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By the Way: A Virginian but born in Bucks


They call him a Virginian but he probably spent his childhood right here in Bucks County. He was considered a genius at military strategy. Morgan’s Riflemen won a battle crucial to his fellow patriots during the American Revolution.

That battle is one of the dramatic compelling exhibits featured at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, now the country’s first World Heritage City.

The Battle of Cowpens, fought in South Carolina, is one of the decisive battles turning the course of the war toward victory for the new nation.

And its general, Daniel Morgan, this national hero, may have come of age in Durham, the son of James Morgan, ironmaster at the 18th-century Durham Furnace for about half a century. The young Daniel may have grown up in the ironmaster’s house, which still stands, walked the streets of the village and run through the fields – or perhaps he just worked at the iron forge.

I’ve tinkered in Durham’s history for a while, been fascinated with what went on in this largely overlooked gem in Bucks County, and so I knew Daniel Morgan’s story – or thought I knew it.

Most historians overlook his youth, perhaps due to Daniel’s act of adolescent rebellion. He is said to have left home at 17 after an argument with his father, a teen-aged runaway who managed to sprint right into the history books, along with his first cousin, Daniel Boone.

What is fact is that Daniel Morgan was born across the Delaware in Lebanon Township, Hunterdon County, July 6, 1736. He died in Winchester, Va., on his birthday in 1802.

In the 1700s, a lot of Morgans were wandering around Bucks and Montgomery counties and in New Jersey, so it has been difficult to establish his parentage. Durham historians claim Daniel Morgan as their own but ancestry-seekers dispute this.

What they do agree on is the well-documented story of Daniel Morgan’s later years and his astonishing rise to fame.

My daughter and I found ourselves immersed in the dramatic presentation of the Battle of Cowpens in the War in the South gallery when we visited the museum a couple weeks ago.

She lives in San Antonio now but returns regularly to touch base with her Durham roots.

Both of us were excited to see Daniel Morgan’s name on the super-dramatic exhibit portraying the Battle of Cowpens, fought on Jan. 17, 1781.

In a pasture in Spartanburg County, S.C., Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan tricked troops led by British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton into advancing, and then trapped them, according to many sources.

Morgan put his weaker militiamen up front, had them fire two rounds, and then instructed them to fall back. Tarleton misinterpreted this move and charged ahead. Morgan’s Riflemen met Tarleton’s troops with heavy fire and a cavalry charge helped to decimate the British, who lost 800 killed, wounded or captured. The Americans counted fewer than 100 casualties.

After that boost in morale, the honors rolled in for our Daniel. At least nine states soon produced Morgan counties. A hundred years after the battle, the people of Spartanburg erected a monument in Morgan’s honor. He was promoted to major general after his role in Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s, and Congress awarded him a gold medal.

Morgan silver dollars were minted in 1778 and for years after. The Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security in Washington, D.C. was named in his honor because of his use of strategy and military intelligence during the Battle of Cowpens. Finally, he served a term as a U.S. congressman from 1797 until 1799.

A Virginian? Maybe. He lived and died there. But surely, he’s our almost-native son.