IT IS EASY to be amazed with the athletes who participate in the fighting sports, such as MMA and boxing. The level of skill is not the only amazing thing, but also, the amount of physical abuse they are willing to endure. Some people seek fame and glory through their toughness.
One such person was Albert Morgan Pilkington, who grew up in the Sequim area. Albert had the determination, passion, and sense of purpose to become a world champion boxer.
Minta Emma Tiller was a young 17-year-old when she married Otto Anderson on February 11, 1901, in Jefferson County. Otto was an immigrant from Sweden. Otto, though, was 25 years older than Minta. On December 24, 1903, Minta gave birth to a son, Albert, in Sequim.
It can be easily imagined that the couple’s age difference could lead to trouble. It appears that Minta and Otto divorced some time after the birth of Albert.
Minta later met Frederick Morgan Pilkington. On June 15, 1908, Minta and Fred married.
Fred completely accepted Minta’s son, Albert. Whether through official or unofficial adoption, Albert Morgan Pilkington became Fred’s son, assuming Fred’s middle and last names.
Where Albert was born varies when you research him. Some websites say he was born in Dungeness. Other sites say Sequim or even Seattle. In 1920, it appears he lived in the Lost Mountain precinct. In the 1910 census of the Sequim Precinct, the Pilkington family shows up and Fred is identified as a blacksmith. It is easy to imagine Fred wanting his stepson to continue in the family business.
But Albert was a scrawny kid. Fred decided to do something about that.
Fred had Albert train as a boxer. Fred’s goal was to use boxing to put some strength and muscle onto Albert. There were several athletic clubs around Clallam County where Albert could train.
Fred only wanted Albert to improve his physical fitness. As time progressed, Albert realized he liked boxing and wanted to compete. Albert would have tested his skills through local unsanctioned bouts. The Eagles and the Elks often hosted “smokers.” Boxing matches were called “smokers” because of the fog of cigar smoke filling the arena.
His first professional fight was on March 12, 1920, at the age of 16. He boxed under the name of “Tod Morgan”. It was thought that the name was the result of a ring announcer misunderstanding his name. It may also have been a better boxing name than Pilkington. Tod was managed by his stepfather, who also revised his name to Fred Morgan.
His debut fight was in a vaudeville house in Concrete, Wash. Tod fought Johnny Bitoni to a draw in four rounds. On March 28, 1920, Tod fought in Anacortes. That was followed by another fight in Concrete on May 14.
In fall of 1920 the family moved to Vallejo, Calif., where more bouts would be available. Between Oct. 1920 and June 1923 Tod had 52 fights. Tod then moved back to Seattle where he had another
17 fights through 1924. In 1923 and 1924, Tod earned the Featherweight Championship of the Pacific Coast four times.
In 1925 Tod earned the Junior Lightweight Championship of the world. Tod put the title on the line in 15 fights. His record in these fights was 12 wins, 2 losses, and 1 draw. Six of his title fights were in Madison Square Garden.
On April 6, 1927, Tod’s stepfather Fred died. Fred and a friend were riding in a small boat from Seattle to Dungeness. Fred went down into the cabin to sleep. A small leak in the exhaust pipe caused Fred to asphyxiate.
On Dec. 13, 1928, Tod married Grace Marina Aggelar in Shelton.
Together, they had one son, William Pilkington.
Tod lost the world title to Benny Bass on December 19, 1929. Tod dominated Benny in the first round. But Tod was knocked out in the second round. The odds makers favored Bass 6/1. The knockout led to whispers of a fixed fight.
Though the suspicions were unproven, Tod could no longer fight in New York. Tod was to receive $35,000 just to be there.
Tod returned to the west coast and continued to fight until 1933. Tod spent the last nine years of his career fighting in Australia. In 1935 he had a fight in Hawaii which earned him the welterweight championship of Hawaii. Tod then went on to hold and defend his title as Lightweight Champion of Australia. Tod’s last fight was July 28, 1942, which he won on points in 12 rounds. Tod joined the Australian army in WW2 and served in Africa.
It was reputed that Tod made half a million dollars while fighting. Most of it likely went to the promoters. After Australia, Tod returned to Seattle and worked as a referee, a bellhop, and did odd jobs.
Tod was a tough guy, but was it all worth it? 22 years is a very long career for a boxer. Tod had 220 bouts with a record of 143-44-33, with 29 wins by knockout. He entered the ring for 1,664 rounds. It is easy to see that he may have endured 5,000 blows to his head.
In July 1951, at the age of 47, Tod suffered a severe stroke while in Reno.
Tod could not recognize anyone except his wife. On Sept. 22, 1951, Tod underwent unsuccessful brain surgery. He was placed in the Northern State Hospital in Washington where he spent the last two years of his life.
Tod died July 31, 1953, at the age of 49. The cause of death was “encephalomalacia, chronic post traumatic (pt. was a pugilist)”. In other words, all the blows to the head severely damaged his brain. His body is buried in Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle.
Sadly, only a few people attended his funeral.
Tod’s lengthy career and various championship belts finally earned him a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. Tod was posthumously inducted into the hall in 2022 in the Old Timer category.
The hall noted that Tod was known as the “Seattle Flash” and held the world junior lightweight championship from 1925 to 1929.
The Sequim area has produced its share of champions. Most notably Joe Rantz who won Olympic gold in 1936 as part of the eight-oar American rowing team and Matt Dryke who won Olympic gold in 1984 in skeet shooting. We should remember to add Tod Morgan to Sequim’s list of champions.
John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at email@example.com.