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Lewis Morris

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Lewis Morris

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

LEWIS MORRIS was born on April 8, 1726 on the family manor of Morrisania in Westchester County, New York. When he graduated from Yale in 1746, he enhanced his already great fortune by marrying Mary Walton. They had ten children and had no problem supporting them. Morris joined his father in running the estate, which upon his father's death in 1762 became his.

It was quite surprising that this favored child of fortune, who had lived so pleasantly as a country gentleman, should have identified himself with the hazardous movement for independence. Tall and handsome in person, he was courteous in manner and generous in spirit. Although his grandfather was the first royal governor of New Jersey, Morris showed little interest in politics until 1769 when, in opposition to Britain's determination to tax the colonies, he won a seat in the provincial assembly. On May 15, 1775, he took his elected seat to the Second Congress. He was placed on a committee, chaired by General Washington, to devise the ways and means to supply the colonies with ammunition and military stores.  At the close of the session he was sent to the western country to assist in the difficult operation of detaching the Indians from their British allies, and inducing them to make common cause with he colonists. He remained at Pittsburgh until the following winter, and maintained a constant correspondence with congress on the subject of Indian affairs. 

Early in 1776, he resumed his seat in Congress and was in June, appointed a general in command of the Westchester County militia. Morris should have left Congress to ward off an impending British attack on New York which, by the end of June, had not occurred. Instead, Morris was on hand to sign the Declaration, even though he knew that a large British army had landed within a few miles of his estate, that their armed ships were lying within cannon shot of his homestead, and that his extensive possessions would probably be pillaged. "Damn the consequences, give me the pen," Morris is said to have shouted. Soon after, more than a thousand acres of woodland, all located on navigable water, were burned, his house was ransacked, his family driven away, his livestock captured, his domestics and tenants dispersed, and the entire property laid waste and ruined. For the next six years, he and his family suffered many privations, until the evacuation of New York City. Early in 1777, he relinquished his seat in congress to his half-brother, Gouverneur, on which occasion that body passed a resolution complimenting him and his colleagues "for their long and faithful services."

During the balance of the Revolution, Morris divided his time between military service and civil duties, although most of his public service was local. He devoted himself chiefly to restoring his estate after the war was over. He died at Morrisania on January 22, 1798 when nearly seventy-two years of age.

Click Here to see a Slave Bill of Sale

Morris of Morrisania in West Chester CountyNY - Extremely Rare Slave Bill of Sale Lewis Morris to George Hunter for "… one Negro Wench Called Sarah…" dated February 4, 1792 , 1page, 4to, integral,signed "Lewis Morris" and witnessed by his daughter "Sally Morris". 

Morris Photo Click Here Source: Centennial Book of Signers

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Lewis Morris Family

MORRIS, Lewis, statesman, born in New York city in 1671; died in Kingsbury, New Jersey, 21 May, 1746. He was the son of Richard, an officer of Cromwell's army, who emigrated from England to the West Indies, and afterward came to New York and purchased from the Indians about 1650 a tract of 3,000 acres near Harlem. He died in 1673. The son studied law, was made judge of the New Jersey superior court in 1692, and became a member of the council. He was subsequently an active member of the assembly, and an opponent of Governor Cornbury, against whom he drew up the complaint that was formulated by that body, and presented it in person to Queen Anne. He was chief justice of New York and New Jersey for several years, state councillor from 1710 till 1738, acting governor in 1731, and governor of New Jersey from 1738 till Isis death. He took an active part in the latter year in bringing about the separation of New York and New Jersey.

His son, Robert Hunter Morris, jurist, born in Morrisania, New York, about 1700 ; died in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, 27 January, 1764, was chief justice of New Jersey in 1738-'64, member of the council of New Jersey in 1738, and governor of Pennsylvania from 3 October, 1754, to 20 August, 1756. In 1757, through some misunderstanding, a new chief justice for New Jersey was appointed, but when reference was made to the supreme court of that colony, Mr. Justice Nevill decided that Morris's commission "conferred a freehold in the office, and nothing had beers shown to divest him thereof," in consequence of which he retained the office till his death. As chief justice he "reduced the pleadings to precision and method, and possessed the great perfection of his office, knowledge and integrity in more perfection than had often been known before in the colonies." " He was comely in appearance, graceful in manners, and of a most imposing presence." Benjamin Franklin said he was "eloquent, an acute sophister, and therefore generally successful in argumentative conversation."

Robert Hunter's son, Robert Morris, jurist, born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1745; died there, 2 May, 1815, was the first chief justice that took his seat on the bench of the supreme court of New Jersey under the constitution of 1776. Richard Stockton was the first that was chosen, but he declined the appointment. Morris's commission was dated 5 February, 1777, and he resigned in 1779. He was subsequently appointed by General Washington judge of the United States district court of New Jersey in 1789, and held that office until his death. During the latter part of his life his health failed, but the business of his court was unimportant, and his nonattendance occasioned no inconvenience.

Lewis's grandson, Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Morrisania, New York, in 1726" died there, 22 January, 1798, was the son of Lewis Morris, chief justice of the vice-admiralty court, who was born in 1698 and died in 1762. He was graduated at Yale in 1746, and at first devoted himself to the care of his extensive estate, but soon began to take an active part in public affairs. When the authorities attempted to enforce the act that required that additional supplies be given to the king's troops, he did not hesitate to pronounce it tyrannical and unconstitutional. This bold defiance was so entirely in keeping with the popular temper that, just after the battle of Lexington, he was chosen as a delegate to the congress of 1775, and took his seat on 15 May. Subsequently he was placed on a committee, of which General Washington was chairman, to devise ways and means to supply the colonies with ammunition and military stores. At the close of the session he was sent to the western country to assist in the difficult operation of detaching the Indians from their British allies, and inducing them to make common cause with the colonists.

He remained at Pittsburgh until the following winter, and maintained a constant correspondence with congress on the subject of Indian affairs. He resumed his seat at the beginning of 1776, and was placed on several important committees. Returning to New York, Morris found that the people of the province, and especially those of the city, did not sympathize with him in his desire for independence, and that Governor Tryon, although he had been compelled to take refuge on board the British fleet in the harbor, still managed, by the use of letters, proclamations, and conciliatory addresses, to keep the minds of the citizens in a state of hesitancy.

Morris, with other patriotic gentlemen, exerted himself to create a better feeling, and induced the committee of safety, on 18 April, 1776, to prohibit, under severe penalties, any intercourse with the royal fleet. When, in the following July, Morris signed the Declaration of Independence, he knew that a large British army had landed within a few miles of his estate, that their armed ships were lying within cannon-shot of his homestead, and that his extensive possessions would probably be given to pillage. Nor was he mistaken. More than a thousand acres of woodland, all located on navigable water, were burned, his house was spoiled and injured, his family driven away, his stock captured, his domes-ties and tenants dispersed, and the entire property laid waste and ruined.

For the next six years, until the evacuation of New York city, he and his family suffered many privations. Early in 1777 he relinquished his seat in congress to his half brother, Gouverneur, on which occasion that body passed a resolution complimenting him and his colleagues "for their long and faithful services." He afterward served as a member of the New York legislature, and major-general of the state militia After peace had been declared he returned to agricultural pursuits.

His eldest son, Lewis Morris, was graduated at Princeton in 1774, entered the army, and served as aide to General John Sullivan, with the rank of major, throughout the latter's Indian campaign, he afterward accepted General Nathanael Greene's invitation to enter his military family, and took part in that officer's brilliant operations in the Carolinas. At their close he received the thanks of congress and a colonel's commission.

Another son, Richard Valentine Morris, was appointed captain in the navy in June, 1798, and was in command of the Mediterranean squadron in 1802-'3. He was dismissed from the service, 14 May, 1804, and died in New York city in May, 1815.

--Lewis the signer's brother, Staats Long Morris, soldier, born in Morrisania, New York, 27 August, 1728 ; died in 1800, entered the British army and became captain of the 36th foot, 31 May, 1756. He was soon afterward promoted lieutenant-colonel of the 89th Highlanders, served at the siege of the French colony of Pondicherry, India, in 1761, was made brigadier-general, 7 July, 1763, major-general in 1777, and general in 1796 He married the Duchess of Gordon, and sat in parliament. In 1797 he was appointed governor of Quebec.

--Lewis the signer's half-brother, Gouverneur Morris, senator, born in Morrisania, New York, 31 January, 1752; died there, 6 November, 1816, was graduated at King's (now Columbia) college in 1768, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1771. At the age of eighteen he published a series of anonymous newspaper articles against a project, then before the New York assembly, for raising money by issuing bills of credit. He was a delegate to the 1st Provincial congress in 1775, and early attracted attention by a report and speech on the mode of issuing a paper currency by the Continental congress, the chief suggestions of which that body subsequently adopted. He served on the committee that drafted the state constitution in 1776, and the following year took the seat of his half-brother, Lewis, in the Continental congress, which he held until 1780. When the army was in winter-quarters at Valley Forge, Mr. Morris spent some time there as one of a committee that had been appointed to examine, with General Washington, into the condition of the troops. He was also chairman of a committee of five in 1779 whose duty was to consider despatches from the American commissioners in Europe, and whose report formed the basis of the treaty of peace.

In the early part of 1780 he published a series of essays signed "An American," in the " Pennsylvania Packet," on the state of the national finances, which were then at their lowest ebb. In May of the same year he was thrown from his carriage in Philadelphia, where he was then residing, and his leg was so severely injured that it had to be amputated. To a friend who called the next day to offer consolation, and who pointed out the good effects that such a trial might produce on his character by preventing him from indulging in the pleasures and dissipations of life, he replied: " My good sir, you argue the matter so handsomely, and point out so clearly the advantages of being without legs, that I am almost tempted to part with the other."

During the remainder of his life he wore a wooden leg, which once proved valuable to him. Being assailed by the Paris mob with cries of " Aristocrat " during the French revolution, while he was driving through the streets of that city, he turned the taunts into cheers by thrusting his wooden leg out of the carriage-window and shouting:" An aristocrat! Yes, one who lost his limb in the cause of American liberty." In 1781 Robert Morris (q. v.) was placed at the head of the finances of the nation, which hitherto had been managed by a committee of congress. His first act was to appoint Gouverneur Morris his assistant. The latter accepted the office, and fulfilled its duties three years and a half. In 1786, on the death of his mother, he purchased from his brother, Staats Long, the Morrisania estate, which he henceforth made his home.  In 1787 he took his seat as a delegate in the convention that framed the United States constitution, the draft of that instrument being placed in his hands for final revision. On 18 December, 1788, Morris sailed for France, and reached Paris on 3 February following, where he was engaged in the transaction of private business for the next two years.

In January, 1791, he went to England, having been appointed by President Washington a confidential agent to negotiate with the British government regarding certain unfulfilled articles of the treaty of peace. Conferences were prolonged till September without result. During his stay in London he was made United States minister to France. Being succeeded in that office by James Monroe in August, 1794, he made an extensive tour throughout Europe, and while at Vienna used strenuous efforts to obtain the release of Lafayette from confinement in the fortress of Olmutz, He returned to this country toward the close of 1798, and the following spring was elected to the United States senate from New York, to fill a vacancy, and served from 3 May, 1800, till 3 March, 1803. During this period he actively opposed the abolition of the judiciary system and the discontinuance of direct taxation, but favored the purchase of Louisiana. He was an active advocate of New York's great canal project, and acted as chairman of the canal commissioners from their first appointment in 1810 until his death.

Morris, like many energetic men, was in the habit of expressing his opinions with a freedom that often involved him in difficulties, which his gift of sarcasm tended to increase. His openness and sincerity of character, however, were held by his friends to atone for these defects. Of his abilities as a public speaker James Renwick says in his "Life of Clinton" : " Morris was endowed by nature" with all the attributes necessary to the accomplished orator, a fine and commanding person, a most graceful demeanor, which was rather heightened than impaired by the loss of one of his legs, and a voice of much compass, strength, and richness."

In person he so closely resembled Washington that he stood as a model of his figure co Houdon, the sculptor. When on his death-bed he said: "Sixty-five years ago it pleased the Almighty to call me into existence here, on this spot, in this very room; and how shall I complain that He is pleased to call me hence?" On the day of his death he asked about the weather. Being told it was title, he replied (his mind, like Daniel Webster's, recurring to Gray's "Elegy"): "A beautiful day; yes, but Who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey, This pleasing, anxious being ere resigned, Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day, Nor cast one longing, lingering look behind ?'"

He was the author of "Observations on the American Revolution" (1779); "An Address to the Assembly of Pennsylvania on the Abolition of the Bank of North America" (1785) ; "An Address in Celebration of the Deliverance of Europe from the Yoke of Military Despotism " (1814); an "Inaugural Discourse" before the New York historical society on his appointment as its president, and funeral orations on Washington, Hamilton, and Governor George Clinton. He also contributed, toward the close of his life, political satires in prose and verse to the newspaper press. See "Memoirs of Gouverneur Morris, with Selections from his Papers and Correspondence," by Jared Sparks (3 vols., Boston, 1832), and "Gouverneur Morris," by Theodore Roosevelt, in the "American Statesman Series" (1888). His granddaughter, ANNIE CARY, is now (1888) preparing for publication the "Journals and Letters" of her grandfather.

--Lewis the signer's son, Jacob Morris, soldier, born in Morrisania, 28 December, 1755; died in Butternuts. Otsego County, New York, 10 June, 1844, was educated for a merchant's career, but, yielding to patriotic impulses, offered his services to congress, and was appointed aide-de-camp to General Charles Lee, with whom he went to the south and served with credit at Fort Moultrie and in many other engagements. He also was attached to the staff of General Nathanael Greene. On the declaration of peace he returned to New York city, and was subsequently elected to both the lower and upper branches of the legislature. In 1787 he removed to Butternuts, Otsego County, New York

--Jacob's nephew, Lewis Nelson Morris, born in Albany, New York, in 1800: died at Monterey, Mexico, 21 September, 1846, was the son of Staats Lewis, who served on the staff of General Anthony Wayne. He was graduated at the United States military academy, and made 2d lieutenant in the artillery corps, 1 July, 1820. He was promoted 1st lieutenant, 3d infantry, on 31 December, 1825, and captain, 31 October, 1833. After being engaged for more than twenty years on frontier duty, he served in Texas in 1845-'6 during its occupation by United States troops, and in the campaign in Mexico in 1846, taking part in the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palnm, and Monterey, in which latter engagement he was killed while gallantly leading his regiment in an assault on the enemy's works. He was brevetted major for meritorious conduct at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.

--Lewis N. Morris' son, Lewis Owen Morris, soldier, born in Albany, New York, 14 August, 1824; died in Cold Harbor, Virginia, 3 June, 1864, received a commission as 2d lieutenant in the United States army, 8 March, 1847, and took part in the siege of Vera Cruz, and the subsequent advance on the city of Mexico. At the beginning of the civil war he had attained the rank of captain in the 1st artillery. During the winter of 1860-'1 he was stationed in Texas, and his battery was the only one that did not surrender to the Confederates. In the winter of 1861-'2 he was designated to direct the operations against Fort Macon, North Carolina, which he captured and afterward commanded. The following summer he was appointed colonel of the 113th New York volunteers, which, reaching Washington when the city was menaced by General Robert E. Lee, was converted into a heavy artillery regiment. It was stationed at Fort Reno, one of the works defending the National capital, but the inactive life did not suit Colonel Morris, and he pleaded repeatedly to be sent to the field. At the beginning of the campaign of 1864 his wish was gratified, and during all the engagements from Spottsylvania till his death he commanded a brigade. He fell in the battle of Cold Harbor when, like his father, he was cheering his men in an assault. He was greatly beloved and admired as an office -


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