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Report of Colonel Morgan Morgan

Migration & Life in Virginia

Head | Part I | Part II | Part III | Works Cited

In 1716, Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia led an expedition across the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah, and sent back glowing reports of the country’s untouched fertile valleys. It was in 1730, that in order to disrupt the activities of the French and Indians in the west, Spotswood began issuing large tracts of land to settlers on the premise that they brought in one family for each one thousand acres granted. This marked the beginning of settlements west of the Blue Ridge, and we subsequently find that in November of 1730, Morgan sold his Delaware property to one John Harris, and prepared to make a new home within the expanding colony of Virginia.

At the time of Morgan’s onset into this new land, the territory was, much to the contrast of his Delaware home, a raw and undeveloped wilderness. He and his family had, however, ignored the dangers of the untamed frontier, and constructed their cabin along Mill Creek in present day Berkeley County, West Virginia. This single dwelling is considered to have been the first settlement within present day West Virginia, as Virgil Lewis had written in his “History and Government of West Virginia:”

John Lederer came as an explorer; Governor Spottswood and party came as adventurers; John Van Matre came as an Indian trader, but his sons, whom he advised regarding the fertile lands of the South Branch, were not the first to establish a home within the state. Morgan Morgan was the name of him who reared the first cabin home in West Virginia. (Report… 43)

It is traditionally claimed that the year of Morgan’s settlement was actually in either 1726 or 1727, though this obviously could not be true as he is still found to have been in Delaware at that time. The Morgan Morgan Monument Commission wrote that they had “accepted as a matter of course 1726 as the date of Col. Morgan’s settlement in Virginia,” but they also noted that one T.K. Cartmell, in his “History of the Shenandoah Valley,” asserted that “there was not likely any settlement there prior to 1730” (42). However, the Commission further pointed out that, “Being a merchant in Delaware, located along the channel of commerce between the colonies, it is more than probable that [Morgan] was an acquaintance of” (42) John Van Meter of New York, a trader who had passed throughout the Virginia country as early as 1725. As the Commission theorized, “Col. Morgan might have accompanied [John Van Meter] as early as 1726 or 1727, and on one of his expeditions, ‘hacked’ out a location and built a cabin” (42).

In 1662, Lysbet Hendrickson, the grandmother of Morgan’s wife, Catherine, arrived in New Amsterdam aboard the ship d’Vos. Catherine’s father, Hendrik, is also often speculated to have been aboard this ship, though others say he had immigrated with his believed older brother, Jan, on the Prins Maurits. Nevertheless, upon examination of the d’Vos records, we find that one Jan Joosten, “from the Thrillerwaerd,” immigrated to America with his wife, Macyken Hendrickson, and several children. This is doubtlessly the same Jan Joosten who’s wife and children were taken captive by Indians in June of 1663, though later rescued and returned in the following September. One of these children, Joost Jansen Van Meteren, was none other than the father of the famous trader, John Van Meter, the “Dutchman of the Hudson.” Thus, it seems possible that there was an even closer acquaintance between Morgan and Van Meter, through the Garretsons, than the Col. Morgan Morgan Monument Commission had realized.

In George Smyth’s A Genealogy of the Duke-Shepherd-Van Metre Family, he writes that “John Van Meter was with the Delaware and Cayugas in 1725,” who had been driven “from their home in the Carolinas westward through Virginia and Pennsylvania” (21) by the Catawbas and Cherokees. It was supposedly in that year that Van Meter had equipped and accompanied a war party which set south to retake Cayuga territory, but were unfortunately “encountered, and defeated… with great slaughter” (Smyth 21). As tradition has it, only Van Meter and two of his Indian allies survived the fight. Nonetheless, on this expedition, he was one of the first white-men to pass through the Shenandoah Valley, and when he returned home, Van Meter “advised his sons… to secure a part of the South Branch [of the Potomac River],” described as “the finest body of land which he had discovered in all his travels” (Smyth 21).

It was in 1730 that two of John Van Meter’s sons, Isaac and John, migrated westward, and settled in present day Berkeley County, West Virginia. Around the same time, Morgan Bryan and Alexander Ross had sponsored the settlement of a company of Pennsylvanian Quakers in the freshened Virginia frontier, who were once again aiming to establish a new Quaker community. Of them, the Morgan Morgan Monument Commission wrote that:

There is a tradition of the effect that Col. Morgan Morgan was the forerunner of and interested in the colonization of this section, and while his name is not mentioned as one of the promoters along with those of Alexander Ross and Morgan Bryan, as set fourth in his patent, he was, nevertheless, associated with them; the said Morgan Bryan having settled near Morgan’s plantation and being the owner of the land which a meeting house was petitioned to be built, in 1735-‘6, and which resulted in the establishment of a church afterward named ‘Morgan’s Chapel.’ (42)

This church, later discussed in this chapter, is the same which was sponsored by Col. Morgan Morgan and Joist Hite, husband of Anna du Bois, a first cousin of the elder John Van Meter’s mother, and who had cut his way into the Virginia frontier with a group of Pennsylvania Germans in 1732. It is also interesting to note that Morgan Bryan’s son, William Bryan, had married Mary Boone, sister of the Kentucky pioneer, Daniel Boone, mentioned previously in this sketch. Both the Bryan and Boone families later lived in Rowan County, North Carolina, near one Captain Benjamin Merrill, a revolutionary who had been hanged for treason by British regulars, and was once believed to have been the father of the John and William Merrill spoke of in the previous chapter. While the idea of this relationship between Captain Benjamin and the Merrills acquainted with David and Zackquill Morgan has long been disproved, it was, nevertheless, a very small world in eighteenth century America.

Of these new families migrating west of the Blue Ridge, Warren R. Hofstra explains in his “The Extensions of His Majesties Dominions,” that:

Gentlemen of eighteenth-century Virginia, unlike those of the seventeenth-century, did not wait for obscure backwoods hunters, fur traders, cattlemen, and small farmers to blaze the trails to the West, and subdue the forests for them; they were themselves pioneers in those ventures. (1284)

This certainly was Morgan’s case, a gentleman of New Castle, Delaware, who as far as we know, had no real backwoods or frontier experience, but only something of an adventuresome spirit. However, Morgan was, of course, not alone in his settlement of this untouched land, but was rather accompanied by his wife, Catherine, and several young children – the oldest, James, being only fifteen or sixteen years of age. As the Report of the Col. Morgan Morgan Monument Commission was quick to point out, Catherine too, is “entitled to equal credit” for this feat, as it fairly states that, “It is up to the wife of any frontiersman to more than hold up her end of the family burden, and the large and useful family they reared shows that she did not fail in her part” (37).

It was in 1731 that a most unfortunate event, the death of Morgan’s son, James, had occurred. There have been a few traditions passed down which contradict this, but as the Col. Morgan Morgan Monument Commission wrote, “if the statement of the brother, David, is to be relied upon,” then James “gave up the struggle within the year” (67) of the family’s Virginia settlement. Thus, as David Morgan claimed, James died at the age of sixteen. This would have been, without doubt, one of the earliest, if not the first funeral, for a settler in present day West Virginia.

One of the contradictory claims regarding James’ death, is that he had grown and married one Margaret Hedges, the sister of Ruth Hedges, wife of Abraham Van Meter, a brother of the aforementioned Isaac and John. Tradition has it that on a scouting trip from Prickett’s Fort in 1778 or 1779, at about sixty-three or sixty-four years of age, James was shot and killed by an Indian. However, while it seems that there was a James Morgan who had married Margaret Hedges, there is no evidence to suggest he was the son of Col. Morgan Morgan. Actually, descendants of this James seem to believe more often than not, that he was a son of Captain Richard Morgan of Frederick County. But again, James is not named in Capt. Richard’s will, nor is there any hard evidence proving that he was related to Richard’s family. Unfortunately, it simply seems that this James’ true ancestry has been lost in history.

The more famous tradition of Col. Morgan’s son claims that he had grown, married, and had several children by the outbreak of the American Revolution. During the war, in which he supposedly served as an officer, James had visited his home and family on leave, near the old Morgan homestead, and while there, was tragically murdered by a group of Tories. The story goes on that James was forced and bound to the family’s springhouse, and with a lighted candle placed at his breast to serve as a mark in the middle of night, had seventeen shots fired into his body while his wife and children were forced to witness the atrocity. This event, as tradition states, gave rise to the town’s name, Torytown.

The Morgan Morgan Monument Commission did attempt to sort out this legend, as their theory of the event went:

By referring to the above list of Colonel Morgan’s children, it will be noted that David says Nathaniel Thompson, the first husband of his sister Anne, was murdered. It is pointed out that all the statements of David may be reconciled if we go on the assumption that it was Anne’s husband, Thompson, who was shot, or murdered by the Tories, and not her brother James; and it is suggested that in the tradition, in the main, may be correct, an error has slipped in at this point, by reason of its longevity and frequent repetition. (68)

This is the same Nathaniel Thompson (Thomas) who had received a Virginia patent in 1735, and settled near present day Winchester, Virginia. It was also in that year that he was appointed to guard one Charles Hyatt, convicted by his future father-in-law, Morgan Morgan, for the murder of David Hopkins. However, while the Commission’s theory was at first certainly a convincing idea, and has been accepted by many of today’s Morgan descendants, more recent evidence has shown the assumption cannot be true.

Simply, the will of Nathaniel Thompson has been located, and it is found to have been probated in March of 1763. Thus, he was long dead before the American Revolution had begun, and therefore, simply could not have been the officer so cruelly murdered in Torytown. However, the Report of the Col. Morgan Morgan Monument Commission even more confusingly reads that, “Morgans yet living on the old plantation remember seeing the seventeen bullet holes in the old milk-house door before the building gave way to the ravages of time” (68), so, as it seems, there must yet be some truth to the old tale.

The legend has been more recently declaring that it was one of Morgan’s grandsons who met this fate at the hands of the Tories, which does seem more likely. But again, all the lives of Morgan’s known grandchildren don’t quite fit the story. It does seem possible that this James belonged to one of the obscure Morgan lines, being a son of either Charles or Henry Morgan, who have so unfortunately been lost in history. However, as it stands, this is a mystery which yet remains unresolved.

It was in 1734 that Col. Morgan, Joist Hite, Benjamin Borden, George Hobson, and John Smith, were appointed as the first justices of Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Spotsylvania had been created in 1721, stretching far beyond the Blue Ridge into present day West Virginia to promote European migration into the frontier. It had, however, remained void of settlers west of the mountains until the 1730s, marked by Morgan’s establishment. In the following August, which W.W. Scott contributed to the “divers inconveniences” that attended “the upper inhabitants to Spotsylvania County,” Orange County was further enclosed and established from the Spotsylvania boundaries. Consequently, we find that out of twenty-two appointees, Morgan was made chief justice within the first minutes of Orange County’s foundation.

The appointed sheriff and a fellow justice of Morgan’s, Colonel Thomas Chew, was the son-in-law of gentleman James Taylor, who had accompanied Governor Spotswood on his 1716 expedition. Additionally, Chew’s wife, Martha, was the “great-aunt of President [James] Madison and great-grand-aunt of President [Zachary] Taylor” (Scott). One of their sons, Colby Chew, later came to serve with David Morgan and Jacob Prickett in the French and Indian War under George Washington, and all were in the march on Fort Duquesne where Colby was killed. Another of Thomas Chew’s sons, James, migrated with Zackquill Morgan and Jacob Prickett in 1766, becoming the first settlers in present day Monongalia County, West Virginia. Both Zackquill and Jacob are buried in Prickett’s Fort Cemetery in Marion County, where as Joanne Lowe, narrator of the 100th Col. Morgan Morgan Family Reunion Bus Tour related the tradition that, “It is good to know that also buried here is… James Chew.” However, the true whereabouts of James Chew’s burial is uncertain, as his grave has never been distinctly located. If he was indeed buried in Prickett’s Fort Cemetery, then he must be laid in one of the many unmarked graves, since his name does not appear etched on any of the tombstones.

In August of 1735, Morgan was commissioned as a captain of the Orange County militia, and is now credited with having been the first commissioned military officer in the state of West Virginia. However, this does not appear to have been his first military commission, as the Col. Morgan Morgan Monument Commission transcribed the court document which reads:

Goodrich Lightfoot, Gent., & Morgan Morgan, Gent., presented into Court their Several Military Commissions who severally having taken the oaths appointed and subscribed the Test were sworn accordingly. (47)

Thus, it seems that Morgan must have had some prior military experience, as he had presented his “Several Military Commissions” to the court. Nonetheless, it cannot be said whether or not this military experience was drawn from soldiering in Queen Anne’s War, which so many of his descendants believe, as there is simply, and unfortunately, no additional records from which to draw this conclusion.

Additionally, upon this commission, Morgan had established the first Orange County militia company, which was later incorporated into the first Virginia Regiment of the Colonial militia. Tradition has it that George Washington, then employed by Lord Fairfax as a young surveyor (and who had worked with David Morgan in surveying the Fairfax boundaries), “was impressed as he sometimes watched while the militiamen drilled on the lawn of a nearby local church” (Report… 47). This company was later selected by Washington to serve as the primary protector for settlers within the Allegheny and Monongahela River Valleys. It later developed into the first unit of West Virginia’s National Guard, and is one of the oldest active units of the United States Military today.

It was in 1736 that a petition, headed by Morgan and signed by twenty-seven associates, was presented to the Orange County Court, declaring that one Reverend William Williams had agreed to offer religious services to the frontier community, and to ask for the approval for the erection of two buildings for worship. In Aprille McKay’s “Early Presbyterian Congregations,” she wrote that “the petition was evidently granted,” and the first of these buildings, which later became known as Bullskin Church in present day Jeffereson County, West Virginia, was to be built on “Mr. Williams’ land near his house.” The second church, later known as Morgan’s Chapel, was to be built “on the land of Morgan Bryan,” in now present day Berkeley County, West Virginia, which subsequently became “the first place where the Gospel was publicly preached and divine service performed west of the Blue Ridge.”

Of Morgan’s Chapel, Priscilla Kingston, in her work Morgan the Family, wrote that:

Of course the country was a wilderness, the dwelling-place of bears, wolves, and Indians. But in this wilderness did he find the God of the Christians present, for here, in the spirit of patriarchs, did he wait upon Him, and here did he experience His providential care. In or about the year 1740, he associated, as we are informed, with Doctor John Briscoe and Mr. Hite – erected the first Episcopal Church in the valley, at what is now called Mill Creek, or Bunker’s Hill. (231)

It was in this church that Morgan’s youngest child, Morgan Morgan, began performing the service of lay reader at the early age of sixteen. It has been said that “With the religious education of this son, [Morgan] appears to have taken peculiar care” (Kingston 231). The young son often accompanied his father on visits to the sick and dying, and was later induced by Col. Morgan to act as clerk for the parish rector at Winchester, Reverend Meldrum. It was later into his life that Col. Morgan’s son would ultimately become the minister of this church, and although he was never permitted to be officially ordained, became known as Reverend Morgan Morgan II.

It was also in 1736 that Col. Morgan had headed another petition, for the creation of Frederick County. In November of 1738, the movement was granted, and Frederick was bound from the County of Orange. However, as the “Frederick County Virginia Records” importantly shows, the courts for Frederick continued to be held within Orange, as Frederick still “lacked sufficient tithables to support itself.” As the Report of the Colonel Morgan Morgan Monument Commission further explains:

Frederick embraced all of the territory sub-divided into the counties of Rockingham, Shenandoah, Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire, part of Page, part of Hardy, and finally Clarke and Warren counties; and when we remember that only a few settlements were to be found at that time, and they considerable distances apart, we must not be surprised that the ‘population’ was slow in reporting a sufficient number of men from these settlements for Justices and other Officers, and preferred to attend court at Orange for five years after their formation. (50)

It was not until 1743 that Frederick held its first independent court, and subsequently, as Morgan had continued his position of Justice in Orange County until this time, was re-commissioned as a Justice of Frederick in November of that year. One of the first acts dictated by this new court, was the establishment of West Virginia’s first road, directed and overseen by Morgan Morgan which connected his home to the county seat of Winchester, a distance of about twelve miles. As the Report of the Colonel Morgan Morgan Monument Commission says, the road struck out from Winchester “into the wilderness – pointed civilization westward in its onward course,” connecting to Morgan’s home, which beyond, was nothing “but Indian, buffalo and pack-horse trails” (53).

From the beginning of this roads foundation, it had been of the utmost importance, being a gateway through the wilderness for settlers to their future western homes beyond, as well as a strategic military thoroughfare. “It was the route of young Washington… in command as military instructor, etc., of the militia for the northwestern counties of Virginia” (Report… 53), and it was additionally partly traveled by General Braddock and his troops on their way to Fort Duquesne.

It was four years after the foundation of this road that David Morgan, of which Dale Payne wrote of in his Biographical Sketches of the Pioneers, “became one of the earliest pioneers to explore the region of the Monongahela River” (115). It was in 1747 that David, along with Jacob Prickett, Nathaniel Springer, John Snodgrass, and Pharaoh Ryley “assembled on the Cacapon River at Capt. James Coddy’s Fort, to await word from Lawrence Washington and Mr. Cresap before proceeding on an expedition to locate land for Mr. Washington and Company” (Payne 115). Lawrence was the elder half-brother of George Washington, who was, as Joseph Ellis wrote in His Excellency, “a surrogate father” (9) for the future first president.

The party set out to pay visit to Charles Poke, the famous Indian trader who was then living along the South Branch of the Potomac River, and who too, with David, was at Captain Samuel Brady’s funeral. Poke had been one of the earliest traders to penetrate the seemingly endless wilderness of western Virginia and Pennsylvania, and David’s party were hoping to interview Charles in regards to the whereabouts of Traders Track Road. Although Poke was not at home at the time of their arrival, his wife was able to give them the information needed for their journey.

In early May, the group had reached the forks of the Cheat River, where they “remained until about the middle part of June, exploring up and down the Monongahela” (Payne 115). It was here that they encountered the Mingo Chief, Guyasuta, who with eight warriors, befriended the young surveyors. This is the chief told of in Story of Old Allegheny City, whom “George Washington once called the ‘Great Hunter’” (3). Tradition has it that Jacob Prickett inquired from Guyasuta the name of a nearby stream, and after the chief declared that it had no name, Prickett claimed the stream in Guyasuta’s honor. It became known as “Guyasuta Creek for many years” (Payne 115), though eventually gave rise to the name Ten Mile. It is additionally ironic to note that later Guyasuta would come to play a role in the defeat of General Braddock’s 1755 expedition, of which both David and Jacob Prickett were soldiers, and it was there that Keziah Shearer, a daughter of Henry Batten’s, had claimed that David received “a big scar on his cheek from the fighting” (Payne 121).

The year following this exploration of the Monongahela, David, along with sixteen year old George Washington, were appointed to assist “George William Fairfax on a surveying expedition of the Fairfax holdings in the Shenandoah Valley” (Joseph Ellis 10). Their work constituted the northern line of the Fairfax estate, which also doubled as a portion of the boundary between Virginia and Maryland. Additionally, it is believed, as disposed by one Joseph Hartley, an old friend of David’s, that he “was a first class surveyor and surveyed most of the tracts [in the Monongalia region] in early times” (Payne 120). Unfortunately however, many of these surveying records were presumably destroyed in the Morgantown courthouse fire of 1796.

It was in 1757 that George Washington had first ran for a position in the Virginia House of Burgesses for Frederick County, only to lose to Hugh West and Thomas Swearingen, a son of Thomas Swearingen “of the ferry,” and husband of Mary Morgan, a daughter of Captain Richard Morgan of Frederick. However, Washington and Col. Thomas Bryan Martin had come to defeat West and Swearingen in the following year, and we subsequently find that while David Morgan cast his vote in Washington’s favor, his father, Col. Morgan Morgan, had voted against the future president, rather preferring West and Martin.

In Charles S. Morgan’s Biblical record, earlier mentioned within this sketch, it sets fourth that Morgan had “died colonel of his county” (2), and the inscription on Morgan’s original tombstone, made shortly after his death, confirms the honorary title. Of this position, the Morgan Morgan Monument Commission referred to Garner and Lodge’s History of the United States, discussing Virginia’s colonial system of government, which claims:

At the head of the county was a lieutenant who corresponded in a rough way to the Lord Lieutenant of England, was sort of a deputy to the governor and bore the honorary title of ‘Colonel.’ He was commander of the county militia and as a member of the Governor’s Council exercised other important non-military duties. (58)

It was in 1753 that Lord Thomas Fairfax, Earl of Cameron, had succeeded Morgan as the county’s chief Justice, and it was on March 8th of that year, that now being the presiding officer of the court, “administered the oath to Col. Morgan, qualifying him to his military commission of Lieutenant-Colonel” (Report… 59). It was thus that Morgan’s rank was second only to George William Fairfax, the Colonel of the County at that time, son of Lord Thomas Fairfax, and George Washington’s closest friend. Additionally, George Fairfax’s sister, Anne, had married Washington’s elder brother, Lawrence; Washington himself, as his letters permit us to assume, would later fall “passionately in love with his best friend’s wife” (Joseph Ellis 36), the young Sally Fairfax. It was four years later, being 1757, that upon Colonel George William Fairfax’s death, Morgan succeeded in becoming Colonel of his county, and this, the last major feat known of Morgan’s life, was a position that he held until death.

The end of this sketch, of course, ends with Morgan’s life, being in 1766, the same year his son Zackquill had settled in Monongalia County, and later came to found Morgantown, West Virginia. Priscilla Kingston had wrote that Morgan “lived a pattern of piety and good citizenship until the advanced age of seventy-eight,” and while under the roof of his son, Rev. Morgan, he “breathed his spirit into the hands of his creator” (231) on November 17th of that year. Subsequently, Morgan was buried in the cemetery of Morgan’s Chapel, and his wife, Catherine, who survived Morgan by seven years, was later buried at his side.

Nearly one-hundred years following Morgan’s death, after the western counties of Virginia had separated during the Civil War, Morgan was credited with having many “firsts” within the state. Today, West Virginia acknowledges Morgan as having been its first white settler, the first civil officer, the first judicial officer, the first commissioned military officer, the first road engineer in supervision of the state’s first public enterprise, the first licensed tavern keeper, and the official sponsor of the first church. On April 17th, 1923, the West Virginia State Legislature passed a bill providing for the erection of a monument to Col. Morgan Morgan near his place of burial. Governor Ephraim F. Morgan, a sixth-generation descendant, had appointed a commission to carry out the provisions of the act, which is thus the same commission which was so often quoted throughout this sketch. Consequently, the monument was unveiled and dedicated on September 13th, 1924, forever in remembrance of Morgan’s sterling and steadfast character.