Lewis H. Morgan


Lewis H. Morgan : biography

November 21, 1818 – December 17, 1881

The Ogden Land Company affair

Meanwhile the organization had had activist goals from the beginning. In his initial New Gordius address Morgan had said:"…when the last tribe shall slumber in the grass, it is to be feared that the stain of blood will be found on the escutcheon of the American republic. This nation must shield their declining day…." In 1838 the Ogden Land Company began a campaign to defraud the remaining Iroquois in New York of their lands. By Iroquois law, only a unanimous vote of all the chiefs sitting in council could effect binding decisions relating to the tribe. The OLC set about to purchase the votes of as many chiefs as it could, plying some with alcohol. The chiefs in many cases complied, believing any resolutions to sell the land would be defeated in council. Obtaining a majority vote for sale at one council called for the purpose, the OCL took their treaty to the Congress of the United States, which knew nothing of Iroquois law. President Martin Van Buren advised Congress that the treaty was fraudulent but on June 11, 1838, Congress adopted it as a resolution. After being compensated for their land by $1.67 per acre (Morgan said it was worth $16 per acre), the natives were to be evicted forthwith.

The great majority of the tribe were against the sale of the land. When they discovered they had been defrauded, they were galvanized to action. The New Confederacy stepped into the case on the side of the Seneca, conducting a major publicity campaign. They held mass meetings, circulated a general petition, and spoke to congressmen in Washington. The US Indian agent and ethnologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and other influential men became honorary members. In 1846 a general convention of the population of Genesee County, New York sent Morgan to Congress with a counter-offer. The Seneca were allowed to buy back some land at $20 per acre, at which time the Tonawanda Reservation was created. The previous treaty was thrown out. Returning home, Morgan was adopted into the Hawk Clan, Turtle Tribe, as the son of Jimmy Johnson on October 31, 1847, in part to honor his work with the Seneca on the reservation issues. They named him Tayadaowuhkuh, meaning "bridging the gap" (between the Iroquois and the European Americans.)

After Morgan was admitted to the tribe, he lost interest in the New Confederacy. The group retained its secrecy and initiation requirements, but they were being hotly disputed. When internal dissent began to impede the group’s efficacy in 1847, Morgan stopped attending. For practical purposes it ceased to exist, but Morgan and Parker continued with a series of "Iroquois Letters" to the American Whig Review, edited by George Colton. The Seneca case dragged on. Finally in 1857 the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that only the federal government could evict natives from their land. As it declined to do that, the case was over. The Ogden Land Company collapsed.

Marriage and family

In 1851 Morgan summarized his investigation of Iroquois customs in his first book of note, League of the Iroquois, one of the founding works of ethnology. In it he compares systems of kinship. In that year also he married his cross-cousin, Mary Elizabeth Steele, his companion and partner for the rest of his life. She had intended to become a Presbyterian missionary. On their wedding day he presented to her an ornate copy of his new book. It was dedicated to his collaborator, Ely Parker.

In 1853 Mary’s father died, leaving her a large inheritance. The Morgans bought a brownstone in a wealthy suburb of Rochester. In that year their son, Lemuel, was born, who "turned out to be mentally handicapped." Lewis’ rising fame brought him public attention. Lemuel’s condition (on no specific evidence) was universally attributed to the first-cousin marriage. The Morgans had to endure perpetual criticism, which they accepted as true, Lewis going to far as, in Ancient Society, to take a stand against cousin marriage. The Morgan marriage remained a close and affectionate one.