James Morgan, pioneer Texas settler, merchant, land speculator, and commander at Galveston during the Texas Revolution, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 13, 1787, the son of James and Martha (Prudun) Morgan. As a child he was taken to North Carolina, where he grew to manhood and married Celia Harrell. In 1830 he visited Brazoria and decided to open a mercantile business in Texas. After returning to the United States, he bound his sixteen slaves as indentured servants for ninety-nine years in order to get around the Mexican prohibition on slavery, and set out for Texas with his wife, two daughters, and a son. In New Orleans Morgan formed a partnership with John Reed, and the two of them purchased a schooner, Exert. Morgan went by land to Anahuac, where he opened a store. Reed soon arrived with a cargo of merchandise, upon which George Fisher, collector of customs, levied a tariff. Morgan's defiance of Fisher's evaluation established him as a leader and was possibly the reason for his being chosen to represent the Liberty Municipality in the Convention of 1832. In 1835 Morgan was appointed agent for a company called the New Washington Association, organized in 1834 by Lorenzo de Zavala and a number of New York financiers to develop Texas real estate. He immediately purchased for the company an enormous quantity of real estate in Harrisburg and Liberty municipalities, including the point at the mouth of the San Jacinto River variously called Rightor's, Hunter's, Clopper's, and later Morgan's Point. Here he laid out the town of New Washington. The company brought to Texas a number of Scottish highlanders and free Blacks from New York, including Emily D. West, the so-called Yellow Rose of Texas, and planned a colony of free Blacks from Bermuda. As agent, Morgan also operated one of two ships belonging to the company.
During the Texas Revolution these ships were often used by the Texas government. Morgan also supplied the civil and military branches with merchandise from his store. From March 20, 1836, to April 1, 1837, with the rank of colonel, he was commandant of Galveston Island and, as such, planned and effected the fortification of the island during the spring campaign of 1836. President Sam Houston later charged him with mismanagement in this work. After the revolution Morgan returned to the site of New Washington, which had been destroyed by the Mexicans, and erected for himself a dwelling named Orange Grove. For some time he continued to act as agent for the New York company and as such projected the town of Swartwout (named for Samuel Swartwout, one of the prime movers of the company) on the Trinity River. Morgan sought election to one of the congresses of the republic, but he lost because his neighbors were suspicious of his wealth. In 1843 he and William Bryan were the commissioners charged with the secret sale of the Texas Navy. During the 1850s Morgan was active in promoting the improvement of what later became the Houston Ship Channel. He owned extensive herds of cattle and reputedly imported the first Durham shorthorns into Texas. He also experimented with the cultivation of oranges, cotton, and sugarcane. At his home he entertained such notable guests as John James Audubon and Ferdinand von Roemer. Though he was completely blind during his last years, he twice saved himself from drowning when squalls overturned the boats in which he was crossing Trinity Bay. He died at his home on March 1, 1866, and was buried on his plantation. The family cemetery is now a public one, and the stones marking the graves of the Morgans have disappeared.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every dollar helps.
Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924–28). Feris A. Bass, Jr., and B. R. Brunson, eds., Fragile Empires: The Texas Correspondence of Samuel Swartwout and James Morgan, 1836–1856 (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1978). Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., Harriet Smither, et al., eds., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (6 vols., Austin: Texas State Library, 1920–27; rpt., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). James Morgan Papers, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
B. R. Brunson and Andrew F. Muir,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 23, 2020