THE OXFORD MERCHANT
It is difficult at this day to discover the causes of the concentration of trade at the pretty town of Oxford, which in the first half of the XVIII century gave to this port an importance second only to that of the provincial capital at Annapolis. The most rational of these are the excellence of its harbor, its proximity to and ready approach from the great bay, its accessibility by water by means of boats from all the regions bordering upon the Chesapeake, at a time when roads were either wanting or were mere bridle paths, and lastly the remarkable salubrity of its atmosphere, then as now unpoisoned by malaria. And the causes of decline after the middle of the century are almost as obscure; for if those of its prosperity, which have been assigned, were the true causes, in as much as they were permanent in their influence, they should have secured permanence of commercial prominence. But there was really another cause for the decadence of Oxford as a centre of trade, and this was the absence of a back country dependent upon this place for an outlet of its products and an inlet for its supplies. The growth of the vast west demanded a port of entry and departure upon the opposite shore, and this port was furnished by the town of Baltimore which grew proportionately with the growth of the country north and west, and finally absorbed the foreign and the greater part of the domestic trade of the Province. But in considering the prominence of Oxford at one period and its declension at another just succeeding, regard must not be paid to natural or physical causes wholly: something must be attributed to human agencies-to the energy and capacity, or to the inertness or weakness of men. Examples are familiar of natural advantages being lost by ignorance or apathy, and natural impediments being overcome by Intelligence and enterprise. While St. Louis, relying upon her splendid site, sat secure of her supremacy in the Mississippi valley, Chicago was building in a swamp the Western metropolis, one of the largest and most beautiful cities of the world. While the favorable environments of Oxford drew to her harbor and strand men of strength, resolution and foresight, with their ships, their capital and their wares, they, in return, gave impetus, steadiness and scope to her business interests and all that accompanies commercial prosperity, material and moral. Among these active aid able merchants of Oxford, was the subject of this brief sketch, Mr. Robert Morris, whose name is familiar to the ears of the citizens of this county because of his lamentable fate, and to the country at large because it was borne by a distinguished son whose end was hardly less tragic than the father's, while it was far more reproachful to those who if they did not accomplish it, stood by consenting.
Of the English commercial firms trading with Maryland, one of the most substantial and prosperous was that of Messrs. Foster Cunliffe & Sons, of Liverpool, which had its ships plying between the Chesapeake and the Mersey, with detours to Madeira, the coast of Africa and the West Indies; and had its factories as their warehouses and stores were called, seated along the shores of our great bay and its tributaries. One, and a principal one of these factories, was at Oxford, and in charge of this somewhere about the year 1738, they placed the most capable of their employees, from their Liverpool house, who had acquired their confidence by services that had tested his probity and his capacities in business. This was Mr. Robert Morris of whom it is now proposed to speak. Of his parentage, birth and education but little is certainly known. In his will he calls himself the "son of Andrew Morris, mari- ner, and Maudlin his wife, both deceased, late of the town of Liverpoole in Great Britaine," and upon his tombstone it is inscribed that he was born in that city. But whatever was his genesis this may be said of him that he overeanie all impediments of birth and breeding by his own inherent forces, and vindicated his title to be called a gentleman through a display of those traits which distinguish that character from the vulgar, whether they be high or low born. The precise date of his birth cannot be discovered, but as his epitaph states that at time of his death in 1750 he was in the fortieth year of his age, his natal day must have been in 1710 or 1711. The humble station of his family renders it highly probable that his early scholastic training was very imperfect and limited: but either there was emplanted in his mind in his youthful years a love of good letters or he had a natural avidity for good learning at least in its popular and elementary form and a natural capacity for its reception. It is known that he was neither ignorant nor weak; that he was fond of books and the converse of cultivated men. Of his train- ing for practical life we know as little as of his education. In the Journal of Col. Jeremiah Banning, who as a youth had a personal acquaintance with Mr. Morris, it is stated that :
This gentleman was one of those instances of many to evince that it is not always necessary to be high born and educated to become a conspicuous character. This was quite the reverse with Mr. Morris, being brought up in the mean business of a nail maker with a school education similar thereto. His great natural abilities overleaped every other deficiency.
Doubt is thrown upon this statement of Col. Banning by a descendant of Mr. Morris, as it must have been given upon mere heresay, he having been very young at the date of Mr. Morris' death. But assuming that it is true, as nail making was the work of women and children before the introduction of machinery, he may have followed his calling in his least mature years, and abandoned it as he grew older and more capable of higher employment. Keeping in mind the liability to fall into errors when, in the absence of testimony, conjecture, even the most plausible, is taken as a guide, it may be surmised that at an early period of his life he was received into the employment of Messrs. Foster Cunliffe & Sons, in some capacity or other. He may have been taken into the warehouses of this great commercial firm, to perform the humblest services, and been advanced to positions of confidence and responsibility. Or what is more probable still, in view of the facts that as sons used to follow from generation to generation the avocations of their fathers and that as Mr. Morris was certainly the son of a sailor, and possibly the grandson of another, that Captain Robert Morris, of 1669, herein before mentioned, and finally in view of the fact that in his day, it was common for the sea-faring man to develop into the merchant, he served in some capacity on board one of the ships of the Messrs. Cunliffe, whose trade was largely with Virginia and Maryland. But whatever may have been his early position, there can be no doubt his abilities as a man of affairs displayed themselves in such a way as to obtain the recognition of the Messrs. Cunliffe, who were thus persuaded that in him they had found a suitable person to whom to intrust the management and control of one of their chief trading posts in America. He was accordingly sent out by them to Maryland and placed in charge of their business at Oxford, then one of the most important stations in the Province and the leading one upon the Eastern Shore. It will be seen in the sequel that their judgment of his capacity was not at fault and their confidence in his integrity not misplaced. At what date Mr. Morris arrived at Oxford it has been found impossible to determine. A communication to the Maryland Gazette, herein after quoted, says that at the time of his death in July, 1750, he had been in charge of the factory of the Messrs. Cunliffe at Oxford twelve years. This would indicate that he was in Talbot as early as 1738. His name first appears in the records of this county in or about the year 1741, then, however, in such connection as to lead to the inference that he had been here some years, the recognized agent of the firm of Foster Cunliffe & Sons of Liverpool.
Here, and in this capacity, Mr. Morris spent the remaining portion of his life, and there is no evidence that during this time he was permitted to visit the old country. He seems to have enjoyed the confidence of his employers, and to have justified their confidence by the manage- ment of their affairs in such a way as to render the station at Oxford unequalled by any in Maryland. Besides this factory there were others in his care and under Ms supervision, conducted by under-factors who accounted to him, and drew their supplies from his store. One at Cambridge was conducted by a Mr. Hanmer who seems to have had greater latitude allowed to him than to others, if he was not independent of Mr. Morris.
The success which was won for the Messrs. Cunliffe was not with- out much active competition. There were several establishments of London and Liverpool merchants at Oxford and its vicinity and else where in the county quite as extensive as those of Mr. Morris' principals, that contested for trade upon a footing which was rendered unequal only by his superior address. Among these competitors were Mr. Anthony Bacon who had a large store at Dover on Choptank, and Mr. Gildart, who had a store at Oxford, and Mr. John and Mr. William Anderson, who had stores on Wye and Chester rivers, and Mr. John Hanbury who had a store at Cambridge and probably one at Dover. There were others of equal extent. Mr. Morris pretended to compete not only with these but with merchants of long standing upon the Western Shore, and from the single fact that after the breaking out of the war in 1744 between England and France, commonly called King George's war, he was able to secure the contract for clothing the Maryland troops, with Manx cloth from his store at Oxford, it is evident he was capable of successfully contesting the commercial field with the largest merchants of the Province. In a letter of Henry Callister, his under-factor, to the Messrs. Cunliffe, dated Oct. 2, 1750, written after Mr. Morris' death it was said of the factory at Oxford, " for its present state and circumstances it cannot be equalled by any in Maryland, owing to the good management of your late factor there." Col. Jeremiah Banning, in his journal says of Mr. Morris, of whom he had personal knowledge:
Oxford was at the time of his death and during his agency, for he was its principal supporter, one of the most commercial ports of Maryland. The storekeepers and other retailers both on the Western and Eastern sides of the Chesapeake repaired there to lay in their supplies. . . . Oxford's streets and Strand were once covered by busy crowds ushering in commerce from almost every quarter of the globe. . . . After the death of Mr. Morris commerce, splendor and all that animating and agreeable hurry of business at Oxford declined to the commencement of the civil war, which broke out in April 1775, when it became totally deserted as to trade.1
No better evidence could be given of the estimate that was placed upon his business capacity by the Messrs. Cunliffe, than the opportuni- ties they gave him for bettering his fortunes by commercial adventures upon his own account while he was acting as agent for them. It was customary where young men were sent out from England, as under- factors, or clerks, and of course the same or greater favors were granted to their chiefs, to grant them in addition to a stipulated salary for a certain time certain privileges of trade, by which they were better qualified for independent action, their diligence stimulated and their small income increased. To Mr. Morris these privileges were unusually favorable because of his extraordinary abilities as a merchant. He was not taken into partnership by the Messrs. Cunliffe, but according to Mr. Callister, they winked at or gave their assent to a business arrangement by which a firm was formed of a Mr. William Anderson of London, Mr. Morris and Mr. Hanmer, to conduct a store in the upper part of the county. Mr. Callister said also that Mr. Morris, whether with or without the consent of his principals, was a member of the firm of Messrs. Anthony Bacon & Company whose factory was at Dover, or to use his words kept "a great store at Dover on Choptank." Continuing Mr. Callister said of him:
Mr. Morris died possessed of a good estate which I think became him well. I thought I could see by what means he acquired it, -viz., by your particular indulgence in allowing him to ship tobacco and trade as much as he thought fit (which he did to some purpose); and you lately gave him a very remarkable proof of that indulgence by admitting him a partner in the Oxford snow for the Guinea trade, So far, without doubt, was agreeable to you, but as I questioned whether you were privy to the other partnerships, I thought it my duty to make you acquainted.
As tobacco -was the staple commodity of the country at the time it was the principal object of trade; and as it was the medium by which -values were estimated, and debts paid it was the common currency. Of course scarcely any thing could have been worse for this latter purpose, for it varied in quantity and quality year by year. As an object of commerce it was greatly unsatisfactory for the same reasons, with this one in addition, that there were no standards of excellence by which it could be measured but the arbitrary or partial judgments of buyers and sellers; and its buwness -was so great that the difficulty in ascertaining its condition when in its packages was almost insuperable with those who had not the opportunities and appliances of inspection. Inspection laws, had not then been passed, nor were there public warehouses for the reception and critical examination of the staple established throughout the county as there were subsequently. The evils enumerated had been long felt in the community, but the legislation necessary for their amelioration bad not been secured. The difficulty of securing the reform of any mischievous system which has grown up in any society, and pene- trated the whole body by its roots, is one of familiar facts of practical politics. When innovations, acknowledgedly demanded, are attempted to be initiated in a community -where customs or laws are estab- lished, the interests of so many persons are, injured or imperiled; the interests of so many more are undeservedly and improperly promoted at the expense of the innocent and helpless, there are so many established rights invaded, and so many private wrongs inflicted; the natural conservatism or inertia of men to whom ancient order, with all its inconveniences and detriments, is acceptable, is so violently assailed; and the new order of things, with all its advantages, is so repellent by reason of its difficult applicability to cases originating under old condi- tions, that there is always a pervading objection to reforms however clearly their beneficent results are perceived and however severely the evils they promise to remedy are experienced. While laboring to secure legislation for the removal of the evils to connnerce and society of an unsettled standard of valuation of the staple product upon which all business transactions were based, the active mind of Mr. Morris devised a remedy which though of voluntary application was so just and wise that it was accepted by all the dealers in tobacco and most of the producers. This consisted essentially in the appoint- ment by the merchants of private receivers, who were expert and honest, and went from plantation to plantation examining the crops, and giving certificates of quality to the owners, which were generally accepted by the buyers as proof of the grade. When the tobacco was brought in to the warehouses, as fraud was sometimes attempted by the planters, a second inspection was sometimes requested by the mer- chant. When a planter shipped his own product, a fear of rejection abroad rendered him wary of including anything of an inferior quality.2 The benefits resulting from the system of private inspection were so marked that in 1747 an Act for the legal inspection of Tobacco was passed, but it was imperfect and after several amendments in years following, it seems to have lapsed. No good law was secured until that of 1763, which was most comprehensive and efficient. The incon- veniences resulting from the employment of tobacco as a currency or medium of exchange, Mr. Morris attempted to remove by the adoption in his private business of a system of accounts kept in denominations of sterling money. He is said to have been the first to make this attempt in Maryland. In this he succeeded but imperfectly, his premature death probably interrupting his endeavors to give generally to what he found useful in his own transactions.3 If this statement be true, and it was made by one who should have known, it justified the remark of that person, that Mr. Morris, "As a mercantile genius was thought to have no equal in the land."
In Mr. Morris' time, besides the export of tobacco, a very consider- able trade in wheat had grown up, the Talbot lands having shown that remarkable adaptability for the production of this grain which they have continued to manifest to the present day, and their unfitness for the growth of the finer qualities of tobacco, which has caused the entire abandonment of that crop. There were other articles of export, such as peltries, pork and the products of the forest. One of the most profitable parts of the business of the Messrs. Cunliffe was that of supplying the shipwrights at Oxford and its vicinity with these articles which were requisite in the construction and equipment of vessels. Ship building was carried on extensively, and this firm was a purchaser of the products of the shipyards of the neighborhood. Besides the materials for the building of vessels which could not be supplied from domestic sources, the families of the workmen had to be furnished with many of the neces- saries of life from the stores under Mr. Morris' care, and this was a source of great gain. It has been noted that the Liverpool house was engaged in the African slave trade, and that its factor at Oxford had been admitted to share the bloody emoluments earned by one of its vessels. The standards of morals are not absolute, but vary with time and place: so it is not proper to judge the Messrs. Cunliffe and Mr. Morris by that one which is accepted at the present day as a measure of the character of this traffic in negro slaves. Although, at the time, there may have been some few whose moral sensibilities were more acute than those of the great majority (and such sensibility was by that majority thought to be morbid or eccentric) most people were either indifferent to the question of the right or the wrong of the trade, or they pronounced upon it in the manner their interests dictated. There is no evidence that the Messrs. Cunliffe or Mr. Morris were men of low moral development, yet they seem to have had no qualms of conscience about the purchase or sale of negro SlaveS:4 and it -would be difficult now to prove by any ethical dialectics founded upon an utilitarian system of morals, that African slavery was wrong, the enormities of the middle passage excepted which were not necessary incidents of the system, if its injurious effect upon the superior race, then not apparent or at least not realized, were eliminated from the premises. They were not absurd though they may have been dishonest who said they enslaved negroes that they might better them, by bringing them within the verge of civilization.
There was another form of human traffic carried on by the Messrs Cunliffe and their agent at Oxford -which was entirely free from censure, though not always nor wholly free from hardship and suffering to the objects. This consisted in the transportation and sale of servants under articles of indenture and convicts under judicial sentence. It is not necessary to warn intelligent readers against the error of confound- ing these two classes of enforced immigrants. The first, as is known from the records of this county, as well as from those of others lying upon tide water, were generally not the scum and refuse of the city populations, but reputable, self-respecting though poor and humble people, who driven by the pressure of necessity at home, or invited by the hope of bettering their condition sought the new world; but being unable to defray the cost of their passage across the ocean in money, contracted with Master or Ship owner to serve for a certain specified time such person, in the colonies, as should purchase the right to such service. There was no dishonor, except such as will attach to laboring poverty in spite of all our philosophy and religion, accompanying this condition; but each indentured servant was respected as his character and position deserved he should be. It is known that some who came into this country were the equals if not the superiors, of those who bought their term of service in the elements of a self-reliant manhood and all that wins the regard of men except wealth; and this they were not slow in acquiring, so that they became the founders of families as reputable as any existing in the county. The other class of enforced immigrants, the convicts, were persons of a very different combination of qualities, and were never welcomed. Its numbers seem not to have been very great at any time. As previously intimated this whole system of obligatory servitude, whether applied to reputable or disreputable persons, was, like the system of slavery, liable to be abused, and the court records give abundant evidence of the wrongs and cruelties inflicted upon its subjects, though the law pretended to afford defence and pro- tection to these very helpless classes of citizens. The Messrs. Cunliffe were justifiable in appropriating any profit that could be derived from the transportation of these people, and are not, in any degree, censurable for such injuries as were inflicted by the cruel masters who bought the right to the services of the redemptioners or the convicts. There were a few other involuntary immigrants, who suffered neither from poverty nor crime, landing at Oxford, while Mr. Morris was factor there, with whose transportation and distribution he may have had nothing to do, but with whose compulsory domiciliation in Maryland and elsewhere in the colonies, the fortunes of the Cunliffe's were involved. There were the Scotch rebels taken in arms at the battle of Culloden in 1746, fighting under the young pretender, Charles Edward. Mr. Robert and Mr. Ellis Cunliffe were zealous supporters of the Hanover dynasty, and rendered such military service during the uprising of the adherents of the Stuarts, as to merit the notice of the King, who rewarded them with orders of Knighthood.5
While thus contending in life's race, overleaping all obstructions and daring all dangers of a new and untried course; just when he was dis- tancing all rivals however fleet or strong, and he thought the prize of superiority was surely within his reach; when he already heard the plau- dits of the witnessing throng, and felt in his own breast the pulses of a laudable pride in his success, he was suddenly cut off in mid career. The circumstances of his unfortunate death, which constitute one of the tragic legends of the county, have been related with a particularity of detail so varied as to impair their authority: but fortunately there has been preserved a record written by a person who was personally cognizant of the occurrences, if not an eye witness to them. It was the custom of the period for the captain of a ship making a successful voyage from the old country, and arriving safely at his destination in the new, to entertain on board his vessel, in such manner as sailors think most proper and agreeable, the neighboring planters, merchants and other consignees or shippers. The factors or commercial agents of the ship owners were favored guests, if they were not often the provident hosts, upon these festive and sometimes too hilarious occasions. It was while returning from one of these scenes of bibulous jollity, where prudence had been supplanted by good humor, that Mr. Morris, who had so far preserved his usual equilibrium as to have been apprehensive of danger from the maudlin demonstrations of good will, received a hurt that speedily cost him his life. The following account of this sad occurrence, which strips off many of the accretions the story of Mr. Morris' death has gathered about it in time, is said to be part of a letter of a gentleman of Talbot, dated July 14th, 1750.6
On Thursday last died at his house in Oxford, Mr. Robert Morris, Merchant, agent and factor of Foster Cunliffe, Esq., of Liverpool. He received his death by a gun-shot wound in his right arm, which mel- ancholy and unfortunate accident happened in this manner:-The Friday before his death, upon the arrival of the Liverpool Merchant, a ship of Mr. Cunliffe's, he went on board her with some company, and after a small stay there, went into the boat to come ashore, at which time the Captain7 was about paying him the usual compliment with the guns. Mr. Morris (as he told me himself), being under an unusual apprehension of mischief, desired the guns might not be fired till he was astern of the ship. But the Captain not apprehensive of any dan- ger and in the boat with him, unfortunately gave the signal for firing whilst the boat was aside of the ship, at about twenty yards distant. The wadding of the first gun passed near the head of Mr. James Dickinson, who sat by Mr. Morris; and that of the third did the mischief. The breechings were left indiscreetly under the guns, and the ship had a heel to the side next to the boat; otherwise this sad accident could not have happened, for without the concurrence of these circumstances, the waddings must have passed over the boat without doing any mischief. The bone of his arm was broken a little above the elbow and a large wound and contusion was made in the flesh. The wound began to mortify the next day, but by the skill and assiduity of those who attended him, the mortification was stopped, and there was good hopes of saving both his life and his arm, until Wednesday evening, when he was seized with a violent fever, which carried him off the next afternoon. Thus melancholy and unfortunate was the exit of this gentleman, after he had about twelve years past managed the extensive concerns under his care, with advantage to his principal and reputation to himself. My acquaintance with him warrants me to affirm, that he was a mer- chant punctual and strictly honorable; as a friend sincere, steady, and generous; as a companion gay, cheerful and sensible; as a member of society the foremost to promote any scheme for the public good; in a word a gentleman of the most flowing and diffusive benevolence; fre- que-nt and most disinterested and secret in charity, and other good offices; and a shining example of every kind and friendly disposition. These qualities deservedly gained him a general esteem 'while he lived and have occasioned a hearty sorrow among his friends for his death."8
By chance there has been preserved another letter, written undoubt- edly by the presumptive author of the one just quoted, which gives some additional incidents connected with the death of Mr. Morris, and also a glimpse of his inner life. This letter is one addressed to Mr. Robert Morris, of Philadelphia, the son of the subject of this memoir, who subsequently became the great financier of the Revolution, by Mr. Henry Callister, to whom reference has heretofore been made, and is dated Dec. 11, 1764. It says:
If I were writing to Your father of respectable memory, I should be more particular; and this I can show by four or five voluminous rolls of his letters in my trunk. He seemed to be at first and for some time, my enemy; but it was a mistake. Before his unlucky death, I am much mistaken, if, barring that cursed accident, he would not have preferred my friendship in his last days, as indeed he made a beginning, which however produced more benefit to Messrs. Cunliffe than to him or me. You are perhaps yet too young to read lessons of morality. I shall not plague you with them. I shall only tell you that I was the last that spoke to your father, and the last that heard him speak (for I make no account of two or three old women in the chamber). At his request I read him Plato's Phaedo, with which he was extremely pleased, and I am confident he died with less pain than he would have done without that. I have the last place in his will, but it was written before he contracted friendship with me, and his death was too sudden.9
It would seem from this that Mr. Morris, instead of seeking in his last hours the consolations of religion dispensed through the authorized channels, which would have been the ministrations of the Rev. Thomas Bacon, the rector of the Parish, than whom none was more capable of strengthening the hope of another life by Christian persuasives, preferred those afforded by a heathen philosophy as presented by its highest interpreter, through the unlicensed medium of an humble fellow servant and friend. It must not be inferred from this, however, that he rejected those tenets which are distinctive of the accepted and orthodox belief, for his will is prefaced with the customary pious formula, expressive of a godly faith and hope, though'it must be confessed his life in some partic- ulars had not been conformed to that severe rule of morals, which devout minds accept if religion does not always impose.
He was interred in the burial ground of the parish Church, called White Marsh, and upon the occasion a funeral discourse was pronounced, probably, by his friend the Rev. Thomas Bacon, the rector. An extract of this sermon, so much of it as related to the deceased, was sent by Mr. Callister to Mr. Craven, then in the employ of the Messrs. Cunliffe, for whose eyes it was intended. The grave of Mr. Morris, at the south- west corner of the old and deserted church edifice, may be seen to this day, covered by a much mutilated slab of stone, bearing the following inscription, at this time almost illegible.
In Memory of Robert Morris, a Native of Liverpool In Great Britain Late a Merchant at Oxford In this Province Punctual integrity influenced his dealings Principles of Honor governed his Actions: With an uncommon degree of sincerity He dispised artifice and dissimulation. His Friendship was firm, candid and valuable. His Charity frequent, secret and well adapted. His Zeal for the Public Good, active and useful. His Hospitality was enhanced by his conversation Seasoned with cheerful wit and Sound Judgment. A Salute from the cannon of a Ship (The wad fracturing his arm) Was the signal by which he departed Greatly lamented as he was esteemed, In the fortieth year of his age: On the 12th day of July 175010
There is a legend connected with the death and burial of Mr. Morris which, being better authenticated than most of its kind, for it is of contemporary record, may have mention here, if for no other reason than that it is confirmatory of the possession by brute animals of the nobler sentiments. It is related that a spaniel dog belonging to Mr. Morris lay in his sick chamber until his death, and then refusing to leave the room where his body was placed preparatory to interment, it crouched beneath his lifeless form, there died and was buried the same day as its beloved master.11 Another story of more doubtful authentic- ity has been often told and may be repeated without however the gar- nishments of fiction with which it is usually served. It is related that Mr. Robert Morris, the son of the merchant of Oxford, years after the death of his father, gave a turtle feast to some of his young friends, ladies and gentlemen of Philadelphia, upon the banks of the Schuylkill. When the intelligence reached him that the man who fired the cannon which had killed his father wa-s present, he was overcome by his emotions in the midst of the festivities.12
The business of the Messrs. Cunliffe at Oxford, after the death of Mr. Morris was for awhile conducted by Mr. Hanmer, and at a later date by Mr. Henry Callister: but having lost him to whom it owed its greatest vitality, it languished, and seems to have become wholly extinct in or about the year 1759 or 1760.
Any successful portraiture of the character of Mr. Morris, must be little more than a reproduction of the lines and shades that have been already given in the foregoing imperfect depiction of his life. The lauda- tory words of his epitaph seem to have been better deserved than such mortuary inscriptions generally are, for their truthfulness is con- firmed by the concurrence of the testimony of disinterested contempo- raries with the well established traditions of descendants. The enco- miums of Mr. Callister or of him who wrote the communication to the Maryland Gazette at the time of his death, correspond not only with the inscription upon the tomb, but with the estimate of Col. Banning written many years later, which probably reflected the opinions that were still entertained by men who had known Mr. Morris in various relations of life. Mr. Banning in his journal said in addition to what has already been quoted:
As a mercantile genius'twas thought he had no equal in this land. As a companion and bon vivant, he was incomparable. If he had any public political point to carry, he defeated all opposition. He gave birth to the inspection law on tobacco and carried it, though opposed by a powerful party. He was a steady, sincere and warm friend, where he made professions, and had a hand ever open and ready to relieve real distress. At repartee, he bore down all before him. His greatest foibles, that of a haughty and overbearing carriage, perhaps a too vindic- tive spirit, and to this may be added an extreme severity to his servants -and which indeed might have been reckoned the greatest reflection on the times, for it was not uncommon, when people of the first class met together at each other's houses, to hear them boast of the new invented ways of whipping and punishing negroes and servants; and I am sorry to say, that the ladies would too often mingle in the like conversation and seem to enjoy it. I am assured, if such characters existed at this day they would be hooted out of society.
This strong and vivid delineation is doubly valuable, first because it was not the extravagant expression of friendship made in the first hours of sorrow and bereavement, and secondly because it notes the spots and blurs upon a character which but for these would have appeared to be too free from blemish to be natural. In a letter of Mr. Robert Morris the younger to Mr. Henry Laurens, President of Congress, dated Dec. 26th, 1777, he said: Mr. Thomas Morris and myself are descended from a father whose virtues and whose memory I have revered with most filial piety.
Such words could hardly have been drawn from one of such tempered speech and spotless candor unless there had been ample justification for their warmth and sincerity, written when he was suffering the shame and humiliation which the disgraceful conduct of a brother had brought upon him. What then, does this picture painted by different hands, strangers and kinsmen present to our view? A young man overcoming all the hindrances of humble birth, imperfect education and exigent poverty; rising through simple native -vigor of mind and probity of character to a position of trust, responsibility and influence; faithfully promoting the fortunes of his employers, yet achieving by no question- able means considerable wealth for himself, in the short space of twelve years: reforming the vicious customs of trade, which he found estab- lished, by the introduction of new and untried expedients, to be finally confirmed by statutory provisions; simplifying transactions involving finance, by the abolition of cumbersome methods of the notation of values; giving to the pretty town where his lot had been cast, a distinction and prominence above every other in the Province, the seat of government excepted, by the extent and boldness of his commercial adventure; influencing legislation for the public good, without the aid of official position, and often in defiance of strong opposition; by his intelligence, integrity and trustiness, securing the esteem and friendship of many of the first characters of the county and Province, and by his cordiality, vivacity and wit making himself their chosen companion in their hours of relaxation and merriment; no niggard in personal expenditures and liberal in his bounties to the poor. But this portrait is not all light and color. It has its dark lines and shades. The habits he formed as the independent agent of a great commercial house, in a remote station, and divested of all direct control by his superiors, may have strengthened a naturally imperious will and rendered him arbitrary and exacting towards his inferiors and haughty to his equals. The assumption of these qualities, if they were not inherent, may have been necessary, for the constituents of the new and unsettled community, with which he had to deal required their exercise. As society was then and there constituted, the arrogance and pride of the large planters had to be met with like manner and disposition or the meek and humble would go to the wall, while the ruder populace took the display of such humors to be the right and privilege of the strong and rich, to be tolerated if not admired. Cruelty to servants and slaves cannot be excused but the offence may be palliated by the circumstances. The white servants were often from the most degraded classes of the large cities of England, and sometimes actual criminals from the jails and work-houses of the old country, and the blacks were actual barbarians fresh from the African coasts. By both of these tenderness would have been interpreted as evidence of weakness and its exhibition would have rendered them more and more idle and disobedient. It should always be remembered when forming our judgments of the treatment of servants and slaves by their masters and owners, that what would be cruelty to highly organized and sensitive natures would be nothing more than tolerable, if not proper punishment, for these constructed of coarser and less impres- sionable fibre." It should be remembered too, in considering this particular case, that when Col. Banning, a very compassionate man to his negroes notwithstanding he had been in the African slave trade, perhaps because he had seen the enormities of this trade, was writing of these flaws in the character of Mr. Morris, and reprehending the con- duct of the men and women of his time in this community, his mind was suffering from a feverish spell of philanthropy, instituted by the teach- ing of the Quakers, Methodists and French Philosophers, so that his impressions may be said to have been morbid, though his facts may have been precisely as he has stated them.
All that is known of Mr. Morris' personal appearance is derived from an oil painting in the possession of his great-granddaughter, Miss Eliza- beth Nixon of Philadephia, which has been reproduced in an engraving. It represents him as a man of medium height, full habit, heavy but intelligent e(nmtenance, with stern expression, in an attitude of address, or command.
Mr. Morris left two sons by different mothers. The eldest inherited his name, his talents and his fortune. The name he rendered illustrious, and it is inscribed "in letters of living light" upon that scroll of Fame, the Declaration of Independence. The talents and the fortune devel- oped and enlarged by a prosperous mercantile career, after he was appointed the minister of finance for the United Colonies were most diligently and unselfishly devoted to the cause of freedom, so that to him more than to any other man save Washington only, is the success of the American revolution attributable. He is said to have come to Is This subject has frequently been referred to in these contributions, to cor- rect impressions that excessive cruelty was practised upon negro slaves. The writer is no apologist of slavery, but also, he is no slanderer of slave holders. The real evils of that institution were sufficiently great for it to merit the con- demnation of all men, and to consign it to the perdition it has so justly found without resort to the exaggerations and inventions of inflamed minds. America when he was thirteen years of age, and to have spent some time at school in Talbot, before entering the counting room of Mr. Greenway in Philadelphia. After the war of the Revolution he was a partner in business of Col. Tench Tilghman, a native of this county, the aide and friend of General Washington. Mr. Morris of Oxford has descendants through Robert Morris, the signer and financier, yet living. The second son bore the name of Thomas, and died in 1777 without children.
The authorities consulted in the preparation of this memoir have been commonly mentioned in the text or the notes: but they may be summarized as follows: The Public Records of the County, the 'Maryland Archives,'the Maryland Gazette, the Callister letters, the Banning Journal, the Easton Gazette, Boochee's Repository, and private letters of Henry Casey Hart, Esq., of Philadelphia.
1. See extracts from his Journal in the Memoir of Col. Jeremiah Banning, one of this series of papers.
2. See memoir of Henry Callister and also that of Col. Jeremiah Banning in each of which are references to the part taken by Mr. Morris in improving the staple of tobacco by the employment of receivers; and also in securing the passage of an Inspection law.
3. Whether Mr. Morris was the first to introduce the system of keeping accounts in money or not, the records of Talbot county show that at or about 1750 it became commonformerchantstoemploythismethod. Suitowerebroughtuponaccounts in 1754 rendered in part in Sterling money, in part in Currency and in part in Tobacco. In 1723 the rates of charges at the Ordinaries were stated in currency and in tobacco; in 1734 and forward in currency only. The levya of the county ,were made in tobacco until 1777.
4. The advertisement of Mr. Robert Morris in the old Maryland Gazette of July 8, 1746 of "a parcel of negro men, women, boys and girls" just received by the ship Cunliffe, Capt. Johnson from Barbadoes, and for sale at Oxford, falls ipon eyes illumed by the light of the last quarter of the nineteenth century with start- ling effect.
5. These rebels came by the ship Johnson of Liverpool, William Pemberton, Master, and arrived at Oxford, July 20th, 1747. Scharf's History of Maryland, vol. 1, page 425. The ship Johnson belonged to Mr: Richard Gildart of Liverpool who had a factory at Oxford.
6. There is but little doubt, from internal evidence, that this letter was written by Mr. Henry Callister.
7. The name of the captain commanding the Liverpool Merchant was Samuel Matthews and inasmuch as after the date of the accident neither his name nor that of his ship appears in the long list of Masters and their vessels which has been compiled from the county record. It is believed that they no more visited the watersoftalbot. If this be a fact, it may partly be attributed to the superatition of sailors.
8. Maryland Gazette, of July 18th, 1750. The variants of this story need not be given, as they are important and apocryphal. One of the fullest of these accounts is given by a grand-daughter, Maria Nixon, and published in Boocher's Repository, of Philadelphia, for March, 1883. In this the expression of Mr. Callister "being under an unusual apprehension of mischief," is explained by the statement of Mrs. Nixon that "he dreampt the day had been agreeably spent but on returning to the shore, he received awound from a salute (which was customary to fire), and which would cause his death." The statement, that has been repeated again and again, that the accident was caused by the movement of the Captain in brushing a fly from his face being taken by the sailors as a signal for firing the guns, is probably the product of a frivolous imagination.
9. The collection of Callister letters, unedited, and in the possession of the Diocese of Maryland.
10. The epitaph as given in the text is as printed in the Easton Gazette of March 31st, 1821. There are variations such as "Punctuality and fidelity influenced," &c.,for"Punctual integrity influenced,"&c.; "Principals of honesty governed," &a.; "He despised art" for "He dispised artifice;" "His Charity free, discreet and well adapted," for "His Charity frequent secret and well adapted;" "His Zeal for the Public," for "His Zeal for the Public Good;" and MDCCL for 1750. The lineation is not always the same, nor is the spelling of certain words, as " Pub- lick" for "Public," and "canon" for "cannon." Copies of the epitaph have been made by different persons, no two of which are precisely alike, though the differences are immaterial.
11 This story is varied by the statement made upon apparently good authority that the dog "followed his master to the grave-could not be induced to leave it- and died there."-Maria Nixon in Boocher's Repository, March, 1883.
12 This story with embellishments was first told in De Is Plane's Repository of Philadelphia in 1821; but it was discredited by the circumstances recited.