Lewis H. Morgan


Lewis H. Morgan : biography

November 21, 1818 – December 17, 1881

Eponymous Honors

  • Annual lecture in Morgan’s name at the Anthropology Department of the University of Rochester.
  • Rochester Public School #37 in the 19th Ward named "Lewis H. Morgan #37 School"
  • Lewis Henry Morgan Institute (a research organization), SUNYIT, Utica, New York
  • Lewis H. Morgan Rochester Regional Chapter of the New York State Archeological Association


The American Morgans

According to Herbert Marshall Lloyd, an attorney and editor of Morgan’s works, Lewis was descended from James Morgan, brother of Miles, who were Welsh pioneers of Connecticut and Springfield, Massachusetts, respectively. Various sources record that the three sons of William Morgan of Llandaff, Glamorganshire, took passage for Boston in 1636. From there Miles went to Springfield, James to New London, Connecticut and John Morgan to Virginia. Lloyd writes, "From these two brothers [James and Miles] all the Morgans prominent in the annals of New York and New England are believed to be descended." The Morgans to which he refers played a critical part in the foundation of the colonies. During the American Revolutionary War, they were Continentals. Immediately after the war, the Connecticut line, along with many other land-hungry Yankees, migrated into New York State. Following the United States’ victory against the British, the new government forced the latter’s Iroquois allies to cede most of their traditional lands in New York and Pennsylvania to the US. New York made 5 million of acres available for public sale. In addition, the US government granted some plots in western New York to Revolutionary veterans as compensation for their service in the war.

Early life and education of Lewis Morgan

Lewis’ grandfather, Thomas Morgan of Connecticut, had been a Continental soldier in the Revolutionary War. Afterward he and his family migrated west to New York’s Finger Lakes region, where he bought land from the Cayuga people and planted a farm on the shores of Lake Cayuga near Aurora. He and his wife already had three sons, including Jedediah, the future father of Lewis; and a daughter.

In 1797, Jedediah Morgan (1774–1826) married Amanda Stanton, settling on a 100-acre gift of land from his father. After she had five children and died, Jedediah married Harriet Steele of Hartford, Connecticut. They had eight more children, including Lewis. As an adult, he adopted the middle name Henry..

A multi-skilled Yankee, Jedediah Morgan invented a plow and formed a business partnership to manufacture parts for it; he built a blast furnace for the factory. He moved to Aurora, leaving the farm to a son. After joining the Masons, he helped to form the first Masonic lodge in Aurora. Elected a state senator, Morgan supported the construction of the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825.

At his death in 1826, Jedediah left 500 acres with herds and flocks in trust for the support of his family. This provided for education as well. Lewis studied classical subjects at Cayuga Academy: Latin, Greek, rhetoric and mathematics.. Note: Sometimes the name is given as Cayuga Lake Academy. His father had bequeathed money specifically for his college education, after giving land to the other children for their occupations. Lewis chose Union College in Schenectady. Due to his work at Cayuga Academy, Lewis finished college in two years, 1838–1840, graduating at age 22. The curriculum continued study of classics combined with science, especially mechanics and optics. Lewis was strongly interested in the works of the French naturalist Georges Cuvier.

Eliphalet Nott, the president of Union College, was an inventor of stoves and a boiler; he held 31 patents. A Presbyterian minister, he kept the young men under a tight discipline, forbidding alcoholic beverages and requiring students to get permission to go to town. He held up the Bible as the one practical standard for all behavior. His career ended with some notoriety when he was investigated by the state for attempting to raise funds for the college through a lottery. The students evaded his strict regime by founding secret (and forbidden) fraternities, such as the Kappa Alpha Society. Lewis Morgan joined in 1839..