American Portraits

For Honor and Liberty’s Cause: Daniel Morgan, Revolutionary Leadership, and Purpose

In this lesson, students will learn about the life of Daniel Morgan. They will explore his dedication to his purpose through many trials and tribulations at great personal sacrifice. Through his example students will learn how they can pursue purpose in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.


In the late spring of 1755, Daniel Morgan was a wagon driver in British Major General Edward Braddock’s force. The American colonists were fighting alongside the British army in the French and Indian War, and Braddock had been assigned to take Fort Duquesne (modern-day Pittsburgh). During the march, a haughty British officer insulted Morgan. This was typical behavior for English officials, many of whom believed that the colonists were ill-bred and undisciplined. Morgan knocked the officer down in one blow, a breach of military discipline that instantly resulted in a court-martial on the spot. Morgan was sentenced to be whipped hundreds of times, an ordeal that usually resulted in death. After the punishment was over, Morgan’s back was severely bloodied, and his skin hung down in tatters. It was an experience that the twenty-year-old would remember for the rest of his life….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

What about Daniel Morgan’s dedication to his purpose can inspire us to follow purpose in our own lives?

Virtue Defined

Purpose is my answer to the question “why do I exist?” It is the reason for which I exist; it is my goal, that thing to which my actions are directed. It is our answer to the question “what are you for?”

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the life of Daniel Morgan. They will explore his dedication to his purpose despite many trials and tribulations and at great personal sacrifice. Through his example, students will learn how they can pursue purpose in their own lives.


  • Students will analyze Daniel Morgan’s performance as a soldier during the American Revolution.
  • Students will understand how his example shows a dedication to his purpose.
  • Students will apply this knowledge to the pursuit of purpose in their own lives.


American colonists developed a unique identity during the 18th century that, over time, separated them from their British counterparts. Resistance to British rule during the lead up to the Revolutionary War instilled a fierce sense of individualism in the colonists, especially those living on the frontier. The frontier was the great democratizer of the age, as survival depended far more on individual spirit and hard work than it did on class standing. Living in the vast, untrodden wilderness, families were generally isolated from the community and thus developed a temperament that shunned external control. Additionally, those living on the frontier generally had a Scotch-Irish heritage, which instilled additional hatred of British rule. These frontiersmen were among the most patriotically devoted to the cause of individual American liberty.

Daniel Morgan typified this individualistic culture. A self-made man who worked on the frontier, Morgan left home at the age of 17 following a fight with his father. He battled Indians in the Virginia mountains as part of a group of rangers. He hated the British because of mistreatment he suffered at their hands during the French and Indian War. Ultimately, Morgan put his rugged individualism towards a greater purpose in life as a leader in the fight for American independence.


  • Typified
  • Haughty
  • Intrepid
  • Inflexible
  • Rugged
  • Counterparts
  • Democratizer
  • Ill-bred
  • Ordeal
  • Ailed

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Daniel Morgan?
  • What was Morgan’s role during the American Revolutionary War?
  • What responsibility did Morgan believe he had in fighting for American liberty? How did this shape his purpose?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Billias, George Athan, ed. George Washington’s Generals and Opponents: Their Exploits and Leadership. New York: Da Capo, 1994.
  • Ferling, John. Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Higginbotham, Don. Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961.

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