Morgan is the easternmost town in Orleans County, bounded to the northwest by Derby, to the north by Holland, to the east by the Essex County gores of Warner’s and Warren’s, to the southeast by the Essex County town of Brighton and to the west by Charleston.
The town’s website notes Morgan was chartered by the Republic of Vermont on Nov. 6, 1780 under the name of Caldersburgh to 64 grantees. On Oct. 19, 1801, the town name was changed to Morgan in honor of one of the original grantees, John Morgan of Hartford, Conn., from whom the first settlers purchased their land. The town was described as a region of unsurpassed beauty, with fertile soil and a healthful and invigorating climate.
The town’s dominant geographic feature is 1,700-acre Lake Seymour, regarded as a sporting paradise with a maximum depth of about 160 feet. It was named for Israel Seymour, another of the original grantees, and is the Northeast Kingdom’s largest natural lake, barely ahead of Lake Willoughby in Westmore in surface area.
The Vermont Historical Gazetteer, published in the 1870s, called lake Seymour “one of the most beautiful sheets of water in the state, and the scenery around it is grand and picturesque.” The Gazetteer went on to note: “Being fed by numerous living springs, its water is remarkably cold and pure. As another peculiarity – it takes much cold weather to freeze it over. For weeks after lake Memphremagog and all the other bodies of water in this vicinity have been bound in icy fetters, Lake Seymour may be seen steaming and lashing its shore as if in defiance of the frigid blasts.”
A town history on Morgan’s website written in 2005 by Richard Lafoe, a selectman, relates: “The early settlers were ashers by trade. Due to the world economy, hard wood ashes were in demand for the English wool trade and for the depleted soils of Europe. The new United States Congress imposed a tariff on exported ashes… However, England purchased ashes at the Port of Montreal... During the early 50 years, the forests were burned and ash salts exported to Canada. This activity gave the early settlers… cash money to build houses and barns, turning the forest countryside into an agricultural environment.”
During the War of 1812, Lafoe said many town residents returned to lower New England for fear of an invasion by England. From the end of the war to 1860 Morgan grew at a moderate pace, he said, creating farm, business and cultural activities typical of New England. During the Civil War, he said, 47 Morgan men left town to fight, and 13 of them never returned.
Farming was the primary source of income for Morgan residents during the first half of the 20th century. The sheep and wool industry was the biggest cash crop, according to Lafoe, and maple sugar was second. During the 1890s, he wrote, the federal government had banned sugar imported from Cuba. As a result, he said, Vermont produced enough maple sugar for its needs and exported the excess for profit.