Morgan City sits on the banks of the Atchafalaya River. The town was originally named "Tiger Island" by surveyors appointed by U.S. Secretary of WarJohn Calhoun, because of a particular type of wild cat seen in the area. It was later changed for a time to "Brashear City," named after Walter Brashear, a prominent Kentucky physician who had purchased large tracts of land and acquired numerous sugar mills in the area. It was incorporated in 1860.
During the American Civil War, Star Fort or Fort Brashear was the larger of two works erected by the Union Army occupying the city to defend a Federal military depot and the town. During the Bayou Teche Campaign, on the night of June 22, 1863, 325 Confederates of Gen. A. A. Mouton's command led by Major Sherod Hunter landed their skiffs and flats in the rear of the town. Attacking the next day, they surprised and captured the city, 1,300 Union prisoners, 11 heavy siege guns, 2,500 stands of rifles, immense quantities of quartermaster, commissary and ordnance stores, as well as 2,000 negroes and between 200 and 300 wagons and tents, while suffering losses of only 3 killed, 18 wounded.
In 1876, the community's name was changed to Morgan City in tribute to Charles Morgan, a rail and steamship magnate who first dredged the Atchafalaya Bay Ship Channel to accommodate ocean-going vessels.
In the spring of 1973 the Morganza Spillway was opened during high water on the Mississippi River, resulting in flooding of parts of Morgan City. Flooding was actually caused by the massive rains that year and not the opening of the Morganza Spillway.
On October 28, 1985, Hurricane Juan (not to be confused with the 2003 storm of the same name) made landfall near Morgan City, flooding many parts of the city. The storm then looped off shore and came onshore again in Alabama.
On August 26, 1992, Hurricane Andrew came ashore 20 miles (32 km) to the southwest of town. Andrew was the second most destructive hurricane in U.S. history, crossing Florida and then regaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico before striking Louisiana.
A type of blackberry deemed the Youngberry was developed by B.M. Young in 1905 in Morgan City, Louisiana, as a hybrid between a variety of blackberries. The Youngberry is a cross between Luther Burbank’s, Phenomenal Berry, and the Austin-Mayes Dewberry, a trailing blackberry. The Youngberry was introduced commercially in 1926 and quickly came to rival Loganberries. The Youngberry had excellent qualities, such as taste and high yields, and it soon replaced the Loganberry of California.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.2 square miles (16.1 km2), of which 6.0 square miles (15.5 km2) is land and 0.27 square miles (0.7 km2), or 4.03%, is water.
There were 5,037 households out of which 31.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.0% were married couples living together, 15.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.6% were non-families. 28.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 3.04.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.4% under the age of 18, 8.7% from 18 to 24, 27.7% from 25 to 44, 23.3% from 45 to 64, and 13.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 93.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,324, and the median income for a family was $36,196. Males had a median income of $31,712 versus $19,550 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,577. About 17.7% of families and 20.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.3% of those under age 18 and 17.7% of those age 65 or over.