He never lived in the town and didn't visit it often, but he was in the right place at the right time when it came time to undo the damage done to the town during the Civil War.
The New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Western Railroad leading from Algiers, across the river from New Orleans, to Brashear City was in terrible shape when the fighting ended. Bridges were burned, long stretches of rail were missing or damaged, practically every railroad car needed repair, and only a few locomotives were available to pull them once they were fixed.
The railroad company went to work as quickly as money could be found and by 1869 most of its equipment was again usable and track was being extended up Bayou Teche toward New Iberia. But the repairs and improvements cost more than the New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Western could afford.
The railroad went bankrupt and was offered to the highest bidder at a U.S. marshal's sale. That high bidder turned out to be Charles Morgan.
Morgan was born Aug. 21, 1795, in Killingsworth, CT. He was 13 years old when he got his first job clerking in a grocery store in New York City - a job that doesn't usually lead to the shipping business. But young Charles, displaying a business acumen that would eventually make him one of the wealthiest men in the U.S., saw an opportunity to provide food and other supplies to ships visiting New York.
That little venture prospered and he kept saving and investing. Before too long he owned a few shares in some sailing ships that traveled to the West Indies and Central and South America. He eventually parlayed that little investment into his own company, the Morgan Line, one of the first to use steamships.
In the years before the Civil War, Morgan's ships enjoyed a virtual monopoly in an enormous cattle trade between Texas ports and New Orleans. He added steamers to Panama and Nicaragua during the California Gold Rush, and kept taking advantage of every opportunity he could find.
It wasn't long before another shipping tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt, noticed the lucrative Gulf of Mexico business. He sent two ships to the Gulf and made a deal with a competitor of the New Orleans, Opelousas, & Great Western to run trains to Berwick Bay. The Vanderbilt boats and New Orleans trains matched schedules so that passengers and freight from the train could be loaded onto Vanderbilt ships bound for Texas or onto steamboats headed up the Teche.
A dog-eat-dog war followed and Charles Morgan eventually emerged the winner. He was doing a bonanza business when the Civil War began and most of his ships were pressed into service by the side that got to them first.
He began to rebuild his business immediately at the end of the war and by May 25, 1869, when he bought the New Orleans, Opelousas, & Great Western, Morgan was again running "first class iron ships" in the Gulf of Mexico. He spent more than $2 million to improve the railroad from New Orleans and was able to offer a schedule of rail-and-ship service as Vanderbilt had done.
Morgan was more than 70 years old in 1873, when he dredged a deeper channel through Atchafalaya Bay to accommodate his fleet of ships. The channel opened Berwick Bay wharves to bigger vessels and by 1873 Morgan had 17 steamships operating from the city. About the same time, he also saw possibilities in a little Texas community and began the first important dredging to make a ship channel out of Buffalo Bayou there. The result was the transformation of a sleepy little cow town into modern Houston.
In April 1878, a month before his death, Charles Morgan distributed the majority of his stock in the Louisiana & Texas Railroad & Steamship Co. to family members and business associates. His heirs eventually sold the company to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which operated ships between Galveston, New Orleans, and New York until World War II.
Morgan's daughter, Maria, and her sons used the money they got from the sale to open another family business•the Whitney Bank in New Orleans. Maria's husband, Charles Whitney, had been one of Morgan's closest business associates.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.