George Morgan: Matagorda Peninsula
The Daily Tribune, Sunday, October 22, 2000
Life on Matagorda Peninsula has never
been easy. Historically, it was a place of dreams that never came
true by dreamers enticed to the island by its own subtle beauty
among other reasons.
In the late 1600s, a French explorer,
Rene Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle arrived near there. Twelve of
his party of settlers ended upon the peninsula for a while and only
six of them left a few weeks later.
Karankawa Indians were responsible for the deaths of some of the six, leaving rattlesnakes, disease, and hunger to take care of the rest.
This is borne out by documents from
the resurrection of La Salle's ship La Belle in Matagorda Bay. Discoveries from
La Belle enabled historians and archeologists to sort out
LaSalle's almost every movement.
But La Salle's men were just a part of the peninsula's history.
George was a bar pilot at Pass
Cavallo, which separated Matagorda Peninsula from Matagorda Island.
The Galveston Gazette boasted: "The
large and growing importation of goods into Texas through the
entrance of Matagorda Bay..."
"The entrance from the Gulf into
Matagorda and Lavaca Bays and many points among them
will by nature, point out the Port Cavallo should be the most
eligible for such a purpose."
Morgan would board ships entering
Matagorda Bay and guide their passage. His guidance was necessary
because of the precarious currents and underwater sandbars at and
near the pass. Ships that tried to cross the bar and navigate Pass
Cavallo without a pilot often lost their cargo, or were wrecked.
His job was especially crucial at
this historical point since many of the ships, often from foreign
nations, were en route to the Lavaca Bay port of Indianola, then one of Texas'
Wiser captains of vessels of all
sizes would wait outside the pass for days waiting for pilots to
guide them through the pass' precarious waters and underwater bars.
On Friday, March 26, 1852, the
was on her maiden voyage traveling from New Orleans to Indianola,
with 20 passengers on board. She also was laden with freight in her
cargo hold. Upon arrival at Port Cavallo, the crew made the fatal
mistake of attempting to enter Matagorda Bay without a bar pilot.
The ship struck a sand bar near the
entrance of the pass, where breakers rose high. Bar pilots Captain
William Nichols and George Morgan, near the imperiled ship,
immediately tried to board her. Morgan was swamped by the breakers
and narrowly escaped with his life. Nichols' luck was about the
Around noon, several lifeboats came
alongside but the women aboard wouldn't use these "frail"
boats--five men were glad to be rescued, frail boats or not.
later filled with seawater and capsized in the breakers. No further
effort was made to rescue passengers. All of the readily available
lifeboats were crushed.
The next day brought another
shipwreck. The ship J. W. Rabun also landed inside the
breakers about four hundred yards in front of the
Aboard were bar pilots Nichols, Cummings, Decrow and Morgan. By noon
they rescued six women and one infant. This was to be the day's only
rescue because the violence of the breakers was increasing and the
lack of lifeboats.
A steamer from Indianola tried to
rescue the passengers Saturday afternoon. Its valiant crew tried
three rescues without success. Sunday morning brought new hope. Calm
prevailed over the shipwreck area. The Rabun began deploying
her remaining lifeboats and by 3 p.m. all were safely rescued. The
broken in two, was abandoned to the pounding breakers.
John Brown of the Indianola Bulletin
wrote: "To discriminate among gallant men is not our due but we must
mention the noble daring of Captains Kerr, Nichols, Lawless,
Cummings, Dimond, Morgan, and Bailey."
The newspaper did reflect on a
schooner, The Clinton, that spent time collecting the freight
from the Independence
and Rabun, but didn't attempt to rescue the passengers.
The shipwrecks claimed six lives. If
not for the heroism of men such as George Morgan, the disaster could
have been worse. The fact that so many survived only shows that bar
pilots of Pass Cavallo were indeed experts in their chosen
But tragedy often struck the family
of George Morgan.
George Morgan's birth date is
unknown. He came from Massachusetts before 1848. He first appears in
Texas records August 1 of that year--a marriage certificate shows
that he married Mary Elizabeth Tilley. Ironically, the same marriage
record index of the 1800s also shows George Morgan marrying Dorinda
Jane Tilley Osgood on March 27, 1856.
The Calhoun County census of 1850 lists the following members in the Morgan household:
1. George Morgan, 25, whose occupation was listed as a farmer.
2. Mary Morgan, 20
3. Sarah Exy Morgan, 2
(While the census lists Sarah's age as two in 1850, she was born
Feb. 1, 1850, so she couldn't have even been a year old.)
Tragedy struck the Morgan home May
10, 1851 when Sarah Exy died. The cause was unknown. She was one
year old and was buried near the north shore of the peninsula.
George and Elizabeth had a white marble headstone made for the
During their mourning, the Morgans
probably had one uplifting thought--Mary Elizabeth was five months
pregnant. On Sept. 5, 1861, she gave birth to a boy. He was named
John Tilley Morgan.
John Tilley was just over a year old
when his mother died. Mary Elizabeth died in January 1853 from
typhoid fever. She was 22.
Typhoid fever is a bacterial disease
that is spread chiefly through contaminated water or food. Typhoid
fever is borne through the victims' wastes. Healthy persons can have
the bacteria, spread the disease, yet show no signs of it. While the
disease is rarely suffered nowadays, it was a consistent threat to
settlers in America during the 1800s.
Mary Elizabeth was buried next to her
infant daughter in a wooden cypress casket. Another white marble
headstone was ordered and erected at the head of her grave.
As bar pilot, George supplemented his
income from farming. He had two horses, five milk cows and fifteen
other cattle. But he still faced a major responsibility in nurturing
and caring for John Tilley, his son by Mary Elizabeth.
On March 27, 1856, George married
Dorinda Jane Osgood, Mary Elizabeth's sister. It's possible this
marriage was out of convenience, rather than passion, because of the
It's interesting to note that George
deeded lot nine, block six, tier E, in the city of Port Cavallo to
his son, John Tilley, on March 2, only 25 days before the wedding.
George apparently knew a lawyer who knew Texas divorce and
When she married George, Dorinda
brought twin children from her first marriage, Josiah and Cora
Osgood, both 11. George's son, John Tilley was 3 when his father
Dorinda Jane Tilley was previously
married to Charles Osgood. There were wedded Nov. 24, 1843. It's
unknown what happened to Charles Osgood. There is no divorce decree
in either Matagorda or Calhoun counties. It's speculation to assume
that Dorinda's husband died because there were no death certificates
kept back then.
Since George needed a mother for his
son and a homemaker and she needed the income, they decided to
marry. There weren't a lot of prospective brides or grooms on
Matagorda Peninsula during the 1850s.
Port Cavallo was strategically
situated on the western tip of the peninsula and was seen by
seafaring travelers bound through the only entrance into Matagorda
Bay. It offered promise as a new town and an 1836 article in the
Colorado Herald predicted that Port Cavallo would supersede Port
The peninsula was occupied at that
time by farmers, ranchers, and families of bar pilots and seamen.
Pasture for livestock was superior even by today's standards. The
Indianola Bulletin of April 26, 1854, reported "vegetables,
sheep, and cattle thrived there."
The Colorado Gazette reported
the town was trying to grow and become home for those entering Texas
from foreign nations.
Newspapers reported a storm June 25
and 26, 1851, as the severest recorded in history. It destroyed
eight of Port Cavallo's 12 buildings. In September of that year, the
journal of the schooner Hazard described Port Cavallo as a
small receiving station "with but three or four small hovels."
The Matagorda County census of 1860
indicated the Morgan household included: George Morgan, 33, Dorinda
Jane Morgan, 28, John Tilley Morgan, 8, Josiah Osgood, 15, Cora
Osgood, 15, Elizabeth Stanley, 26, John Livingston, 47, a school
teacher originally from Scotland.
On Oct. 6, 1860, George and Dorinda
Jane entered into a contract for an $800 loan with Elijah Decrow.
The contract was signed in the city of Saluria in Calhoun County.
It's not known what they did with the money.
No records indicate what next
happened in George Morgan's life.
Dorinda Jane either left George or
died. Also unknown is what happened to her children.
In the Calhoun County Clerk's office
is a copy of a marriage certificate of George Morgan to Ann Holbein.
They were wed July 21, 1866, and by 1870, they had two
children--Bartlett, 2 and Violet, 8 months.
This marriage must have been shaky
from the first. George, foreseeing difficulty, visited his attorney
for legal advice. George deeded 90 of his sheep roaming on Matagorda
Island to his son, John Tilley Morgan in September of 1871. A month
later, Ann filed for divorce in Calhoun County. The court decreed
that Ann would get custody of Violet and Bartlett.
Bartlett was to go to his father
when he reached 10. Ann also got 153 head of sheep, four head of
cattle and $50. Deeding the sheep to John Tilley Morgan didn't work.
The court ordered George to give Ann 153 sheep.
Speaking of John Tilley Morgan, he
was the only surviving child from the marriage of George to Mary
Elizabeth. John was married to Lavantha Kuykendall on May 5, 1873, in Refugio County. They had
three children before moving to McMullen County in about 1879 where
the rest of the children were born.
John was a deputy sheriff and deputy
U. S. Marshall.
Tragedy befell this branch of the
Morgans suddenly and unexpectedly. Deputy John Morgan was called to
investigate trouble at a Mexican dance around midnight Feb. 1, 1894.
A man had inflicted two deep wounds with a large knife on the face
of a youth. When Morgan tried to make an arrest, the knife-wielding
assailant fatally wounded the deputy. Morgan died from the knife
attack on March 15, 1894. He was survived by a wife and 10 children.
George was still a bar pilot for Pass
Cavallo. He would never marry again.
The only thing he had to look forward
to was his youngest son's return following his 10th birthday. It
would never happen. George would die before ever even seeing his son
The storm of 1975 destroyed the
cities of Port Cavallo, Saluria and Indianola. After the storm had
blown inland for 18 hours, the wind suddenly shifted from the north
and the high waters of the different bays and marshes now took a mad
rush back to the Gulf. Matagorda Peninsula lay in its
way and 15 miles of it was carried away into the Gulf with many
homes and families, among them three bar pilots of Pass Cavallo.
No names were listed in newspaper
reports, but George Morgan was probably one of them. When the winds
changed to the north, those drowned on the peninsula were carried
into the Gulf and their bodies were never recovered.
The Decrow's house, where George was
when the storm arrived, was supposedly storm-proof. It was built by
an expert ship carpenter with the corner posts sunk six feet in the
ground, each with a cross piece attached to the bottom for
anchoring. Morgan was among 22 persons in the house seeking safety
from the storm. This is where all 22 died.
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