A Retrospective Series on Ancestral Relations
Subject 1 – Col. Morgan Morgan (1688-1766)
In many of my writings, I’ve always maintained the view that our ancestors, famous or not, all played an important part of our country’s history. Many times, we may see a possible connection to the notable pioneers of our country. In this series, I wanted to concentrate on the actual evidence of our connection to the early pioneers of Virginia and West Virginia that played a role in opening up the doors into the wilderness that became early settlements of Virginia and Western Virginia. These locations became beacons of opportunity where other early settlers followed their predecessors and built strong communities. Most of the pioneer subjects in this series are ones that have an authenticated and documented relationship to myself or my wife, while one or two others either has no actual proof by means of records such as birth, marriage or death records to make the ancestral connection or there is a mistaken connection that has been propagated through the years either by family lore or by verbal tradition.
Our first subject of interest is widely considered the first European settler of what is now West Virginia, Col. Morgan Morgan. This is what has been traditionally and historically recorded by historians and some genealogists, but in actuality it is doubtful, since there were already early German settlers in what is now Shephardstown, WV and surrounding area as early as 1727. Based on part of that “tradition” relating to ancestral family, Col. Morgan would be a distant cousin of mine, since I have documented my connection to the ancestral Morgan family of Tredegar, Wales. What follows draws into question Col. Morgan’s relationship to that very Morgan family.
Image courtesy of MarkerHistory.com
It is not my intention to take away from the many accomplishments of Col. Morgan and his family. I merely want to make it clear that there are doubts and concerns regarding Col. Morgan’s relationship to the well known ancestral Morgans of Tredegar, Wales. The following was taken from the “Back Rhodes of Our Genealogy” website.
“Morgan Morgan was born in the principality of Wales on November 1st, 1688, traditionally said in the county of Glamorganshire, though that is in question. As there are no primary sources linking him to such a birthplace, the idea that he was born in Glamorgan seems to arise from the family legend that he was a member of the Morgans of St. Mellon’s, a junior branch of the famous and ancient Morgan family of Tredegar. This theorized relationship is perhaps the most substantial of the Morgan legends to genealogists, as if true, would give insight into Morgan’s family origins. Unfortunately, however, no evidence has ever been found to support this proposal, or tie Morgan into any other Welsh lineages.
Most commonly though, Morgan is claimed to have been a son of Charles Morgan of St. Mellon’s, an alleged grandson of Sir William Morgan of Tredegar, through William’s son, John of the Temple. However, from where this idea originated has never been clear, but it does appear to be a relatively new phenomenon as none of the older Morgan genealogy references have ever addressed it.
In George T. Clark’s elemental work, Genealogies of the Older Families of the Lordships of Morgan and Glamorgan, John of the Temple is shown as Sir William’s son, through William’s first wife, Lady Elizabeth (Winter) Clark. Unfortunately it does not further explore John’s family, however, and thus has made no record of his children or grandchildren. Although Clark’s genealogies do include some information on the Morgan’s of St. Mellon’s, there is absolutely no entry of this particular Charles, and it should also be noted, that no other records regarding this individual have ever been produced or cited by researchers. In other words, as it stands, even Charles’ existence remains to be inconclusive.
Perhaps the most persuasive detail in contest to this relationship is in the way Morgan’s name is commonly presented. As the Report of the Col. Morgan Morgan Monument Commission reads:
”Lest the Welsh preposition ap…be construed by the reader to be a part of the name, it may be stated that “Morgan ap Morgan” means Morgan son of Morgan, and was used to designate the son before the adoption in Wales of Christian names.”
Up until the beginning of the eighteenth century, few Welsh families possessed fixed surnames, using a patronymic system of which individuals were identified in relationship to their father. For example, a Rhys, son of a William, would be know n as “Rhys Williams,” or “Rhys ap William,” with ap meaning literally, “son of.” If, for instance, Rhys further had a son named Maredudd, then Maredudd may consequently take on the name “Maredudd Rhys,” or “Maredudd ap Rhys,” thus showing that the surnames of many Welsh families were adjusted within every generation. This also further discredits the idea that all “Morgans” share a common ancestor, as family names were simply nonexistent among many ancestral lines until circa three hundred years ago. However, subsequently, as Morgan’s name is often accepted as “Morgan ap Morgan,” one would expect his father’s forename to have also been Morgan, rather than Charles.
Furthermore, although many genealogical lines spawning from the progenitor of the Tredegar Morgans continued the use of this naming system, it can be seen in Clark’s genealogies that the forefathers of the aforementioned Sir William adopted their fixed Morgan surname in the fourteenth century, making them one of the earliest Welsh families to make the conformation. Therefore, if Morgan was indeed a descendant of this Morgan line, it seems unlikely that he would have returned to the traditional patronymic system after nearly four centuries. If Morgan was indeed once known as “Morgan ap Morgan,” then it is probable that his ancestry had not yet acquired a fixed surname, and that he simply adopted it himself after immigrating to America in order to conform with English customs.
This relationship to Charles is not the only element of this family legend to be addressed, however. Another important and routinely declared tradition of Morgan’s descendants, is that Sir Henry Morgan, famously known at “the buccaneer,” or “the pirate,” was a brother of Charles,’ and thus an uncle of Morgan’s. This is so widely believed, that even at the 100th Morgan Morgan Family Reunion, an entire exhibit was dedicated to the notorious man. However, this claim cannot be proven, as simply, there are no primary sources naming the parentage of Sir Henry. Just as Sylvanus Urban published in The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle in 1832 – a statement that references the still defining factor of Henry and Morgan’ s claimed blood relationship:
”Of the parentage of Sir Henry I have not yet been able to obtain any positive proof; but it is sufficiently evident, from numerous collateral facts, that he was one of the great clan of the Morgans of Monmouthsire, which the house of Tredegar was at hand.”
The most persuasive of these “facts” that Urban refers to, is that in the will of Sir Henry, a Thomas Morgan of Tredegar was styled as his cousin. While this makes it unquestionable that Henry was in relation to the powerful Tredegar family, the exact origin has never been proven.
Nevertheless, this Thomas is understood to have been the great-great grandson of Thomas Morgan of Machen and Tredegar, who was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Roger Bodenham. After an examination of Clark’s genealogies, the brother of Thomas Morgan of Machen and Tredegar, Henry of Llanrhymny, was the grandfather of Robert and Lt. Gen. Edward Morgan, sons of Thomas and Catherine (Herbert) Morgan of Llanrhymny. As Clark recorded among his works, he believed that this Robert was the fat her, rather than John of the Temple, of Sir Henry; an idea that many modern historians also believe. Further, Lt. Gen. Edward Morgan, and his wife, Anna Petronella (Von Polnitz), were the parents of Mary Elizabeth Morgan, who subsequently, married Sir Henry. Needless to say, if Henry was of the Llanrhymny family, a first cousin to his wife, and indeed a son of Robert’s, then he could not have been a brother of the said Charles, and he especially could not have been an uncle of Morgan’s .
Theoretically, the relationship between these three men was likely first based in circumstantial evidence. Humorously, it has been joked that every “Grandfather Morgan” has proudly boasted such tall tales to his grandchildren of a blood relationship to the infamous “Terror of the Spanish Main.” It is probable that someone’s guesswork, noticing the obvious that both Morgan and Henry had the same surname, led to the speculation, and later gave rise to the legend that the two men were related.
What is especially noticeable to the researchers of Morgan’s life and family, is that two of his sons, Charles and Henry, are also generally paired with one another as they are the two male progenitors of what is commonly called “the three lost Morgan tribes.” Charles and Henry were born consecutively, their wives were sisters, and additionally, the families of both are generally associated with Spartanburg, South Carolina. Also, frustratingly, with the exception of a few tidbits of information, the two brothers essentially disappeared from the historical record, and their descendants are hence “lost.” Therefore, typically, as there is so little known about these two brothers, they are generally addressed together, rather than as separate individuals.
As Sir Henry had no children of his own, he therefore could not have had any direct descendants, and obviously, could not have been Morgan’s father. However, it is probable that this simply guided the idea that he could have instead been an uncle. With the father-son relationship between Henry and Morgan out of the question, it is no surprise that the next choice, and obvious best fit to the theory, was that Morgan’s father was a Charles, thus playing on this Charles-Henry correlation . This appears to be the root of the family legend, which in addition, after becoming accepted as fact by many unsuspecting Morgan descendants, pushed into further assumptions. Eventually, a collection of speculations, intricately “fit” into one another, basing guesswork off of other guesswork, led to one large collection of “facts,” and ultimately, a single conglomerate legend regarding Morgan’s family. Unfortunately, as intricate as this family legend is, it has no real basis in historical evidence, whatsoever.
Morgan is also commonly believed to have had three distinguished brothers: Zackquill, Evan, and Charles. Noticeably, these three names are all those of Morgan’s sons, which may initially call for a researcher’s attention. In particular, the name Zackquill is highly indicative, as that name appears to have been wholly unique to Morgan’s descendants. If a Zackquill Morgan were to be found among Welsh records, then it would emphatically give a strong indication of kinship. However, the problem exists in that there never has been any Zackquill, Morgan or otherwise, cited within Welsh records. Especially since this Zackquill Morgan is generally claimed to have once been a Bishop of Cardiff, one would expect to find some records of this noteworthy person – but there are none. No official records of this mentioned Evan (a supposed military officer), or Charles (a supposed prominent farmer), have ever been presented either, and just as with Morgan’s supposed father, there is no evidence to prove that these three “brothers” are anything more than fictitious characters.
Overall, as it was correctly and appropriately recorded in the report published by the Col. Morgan Morgan Monument Commission:
”Whether by design or through indifference to ancestral lore – the latter being a well known family trait – Col. Morgan Morgan left no record, official or otherwise, so far as is known, which has been preserved or remembered by any of his many descendants, of his connection in his native Wales with the old Glamorganshire family there of the same name.”
To date, this work remains to be the most comprehensive account of Morgan’s life. The above statement, written over eighty years ago, is still the conclusive reality of any ties speculated between Morgan and the family of Tredegar.
With Morgan’s parentage still unknown, his early years have been further shrouded in history as there are no historical records pertaining to him during that time. The little insight we have comes from a record found within a family Bible, written by Charles Stephen Morgan, Morgan’s great-grandson (Stephen3, David2, Morgan1), in 1835. Now located in the Virginia State Library’s archives and manuscript collection, it reads that Morgan was “educated in London during the reign of William III” (1689 – 1702), however, although he, along with his children and grandchildren, are found to have been able to read and write quite eminently, the extensiveness of his learning’s are unknown. It is often said that Morgan studied at Cambridge University, but as he is not listed among John Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, this probably isn’t true. Further, as Morgan was born in Wales, it has become unclear whether his family had removed to London, or if he was simply sent there to board during his schooling years. However, as education has been historically withheld from the lower classes of social hierarchies, it has been construed that Morgan was at least of a family with some social standing, and his education would no doubt play a chief role in his success and prominence in America.”
The above notation is courtesy of Carl Rhodes – Back Rhodes of Our Genealogy.
Other seeds of doubt:
There is one tantalizing record I found on Ancestry© that closely matches our subject:
So, does this prove anything? Not really. The surname Morgan is probably one of the most common surnames in Wales. According to walesonline.co.uk and tribstar.com, the surname Morgan is in the top 10 most common surnames in Wales, and 55% of the population of Wales has one of these top 10 surnames, Jones being #1. So that means there are many, many Morgans, but that does not mean that they are all related to each other.
The given name Morgan is also a common occurrence, as there were many Morgan Morgan baptism records across Wales during the time period that Col. Morgan Morgan was born.
It is quite clear that Col. Morgan Morgan and his descendants would have issues in making the case for connections to the well-known ancestral Morgan family of Tredegar. Since I began genealogy research, I have learned that what may appear to be true, isn’t necessarily true until proven otherwise. Whether it is written in a book or claimed by noted researchers, don’t take everything at face value, do the research yourself. You have to find the recorded evidence to be able “stake a claim” into any ancestral family.
Cited Works and References:
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Clark, George T. Genealogies of the Older Families of the Lordships of Morgan and Glamorgan. London: Wyman & Sons. 1886.
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Morgantown, WV 1897 – Morgantown was settled in 1772 by Zackquill Morgan, a son of Morgan Morgan. The Virginia Assembly chartered the territory in 1785 and the first lot sale was held. Morgan received the charter for the establishment of the town to be called Morgan’s Town on October 17, 1785. ~ Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Special Thanks to:
West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History
My wife Cheryl, who continues to love me and support my research, which I could never do without