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Thomas and Ann Morgan in Herefordshire page 6

Accounts of Thomas Morgan's life

We can fill in many of the details of Thomas Morgan and Ann Watkins' lives in England from primary documents that record events in the lives of their fathers, mothers, siblings, and their children who were born in England. But that is not the primary purpose of this paper. An important purpose of this paper is to examine, and prove or disprove, the doubtful Thomas Morgan legends included in some of the life sketches his descendents left for us, a contributing source of which may have been the lack of clear birth records for Thomas in England.

A number of short life sketches for our Thomas Morgan, written by descendents, have been handed down to us. James Morgan and Leon Pitman are in possession of more than half a dozen, some of which repeat parts of others, and all of which contain errors. Late in his life Thomas gained a bit of local fame as a hardy pioneer (which he certainly was) and as allegedly the oldest pioneer in the Rigby, Idaho Stake (which he may not have been). Newspaper articles were written about Thomas and he is mentioned in books such as "Milestones of Millard County" and "Treasures of Pioneer History." There is a picture of Thomas, along with a short story about his life, in the book "Pioneer Irrigation." Thomas won the Rigby Stake Old Folks Day contest for being the oldest man in the stake until he was barred to give others a chance to win. We have an excellent picture of him taken at the contest in 1913 with the winners ribbon on his chest. The date and name of the contest are clearly legible on the ribbon.


Thomas Morgan (1821-1915) taken in 1913

A great deal of inaccuracy and confusion were created in Thomas Morgan's history by accounts that reported him as being older than he really was. His birth date was said to be 1808, he is said to have purchased the ferry used to cross the Snake River when he was 99 years old, married Ruth Wilbur when he was 100 years old, and died when he was 108 years old. In addition, it was reported that Thomas remembered his father coming home from the Battle of Waterloo and dying one year later from wounds received in that battle.

It appears that Thomas, in his old age, forgot his age, humored the Old Folks Day contest people by using the Battle of Waterloo as a reference point for his age, and this fanciful but erroneous information found its way into newspaper articles and life sketches. Once this information became established as family legend there were people who wouldn't let go of it. However, the 1808 birth date listed above is not correct and one later researcher, Thomas' son Joseph Charles Morgan, tried to set the record straight, asserting that Thomas was born in 1821. However, enough confusion remained that Thomas Morgan's birth date, which was left off his tombstone, has never been added. Thomas Morgan's great grandsons Leon Pitman and James Morgan and Herefordshire researcher Polly Rubery have researched this question more recently and confirmed that, while there is no primary document to establish this birth date beyond all doubt, 1821 is most certainly Thomas Morgan's birth date.

Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815. Since Thomas Morgan's birth date has been established as 1821, it would have been impossible for him to have remembered his father coming home from this battle and dying one year later. However, because of doubts posed by the lack of a primary document to prove Thomas Morgan's birth date, we have researched the military record of Thomas Morgan's father (whom we shall call Thomas Morgan II since our Thomas Morgan's father and grandfather were both named Thomas) to see if the army records verify our doubts about his having been at the Battle of Waterloo. Old English army records are kept in large books in the National Archives at Kew, near London. Polly Rubery is familiar with the English Army records and has researched them extensively, piecing together the history of her great-great-great grandfather who served from 1793 through 1817. Polly made two trips to Kew to locate the army records of our Thomas Morgan's father. Here are her findings.

There was an upsurge of recruitment for the army in England following the resumption of hostilities against Napoleon on 18 May 1803 after the short lived "Peace of Amiens." Napoleon was gathering his "Army of England" at Boulogne for the purpose of invading England. Thomas Morgan's father (Thomas Morgan II) was recruited into the 2nd Battalion of the 81st Regiment of Foot (the body of men consisting of new recruits and trainees that always stays at home) on Dec 28, 1803. He was given an enlistment bounty of 7 Pounds, 12 Shillings, 6 d, which was a sizable fund for a farm laborer who would probably have been earning about 10 shillings a week (there were 20 shillings to the Pound in those days). He was 38 years old, a rather advanced age to be joining the army, but England, fearing invasion and building a force of some 300,000 men for her defense, was probably not too choosy about age. Thomas Morgan's father joined the 1st battalion of the 81st Regiment of Foot (the fighting battalion), presumably after some training, on February 2nd, 1804.

He served with this battalion first at Plymouth Dock in England, then at Malta, where it was posted in March 1805. In early 1806 his regiment was posted to Sicily. Later Thomas II remained behind "On Command" in Sicily when his regiment left for Spain in June 1812. Apparently a garrison company, the boys, the sick men, and prisoners were left behind on Sicily. Thomas II may have been sickly because his discharge record shows him as becoming "Invalid at Chatham" 10 December 1814 where he was discharged as being unfit for further service. While technically discharged as of this date he served for a short time after this date in reserve capacity and may have been serving as an "Invalid." Next he appears, 8 August 1815, in the admission books of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea for an examination of invalid soldiers. His age is listed as 49, total service as 11 years 10 months, and his complaint is rheumatism. Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo earlier that same year, the services of those serving in reserve capacity were no longer needed, and Thomas was pensioned off. It is interesting to note that Thomas Morgan II's regiment went on to Canada from Spain and had Thomas been with them he might have been engaged in fighting Americans.

Thomas II never seems to have qualified for good conduct pay, although, on the other hand, no deductions were made for misbehavior, nor did he ever find himself confined to prison (some prisoners had self inflicted wounds made in order to try to get themselves discharged with a pension). He became entitled to additional pay on 4 Feb 1811 for having completed 7 of the 21 years service he had signed up for. Very occasionally he is shown as having missed being present at the monthly muster because he was sick or in the hospital. However, his rheumatism must have been somewhat debilitating because he was eventually examined by doctors and granted a pension on grounds of disability, which must have been a result of his service or he would not have been awarded the pension. An army pension in those days would have been as much, or even more, than an agricultural laborer could earn and so he would have been a "good catch" to marry. And, indeed, he did marry soon after his discharge. The records suggest that Thomas was able to obtain work after his discharge. While he was still alive, he and his wife would have been able to live in relative comfort.

In summary, our Thomas Morgan's father, Thomas Morgan II, was born in 1765, was recruited into the army in late 1803, invalided out of the army in 1815 after nearly 12 years of service, married Hannah Davies in 1816, and died in 1829 at the age of 63. As to the question of whether or not he fought in the Battle of Waterloo, the best answer is this quote from Polly Rubery, who did the army records research; "It can be said with certainty that he was not at the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815)."


Old book at Kew containing English army records

Ezra Morgan, a grandson of Thomas Morgan, in his "Bits of history of Thomas Morgan" says "Mr. Morgan always said he was born 25 March 1808." The army records of Thomas Morgan's father disprove this statement. Thomas Morgan II was serving in the army and his regiment was posted to Malta in March 1805, then to Sicily in early 1806, being variously stationed at such places as Messina, Milazzo and Palermo until 1812. He remained in Sicily when his regiment left in 1812 and made his way back to England where he was discharged at Chatham in 1814. Thomas Morgan II could have fathered a child before his regiment left England early in 1805 (although he did not, that we know of) but he could not have fathered children in England between 1806 and 1814.

Thomas Morgan II's discharge from the army with a disability pension a few months after the famous Battle of Waterloo may have been the kernel of truth that set the stage for our Morgan family "Battle of Waterloo legend." Thomas II would have kept his discharge papers, which he needed to secure his pension, and, possibly somewhat crippled by rheumatism, he may have indulged his listeners with stories of being wounded in the famous battle that ended the wars with Napoleon rather than admit to his less prestigious discharge for rheumatism. Certainly there could have been advantages to presenting himself as a wounded war veteran. As a child Thomas Morgan III (our Thomas Morgan who came to America) could have simultaneously absorbed information about his father's army service and the famous wars with Napoleon. The Battle of Waterloo, which ended six years before he was born, may have already been incorporated into family oral legend by the time he was old enough to understand such things. In his old age his dim childhood memories may have connected his father's return with the end of the battle, leading him to believe that his father was at the Battle of Waterloo. It is easy to believe that once he began winning the Rigby Stake Oldtimers Day contest he would have been pressed for details about his origins. He could have found the Waterloo story both a handy way to give people a general idea of his age and a colorful yarn. Thomas would have likely remembered the age at which he was orphaned, but the dates and details of his father's army service, not being part of Thomas' direct experience, would more likely have been hazy in his mind. If Thomas remembered that he was 8 years old when his father died, and mistakenly thought his father died a year after he returned from the Battle of Waterloo, this mixing of fact and error would place his father's death at 1816 and Thomas birth at 1808. The point being that if Thomas, or others, used the Battle of Waterloo as a reference point to calculate his age, it is possible to see how the mistaken year of 1808 got into the records. There are other possible explanations for this erroneous birth date, of course. This one is presented as an educated guess.

Thomas and Ann Morgan in Herefordshire page 7

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