Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Opinion

January 18, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Two William Morgans left marks on local history

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. 

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