Mr. Morgan’s Fourth of July
Happy anniversary Mr. Levi Morgan! You the readers may ask, is this the day of his wedding anniversary or perhaps even his birthday that you are celebrating? No, it is not either of them, but it has been 111 years since Mr. Morgan first took his historic pose in front of the Wetzel County Courthouse on July 4, 1902.
If you have lived in New Martinsville for any time you will have most likely heard that his presence in our community is a mistake. Ever since I went to school here and from time to time, someone tells me that Levi was suppose to be standing in Morgantown and a statue of Lewis Wetzel was suppose to be in our community. It makes sense, after all Morgantown is named for Morgan’s family and Wetzel County is named for the frontiersman Lewis Wetzel.
Over the last century this story has been retold in the Wetzel Chronicle and it predecessor newspapers. Each time they have run the stories and told its readers the facts as we know them. Yet, not long ago I was in a conversation and told how Levi is in the wrong county. Well, for all those that think he is in the wrong place, be assured the statue of Levi Morgan is in the correct place. The statue was not only to honor the man in Wetzel County, but in the state he helped to settle in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
History tells us Levi Morgan was a frontiersmen and Indian fighter. He was born in Morgantown in June 1766. But, if you look at the information on the base of the statue you will see it says he was born in 1736 and died in 1826. That would have made him 90 years old when he died if you go by those dates.
Levi’s grandfather, a Welshman named, Morgan Morgan, was said to be one of the first white settlers in this territory. Levi’s father, Colonel Zackquill Morgan, was friends with George Washington and a prominent businessman of the day. Levi’s father and grandfather both played major parts in the settling of Morgan’s Town. Today we know it as Morgantown, home of the Mountaineers.
The history of West Virginia tells of the exploits of Morgan as an Indian fighter and frontiersman. He survived a battle in 1791 when Indians attacked the command of British General St. Clair. The English general had no real skills in fighting the tribes of Indians who lived in the unsettled woodlands of western Virginia. Nor did he see any reason to change his tactics in fighting the Indians as recommended by Morgan. When the battle was over, 600 soldiers had been killed and many more were badly injured. Most were hacked to death by the red men who lived in the hills of the wilderness. In those days, it was politically correct to call them red men.
Levi Morgan may have remained only a name in history if not for a relative named Aaron Morgan. Although the statue is of historical significance in itself, it is also interesting how it came to be. Aaron Morgan served in the West Virginia House of Delegates representing Wetzel County around the turn of the last century. He served four terms in the state government.
Aaron knew of Levi’s importance and felt it was up to him to find a way to honor and remember his ancestor’s contributions to our state. He decided the best way was to have a statue created and erected for all to see and remember. In 1901, the state appropriated a sum of $3,500 to build the statue of Levi Morgan. Located on Main Street next to the Methodist Church was the West Virginia Monument company. The company was well known for its fine craftsmanship at the time in creating stone works. The company was contracted to create the statue to honor the legendary frontiersman.
On July 4, 1902, a parade began at the train depot and marched down to Main Street. With many floats, bands, and the Grand Army of Republic from Pine Grove, the large group marched to the south Main Street Bridge and turned around and headed back to the courthouse for the unveiling of the statue. Mrs. S. I. Robinson, an 80-year-old niece of Levi, pulled the rope, revealing the statue to the many onlookers. The granite monument has stood through two World Wars, countless small wars, summer heat, and long cold winters.
Floods’ water have surrounded the base of the statue many times in the years since that long ago dedication. Countless parades and celebrations have passed by as Levi gazes on with a stoic look. Still today, Levi appears to be as good as the day he was set in place-a testament to the quality of the manufacturing of the stone statue.
Levi Morgan died in 1826 in Kentucky. In the early 1900s a newspaper report told of how he, at 91 years old, was captured by Indians. He escaped and hid inside a hollow tree for five days. A short time later he died due to his exposure to the weather. Another report simply said he froze to death. No photograph or drawing of the famous woodsman was ever made. If his image does not exist, then how did the stone mason created Levi’s features on the monuments’ face? It stands to reason that someone made a decision as to what he looked like. It would appear that Aaron Morgan also had a solution, after all they were family. It is said that the model for the face was given features of the Morgan family. The face was given a high forehead, high cheek bones, large crooked nose and a strong month, and, oh yes, one more thing-a resolute expression of the Morgan family. The paper also reported these features were consistent with his Indian back ground. The statue’s creators believed Levi looked like the Morgans of the day, not the real Levi who died many years before. I wonder, does Levi’s face look anything like Aaron’s?
One more piece of information, Levi Morgan was 60 when he died long ago, if I sorted out the incorrect information. History has a way of remembering the small details a little differently with each telling of Levi Morgan, and I guess mine will be no different when someone reads it in 100 years.
The historical statue is part of our community and has also become part of all our families. As we travel Main Street we pass the granite monument and may have forgotten the sacrifices of those who opened this land and what they had to endure. Those men and women struggled not only to tame the land, but to build a nation where all have rights and freedom.
Those who fought and died in the early days understood freedom is a choice that is never easy. Levi Morgan and his family were part of that great cause for freedom we each enjoy today. Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of our country and Levi Morgan still stands watch as he has done for 111 years. Remember his statue represents our history and the legacy of freedom as we look Thru the Lens.