James Morgan and A Case of the Maybes

James Morgan (Sr.) 1607 (maybe) to 1685

Once James Morgan became established in New London County, Connecticut, records abound that trace his activities and his family. However, before his arrival all is murky.

Note: This is one of my rare “process” posts in which I focus on how I get the information in order to tell the stories. If that bores you to tears–just skip this post and go straight to the next one (when it appears) that will tell the story that is based on strong assumptions and concrete records. But for now, I’m sharing the down and dirty struggle with elusive fact.

I have relied heavily on the secondary source, A History of James Morgan of New London Connecticut and his Descendants by Nathaniel H. Morgan, first published in 1869. As I have discussed before, these genealogies of a family were extremely popular toward the end of the 19th century. Nathaniel Morgan actually was at the beginning of the trend and was a much more careful historian than were many of those who collected family information.

For instance, he explains in detail how he has pursued some information that previously had been assumed correct and proven it incorrect. He labels family stories and legends as “traditional” knowledge, separating them from those items recorded contemporaneously in the Puritan communities of New London County. And yet…lacking primary sources, I may tend to believe most of what he says, but never treat that information as proven.

Maybe #1: Where and When James Morgan Was Born

Map from Victorian Times of area James Morgan came from (Maybe). Glamorgan County showing Llandaff just NW of Cardiff. Wiki Commons.

Nathaniel Morgan says that our James Morgan was probably born in Llandaff, Glamorgan County in Wales. That town, also Landough, and county lie in the far south of Wales next to Cardiff. However, Find a Grave.com says he was born in Denbighshire which lies in the far northwest of Wales. I don’t know the source of the Find a Grave assertion. I prefer to trust the instinct of Nathaniel since Find a Grave also lists unproven relationships to mother and father.

According to a biography in Wikitree which tends to the cautious, preferring to cite primary sources, we have James’ word for his age. In 1657, James Morgan signed a statement* saying he was “about 50 years old.” As far as I can see that is the only solid piece of primary evidence for his age. *The statement was related to his being chosen to serve in the General Court.

Maybe #2: Who Were James Morgan’s Parents?

Some sources list William Morgan and Elizabeth Morgan. Others have a different maiden name for Elizabeth but those who believe she is from another Morgan line have an elaborate explanation. William and Elizabeth were very common names in Wales, as was the surname of Morgan, which makes tracking by baptism and wedding records difficult indeed.

A man named Appleton Morgan self-published a book called A History of the Family Morgan From the Year 1089 to Present Times in 1902. His book seems to pick and choose from the work of the aforementioned Nathaniel Morgan. A History of… relies to some extent on the author’s own family legends. After tracing the Morgan family back to the 16th century, Appleton gets to William and then James.

Author Appleton Morgan lists William Morgan Of Llanvabon, (same county of Glamorgan that is generally claimed) born in 1591 as James Morgan’s father. Appleton does not name a mother at all. In his version of events, this William had seven sons, none of them Miles, although Nathaniel and most other accounts of our Morgan line list James, John and Miles as the three brothers who sailed together to the new world. The significance of this is that Miles is a more unusual name, and so it is easier to assign to him the mother, Elizabeth Morgan Morgan.

Seeking Truth in Family Legend

Nathaniel Morgan tells us that while there is no concrete proof, tradition says that James’ father was William. In support of the father being William Morgan and the place Llandaff/Landough, Nathaniel tells us that a later William, son of John, son of the original William told a story that his father, John (b. 1693) had a very little old book in which was written the name of “William Morgan of Llandaff” and dated before 1600. That John said that William was the father of James, Sr.

A family heirloom also figures into the story, as there existed a pair of gold sleeve buttons (of ancient make) with WM stamped on them. They were said to belong to William Morgan of Llandaff and they came into the possession of Nathaniel, the author, from his father, who was another William. Unfortunately someone stole those sleeve buttons.

Maybe #3: The Connection to J. P. Morgan

Nathaniel’s book, and most other sources list three brothers who came to America together, James Morgan, the oldest and two younger brothers John and Miles. The traditional stories have John disliking the Puritans of New England because he was a believer in the Church of England. So he went to Virginia, where the dominant church was Episcopal–or Church of England. There the trail becomes cold–perhaps because of his common name.

The tradition has Miles leaving the Massachusetts Bay for Roxbury and then when he was not yet 21, joining the founders of Springfield Massachusetts. Miles was an ancestor of the financier, Junius Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan. Miles seemed to be the most adventurous of the three and his life in New England has been well documented.

Nathaniel’s book on James and family includes an appendix devoted to Miles. That manuscript is called A History of the Family of Miles Morgan by Titus Morgan (1809). If you are curious, it starts on page 220 of the History of James Morgan, linked above.

James also went first to Roxbury and then moved to New London Connecticut. His life as a founder and leading citizen of a New England town is also well documented.

However, Appleton Morgan’s book throws doubt on whether Miles indeed belonged to the same family as James and John. Appleton has Miles leaving England in January 1636 and the two brothers James and John leaving in the summer of that year. He gives a different family line for Miles. Appleton casts enough doubt that the folks at Wikitree reserve judgement about whether the three are in the same family. They also don’t adopt Appleton’s extensive number of children, since no proof exists for them as far as I can see.

Conclusions

I should note that there is no question that there were generations of very interesting, rich and powerful Morgans in Wales, specifically in Glamorgan (territory of Morgan) County. The Morgan family has been well researched in all its branches and intertwining of branches in those ancient days in Wales.

I would love to be able to wallow in the exciting story of Welsh princes fighting Normans and the numerous castles and riches. The problem is that we don’t know for sure which group of Morgans our James descended from. That leads eager “famous ancestor” hunters to jump to conclusions that may not be justified. I’m resisting.

The birth year seems to be correct based on James Morgan’s own words. Family traditions recorded by Nathaniel persuade me that the place of origin was Llandaff. The same story verifies the father’s name was William.

I tend to believe the preponderance of commentary that there were three brothers who sailed together. The basic proof for their arrival on the ship Mary comes from a book , Immigrant Ancestors: A List of 2,500 Immigrants to American Before 1750, edited by Frederick Adams Virkus.The Genealogical Publishing Company printed the text in 1986. Some repositories allow searches on line, but the text is not available on line. I will feel more comfortable when I see the book in person. (A search reveals a James Morgan on many pages and several where a Miles Morgan is mentioned.)

Why do I believe they were brothers? Partly because the age of the three is right for three brothers. All three sailed from Bristol in England, where James and John’s family supposedly lived for a few years. Even more important, consider the fact that both James and Miles are documented in Roxbury before going on to found new communities. And, hey, it has nothing to do with the fact that if they are brothers, I am distantly related to J. P. Morgan!

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1 thought on “James Morgan and A Case of the Maybes

  1. Cathy Meder-Dempsey


    Twitter:
    Interesting! Glad I didn’t skip it. “Process” post or research log, whatever you call it, I found it interesting to see what you are using and what you may discard. The family and geographical histories written a century ago are wonderful but the records to back them up are the treasures.

    Reply

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