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Buried History: Morgan families stake their claim to local fame

Two brownstone graves mark the resting place of two early farmers in the town that years later will become known as Waterford.

The old Morgan graves — Captain Edward Morgan (1736-1819) and his wife, Esther (1737-1827) — can be found after a short walk down Forster Road, a rugged old dirt dead-end road, heading east off Cross Road just past the rear of BJ’s Wholesale Club.

The first time Debra Walters and I visited the site, we hiked a short distance down the old Foster Road. The gravestones were barely visible on the left, hidden near some cedar trees and in the midst of an area of dense and prickly briar thickets.

Since then, the area has been cleared by volunteer Patrick Crotty. These graves are located on a farm the Morgan family first settled some 150 years ago.

The once quiet lane surrounded by fields of corn is now tucked behind a huge warehouse-like building near the intersections of two well trafficked roadways (Cross Road and I-95).

The Morgan families who live in Waterford and Groton today are mostly descendants of one of two Morgan families (probably cousins) who emigrated from Wales to Massachusetts in 1640. After a few years they both moved to the new settlement of New London.

Once here, James chose to settle across the Thames River in what was later to become the city and town of Groton, and Richard stayed on the west side of the river and bought land to farm in New London in what later became Waterford.

To avoid confusion between the families, Richard opted to add the Prefix prefix “Rhys” or “Rose” to his last name to differentiate his family from the James Morgans in Groton. Settling in New London, Richard added the prefix “Rose” to his name. His family became “Rose-Morgan.”

He and his wife, his children John, Richard, Benjamin, and several daughters, settled a few miles outside the town on Cross Road in 1679. Richard Sr.’s farm was near the area that is now Lowe’s and BJ’s.

West of Richard Rose Morgan’s farm were the fledgling farms of two of his sons. According to Boucher, the route to reach the Rose Morgans’ farms involved a trip north on the road (Route 85) towards the Douglas farm, then a left on Cross Road and the road to Lyme to the farms.

In 1687, the Morgan property became considerably larger when 100 acres were purchased from John Beebe. When the land was distributed between brothers Richard and Benjamin, a family feud developed over Benjamin’s share of the land.

Apparently their father gave title to the 100 acres to Richard with the understanding that he would convey a fair share to his brother, Benjamin. Land records indicate that only 20 of the 100 acres went to the younger son.

Even worse, the piece had no road frontage. The feud continued for years when other uneven distributions were made by the older brother.

In 1698, Richard died, leaving his wife, Hope Still, and growing family. The younger generation took over the farm.

Stolen one-eyed horse

In his account of the Rose-Morgans, Waterford historian Boucher quips: “Apparently Richard and Benjamin were not the only feisty sons of Richard. Their brother John had a running feud over the years with Joshua Hempstead of diary fame.”

Boucher tells about a dispute involving John Morgan and Joshua Hempstead of New London. In March 1718, Hempstead accused Morgan of stealing his “One Eyed horse.” As the result of the lawsuit brought by Hempstead, Morgan was found guilty of a felony and ordered to pay Hempstead six pounds and 20 shill.

A few months later, apparently in retaliation, an angry John Morgan formally objected to Hempstead’s being admitted into the Church. The church committee judged the allegations to be groundless, and the case was dismissed. But the animosity between the two remained.

“It would seem John Morgan spent time expressing ‘vitriolic vituperations’ against Hempstead following the One Eyed horse incident.”

In retaliation, Hempstead used his role as judge to “even the score.” In another occasion while serving as judge in a lawsuit Hempstead decided against Morgan in a suit brought against him. The animosity continued for years.

18th century Morgans

Sometime after the death of Richard’s sons, the history of the Morgan farm grows somewhat cloudy; however, it is clear that Edward Morgan, born, May 23, 1736, took over the farm when he was old enough. This Edward married Esther, who was born Nov. 17, 1737.

After Edward passed away in November 1819, it is again unclear who took over the farm until a grandson, also named Edward, born 1818, was old enough. Sometime after Edward was born, his family moved to Ohio. When he was 12 he was sent back to Waterford to live with his Morgan family until he was 21. It was probably planned that he would take over his grandfather’s farm when he was old enough.

Instead, he married Sarah Gibson and took over his father-in-law’s 200-acre farm. How well-made plans can change!

Sarah’s grandfather had lived in New London until 1781 when his house was sacked and burned by the British during its invasion of the city. The Gibson family moved miles out of town to a farm owned by Edward’s cousin, Stephen Morgan.

Historical records show that Edward was energetic, persevering and hard-working; he became a prominent citizen. He was captain of a military company for many years.

In political faith as a staunch Democrat, he served as selectman, town collector, and took an active interest in public affairs. Records indicate he was stout, and thick-set, always rugged and good-natured, until he passed away at age 70 in 1888.

Some of the Morgans’ offspring chose a life other than that on a farm. Richard Morgan, born on Dec 17, 1834, on the family farm, chose a life at sea because it was advised due to his ill health. He traveled extensively during his years engaged in the ship chandlery business as a clerk for several different companies.

In 1858 he sailed on a whaling and trading voyage in the Japan Sea, traveled extensively in Australia and finally returned to New London. Then he went to work as an accountant for Perkins & Smith, the leading merchants in their line.

Again he went to sea in 1862 for a short time and returned to marry Ann Reeves. After several more years of travel with his new wife, he finally settled in New London and established the very successful Morgan Iron Works.

He built for his family a “handsome residence on Broad Street” in 1870. He continued his business for another 25 years in New London. He died at home in 1895.

Another great grandson, Enoch Morgan, started a general store at 1214 Hartford Road in 1848. It was one of the first stores in the town of Waterford. The family continued to run the store until the paving of the road in the early 1920s made it easier for their customers to drive a few miles and shop in New London.

The building still survives on its original site, although it is no longer a store.

The Gilead Sabbath School 1836

The number of the Morgan descendants grew year by year. Many of the Morgan family settled near grandfather Morgan’s 200- acre farm near Gilead Road. Their farms lined the old road from the Cross Roads to nearly Golden Spur.

Their growing families soon needed a grammar as well as a Sunday school. On May 8, 1836, the Gilead Sabbath School began its first classes in a house on Cross Road. This small structure continued for many years as a classroom on weekdays and a small church on Sundays until a fire destroyed the building in 1857.

The Gilead Chapel, built in 1876 in the town of Waterford, was deconstructed and moved to Moodus in 1969 by Raymond and Carole Schmitt, as they constructed a symbolic community to be known as Historic Johnsonville Village.

The community quickly replaced the old school with an attractive new brick building on Cross Road. About 300 attended the dedicaton. Crowds overflowed from the doorway and listened to the orations from outside the windows.

This attractive new chapel-like building was used daily as a classroom and on Sundays a church. The preacher, Mr. Haven, also served as school teacher.

The small school continued in use until 1923 when Waterford began a program of consolidating the school system.

Cohanzie School was completed in 1923 for children in its district, one of five districts organized in town. The new consolidation was a monumental achievement for this rural town.

After the school closed in the early 1940s the building was used for 10 years by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Finally the old building was boarded up and left vacant until 1969 when it was purchased by Raymond Schmidtt for his historic Johnsonville Village in Moodus in East Haddam.

The building was taken down and reassembled in the village.

Waterford families combine

When a Morgan grandson, Stanley, married Julia Alice Douglas in 1880, the couple combined two old Waterford families — the Morgans and the Douglases. The newlyweds moved into the Douglas Farmhouse and took ownership of the 330-acre farm with eight to 10 cows in 1889.

An ancestor of both families was among the first settlers to make the Waterford area their home.

When Mr. Douglas, Julia’s father, died in 1889, Stanley and Julia inherited the Douglas family farm, on the corner of Route 85 and Douglas Lane. The farm, which had been owned by the Douglas family for about 200 years, became the Morgan Farm when the two families married. It remains in the Morgan family today.

Older readers may remember the daughter of Stanley D. Morgan, Dorothy Morgan Ramistella, who was born on the Morgan homestead in 1916, and lived there before she died. She was an elementary school teacher who taught in area schools, including Waterford for 37 years. She died in 2017.

Some of the Morgan property, including that was later purchased by the Steward family, was farmed into the late 20th century. That property in the vicinity of Cross Road, owned by the Stewards, was eventually sold. Today BJ’s, Home Depot, and Walmart are located on Cross Road and I-95 South.

Eileen Potkay Olynciw is a lifelong resident of Waterford and a member of the Waterford Historical Society and the Waterford Properties Commission.

 

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