Board: 1764-1976, published in commemoration of the Bicentennial of the United States and the Sesquicentennial of Freemasonry in Michigan, there is a half-page article on the Morgan Incident, written by James D. Carter. The penultimate paragraph in the article reads:
For over a century the truth [concerning Morgans fate] has been unknown.
However in 1950 the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan, Morgan J. Smead, carried on an extensive correspondence with I. Dwight Hunter, the husband of the great granddaughter of William Morgan, who lived in Belize, British Honduras, which proved conclusively that William Morgan left Batavia and crossed Lake Ontario into Canada. Morgan left Canada and was shipwrecked in 1827 in the Cayman Islands. He and his children eventually settled at Utilla in the Republic of Honduras, Central America.1.
I have been doing my own research into one aspect of the Morgan Affair, specifically tracing Morgans wife, Lucinda. n4 When I found this little snippet of information, I showed it to my wife Cathie, a professional researcher, and her first question was "where are Smeads papers." She wasn't pleased to hear the saga of Jimmy Smiths materials, some of which are in Alma, at the Home, and some were destroyed in a fire at the Smiths apartment complex, before he died. After some more detective work, we eventually uncovered the correspondence in the Charles Fey papers at the Bentley Historical Library, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There, buried in the Fey collection, were Hunters letters to Smead, from 1950.
The correspondence is not "extensive," as the article would claim. There are five letters, four from Hunter and one from Smead, which are dated from November 16, 1950, to February 3, 1951. The letters from Brother Hunter (he was a member of Augustin Disdier Lodge No. 3, at La Cebia, Republic of Honduras) are on letterhead for his place of employment: The British Honduras Dock and Boat Works, Robinson Point, Belize, British Honduras.
The correspondence started due to the following circumstance:
Recently at the Rustan Rep. Honduras ([Brother Hunters] first trip there in years, Mr. William Rufus Warren, a Shriner of New Orleans Temple, gave me a couple of copies of The New Age.
It was a surprise to read in the July issue, the action taken by the Baptist Church against you not accepting the theory that William Morgan was murdered by Batavia Masons. I feel sure you are right and some day I hope to help convince the world that William Morgan was never murdered; but instead died a peaceful death from old age, (nearly 89) at Utilla Island Rep. Honduras in the middle sixties.
Having been collecting data about William Morgan of the islands of the Caribbean for the past forty-five years; covering from the time he arrived in the Cayman Islands a shipwrecked seaman, circa 1827; my interest in that individual (until later years) being on account of his unusual and adventurous life in the Caribbean and on account of his peculiarities.... Anyway I am on the way [to publish a book] again... The title originally put on the story is A Sojourner In the Carribbean [sic]....
The book I expect to be published early next year will tell all that is known about William Morgan of the Caribbean, the localities he lived at, how he earned a living, whom he married, about his children and the education of some of them; how it happened that he arrived at Utilla and later went back to the Caymans and brought the wife he married there and their children to Utilla Rep. Hond., Even to the surmises of what caused him to come to the tropics and his peculiarities in avoiding people he did not intimately know.
To compare the facts I have gathered about the life of William Morgan of the Caribbean along with those I have read within the past year about William Morgan of Batavia - there can be little if any doubt even of the most skeptical and biased person that the two individuals was the same man. 2. Imagine, if you will, that you are the Grand Master of Masons in Michigan, and you receive such a letter. Well, Grand Master Smead was overjoyed, as you can expect, and sent a letter back to Brother Hunter, dated December 6. That letter summarizes the Morgan incident, and explains why Smead is was so interested in the incident, having been raised on a farm just outside Batavia, New York.
Smeads letter contains an interesting paragraph. It comes in Smeads synopsis of the Morgan Incident: There is no use of my going into all the details of the whole sordid mess. Suffice it to say that Morgan got badly scared and feared for his life. He begged the Masons of Batavia to help him out of this dilemma. He had been repeatedly threatened by [David C.] Miller, [John] Davids and [Russell] Dyer: his wife and baby were ill and without the necessities of life and Morgan wanted to get away from it all and breathe free air once more.
He was taken to Canada, crossing at Lewiston, New York at Fort Niagara and turned over to the Canadian brethren. They received him and spirited him away to upper Canada where he was given his choice of a small farm or five hundred dollars. He chose the money, bought a horse, rode east down the St. Lawrence to Port Hope, sold his horse, boarded a sailing vessel and departed out of the country. The Masons in the meantime took care of his family and were to aid in their reunion when he had established himself. That day never came. Later, after Morgan had been officially declared dead by the courts, his wife remarried and I have no idea if there are any of her descendants living or not. Morgan disappeared in September, 1826, and as near as I can learn, no trace of him has ever been found. This is the story, very briefly told.3.
It is a passage that is actually kinder and more sympathetic towards Morgan than most versions of the story (Masonic and profane) would be. It also leaves out interesting parts of the story, such as the two arrests for larceny and adds Morgan begging the Masons for help and the threats by Miller, et.al., which are not usually contained in the narrative of these events. Hunters next letter, dated December 16, summarizes (in seven typed pages) the life and characteristics of the Morgan from the Caribbean. The narrative is rambling, to say the least. A quick overview of Morgans life in the Caymans follows.
Morgan was one of the shipwrecked crew of the vessel Constance, shipwrecked off the coast of Cuba. The survivors were picked up by a Cayman fishing schooner named the Star and transported them to the Cayman Islands. Two crew stay in the Islands: the mater, James Wood Hunter (Dwight Hunters great grandfather) and Morgan; the latter stayed only after having second thoughts. Morgan met and married a local girl named Catherine Ann Page and they raise a family, the first child being born on 5 September 1829 They ultimately had six children. Morgan would "go off" when vessels called at the island. His original excuse was to hunt turtle eggs. Catherines father became very suspicious over this assuming that the only reason a man would hide from outsiders in such a manner was if he was a fugitive from justice and that "only a man who had killed his wife could be so afraid of meeting strangers." One of Morgans grandsons reported to Hunter that one Thomas Woodbury (from Boston) told his [the grandsons; Hunter does not specify if this was Letitia or another daughter of Morgans] mother that the reason Morgan avoided strangers was not because of some homicide in his past but for his actions in "divulging Masonic secrets."
Morgan obtained a boat and went turtle fishing about 1839 when he was caught in a terrible storm. His boat lost its mast and he drifted for several weeks, until he was found by three Americans and towed into Utilla Bay, where he caught turtles and made coconut oil to sell in Belize. He eventually refitted his ship and went back to the Cayman Islands to fetch his wife and family, and they moved to Utilla. According to a captain (whose name Hunter did not know) who was suppose to have been on intimate terms with Morgan, he sent his daughter Letitia (by Catherine Ann Page) to Philadelphia to school, staying with an Aunt Rosa (supposedly Morgans sister, but possibly the Captains. Hunter surmises that the girl would feel more comfortable if she thought she were going to stay with "family.") Two interesting passages appear in Hunters letter at this point:
[Morgan] told [his daughter] that she could be assured that she would be as well taken care of by the Captain as if she was his own daughter, for besides the captain being his most intimate friend he also belonged to the same society he was once a member of. I asked [Letitia] if he did not say what society. No, she replied, but he meant the Free Masons, queried as to why she thought so - She said "I cannot say I thought that at the time, but I did later in life." going on to say "you know two of the three good men Aunt 'Tetia married wore the Square and Compass and they said 'Dada' (as she called her father) belonged to the fraternity."
Some years later I was talking to Letitias daughter at Utilla and she said her mother told her that when she was going to the States to school she asked her father why it was that he did not want his identity to be disclosed, said his reply was that he was suppose to be dead and it would not be any benefit to any one for him to try to resurrect himself, and let it stay at that.5. Not long before his death, he is supposed to have told one of his daughters that he left a wife and three small children behind in the United States, that he had served in the War of 1812 and that he was present at a meeting of an American and British general in Virilla. He then suggested that perhaps there is a connection between him and a man named Warren; this to prove he was not a "wife slayer."
Morgan died around 1864 and was buried in an unmarked grave (at his own request) which is hidden by the underbrush on his former home at Utilla. In the letters, Morgan is variously described as an "educated person, industrious and resourceful, industrious and intelligent," and Letitia is quoted as saying, "No woman ever had a better husband than mother, or any children a better father than we had-6. Morgan is described as not being much of a drinking man, but as "a man who lived at peace with our old friend, Dwight Hunter.7. Quite a difference from the typical descriptions of him as a "man of no repute, of idle and dissipated habits,"8. a traitor and a drunkard.
The next letter is from Hunter and is dated December 23. In it, Hunter discusses one Samuel Warren, one of the Americans who saved Morgan after drifting in that terrible storm and brought him to vouched for Morgan to the Lodge at Batavia. There is no follow up on this. Then Hunter talks about a rumor he had heard about Warren and Morgan sending monetary contributions (via an American sea captain) to the Old North Church in Boston. There is in that church a pew known as the Bay Pew, with the inscription: "This pew for the use of the Gentlemen of the Bay of Honduras, 1727." It is at this point one begins to fear that Brother Hunter is stretching things a bit far.
The last letter is a short note, dated February 3, 1951, inquiring if Grand Master Smead had received the long letter of December 16th. I think we can infer that Smead probably did not answer that letter or the one from December 23, otherwise there would be no need of a letter asking if the letter had been received - especially close to two months after the letter was mailed. And this closes the correspondence.
As a follow up, I found a short article in the Little Masonic Library, by Harold V. B. Voorhis, entitled "What really happened to William Morgan: A Plausible story."' In the article, Brother Voorhis enumerates the various theories of Captain Morgans disappearance, and then talks about his correspondence with our old friend Dwight Hunter. (Only three paragraphs are devoted to this theory (and Brother Voorhis seems to deem it a theory; hence the word story in quotation marks in his title), but he adds two significant points: 1) a statement that the Morgan in the Caribbean was buried in Masonic regalia; this was made by someone who was present at the funeral, so there is probably a ring of truth in it; and 2) the Utilla Cemetery has a tombstone in it which reads:
This is just one of many theories regarding William Morgans fate. Although many reports and sightings were made in the years following his disappearance, the only other theory worthy of note places him in Smyrnia. This theory also has its difficulties.
In memory of
Chester W. Loomis
born November 27th, 1814
died May 29th, 18739.
There was a Chester W. Loomis who was a judge at one of the trials during the excitement and Voorhis seems to think that this is the same man.
However, looking at the dates on the tombstone, he would have to have been a remarkable jurist, as he would have been twelve at the time Morgan disappeared. Unless we have a typographical error in the article, or there is a major error on the stone, this couldn't be the same man.
So, Brethren, what do the letters tell us. They tell us that: 1) there was a man named William Morgan who appeared in the Cayman Islands in the right time period, circa 1826; 2) he acted mysteriously when strange ships and outsiders appeared; 3) he sent one of his daughters to school in Philadelphia under mysterious circumstances; 4) he is supposed to have told family that he had left a wife and children in the States, served in the War of 1812 and was in Virginia at one time; 5) he was reported to avoid the outsiders because he "divulged Masonic secrets;" and 6) he now lies in an unmarked grave in Utilla. Does this suggest that he is the same William Morgan of Masonic history, who vanished from Upstate New York in 1826, leaving a wife and several children, (who he married in Virginia in 1819, after having served in the War of 1812) - it certainly does. Does it strongly suggest these two gentlemen are the same man, someone who would have much reason to not to be at peace with himself" for so many reasons? Absolutely. But does it prove this "conclusively" as James Carter states? OF COURSE NOT! It is conjecture and will probably always be so. If you were to ask my opinion, I would say yes, they are the same man. I am quite sure they are. But that is my opinion. The facts may support my opinion, but they don't prove conclusively that this is what happened.
In fact, in the Charles Fey papers, there is a booklet written by William S. Wakeman, entitled "The William Morgan Mystery Solved", which states that Morgan died and was buried in Southwest Alabama. His evidence is somewhat shaky, as you read the booklet, but no more than the National Christian Association, and they have a monument * that proclaims to all the world the "truth" of Morgans "murder" by the Freemasons. Circumstantial evidence may prove the burden of proof on television, but historical research is another matter.
We lost sight of Brother Hunter after February 3, 1951. The only thing I do know is that his book, tentatively entitled A Sojourner in the Caribbean, was never published. Voorhis, in his article on the subject, speaks of the "unpublished manuscript" in 1954.
We can only guess at the reasons why the book never saw the light of day. Perhaps the publisher didn't feel there was enough interest; perhaps the "enemies of Freemasonry" were conspiring to keep this information out of the publics hands (he hints in his first letter that his first publishers, who were Catholics, wanted him to "put up too much money to have it published"'10.; or, perhaps (though we would prefer not to think about it) he made it all up. His sources are not unimpeachable - memory and island folktales are not considered good primary sources. His is not the only theory to have been brought forward to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt" as to what happened to Captain William Morgan, of Batavia, New York. While it is a convincing theory, it isn't conclusive proof. This is the reason history is not an exact science. If it were, we would have so little to talk about and so much less research to do.
1.James Fairbairn Smith, Michigan Masonic Tracing Board: 1764-1976 9[np], (1976) ^
2.Dwight Hunter [Letter to Morgan Smead] (November 3, 1950) ^
3.Morgan J. Smead [Letter to I. Dwight Hunter] (December 6, 1950) ^
4.Dwight Hunter [Letter to Morgan Smead] (December 16, 1950) ^
9.Harold V. B. Voorhis, "What Really Happened to William Morgan: A Plausible story"' in Little Masonic Library [Richmond, Virginia: Macoy, 1947) ^
10.Hunter (November 26, 1950) ^
* "Christian men met in in convention in the City Hall, Aurora, Ill., October, 1867. A National meeting was called, and "The National Christian Association, opposed to secret societies," was formed, at Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1868. This National body has met annually since: in Chicago, 1869; Cincinnati, 1870; Worcester, Mass., 1871; Oberlin, 1872; Monmonth, Ill., 1873; Syracuse, New York, 1874; Pittsburgh, 1875; Chicago, 1876; Dayton, Ohio, 1877; Worcester, 1878; Boston, 1880; and in Galesburg, Ill., 1881." The National Christian Association Association. Sketch of Its History. Chicago, Illinois: National Christian Association, 1883.
Cf. The National Christian Association founded in 1867 at 850 W. Madison Street, Chicago, Illinois (and still active in 1968) erected this monument to William Morgan, dedicated with public ceremonies, on September 13, 1882. [AQC Vol. 80, p. 249]
Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1933. Volume 13, "Morgan, William".
Hunter, I. Dwight. [Letter to Morgan J. Smead]. Belize, British Honduras; November 26, 1950. Two Pages. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; Charles Fey Papers.
Hunter, l. Dwight. [Letter to Morgan J. Smead]. Belize, British Honduras; December 16, 1950. Seven Pages. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; Charles Pey Papers.
Hunter, I. Dwight. [Letter to MorganJ. Smead] Belize, BritishHonduras; December23, 1950. Two Pages. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; Charles Pey Papers.
Hunter, I. Dwight. [Letter to Morgan J. Smead]. Belize, British Honduras; February 3, 1951. One Page. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; Charles Fey Papers.
A Narrative of the Facts and Circumstances Relating to the Kidnaping and Murder of William Morgan... Chicago: Ezra A. Cook; 1974.
Pawner, John C. "The Morgan Affair and Anti-Masonry". The Little Masonic Library: Volume 11, Richmond, VA: Macoy, 1977.
Steads Morgan J. [Letter to 1. Dwight Hunter]. [Rochester, Michigan]; December 6, l950. Three Pages. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; Charles Fey Papers.
Smith, Jarnes Fairbairn. Michigan Masonic Tracing Board: 1764 to 1976. [n.p.]: [The Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Michigan]; 1976.
Thompson, John E. "The Mormon Baptism of William Morgan." The Philalethes February, 1985; 38(1): pp 8-11.
Voorhis, Harold Van Buren. "What Really Happened to William Morgan?: A Plausible story"'. Little Masonic Library: Volume II. Richmond, VA; Macoy, 1977.
Wakeman, William S. The William Morgan Mystery Solved. Batavia, New York: Charles F. Miller Printing Co.; 1936.
Reprinted by Eugene Goldman with permission.