Know Your Signers: Part 3 – Francis Lewis to Robert Morris

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Now while the second group of guys aren’t nearly as interesting as the first bunch, you wouldn’t say the same with these men. You might not know some of these people but quite of few of them made some significant contributions to the American Revolution as well as the nation. In many ways, this kind of makes since because many of the Declaration of Independence signers were sent to Philadelphia by their legislators and were notable men in their communities. A lot of them also had land as well as plenty of disposable income. In this section, I wrap up the rest of the New York signatory delegation, the 5 signers from New Jersey a bunch I really found interesting, and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania who I know because he has a Division II university named after him in Pittsburgh. First, you have the last 2 New York signatories Francis Lewis and Lewis Morris (no relation to Robert but he was the half-brother to Gouveneur Morris, who played a key role in the Constitutional Convention). Second, it’s on to New Jersey with a delegation, I call the 5 Revolutionary Jersey Boys who were selected to replace the entire New Jersey delegation from the First Continental Congress who opposed it. There’s Richard Stockton who would later be taken prisoner by the British in the dead of night, be subject to torture, irons, and other inhumane conditions, and lost almost everything, including his beloved library (known to be among the finest in the colonies). Then there’s the Reverend John Witherspoon a Scottish Presbyterian minister who became the president of what is now Princeton and would achieve great things in American higher education. Next up is Francis Hopkinson who contrary to the stupid Betsy Ross bullshit, actually designed the first American flag as well as was involved in the design of the Great Seal of the United States. After that is John Hart who left land to some Baptists so they could build a church as well as let the Continental Army camp on his farm and had lunch with General George Washington prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Then there’s Abraham Clark a poor man’s lawyer whose sons were captured by the British as well as treated appallingly as prisoners of war. Finally, there’s Robert Morris of Pennsylvania best known for being a major source of funds for the American Revolution and whose financial contributions were crucial to the Continental Army’s success. However, he wasn’t the best authority when it came to spending his own money. Now for all you fans of 1776 and everything pertaining to men in tights and fluffy wigs, here are some more profiles of the Declaration of Independence signers.

17. Francis Lewis

Sure he was a man of reasonable means, but it would certainly suck to be Francis Lewis. I mean he was taken as a POW for 7 years while serving as a contractor in the French and Indian War. During the Revolution, his home was Long Island home burned to the ground by the British, his wife was taken prisoner and kept in appalling conditions for 2 years until she got sick and died, and his daughter married a British Naval Officer, moved to England, and basically disowned her parents. Didn't help that he spent most of his life savings on  supplying the Continental Army.

Sure he was a man of reasonable means, but it would certainly suck to be Francis Lewis. I mean he was taken as a POW for 7 years while serving as a contractor in the French and Indian War. During the Revolution, his home was Long Island home burned to the ground by the British, his wife was taken prisoner and kept in appalling conditions for 2 years until she got sick and died, and his daughter married a British Naval Officer, moved to England, and basically disowned her parents. Didn’t help that he spent most of his life savings on supplying the Continental Army.

Lived: (1713-1802) Was 63 at the signing and 89 at his death.

Family: Son of Morgan Lewis and Anne Pettingale. Married Elizabeth Annesley and had 7 children with 3 surviving infancy. Son Morgan Lewis served in the army during the Revolutionary War and eventually became governor.

State: New York

Occupation: Merchant, farmer, landowner, and mercantile agent

Early Life: Born in Wales. Educated in Scotland and attended the Westminster School in London, before entering into the mercantile business. Moved to Whitestone, New York in 1734. In 1756, he was taken prisoner and shipped in a box to France while serving as a British mercantile agent while a clothing contractor at Fort Oswego. In 1763, he returned and was granted 5,000 acres to compensate for the 7 lost years of his life. Was a member of the Committee of Sixty and the New York Provincial Congress. Was a delegate of the Continental Congress in 1775.

Significant Roles: Signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778 as well as served as Chairman of the Continental Board of Admiralty. Home in Whitestone was burned to the ground during the American Revolution by British soldiers and his wife spent 2 years in captivity denied a change of clothes or adequate food as well as in dirty, damp, and cold conditions. She’d eventually get sick and die, unsurprisingly. Even worse his only daughter would marry a British Naval Officer and move to England, refusing to see or correspond with her parents. Would spend almost all his life savings purchasing supplies for the Continental Army.

Ultimate Fate: Basically retired from public service after the Revolution and resided with his 2 sons for the rest of his life. Buried at Trinity Church Cemetery.

Trivia: Ancestor of Hollywood director William Wellman. Has many descendants stretching all the way to Idaho. Died on New Year’s Eve. Had a great-grandson who died in the Battle of Gettysburg.

18. Lewis Morris

While Lewis Morris was a strong supporter of American Independence, he's paid the price with his beloved family home Morrisania burned and looted by the British during the occupation of New York. But compared to Francis Lewis and Richard Stockton, he got off easy. Still, can't help but wonder whether he's an ancestor to the late Tim Russert. Wonder why.

While Lewis Morris was a strong supporter of American Independence, he’s paid the price with his beloved family home Morrisania burned and looted by the British during the occupation of New York. But compared to Francis Lewis and Richard Stockton, he got off easy. Still, can’t help but wonder whether he’s an ancestor to the late Tim Russert. Seriously, the guy looks as if he could be the guy’s 4th or 5th great-grandfather.

Lived: (1726-1798) He was 50 at the signing and 71 at his death.

Family: Son of Lewis Morris and Catherine Staats. He was the third guy to be named Lewis (there’s a very interesting story about his family but I won’t divulge). Married Mary Walton in 1749 and had 10 children. His 3 eldest sons served in the Revolutionary War with distinction.

State: New York

Occupation: Landowner and developer

Early Life: Born on his family estate of Morrisania, (now a neighborhood in the Bronx). Inherited the estate upon his father’s death in 1762. Appointed judge of the colony’s Admiralty Court in 1760 and elected to the New York Assembly in 1769 but resigned in 1774. Member of the New York Provincial Congress 1775-1777 and was sent to the Continental Congress these same years.

Significant Roles: He was an active supporter for independence that it’s said when his half-brother Gouveneur allegedly warned him about what he was doing, he stated, “Damn the consequences. Give me the pen.” Served two nonconsecutive times in the New York State Senate (1777-1781 and 1783-1790). Home was looted and burned by the British during the occupation of New York.

Ultimate Fate: Aside from politics, Morris spent some time after the Revolution to rebuild his family estate. Was a delegate for the New York Convention to ratify the US Constitution in 1788. In 1790, he offered Morrisania as the site of the US capital (which was refused). Died on his estate and is buried in the family vault beneath St. Ann’s Church in the Bronx.

Trivia: Half-brother of Gouverneur Morris. Great-grandson was a pioneering astrophotographer. Aside from the US, has descendants in Australia and the Netherlands.

19. Richard Stockton

Few signers had more tragic stories than New Jersey's Richard Stockton. Months after signing the Declaration of Independence, he was kidnapped by a band of Loyalists as well as placed in a complete hell of a prison for 5 weeks, and emerged on parole with his health so destroyed that he never recovered. He also had his furniture, belongings, crops, and livestock either taken or destroyed. His estate was occupied by General Cornwallis. And his library, one of the finest in the colonies was burned. But he never lost his faith and he refused to take any loyalty oath to his British captors that would've given him a pardon from General Howe. Which is why he has a statue in the US Capitol today.

Few signers had more tragic stories than New Jersey’s Richard Stockton. Months after signing the Declaration of Independence, he was kidnapped by a band of Loyalists as well as placed in a complete hell of a prison for 5 weeks, and emerged on parole with his health so destroyed that he never recovered. He also had his furniture, belongings, crops, and livestock either taken or destroyed. His estate was occupied by General Cornwallis. And his library, one of the finest in the colonies was burned. But he never lost his faith and he refused to take any loyalty oath to his British captors that would’ve given him a pardon from General Howe. Which is why he has a statue in the US Capitol today.

Lived: (1730-1781) He was 45 at the signing and 50 at his death.

Family: Son of John Stockton and Abigail Philips who were first cousins. Father was a wealthy landowner who donated some property for what is now known as Princeton University. Married Annis Boudinot and had 6 children, including a son who became an eminent lawyer and Federalist leader.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Lawyer, landowner, and college trustee

Early Life: Born at the family home in Princeton called Morven. Attended Samuel Finley’s Academy in Nottingham and graduated from Princeton in 1748. Studied law in Newark under David Ogden and admitted to the bar in 1748 rising to great distinction. Received the degree of sergeant at law in 1763 (highest degree at the time). Was a trustee of Princeton for 26 years. In 1766 to 1767, he gave up his law practice to travel to England, Scotland, and Ireland, personally presenting King George III an address from the Princeton trustees, acknowledging the repeal of the Stamp Act. In Scotland, his and Benjamin Rush’s personal efforts resulted in the Princeton presidency by the Reverend John Witherspoon. After he returned to America, he was elevated to the New Jersey Provincial Council in 1768 and appointed to the Provincial Supreme Court in 1774. He was more of the moderate on the colonial troubles with Great Britain and drafted a Commonwealth approach to the colonial secretary which was rejected. Was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776.

Significant Roles: He was the first person from New Jersey to sign the Declaration of Independence. Sent by Congress with George Clymer on an exhausting 2 month journey to Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and Albany to assist the Continental Army during the American Revolution. When he returned to Princeton, he traveled 30 miles east to the home of a friend named John Covenhoven, to evacuate his family to safety and away from the British Army. But they were captured in the middle of the night, dragged from their beds by Loyalists, stripped of their property, and marched to Perth Amboy to be turned in by the British. Though General William Howe offered him a pardon if he remained in peaceable obedience with the King, but he never did. So he was put in irons and brutally treated as a common criminal. He was then moved to Provost Prison in New York, where he was intentionally starved and subjected to the freezing cold weather. He was released on parole 5 weeks later on January 13, 1777 and his health was ruined. He found Morven occupied by General Cornwallis as well as his furniture, household belongings, as well as crops and livestock confiscated and destroyed. His library, one of the finest in the colonies was burned.  But his treatment in the New York prison prompted the Continental Congress to pass a resolution directing General Washington to inquire into the circumstances. However, though he took an oath swearing loyalty to the United States, he had to resign Congress due to a promise he made not to meddle in American affairs during the war. Though there were rumors that he recanted, there was nothing written about doubts of Stockton’s loyalty in any of the papers of members of Congress or in any books or newspapers at the time. Nor did he deliver any protection papers which he would’ve done if Howe gave him a pardon.

Ultimate Fate: Stockton would try to rebuild his life by reopening his law practice and teaching new students. However, he developed cancer of the lip that spread to his throat. He was never free of pain until he died at Morven. He had a large funeral on the campus of Princeton University with a large audience of citizens, friends, and students of the college were in attendance. Buried in Princeton’s Stony Brook Meeting House Cemetery. Is barely remembered by anyone outside of New Jersey which is kind of a shame.

Trivia: Father-in-law to Benjamin Rush. Wife was one of America’s first published female poets. Was a close friend of George Washington. Grandson was a hero in the War of 1812, Military Governor of California, and US Senator from New Jersey. Has a university named after him and a statue in the US Capitol (one of 6 to be so honored).

20. John Witherspoon

The Reverend John Witherspoon was a Scottish Presbyterian minister who arrived to America to become the president of what is now Princeton University. There, he transformed a broke and ill-equipped college whose purpose was to train ministers to an Ivy League and intellectual powerhouse akin to Harvard and Yale. However, he was also a staunch Protestant and nationalist who formulated a type of Protestant American Exceptionalism, embraced by a number conservative Evangelicals in the Bible Belt.

The Reverend John Witherspoon was a Scottish Presbyterian minister who arrived to America to become the president of what is now Princeton University. There, he transformed a broke and ill-equipped college whose purpose was to train ministers to an Ivy League and intellectual powerhouse akin to Harvard and Yale. However, he was also a staunch Protestant and nationalist who formulated a type of Protestant American Exceptionalism, embraced by a number of conservative Evangelical Christians in the Bible Belt today.

Lived: (1723-1794) Was 53 at the signing and 71 at his death.

Family: Son of the Reverend James Witherspoon and Anne Walker. Married Elizabeth Montgomery and Anne Marshal Dill and had a total of 12 children.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Minister, theologian, professor, philosopher, and college president

Early Life: Born in Scotland. Attended Haddington Grammar School and graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1739 but remained to study divinity. Was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Saint Andrews in 1764. Was a staunch Protestant, nationalist, and supporter of republicanism who basically formulated an early form of American Protestant exceptionalism. Was naturally opposed to the Catholic Legitimist Jacobite Rising of 1745-1746 and was briefly imprisoned at Doune Castle after the Battle of Falkirk, which has long term effects on his health. After 2 pastorates as a Presbyterian minister and three well-known works on theology, he was recruited by Richard Stockton and Benjamin Rush to become president and head professor of what is now known as Princeton University. Though he initially turned them down, he eventually accepted, leaving Scotland for New Jersey in 1768. Upon his arrival, he found the school in debt with weak instruction and a library collection which clearly failed to meet the students’ needs. He immediately began fundraising both there and his native Scotland, added 300 of his own books to the library, and purchased science equipment. He also instituted a number of reforms like modeling a syllabus and university structure that used the University of Edinburgh and other Scottish universities, firmed up entrance requirements, helping the school compete with Yale and Harvard. Personally taught courses in Eloquence, Chronology (history), Divinity, and Moral Philosophy. All in all, he transformed a college designed to predominantly train clergymen into a school that would equip the leaders of a new nation. Also helped organize the Nassau Presbyterian Church. A staunch critic of British policies, he embraced his new home, joined New Jersey’s Committee of Correspondence, gave a high profile sermon, and was elected to the Continental Congress serving from 1776-1782.

Significant Roles: Well, he was appointed the Congressional Chaplain by John Hancock and voted to adopt the Virginia Resolution for Independence. He was also one of the most influential members as well, serving in 100 committees. Helped draft the Articles of Confederation, helped organize executive departments, played a major role in shaping foreign policy, and drew up instructions for peace commissioners. Lost as son in the Battle of Germantown. Had to close and evacuate the college in 1778 which resulted in the main building Nassau Hall being badly damaged and his papers and personal notes lost. He was responsible for Nassau’s rebuilding after the war.

Ultimate Fate: Served twice in the New Jersey State Legislature and strongly supported the adoption of the US Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates. Went blind in 1792. Died at his home and is buried in the Princeton Cemetery. Has a statue at Princeton University as well as in his native Scotland. Still, outside Princeton and New Jersey, most Americans don’t seem to remember him.

Trivia: Only college president and clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence (well, working clergyman anyway). Has a think tank, a lay religious society, and a college in South Dakota named after him. Former students consisted of James Madison, Aaron Burr, Hugh Henry Brackenridge (who founded the University of Pittsburgh), 37 judges (including 3 Supreme Court justices), 10 cabinet members, 12 members of the Continental Congress, 28 US Senators, and 49 US Congressmen. Early life was subject to a Scottish documentary.

21. Francis Hopkinson

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Francis Hopkinson is also known for designing the first American flag, a claim which is supported by the journals of the Continental Congress. He also assisted in the design of the Great Seal of the United States as well as was an amateur author and songwriter. Most of his stuff revolved around popular airs and political satire. Not only that but he was also said to be a rather talented musician on the harpsicord and invented the Bellarmonic.

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Francis Hopkinson is also known for designing the first American flag, a claim which is supported by the journals of the Continental Congress. He also assisted in the design of the Great Seal of the United States as well as was an amateur author and songwriter. Most of his stuff revolved around popular airs and political satire. Not only that but he was also said to be a rather talented musician on the harpsicord and invented the Bellarmonic.

Lived: (1737-1791) He was 38 at the signing and 53 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Hopkinson and Mary Johnson. Married Ann Borden in 1768 and had 5 children. Son Joseph was a US Congressman and federal judge.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Lawyer, diplomat, civil servant, businessman, author, songwriter, composer, musician, and satirist

Early Life: Born in Philadelphia. Member of the first class of what is now known as the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1757, received his master’s degree in 1760, and an honorary doctorate of laws in 1790. Was secretary to a Provincial Council of Pennsylvania Indian commission in 1761 that made a treaty with the Delaware and several Iroquois tribes. In 1763, he was appointed customs collector for Salem, New Jersey. Spent from May 1766 to August 1767 in England in hopes of becoming commissioner of customs for North America but was unsuccessful. In 1768, he returned to Philadelphia to run a dry goods business. Was appointed customs collector of New Castle, Delaware in 1772. Moved to Bordentown, New Jersey in 1774 and became a member of the New Jersey Provincial council while he resigned his crown-appointed position in 1776.

Significant Roles: Although you’ve heard the story of Betsy Ross (which was cooked up by her grandson), it was definitely him who designed the first American flag and the Continental Congress journals support this. And though he asked for cask of wine and some cash for these, he received absolutely no compensation (and it sucks even more that so many people accept the bogus Betsy Ross legend as historical fact). He also helped design the Great Seal of the United States. He departed Congress in November of 1776 to serve on the Navy Board of Philadelphia and later became its chairman. In 1778, he was treasurer of the Continental Loan Office. In 1779, he was appointed judge of the Admiralty Court, a position he’d hold in 1780 and 1787.

Ultimate Fate: In 1789, he was nominated and confirmed as a federal judge in Philadelphia. However, a few years in, he suddenly died of an apoplectic seizure. He’s buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

Trivia: As an amateur author, he wrote popular airs and political satires in the form of poems and pamphlets (some which were widely circulated). Started playing harpsicord at 17 while he hand-copied arias, songs, and instrumental pieces by many European composers. Also, said to be the first American born composer to commit a composition to paper. Was an organist at Philadelphia’s Christ Church where he composed and edited a number of hymns and psalms. Invented the Bellarmonic (a glass harmonica combined with a keyboard). In 1788, he published a collection of 8 songs which he dedicated to his friend George Washington as well as his daughter.

22. John Hart

Though he had little formal education, John Hart was a successful farmer and businessman. Had George Washington and his Continental Army camp on his land and had lunch with the commander himself, prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Also donated land to a group of Baptists to build a church where he's buried. And the thing is, he wasn't even a Baptist.

Though he had little formal education, John Hart was a successful farmer and businessman. Had George Washington and his Continental Army camp on his land and had lunch with the commander himself, prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Also donated land to a group of Baptists to build a church where he’s buried. And the thing is, he wasn’t even a Baptist.

Lived: (bt. 1706 and 1713-1779) He was around 67-70 at the signing and about 70-73 at his death (we’re not sure when he was born).

Family: Son of Captain Edward Hart who was a farmer, public assessor, justice of the peace, and leader of a local militia unit during the French and Indian War. Grandfather was a carpenter from New York. Married Deborah Scudder in 1741 and had 13 children.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Landowner, farmer, businessman, and philanthropist

Early Life: Either born in Stonington Connecticut or Hopewell Township, New Jersey. Had very little formal education and was mostly self-taught. In 1747, he donated a piece of his land to local Baptists who had been seeking a place to build their church which became the Old Baptist Meeting House. Was elected to the Hunterdon Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1750 and to the New Jersey Colonial Assembly in 1761 where he served until 1771. In 1773, he’d buy a substantial mill enterprise with his son-in-law John Polhemus. Was a Court of Common Pleas Judge and on New Jersey’s Committee of Correspondence. Elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776.

Significant Roles: However, Hart was only in the Continental Congress until August of that year because he had return to New Jersey to be speaker of its General Assembly. He’d also take on additional duties. In 1776, he was obliged to escape and hide for a short time in the nearby Sourland Mountains as his farm was raided by British and Hessian troops who damaged but didn’t completely destroy the property (this after his wife just died that October. His mills were destroyed though). He only returned home after Washington crossed the Delaware to capture Trenton as well as the Battle of Princeton.  But having to survive the winter weather in the wilderness ruined his health. In June 22-24 1778, he invited the Continental Army to camp on his farm (numbering 12,000) and had lunch with George Washington. Left for Hopewell from Trenton that November due to his kidney stone affliction which killed him 6 months later in a slow and painful death.

Ultimate Fate: Hart didn’t survive the American Revolution. But he’s buried at the church he helped make possible.

Trivia: Often called, “Honest John.” Son-in-law was an officer in the Continental Army. Owned 4 slaves. Said to ride 30 miles to see his wife while they were dating.

23. Abraham Clark

Though we think about the signers as a bunch of rich guys in powered wigs and ruffles, Abraham Clark  didn't fit the mold since he equated such fashion statements with extravagant wealth. He also didn't believe in using public office for personal favors. But he made an exception when he mentioned his sons being held in a British prison ship under appalling conditions. Though the British offered their release if he recanted, he refused.

Though we think about the signers as a bunch of rich guys in powered wigs and ruffles, Abraham Clark didn’t fit the mold since he equated such fashion statements with extravagant wealth. Known as “the poor man’s counselor” because he gave advice for little or no fee. He also didn’t believe in using public office for personal favors. But he made an exception when he mentioned his sons being held in a British prison ship under appalling conditions. Though the British offered their release if he recanted, he refused.

Lived: (1726-1794) He was 50 at the signing and 68 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Clark and Hannah Winans. Said to be an only child. Married Sarah Hatfield in 1748 and had 10 children. Two of his sons were officers in the Continental Army.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Surveyor and lawyer

Early Life: Born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Showed an aptitude in mathematics at a young age that his dad hired a tutor to teach him surveying. Too frail for heavy farm work, he taught himself law while working as a surveyor before going into practice (we’re not sure if he was admitted to the bar but it probably didn’t matter as much then). As a lawyer he became quite popular and became known as the “poor man’s lawyer” since he offered to defend the poor if they couldn’t afford one. Entered politics as a clerk in the New Jersey Provincial Assembly and later became High Sheriff of Essex County.

Significant Roles: Was a highly vocal advocate for independence, he was appointed to the Continental Congress in 1776. Refused to speak of his 2 sons in Congress even after they were both captured, tortured, and beaten. But he did bring them up when they were put on a prison ship called the Jersey, known for its brutality.  One was thrown into a dungeon and given no food except what could be pushed through a keyhole as well as lay in his own blood, urine, and feces. However, the British offered the lives of his sons in exchange for him to recant but he refused. Remained in Congress until 1778 where he was elected to the New Jersey Legislative Council but he served two more terms. Buried at Rahway Cemetery.

Ultimate Fate: Served in the US House of Representatives from 1791-1794. Retired before New Jersey’s Constitutional Convention in 1794. Died of sunstroke at home.

Trivia: Has a township and high school named after him. Never wore a wig or ruffles because he hated elitism. Nor did he believe in using political office for personal favors. It’s popularly said that he was the signer who was probably closest to the typical American citizen. Said to own 3 slaves. Would rather have the words, “liberty” on American currency than a portrait of a US President.

24. Robert Morris

As "Financier of the American Revolution" Robert Morris's played a very pivotal role in the American war for independence that can in no way be overstated. Without his financial backing, George Washington could not effectively rage war against the British. Without his fleet of ships, there would be no Continental Navy to speak of. He also had a lot of good ideas about economics which were taken by his disciple Alexander Hamilton. However, his habit of land speculation would soon catch up on him and he'd be put in a debtor's prison. This led Congress to make the first bankruptcy laws just to get him out of there.

As “Financier of the American Revolution” Robert Morris’s played a very pivotal role in the American war for independence that can in no way be overstated. Without his financial backing, George Washington could not effectively rage war against the British. Without his fleet of ships, there would be no Continental Navy to speak of. He also had a lot of good ideas about economics which were taken by his disciple Alexander Hamilton. However, his habit of land speculation would soon catch up on him and he’d be put in a debtor’s prison. This led Congress to make the first bankruptcy laws just to get him out of there.

Lived: (1734-1806) He was 42 at the signing and 72 at his death.

Family: Son of Robert Morris Sr. and Elizabeth Murphet. Father would become a tobacco agent in Maryland and died by being accidentally hit by a ship’s gun when his son was a teenager. Married Mary White in 1769 and had 7 children.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Merchant, financier, banker, businessman, relator, philanthropist, and investor

Early Life: Born in Liverpool, England. Immigrated to Oxford, Maryland to join his father at 13. Educated by a private tutor and was a quick learner. Later in his teens, he was sent to Philadelphia to study as well as stay with a family friend who arranged that him to become an apprentice to a shipping and banking firm of Charles Willing. When he died, Morris entered a partnership with his son Thomas called Willing, Morris, & Co. which would last until 1779. Their firm’s interests consisted of shipping, real estate, and other lines of business like slave trading (even though they both supported non-importation agreements as well as free trade). Their ships traded with places like India, the Levant, the West Indies, Cuba, Spain, and Italy and quickly became one of the most prosperous businesses in Pennsylvania. Began his public career in 1765 by serving on a local committee of merchants organized to protest the Stamp Act mostly as a mediator between the protestors and the British agents. He would later serve in the Pennsylvania Committee of Correspondence and the Provincial Assembly. Served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress from 1775-1778.

Significant Roles: In 1775, the Continental Congress contracted with his company to work with the Secret Committee of Trade. Devised a system to smuggle war supplies from France the same year as well as handling much of the financial transactions. Served with John Adams on the committee that wrote the Model Treaty which incorporated his long held belief of free trade and acted the basis of the 1778 treaty with France. Gave his best ship The Black Prince to the Continental Congress. Used his extensive international trading network as a spy network and gathered intelligence on British troop movements. Actually voted against independence yet abstained the following day (which was said to be pivotal) and signed anyway saying, “I am not one of those politicians that run testy when my own plans are not adopted. I think it is the duty of a good citizen to follow when he cannot lead.” Personally paid £10,000 to pay the Continental Army which kept it together since US currency had no value but his “Morris Notes” did. Owned privateers that stole cargo from English ships and engaged in profiteering. Supplied 80% of the Continental bullets fired and almost 75% of the revenue for all other expenses of the fledgling government. Served in the Pennsylvania State Legislature from 1776-1781 in which he worked on the state constitution to restore checks and balances as well as overturn religious test laws that disenfranchised 40% of the male citizenry. Was called to restore the Pennsylvania economy in 1780 when it went bankrupt. From 1781-1784, he was appointed Superintendent of Finance of the United States where he proposed to establish a national bank and chartered the Bank of North America in which he personally contributed $74 million during the war and immediately thereafter while the citizens contributed $800,000. Instituted a lot of reforms like reducing the civil lists, using competitive bidding for contracts, tightening accounting procedures, and demanding the federal government’s full share of support from the states. With Gouveneur Morris (no relation), he also proposed a national economic system in a document called, “On Public Credit as well as managed to make the US currency a decimal currency, a very progressive idea at the time. Took an active role to help move Washington and his army from New York to Yorktown, Virginia where he acted as quartermaster and supplied over $14 million of his own credit as well as coordinated with the French Navy. In 1782, he proposed and presented to Congress to recommend the establishment of a national mint and decimal coinage, which wasn’t fulfilled until a decade later.

Ultimate Fate: In 1781, he purchased a home which he rebuilt. He would later have John Adams and George Washington occupy the house during their presidencies. It would also be the place where Washington would stay during the Constitutional Convention. In 1787, he was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and arranged to have Gouveneur Morris appointed as well.  Though he had a lot of influence behind the scenes his most significant role was nominating George Washington as president. Though he declined to be Secretary of the Treasury, he did recommend Alexander Hamilton who was his economic disciple. Served as a US Senator from 1789-1795 and supported not just Hamilton’s economic system but internal improvements as well. Founded several canal companies and a steam engine company. Invested in a considerable portion of Western New York real estate in 1791 and soon became deeply involved in land speculation that he overextended himself financially. Due to the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and Panic of 1796-1797, Morris would be left “land rich but cash poor” since he owned large tracts of land but didn’t have money to pay the collectors. He also tried to avoid creditors and was sued by a former business partner who had been in a debtor’s prison for fraud. Morris would later be arrested and imprisoned for debt as well as hurt US economy and the fortunes of many prominent Federalists. But this led to the US Congress to pass its first bankruptcy legislation in 1800 just to get him out of prison. After his release, he spent the rest of his life in retirement in poor health and assisted by his saintly wife. He’s buried in the family vault of his brother-in-law Bishop William White at Christ Church. Has a monument in Philadelphia.

Trivia: Called, “the Financier of the American Revolution” and was considered the second most powerful man in America next to George Washington. Has a university named after him in Pittsburgh and in Illinois. Brother-in-law was an Episcopalian bishop. Underwrote the Empress of China voyage which was the first American ship to visit the Chinese mainland. During the American Revolution, he had one of the largest private navies in the world (saying that his firm had 250 ships). Was the first American to use the dollar sign on official documents and in official communication. Launched a hot air balloon from his garden. His icehouse was the model of one Washington installed at Mount Vernon. Backed the Chestnut Street Theater. Buddies with Gouveneur Morris.

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