Hi everyone! Welcome to my little corner of the internet! I wanted to share some of the interesting history tidbits I come across while researching (I am a genealogy librarian). I hope you find this information as interesting as I do! Lets get to it!
One of my favorite stories is the Morgan/Sterling/Morehouse feud. Way back in 1830, there were three brothers (and a sister!) who lived in Ouachita parish. The brothers were Jonathan, Oliver and Ferdinand. Oliver was a local respected judge in the area, and Jonathan at one time was sheriff of Ouachita parish. Ferdinand was a man of status in his own right. He had been elected to the Senate in a hotly contested election against Charles Morehouse. Things got out of hand. Accounts of the killing made national papers. I wrote about it in a November, 2008 issue of Louisiana Road Trips magazine:
The Shooting of Ferdinand Morgan
From time to time, I like to browse around on E-bay to see what Monroe historical items might be on sale. Mostly you will find the old penny postcards from the turn of the last century, but occasionally you find a gem. One such gem led me to a whole lost treasure of Monroe history. The item up for bid was an October 19, 1830 National Gazette and Literary Register newspaper from Philadelphia, PA. On the front page was an article about a shootout that happened in downtown Monroe. I won the bid, and the information I found proved to be very interesting.
There were two major characters in this story. The first was Col. Charles Morhouse, son of Morehouse parish founder Abraham Morhouse. Charles’ sister, Eliza Caroline Morhouse had married Robert H. Sterling, a well-respected lawyer in Monroe. The other player in this drama was General Ferdinand Morgan. Morgan was the brother of one of Ouachita’s earliest judges, Oliver J. Morgan. Ferdinand was married to Ouachita’s Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Tennille’s daughter Hannah Simmons Tennille.
Ferdinand Morgan was elected United States Senator in the summer of 1830. Charles Morhouse was his opponent in the election. In the middle of the election campaign, Morgan had given offense to Bernard Bollenhagen Hemkin. What offense it was has been lost to history. Hemkin sent him a challenge to duel via Morhouse on September 6, 1830. Morgan refused to accept it. This action would lead to the events of September 7.
On September 7, Ferdinand Morgan and Dr. John Alexander were walking past Charles Morhouse’s office when he came out and tried to give Morgan the challenge note again. He refused to take it. Words were exchanged and Morgan began to walk away. When Morgan and Alexander were about forty feet away from the office, Morhouse was heard to say, “I believe you to be a damned coward!” Morgan whirled around and began to stalk back towards the man, raising his cane as he came forward. Morhouse drew his pistol and fired. The gun just snapped. A scuffle ensued, with Morgan getting a blow in with his cane before they were separated. Morhouse managed to grab his pistol and threw it at Morgan, hitting him in the head. Stunned, Morgan advanced on him again, this time beginning to draw out a sword from his cane. From behind the door of Morhouse’s office, witnesses saw a gun muzzle extend and one shot rang out. Morgan staggered a few paces and then collapsed and died. He had been shot in the back. The shooter? Robert H. Sterling.
Sterling was clapped in irons and lead to the jail to await a trial before a jury. The trial took place in December. The witness list of the trial reads like a who’s who of Monroe society. Filhiol, Holmes, Lewis, Duval, McGuire and Morhouse all gave their versions of what they saw. Dr. Alexander said Morgan couldn’t have drawn his cane sword since his right wrist was damaged and in a sling. Morhouse claimed Morgan was the aggressor and Sterling was defending him. Judge Overton told the jury plainly that, “A third person interfering in a sudden quarrel or affray, without giving notice of his intention, and taking sides with one of the parties, and killing the other, without an absolute necessity to save life, was guilty of either murder or manslaughter, according as circumstances show malice or otherwise.” The jury retired and two hours later, returned a verdict of not guilty. A book I found called, “United States Criminal History” by P.R. Hamblin published in 1836 includes a description of the trial and the quote, “If this trial be an example of the way in which justice is administered in Louisania [sic], we desire to be thankful that we do not reside there.”
Morgan left behind a grieving widow, but no children. He was most likely buried in the Tennille cemetery, but his grave can no longer be found. It is not known what happened to Sterling. His brother John lived near present day Sterlington, which is named for him. Charles Morhouse served out Morgan’s term as Legislature. Morgan’s brother Oliver would serve from 1836-1838.
And what became of Bernard Hemkin who started this whole mess? Bernard would marry the widow Francoise Ludeling and died December 12, 1846. He is buried in the Old Monroe City Cemetery on DeSiard Street. His son Bernard Jr. would become mayor of Monroe thirty years to the day his father’s challenge was rebuffed by Morgan. He would resign his commission to serve the Confederacy and die in Virginia. His empty grave lies next to that of his father. Keep your eyes open. You never know where you might find the next historical treasure!