Morgan, Abel (ca. 1792–1873)

By: Craig H. Roell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 23, 2021

Abel Morgan, survivor and chronicler of the battle of Coleto and the Goliad Massacre, was probably born in 1792 at Bellecastle, North Carolina, the son of Abel Morgan. He was a prosperous citizen of New Hanover County and a member of the North Carolina legislature in 1820–21. As surety for a friend he lost a considerable fortune, and moved to Paducah, Kentucky, in 1827. Difficulties with his wife, Zilpha, whose neighbors stated that she was "of a very turbulent disposition, intemperate, and always led her husband a disagreeable life," induced him to move to Texas. He enlisted under the name of Thomas Smith in Capt. J. O. Blair's company of Texas Volunteers, and probably participated in the siege of Bexar. When Blair's company disbanded at San Antonio, he joined Capt. Thomas Lewellyn's company of volunteers and marched to Goliad, where he enlisted for two years in the regular army in Capt. Ira Westover's company. Under the name of Smith, Morgan was assigned duty as a hospital orderly under James W. Fannin at Goliad. During Fannin's attempted evacuation to Victoria, Morgan was in charge of an ox-drawn wagon carrying four wounded men. During the battle of Coleto one of the oxen was killed, so that the wagon and its wounded were prevented from reaching the safety of Fannin's square. Morgan refused to leave his post, and an outpost of Texan sharpshooters formed at the wagon, including Dr. Joseph H. Barnard and the surveyor George W. Cash. Following Fannin's surrender to José de Urrea, Morgan was allowed to keep his butcher knife after pleading that he had "but two teeth." As a hospital attendant he was spared from the Goliad Massacre by a Mexican officer who hid him and a comrade behind a shutter. The two men stayed hidden for over an hour as they heard the executions. Afterward, he and the others who had been saved were made to wear white armbands for protection, as they were assigned duty to pack wood and water and aid the doctors tending the Mexican wounded. Morgan was promoted to "doctor" by his captors to assist a Dr. Hale, the one remaining Texan physician; doctors Barnard and John Shackelford had been sent to care for Mexican wounded at the Alamo, and Dr. Joseph E. Field had escaped.

After the battle of San Jacinto the retreating Mexican army took Morgan to Matamoros, where he was allowed to work for a boatmaker and then an American hatter. After a few months he became a harness mender, but bouts with yellow fever and small pox persuaded him to return home. He obtained a passport from the Mexican government in April 1842 and returned to Kentucky. With the aid of fellow veterans he established his claim to pay and Texas land in his own name, and filed with his petitions An Account of the Battle of Goliad and Fanning's Massacre (1847), which chronicled his ordeal. This account, together with those by John Crittenden Duval, Joseph H. Barnard, John Henry Brown, Hermann Ehrenberg, and Benjamin H. Holland, give evidence that Fannin disobeyed Sam Houston's order to abandon Goliad and sent William Ward to Refugio instead. According to Morgan, "Fannin said he would take the liberty to disobey the order and risk battle." In his old age Morgan made Texas his home with his second wife. He died in Fannin County on October 13, 1873.

Harbert Davenport, "Men of Goliad," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 43 (July 1939). Harbert Davenport, Notes from an Unfinished Study of Fannin and His Men (MS, Harbert Davenport Collection, Texas State Library, Austin; Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Hobart Huson, Refugio: A Comprehensive History of Refugio County from Aboriginal Times to 1953 (2 vols., Woodsboro, Texas: Rooke Foundation, 1953, 1955). Kathryn Stoner O'Connor, The Presidio La Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, 1721 to 1846 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1966).

Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Craig H. Roell, “Morgan, Abel,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 23, 2021