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Baron Steuben Lodge #264 

The Morgan Incident

William Morgan was born in Virginia in the year 1774. He married a 16 year old girl in 1819, then moved to Canada two years later to operate a distillery. When a fire destroyed his business in 1823, he left Canada and moved to Rochester, New York. Over the next three years or so, he visited many lodges, and had a remarkable knowledge of the ritual. He received his York Rite Royal Arch Degree at LeRoy, New York in 1825.

When Companions of Batavia, a new Royal Arch Chapter was proposed, Morgan's name was on the petition, but suspicions were raised because there was no record to show where (or if) he had ever been initiated. Characterized as an undesirable, his name was omitted as a member when the Charter was granted.

Resenting this action, Morgan apparently became bitter and sought revenge.  Morgan announced that he intended to publish a pamphlet exposing the secret work of the first three degrees of Masonry. While exposures were already gaining popularity in Europe, this was the first such document to be published in the United States, and it aroused great excitement in the lodge.

It goes without saying that the accounts of Masons and anti-Masons differ greatly in the events which followed, but it is generally agreed that in September of 1826, Morgan was arrested for the theft of a shirt and tie. He was acquitted of that charge, and released. He was then immediately re-arrested and jailed for failure to pay a debt.

The following day, someone paid that debt, and Morgan was released from jail. There were many different eye-witness reports of Morgan's demise, but one of the most popular goes something like this. Morgan was abducted by several Masons upon his release from jail, thrown into a carriage, and whisked away as he cried out "murder".

The Masons claim he was taken to Fort Niagara, near the Canadian border, where he was held for several days, and then he vanished, never to be seen again.

Anti-Masons charged that Morgan had been murdered according to the provisions of his obligation, but no body was ever found. Masons responded they had simply paid him to leave the country.

In any event, David C. Miller, Morgan's publisher, who was also the printer and publisher of The Batavia Republican Advocate, was infuriated by the establishment of a rival local newspaper, The People's Press. The editors of The People's Press were Masons.

Miller went ahead with the release of Morgan's controversial pamphlet, entitled "Illustrations on Masonry," and it sold quite well. 

The pamphlet also caused great resentment in the town. The newspaper building was set on fire, although no serious damage was done. Some went so far to say it was Miller himself that set the fire, although four Masons were eventually arrested on the charges, and three of them went to jail as a result.

In the years that followed, a number of local Masons were charged with involvement in Morgan's disappearance, and several of those men offered confessions. No one, however, was ever convicted of Morgan's murder.

Anti-Masons blamed it on the Masonic makeup of the courts. Masons, on the other hand, insisted that the courts had already been purged of Masonic involvement, and anti-Masonic jurors had simply been overwhelmed by the lack of evidence, especially since no one had found any of Morgan's remains.

Thirteen months after Morgan's disappearance, the discovery of a body washed ashore at Oak Orchard Harbor, led to an enormous political scandal for the anti-Masons. Initially, the body was determined to bear no resemblance to Morgan, and was buried.

Almost immediately, however, Thurlow Weed, an ambitious anti-Masonic politician, whom history shows as an unscrupulous opportunist, demanded that the body be exhumed and reexamined.

Although the evidence was unconvincing, Weed remarked that "it is a good enough Morgan until after the election." Lucinda Morgan was even persuaded to testify that the body was indeed her husband's, and with great ceremony it was reburied near Batavia as the martyr William Morgan.

Shortly thereafter, however, word came from a small Canadian town that a woman by the name of Sarah Munro was looking for her husband, who had last been seen in a rowboat on Lake Ontario. Her description of her husband and his possessions matched the body buried as Morgan.

The body was exhumed again, re-examined, and confirmed to be not Morgan, but Sarah Munro's missing husband, Timothy.

As that story became public, two men eventually came forward to testify that they had seen Thurlow Weed himself shave the facial hair from the corpse before the examination to ensure that it more closely resembled Morgan.

The press made sure that Weed never lived down his attempted hoax.

As to the real outcome of William Morgan, it is unlikely we will ever know what really happened to him. Over 175 years separate us from the events, and despite the interest of thousands of scholars and several different official investigations, the mystery is just as obscure now as it was in 1826. 

In 1932 a Mason by the name of Thomas Knight, published documents which suggested that Morgan may have fled first to Boston, then to Smyrna, where he remained until his death.

 You decide.