The goal of the Nathaniel Morgan Memorial Committee (NMMC) is to help build a robust, vibrant, and livable community envisioned by Dubuque’s City Council. In accordance with City Council goals, an artist in collaboration with committee and community members will create a memorial to honor Nathaniel Morgan in a visible, public space that promotes awareness of racial violence. This memorial will serve as a focal point for ongoing discussion of history, current events, and educational programming.
Our mission is to encourage honest, compassionate dialogue about race in our schools and broader community by acknowledging the lynching of African American Nathaniel Morgan and subsequent acts of racial violence in Iowa. Toward this end we seek to create a memorial in a prominent, historically relevant site that promotes reflection and sustained educational activity. This memorial will demonstrate Dubuque’s commitment to understanding and rectifying racial wrongs and building an equitable, multicultural community.
1840 Census Form
This 1840 census form includes Nathaniel Morgan and his wife, Charlotte.
Past & Future
The NMMC formed in response to an underacknowledged act of racial violence in Dubuque and a desire to prevent future acts of such violence. Dubuque was Iowa’s earliest non-Indigenous community, and its first residents included Nathaniel and Charlotte Morgan, an African American couple. The Morgans secured good work, purchased a home, and attended the first church in Iowa to erect a church structure, a building funded by donations from both black and white residents. On September 6, 1840, a group of white men accused Nathaniel of theft and proceeded to whip and kill him in public. The leaders of this lynching were acquitted of all charges. News of Morgan’s unaddressed murder spread rapidly and helped thwart Dubuque’s early promise of being a peaceful interracial community.
The NMMC believes that a suitable Morgan memorial will prompt open, informed, and honest communication about this and other acts of injustice that have plagued people of color in Dubuque for generations. Morgan’s lynching and subsequent acts of racial threats and intimidation, such as cross burnings, have dissuaded African Americans from moving to and remaining in Dubuque. These acts of violence and injustice are examples of the ways housing, business, educational practices and the criminal justice system maintain white supremacy. The recent rash of highly visible white-on-black murders that have gone relatively or completely unpunished reflect the legacy of the socially and politically condoned violence that has taught America that Black lives are worth less than those of others. Opportunities to face this history in schools and beyond will help Dubuque build a community that does not tolerate racial threats, intimidation, and violence and that consistently promotes justice and honors cultural differences.
Toward this end, the NMMC invites local individuals and groups to partner with us to cultivate a relationship with a nationally recognized artist who will listen to and engage with committee members, city and cultural leaders, and local residents. The memorial created by this artist will be a dynamic, three-dimensional structure that appeals to residents’ heads and hearts by engaging history to raise their social conscience, envisioning a lasting promise of interracial harmony, and nurturing a community where all residents feel safe, supported, and equally valued. This memorial will be a fitting tribute to Iowa’s oldest African American community and a beacon of inspiration for the model interracial community Dubuque may become.
A Horrid Murder in Dubuque
It is with pain that we record in the account below another of those horrid crimes that have disgraced this country and the name of civilized man, within the past few years. It details the circumstances of the whipping to death of a negro—and they are so fiendlike, that were it not that our informant is a respectable citizen, whom we could not suspect of a disposition to misrepresent, we should be inclined to suspect some mistake in his narration.
Dubuque, Sept. 6, 1840
Messrs. Editors: --I have just witnessed one of the most disgraceful, and barbarous, and inhuman murders, ever perpetrated in the Lead Mines. There was a negro man living here by the name of Nat—an old resident—whose principal occupation was that of waiting upon the gentlemen of the town, and whose wife followed the business of washing. They were both considered very useful, though Nat, it was said , would occasionally take, without leave, sundry little articles, such as tobacco, cigars, stockings, etc. which was no doubt the result of a very intimate acquaintance with those who employed him. A day or two since, it was heralded through the town, that a quantity of clothing had been stolen from a fellow, whose reputation is not very enviable. Poor Nat was immediately suspected of the theft, and the collection of a mob was speedily effected, consisting of all the ‘loafers’ and ‘grog-bruisers’ of the town.
The victim was dragged from his house and conveyed down to the beach in front of the town, amid the shouts of a drunken multitude, and tied to a post—his back bared, and full THREE HUNDRED LASHES were dealt out to him, “well laid on” in good mob style. During the infliction of this most awful and brutal punishment, the poor creature was made to confess in such a manner as to contradict himself, which gave a new impulse to the scene, and their merciless cruelties were continued until his back was literally flayed—cut to pieces. He was then loosed, after having been made to promise to show were the stolen things were. But, when they took him to the place which he designated, no trace of the stolen articles were to be seen. Thirty nine additional lashes were laid upon his fleshless back, with a “will and design” which baffles all description.
He was then dragged up the stairs of his house, which he designated (under the most excruciating torture,) as the place of deposit of the stolen property; but as before, no traces of the stolen property could be found. In consequence of this another “dose” was laid upon his raw and quivering back—horrid, horrid—to which he appeared insensible. He then, in a feeble voice, named a place on the bluff as the deposit of the things, but begged that they would let him lay down and rest before proceeding with them, as he felt sick and very feeble. This was denied him; and with oaths and curses, such as were calculated “to kindle the wrath of the Deity, “he was partly led and partly dragged to the bluff. What they did to him there, I do not know, as I did not follow them. The stolen property was not found, and the miserable and ill-fated creature was brought to his house a cold inanimate corpse, with his back broken, and his ribs and sides all stove in! The humanity of the mob, after death had relieved their victim, may be inferred from the fact, that they brought him upon two poles to his house!
Who would have supposed that a people professing a high regard for law and morality, would have looked upon this unhuman, murderous, and diabolical transaction as idle spectators—upon this, one of the most foul and monstrous perpetrations that can blacken the character of the human species—a murder that will clothe with infamy its base and black hearted authors—who can only live now to “stink” in the nostrils of every honest and moral man in the Territory.
You will bear in mind that the good people of Dubuque took no part in this most infamous and disgraceful affair. The tragedy was performed by the drunken rabble, and them alone.
I am an old resident of Dubuque, and speak freely and FEARLESSLY, knowing, as I do that this most horrid and shameless murder is but too well calculated to give a character any thing, but enviable to our flourishing young city. There is law in this Territory, and the poor Negro (though he may have been guilty of the charge proferred against him) was as much entitled to the benefit and advantages of a fair trial, by the laws of the land, as any white man.
A Moral Citizen of Dubuque.