22 August 2010

Meet the Signers - Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania

Gounerneur Morris was born 30/31 Jan 1752 at Morrisania, Westchester County, New York in what is now the Bronx to Lewis Morris II and his second wife Sarah Gouverneur. Lewis and Sarah had 5 children and Lewis had several children with his first wife, Sarah’s aunt, Katryntje Staats.

Morris graduated King’s College in 1768 at 16 and began law training under William Smith, Jr. He received his maste’s degree from King’s College in 1771. By October of that year he had entered the New York bar.

Morris was a constitution creator. He played a key role in the development of New York’s state constitution, is generally credited as writing the US Constitution, and drafted France’s initial constitution during the French Revolution.

The American Revolution was hard on the Morris family. His mother and two of his sisters remained loyal to the crown. One of his half-brothers was a British officer. But Gouverneur wasn’t alone in choosing independence; his half brother Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence. Morris represented New York at the 1778 Continental Congress before moving to Philadelphia in 1779. Morris wouldn’t return to the family estate in New York for two decades. He went into business with Philadelphia mogul, Robert Morris (no relation). In addition to their business ventures Gouverneur and Robert would establish a national bank on 7 January 1782.

Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, Morris suffered a severely broken ankle in a carriage accident that required his left leg be amputated. The ever upbeat Morris seemed to take his misfortune in stride. As a bachelor, the wives of colleagues and friends tended to Morris during his recovery. The man noted for a having a way with the fairer sex got his first taste of heartbreak, falling for the very married Elizabeth Plater.

Morris would attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as a delegate from Pennsylvania. After the Constitution was ratified, he went to Europe to attend to his business affairs and in the end unofficially attended to governmental interests as well.

France was gearing up for a revolution as Morris became the US Minister to France in 1792. He is lucky he wasn’t guitoinned with the royal family. In addition to providing advice to the royal family, Morris was instrumental in planning their failed escape from France. France proved to be a tough station for Morris as he once again found heartbreak after an affair with Adelaide Fileul, Comtesse de Flahaut (“Adele”).

Morris's signature as it appears on the United States Constitution

When he returned to America, he went to New York and reached Morrisania in December 1798. He entered the US Senate as a Senator from New York in 1800. It is unclear whether he was appointed or elected. He retired from politics in 1802, but not from public service. ”In 1807, Morris accepted an appointment by the state to a planning committee charged with creating a street plan that would control New York City’s future growth…..the result was the logical and eminently practical north-south east-west lattice we know today, extending from what was designated 155th Street in Harlem to the base of Manhattan at Houston Street.” (Miller, p. 196). In 1810, Morris was named to chair the commission to build the Erie Canal. They were unable to get federal funding for it so the state of New York financed it. Construction began 1817.

It was during this time that Morris finally settled down. The object of his affection was Anne Carey (“Nancy”) Randolph. Nancy was a Virginia gentlewoman and the object of scandal and derision. She was forced to leave her sister’s house after being accused of killing her out-of-wedlock child fathered by her finance (her brother-in-law’s brother). It is alleged that the infant’s remains were found. Speculation was that the child was actually her brother-in-laws: he demanded a trial…he was innocent. This was in 1792. She remained with the Randolph’s until 1805, when she was forced to leave. She eventually ended up in New York. Morris invited her to become his housekeeper at Morrisania. They were married on 25 December 1808 and on 9 February 1813 Nancy gave birth to a son, Gouveneur Morris II.

Morris died 6 Nov 1816. He was 64. Nancy died in May 1837 at age 62. In 1841, Gouverneur Morris II had his parents and some of the older Morris’s moved to the cemetery at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, a church he had had built in his mother’s honor.

1 comment: