Morgan is one of the greatest representatives of anthropology in the United States in the XIX century, contributing to great advances in this field.
We will review the life of this author through a biography of Lewis Henry Morgan, Take a tour of his biography to learn more about the most representative events, and at the same time discover what were his main contributions, without which anthropology would not be as complete a science today as it is .
Brief biography of Lewis Henry Morgan
Lewis Henry Morgan was born in 1818 in Aurora, New York, USA. He came from a pioneer family in Wales. In fact, the Morgan line was one of the families that played an important role in creating the colonies that would later become the United States. Thomas Morgan, Lewis’s grandfather, fought in the War of Independence.
Lewis Henry Morgan’s father, Jedediah, had a first marriage to Amanda Stanton, to whom five children were born. After being widowed, she had a second marriage, this time to Harriet Steele, who would become the mother of Lewis and seven other siblings. Interestingly, when he was born his name was only Lewis Morgan, and it was in his adult life that he introduced the middle name, Lewis H. Morgan, to later indicate that this letter was the Henry’s initial.
Lewis’s father was an important figure. He invented artifacts to simplify the task of land and industry and immersed himself in the world of masonry, being one of the founders of Aurora Lodge. He even continued to hold political positions of responsibility, as a state senator. He died in 1828, when Lewis Henry Morgan was only 8 years old, but left enough resources that he and his brothers lacked nothing.
Lewis attended Cayuga Academy to receive his training and then entered academia through Union College., From the town of Schenectady, where it only took two years to graduate. By 1840 Lewis Henry Morgan had already trained in various sciences, such as optics and mechanics, in addition to other classical subjects. It was in this institution that he was able to study the works of Georges Cuvier, a French naturalist, who would be one of his first references.
While at the university, he was subjected to the strict regime imposed by the president of Union College, Eliphalet Nott, who with an iron fist and always under Christian precepts imposed strict rules that all students had to respect. However, different fraternities arose in the shadows, one of which was joined in 1839, the Kappa Alpha Society, one of the first in the whole country, to lay the groundwork for whatever they would come later.
Career in his youth and fraternity of the Iroquois
After graduating, Lewis Henry Morgan moved to the city of Rochester, where he started working for a law firm, alongside his colleague George F. Danforth, who would go on to become a judge. However, the economic situation in the United States made it difficult for the company to prosper, so this experience was short-lived. At a time Morgan took the opportunity to publish essays in a literary magazine called The Knickerbocker. Instead of using his name, he used a pseudonym: Aquarius.
In 1841 Morgan, along with other former students of the Cayuga Academy, formed a new fraternity, of a literary nature, under the name of El Nus Gordià. The following year they would change their denomination to that of the Order of the Iroquois, A name that comes from a Native American confederation. It would not be the last time they would change the nomenclature of the brotherhood, later passing through the Grand Order of the Iroquois and the New Confederacy of the Iroquois.
They focused on this indigenous group who wanted to rediscover their culture and language. Iroquois names were even attributed to each other. Their good relationship with members of Freemasonry allowed them to have a space in one of the temples so that they could meet. Interest in this culture was growing, which led Lewis Henry Morgan to investigate more and more deeply.
To do this, he studied the treaties that the United States had signed with Native American peoples to retain their lands after the War of Independence. Specifically, he focused on forcing four Iroquois peoples to leave their sites to migrate to Canadian territories. He was able to meet a real Iroquois, Ely Parker, who was participating in one of the trials in an attempt to reclaim his land.
Lewis Henry Morgan befriended Parker and asked him to accompany him to join the fraternity., Who would be in charge of the cost of his training at Cayuga Academy. Ely Parker, who was 16 at the time, became a civil engineer and served in the military during the Civil War, reaching the rank of Brigadier General and working for President Ulysses S. Grant.
They discovered that the Iroquois of Seneca had been tricked into signing treaties forcing them to leave their lands., While the New Confederacy of the Iroquois. Their campaign resulted in a deal allowing them to buy back part of their land (at a much higher price than what they received at the time). This action earned Lewis Henry Morgan the title of tribal member, with the name Tayadaowuhkuh, which meant closing the wound.
After these events, the fellowship entered a period of internal strife that alienated Morgan from the association, causing him to lose interest in it, although he continued to publish letters about the Iroquois in the American Whig Review.
Family life and maturity
His relationship with indigenous peoples was used by Lewis Henry Morgan to publish the work “League of Iroquois”, Which would be one of the earliest examples of ethnology. One of the subjects he explores in this volume is that of kinship relations between members of this tribe. This was in 1851. At this time Lewis married Mary Elizabeth Steele, who was also a cousin.
With her would be a son, Lemuel, born with a mental handicap. The company attributed this illness to the fact that Lewis and his wife were cousins. Even they have come to assume this explanation (although there is no evidence of this). However, he did not weaken his marriage, which continued until his death.
In 1852, a group of intellectuals, including Lewis Henry Morgan, founded The Pundit Club, or The Club, an association to share interests in science and literature. Even later, he would be one of the creators of the University of Rochester, for men. The plan was to also create the University of Barleywood, for women, but that never materialized.
It was in 1855 that Morgan and another group of prominent people from Rochester formed a railway company for Noquet Bay and Marquette., To connect areas of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Lewis Henry Morgan began practicing as a lawyer and director of this company. After having exercised this profession for some time, he decided to continue his work as an anthropologist, by resuming work in the field.
He entered one of the Republican Party lists for a post in the New York Assembly. He intended to lead the Office of Native Affairs under President William H. Seward, but Abraham Lincoln was eventually elected as a candidate (and later president) and he had already selected for his own positions, so Morgan missed his chance and continued his work on his own.
Lewis Henry Morgan continued to work on the study of kinship systems. for that visited four different tribes, located in Yellowstone, on the Missouri River, Kansas and Nebraska. His studies have enabled him to compile a total of 51 different forms of kinship. During those years, two of his daughters died of scarlet fever, which was devastating for Lewis and his wife.
Civil war broke out in the United States. The Morgans have remained on the sidelines of this conflict. His only intervention was due to the war-based metal trade, which enabled Lewis Henry Morgan to create an industry that quickly brought him to life. brought in a large sum of money, enough to live carefree for the rest of his life.
Defense of the natives and of the last years
Morgan he continued to fight for the rights of indigenous peoples and even organized a tour of Europe to seek support for this movement.. These trips allowed him to meet Charles Darwin, Lubbock and other famous personalities of the time. On one of his last expeditions across the United States, he discovered ancient Aztec ruins on the banks of the Soul River.
He finally died in 1881, after a life devoted to the recognition and defense of Native Americans.
- Eggan, F. (1965). Lewis H. Morgan and the Future of American Indians. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. JSTOR.
- Moïse, DN (2009). The Promise of Progress: The Life and Work of Lewis Henry Morgan. University of Missouri Press.