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Mary Walton Morris

1727-1794

Wife of Lewis Morris

Mary Walton, who became the wife of Lewis Morris in 1749, came of a notable family of New York merchants. Her father was Jacob Walton who had married Maria, daughter of Dr. Gerardus Beekman, and with his brother William carried on the great business founded by their father.

"But the most historic family of merchants was that of Walton, whose wealth was cited in parliament to show the wealth of the Province," says James Grant Wilson's History of New York City. "The founder of the family was William Walton, a patronymic which was also carried through the full century. Early in the eighteenth century he purchased ground on the East River water front, and there established extensive shipyards.... He sailed his own vessels to the West Indies and the Spanish Main. The origin of the great fortune of this enterprising family was an extensive preference granted to Captain Walton (or Boss Walton, as he was familiarly called on account of his superintending work in the shipyard) by the Spaniards of St. Augustine, Fla., and the West India Islands. He had the contract to supply the garrison and had a permanent factor at the Florida post. His son was William Walton who sailed his father's ships." After the death of the founder, the business was carried on under the firm name of Jacob and William Walton and after the death of Jacob, by William Walton and Jacob Walton's children.

Mary Walton was an eminently capable woman and notwithstanding her wealth and social position was a well-trained and thrifty housewife and entered actively into the rural life that her husband had chosen for himself when he graduated from Yale College in 1746 and as the elder son, succeeded to the proprietorship of the manorial estate of Morrisania intending to devote himself to agricultural pursuits.
Ten children were born to them as follows: Lewis, Jacob, William, James Staats, Richard V., Catharine, Mary, Sarah, and Helena. The three oldest sons all entered the army and acquitted themselves with great credit.

Notwithstanding his large property lying close to New York City and almost certain to suffer, Lewis Morris was in advance of most public men of New York in counseling resistance to British encroachment upon the rights of the people and naturally was a marked man when he signed the Declaration. His family was forced to fly for safety and his magnificent estate was almost entirely despoiled. His house was ruined and his farm wasted. His cattle were driven off and appropriated to the subsistence of the invader. His beautiful forest of more than a thousand acres was given up to havoc and spoil. As illustrative of the disorganized condition of affairs in the Morris household at this time and also as showing how much Mr. Morris was obliged to rely on his wife and how capable she was to act, is shown in the following letters written to him by his son Lewis, who was stationed in New York:

NEW YORK, Sept. 6th, 1776.
Dr. Sir,---
When I received your letter I was at the Bridge looking for a Sloop to carry some Furniture to the Fish Kill, which I shall send off next day after to Morrow. From your Letter I believe you were acquainted with Mama's moving up to Harrison's Purchase with her Family where she carried a great deal of Furniture and all her Linnen and wearing apparel, therefore your Proposition of moving her to Philadelphia will be attended by many obstacles, for she can neither bring Cloathes sufficient for the Family nor Utensils to keep house; as most of the Carts and Waggons are pressed in the service. I assure you, Sir, your affairs at Morrisania however secure you may think they may be are in a very critical situation, in all probability they may be in the Possession of the Enemy in a little Time.... I wish you was at home to assist me, you have a good deal at stake.... Mrs. Wilkins has very industriously propagated that you had fled to France. Such Brimstones will certainly meet with their desert.
Give my love to all, and believe me to be,
Your dutiful son,
L. Morris.

On September I4th, a week after the letter above was written, the young man writes again to his father:

"Dr. PAPA, . . . I have compleated a Task the most difficult that ever poor Lad undertook; but I am sure you will think it very imperfectly compleated. The danger of our Situation required Dispatch--Dispatch created confusion which caused a Deficiency in Many Parts of my system. However I so far settled the plan of my Mother's Removel, that I believe she left her dreary habitation last Thursday attended by a very large Retinue---The Chariot before the chair, and three horses in the centre and the Waggon brought up the rear. I hope they may arrive safe.... The Enemy has possession of Montroseur's Island for these three or four days and yesterday they brought several Field Pieces upon the North West Point and fired several times at your house. I suppose they will shoot it like a sieve and destroy what little I left on the place .... "

Mr. Morris left Congress in 1777, being succeeded by his brother, Gouverneur. He continued his service, however, part of the time as a member of the state legislature and a part of the time in the field with the state militia. At the close of the war after the evacuation of New York by the British he returned to Morrisania with his family and cheerfully began the work of bringing back the nearly ruined estate to the semblance of a home. The remains of Mary Walton Morris and her distinguished husband rest in the family vault at St. Ann's Church (Episcopal), St. Ann's Avenue and 40th Street, Bronx, New York.

Jacob Morris, the second son of the signer, who entered the Revolution at the age of nineteen became a general and at the close of the war retired to the "Morris Patent," a three-thousand acre tract of wild land granted to his uncle, Col. Richard Morris, and his father, in Montgomery County. He married Mary Cox, an amiable, high-spirited girl who bravely took up the pioneer life with him and went into the wilderness to break ground and build up a home. Her mother-in-law, Mary Walton, must have appreciated her endeavors and the contrasts of her life, for though perhaps as was the custom of the day she indulged little in correspondence she summed up her courage and indicted an epistle to her son Jacob, saying, "I am glad Polly is learning how to spin and that she is taking an interest in the chickens."

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 126-132. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

 
 

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Last modified January 6, 2004