Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 18, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Two William Morgans left marks on local history

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Editor’s note: Over the next few Saturdays, Niagara Discoveries author Ann Marie Linnabery will introduce people with the same name who influenced local history differently. Today, meet two William Morgans.

If you say the name William Morgan in Lockport, you are liable to get a response that is either derisive or along the lines of “oh, yeah, wasn’t he the guy who …”

The first William Morgan who had an effect on Niagara County history did not even live here. This William Morgan lived in Batavia, in 1826, and he had a grudge against the Masonic fraternity.

In September of that year, Morgan publicly announced that he would publish a book in which he would reveal the secrets of Masonry. To prevent this from happening, Morgan was arrested on trumped-up charges and removed to Canandaigua to answer the charges. 

While there, Morgan was kidnapped by a number of men and conveyed across several western New York counties through a network of horses and carriages along what are now Routes 5 and 104. When the party arrived in Niagara County, there was talk of placing Morgan in a jail cell in Lockport, but this plan was changed and he was taken to Fort Niagara. From there Morgan disappeared and was never heard from again. 

The backlash against the Masonic fraternity nearly ended its existence in western New York state. Eli Bruce, Sheriff of Niagara County from Lockport, was tried and convicted for his part in what became known as the “Morgan Affair.” He served 28 months in jail and died not long after his release. He is called the “Masonic Martyr.”

Morgan’s disappearance and its aftermath resulted in the establishment of a new political party, the Anti-Masons. This party’s sole platform was to put an end to the Masonic order. The party attracted new, young politicians including William Seward of Auburn, Frances Granger of Canandaigua and Albert Tracy of Buffalo. For the next 10 years, the Anti-Masons won many local elections, as well as seats in the New York State Legislature. 

Just a quickly as it started, the Anti-Mason movement died out in the late 1830s and its members were absorbed into the new Whig Party. 

This first William Morgan is now remembered as the man who caused so much grief for the Masons. 

The second William Morgan had a much more positive effect on the City of Lockport, as well as on sports fans all over the world.

He was born in Lockport on Jan. 23, 1870, attended the Lockport Union School and left home at age 15 to work on a canal boat. At age 21, he attended Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Mass., and in October 1892 he was recruited by James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, to play football for the YMCA Training School team in Springfield, Mass.

In 1895, Morgan found a job at the YMCA in Holyoke, Mass. Many of the older men there thought basketball was too rigorous for them to play. Morgan came up with a game that the men could play that was not as tiring. He called it “mintonette” and it involved a team on one side of a net volleying a ball to a team on the opposite side of the net. The net was six feet and six inches off the ground. The players could not catch or hold the ball but had to propel it back over the net. A year later, a colleague of Morgan’s suggested the name “volleyball” for the game. Morgan quickly agreed.

Morgan returned to Lockport in 1898 and worked for the YMCA. Later he worked for General Electric and traveled all over the United States. Morgan also worked for Harrison Radiator, from 1920 to 1939. He died on Dec. 27, 1942, in Lockport, at the age of 72.

William G. Morgan was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1985.

Next week: The two John Hodges.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.