Sunday, March 03, 2013


I spent a good part of the past week Googling my ancestry,  trying to fill in the gaps in my grandmother's collected documentation of my mother's side of the family. What's most interesting about doing this is that it gives you a direct route to looking at history; you start with yourself, and trace backwards through people you knew, and people they knew that you didn't, and so on, and before you know it you're learning about the Civil War, or the southern pioneers, or the Revolution.

Looking at it this way, as a continuous route through history, you can almost start to see narratives, although you learn them backwards. Here I'll try to reconstruct one of them forwards: the recent history of my middle name, Morgan - or more specifically, of the legacy of the name Rufus Morgan. In the plot above (invented by me), this is the blue pathway leading directly left from below the center.

Rufus Morgan was born in 1751, in Springfield MA. His father Gideon, also of Springfield, died a year later at the age of 28. Rufus's mother Rachel Kibbe then had his name changed to Gideon Rufus, in memory of his father. Gideon the First's father and grandfather, both named Jonathan, had lived their entire lives in Springfield; his great-grandfather Miles Morgan was one of the founders of the town. The connection between elder and younger Gideon is actually contentious - the internet genealogy consensus maintains that Gideon Rufus's father was Samuel Morgan of Connecticut, who was a descendant of one of Miles Morgan's brothers. However, I am pretty sure the internet is wrong here; I have seen a photo of a document signed by Gideon's mother, where she requested his name be changed in memory of his father. Unless there were two Gideon Rufus Morgans in the area of Springfield, both born around 1751, and one disappeared from history, then I think they are the same, and Gideon came down from Miles.

So, Gideon Rufus was a Minuteman in the Revolutionary War, and after the war he started a career as a civil engineer, involved in the planning of new towns like Saratoga NY. He and his wife Patience Cogswell started their family in Connecticut, and gradually migrated south, through New York down to Staunton, Virginia, where Patience died and Gideon apparently resolved to keep going south with his children into East Tennessee, sometime around 1800. Maybe his father's early death, and his adventures as a Revolutionary War soldier, broke what had been a 150 year bond between that Morgan line and central New England.

As for Gideon II's migration to Tennessee: I'm guessing that they made their trip down the 'Great Wagon Road', along the valleys of the Applachian mountains, passing through Kingsport, and maybe following the Tennessee river from there to Fort Southwest Point. There, in the settlement of Kingston, west of what would become Knoxville, he set up a tavern and trading post, apparently becoming an important local figure in the frontier trade - and conflict - with the Cherokee.

Gideon had many sons:

The oldest, Luther Morgan, went further west and south, and was one of the first generation of white settlers in what became Huntsville, Alabama - his son married into the wealthy family of John Hunt, the city's namesake. He was the grandfather of the Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, famous for his long cavalry raid through Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio; and great-grandfather of the evolutionary biologist (and Nobelist) Thomas Hunt Morgan.

The second, Gideon Junior, or Gideon Morgan the Third, was a leader of a regiment of Cherokee that allied with the Americans under Andrew Jackson during the Creek War, and that included more famous names like Major Ridge, Path Killer, and John Ross. He married Mary Sevier, the granddaughter of the first governor of Tennessee John Sevier, and a quarter Cherokee on her mother's side; Mary's maternal grandmother was a granddaughter of Oconostota, the leader of the Cherokee who fought and were defeated in the 1780's by the American revolutionaries who were to take Tennessee for themselves. Most of Gideon III's descendants went west to join the exiled Cherokee nation in Oklahoma. I know there was a Gideon Morgan IV who went to join the Cherokee in Oklahoma only after having served the Confederacy in the Civil War, but I don't know the details. There was another son of Gideon III, named Rufus Montezuma, and a daughter named Cherokee America. It looks like that part of the family, the ones with the Cherokee relations, were still in East Tennessee until the 1850's and 1860's, but most had gone to Oklahoma by the 1870's.

The third son was Rufus (II) Morgan, who died in 1826 in Kingston; he was an ancestor of the playwright Tennessee Williams (that link describes the confusion surrounding the identity of Gideon Rufus's father). The fifth (or sixth) was George Washington Morgan, who lived to be 96 years old, dying in the 80's in Nashville. George's son John Tyler Morgan was a Confederate general, and later a US Senator from Tennessee; his Wikipedia entry, I think, clearly indicates that he was the Bad Cousin: he was an influential white supremacist and imperialist who supported violence against blacks, the US war with Spain and the Philippines, and the annexation of Hawaii. One of G.W. Morgan's daughters, a Musidora Morgan, married a Daniel Sayre - their granddaughter was the famous Zelda Sayre, a whole different kind of tragedy.

The fourth son of Gideon Rufus was William Cogswell Morgan. He's the leftmost point on the blue path in the plot at the top of this post; 'WCM'. He went west to Nashville. His wife was Nancy Seawell, born in Nashville in the 1780's, which would make her part of the very first generation (of white people) of my hometown. He was my great-great-great-great grandfather, and I don't know much else about him, except that he died in the 1820's before he was 40 years old, just a few years after his wife died at 33. As far as I know, they had a single son, Lewis Morgan, around 1819.

The record is pretty fuzzy on this part of the story, probably because of William C.'s early death; we don't know where Lewis was born, where his parents died young, where he grew up - Nashville seems the best bet. I don't know who raised Lewis - I could even be wrong on the William C. connection, but I don't think I am. But still, this is the weakest link in the chain, weaker than the Gideon I - Gideon II link. I hope that somewhere in Tennessee, there's some document somewhere that can show clearly who Lewis's father was, but as of now, we just don't have any proof. The alternative is that he came from other Morgans from North Carolina, as I have found several possible Lewis Morgan Srs who were coming into East Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia at around that time. Lewis Morgan was, in the late 18th century, a popular name. However, none of the dates or marriages fit - the other Lewises were too old or too young, unless we've got his birth date wrong, and they married women other than (and not including) the women we know he married.

At any rate, when the Civil War came, Lewis and his young son Rufus Samuel - as far as I can tell, he was Rufus Samuel the First, and Rufus III - joined up with his cousin John Hunt Morgan's army. I can't find any evidence that either of them took part in Morgan's famous Raid, though family lore has it that Lewis was a part of it, and spent some time imprisoned in Ohio (where Morgan's army finally surrendered). This is one reason to believe in the connection between William and Lewis, because Lewis apparently claimed that General Morgan was an actual cousin. Lewis's first wife was named Sarah Reed - a notebook I have a copy of, made by the daughter of a grandson of Lewis' named Fletcher Morgan, claims that Sarah was half Cherokee - I know nothing else about her. That notebook also insinuates the connection between William and Lewis.

Lewis was apparently murdered sometime soon after the War was over, in northern Alabama somewhere - the story is that he was taking money to a church, when he was robbed at a river crossing and buried in the sand by the thieves. Rufus Samuel ended up back in East Tennessee, where he married in McMinn county and lived to be 77 years old, dying in Chattanooga in 1923, three years after my grandfather, Rufus Samuel Morgan, was born there. I've seen a family picture of the elder Rufus Samuel and his sons. There were a lot of them. One of them was Rufus Samuel II (Rufus IV), who died in a car accident in Ringgold in 1918 at the age of 30 (I know this because it's written on the back of that family picture); another was the aforementioned Fletcher. Another was my grandfather's father, Edward Oliver. Edward Oliver married Anna Lee Wall, worked as a farmhand, a farmer, and later as an bookkeeper in the Chattanooga area, and died in 1963. Anna Lee died nine years later, seven years before I was born.

So now here I am, and in my generation there are three of us with this name Morgan, as a sort of genealogical reliquary - we're all children of my grandfather's two daughters, his only children, so we have different surnames. As near as I can tell, until my grandfather Rufus Samuel Morgan III - Rufus V if we include all namesakes - died, the name of Rufus Morgan had been held by some descendant of Gideon I in every year since 1751. 262 years of Rufus Morgans, from 1751 to 2013. It might continue in some distant line, but to my knowledge it ended with my grandfather. I had never known it had such a long history.

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