The Morgan Affair: A Tale Of Secret Societies, Kidnapping, And America’s First Third Political Party

By | August 27, 2021

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Picturesque History of Freemasonry (1844), Reception of an apprentice. (Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It might seem a little strange that the U.S. remains stuck in a two-party political system, but the circus around the creation of the country's first third party in the early 1800s might account for some gun-shyness. The rise of this third political party stemmed from a wave of anti-Masonic sentiment that swept through the nation following the "Morgan Affair," when a disgruntled former Mason threatened to expose the fraternal organization's secrets.

This Morgan Guy

It all started with William Morgan, a Virginia native who served as a captain in the War of 1812 before settling down in Canada with his teen bride. After their brewery caught fire, leaving them penniless, the family relocated to Rochester, New York, where Morgan joined the local Masonic lodge, Wells Lodge No. 282. As an exclusive organization surrounded by rumors of secret rituals that counted top political figures and prominent businessmen among its ranks, the Masons vigilantly protected their goings-on from the prying eyes of nonmembers, and Morgan's membership was in question from the start. We know that he received the Royal Arch Degrees, or York Rite, for which he must have completed the first three degrees of Freemasonry, but he had no proof of completing the first three degrees themselves. 

According to rumor, Morgan talked an acquaintance into vouching for him, but whether this person actually had reason to believe him or was simply an accomplice isn't known. Whatever the case, Morgan later joined the Western Star Chapter R.A.M. No. 33 based in LeRoy, New York and became a well-known Mason in the state, giving presentations about Freemasonry and helping several Royal Arch Chapters get off the ground. In 1825, however, when he was helping to establish one such chapter in the small town of Batavia, New York, people began to question whether Morgan was truly a Mason, and he was cast out of the local chapter.

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Drawing of William Morgan, 1829. (A. Cooley/Wikimedia Commons)

What Happened To William Morgan?

Furious at the slight, Morgan threatened to write a book exposing the Masons' secrets and even secured a few financial backers for his project, including local newspaper publisher David C. Miller, who was himself denied membership in the Masons. They soon realized that they had made some powerful enemies, as they began to suffer bizarre misfortunes. Miller's newspaper office suspiciously caught fire, although the blaze was extinguished before it destroyed his business, and then Morgan was arrested, accused of stealing a shirt and tie, of all things.

The charges were dropped, but Morgan was jailed until he could pay the $2 cost of the garments. According to reports, a group of unknown men arrived at the jail to pay Morgan's fee and bring him home, and Morgan was never seen again. Rumors swirled that the Masons drowned Morgan in the icy Niagara River, but several of the men involved insisted that Morgan was simply given money and told to head north into Canada and never return to the U.S.