Every Fourth of July Americans remember the popular heroes of the American Revolution.
Sure, there’s Gen. George Washington, who victoriously led his army across the frigid waters of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey on Christmas night in 1776 to surprise the Hessians that were hired by the British. Washington’s crossing was a pivotal turning point of the Revolutionary War.
Then there’s Paul Revere and his midnight ride. In a hurry,Revererode a horse fromCharlestown,Mass., toLexington,Mass., to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were making way to arrest them.
But little is known about the war’s financier, Robert Morris, who ironically wasn’t American born. He was a hero of the war nonetheless.
Morris didn’t only help finance the American Revolution; he signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
“When one who hears of Morris reflects on his career, I would imagine most think of him in the light of his elected offices. However, what many may not realize is that he was mainly responsible for financing the Revolutionary War from many sources,” said Greg Pezza, a political science professor atBucksCountyCommunity Collegeand history teacher atLowerMerionHigh School.
Morris was born inLiverpool,Englandin January 1734. In 1747, he leftEnglandto join his father inMaryland. Afterwards, he moved north toPhiladelphiaand became a wealthy and respected businessman.
“What I find most astonishing about Robert Morris is that this was a once exceptionally wealthy man, a patriot, and a nominee for Secretary of the Treasury who unfortunately ran into some bad luck died in virtual poverty,” Pezza said.
He died penniless inPhiladelphiain May 1806.
Although influential inAmerica, with universities and towns names after him, Liverpool residents don’t know about Morris, said Larry Neild, a journalist and broadcaster inLiverpool.
“Many people in our city, including some prominent politicians, have also never heard of him,” Neild said. “So here was a guy, born in Liverpool, who was a key figure in the creation of theU.S.and hardly anybody here has heard of him.”
But he’s changed that.
Neild has put Morris on theLiverpoolmap. Kind of.
The veteran journalist, who also does public relations work on the side, was ignorant about Morris until he saw Morris’ name on a plaque.
“In 2008, wearing my public relations hat, I had to write some press releases about a large 1930s office complex which was changing hands,” Neild said. “In the lobby I saw a plaque saying the site was the birthplace of Robert Morris. I’d never heard of him.”
But it wasn’t until 2011 that Neild went public with Morris inLiverpool.
On July 4, he published a column about Morris with pictures of statues of the Brit around theUnited Stateson his political column liverpoolconfidential.co.uk.
There are statues of Morris near Independence Hall inPhiladelphia, as well in Chicago andMorrisville,Pa.There’s an elementary school inPhiladelphianamed after him, as well as two universities:RobertMorrisUniversityin suburbanPittsburghandRobert Morris UniversityIllinoisinChicago. And there’s a village inPennsauken,N.J., named Morrisville.
The following day, Neild incorporated Morris into a speech that mainly involved his Sept. 11 coverage fromNew York. He connected the terrorist attacks and Morris by telling a ladies group in Liverpool, that one of the last timesAmericahad been attacked on its own soil was during the American Revolution byEngland.
“Not sure whether you are aware of this, but the surrender document that finally ended the American [Revolutionary] War was not, as most people would expect, signed in theU.S.In was signed inLiverpool,England, … in a warship anchored in the River Mersey just in front of our waterfront. I wonder how many Americans would know that,” Neild said.
Most delegates signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, but not Morris. He held off for a few weeks hoping that the two countries would reconcile.
During the war, Morris served in many capacities for the American government; he was a member of the Continental Congress, Pennsylvania Legislature and the Safety Committee. When talks of independence from the British crown started brewing, Morris wasn’t sold. However, when the war began in 1775 Morris came through for the 13 colonies, although he didn’t believe it wasn’t the right time to leave the crown.
Morris managed to borrow money fromFranceand pitched in his own money to finance the war.
“When his efforts were put to the test, he contributed $10,000 of his own money which helped withWashington’s crossing and the win atTrenton,” Pezza said. “Washingtonwas so impressed with Morris that he nominated him as secretary of the treasury after the Constitution was ratified. He declined and recommended Alexander Hamilton.”
Once the war was over and the colonies started forming a government, Morris strongly lobbied to makeMorrisville,Pa., – then Colven’s Ferry – the country’s capital, said Jim Murray, a Morrisville historian.
Because Colven’s Ferry was midway betweenPhiladelphiaandNew York– the two political hubs of the era – he argued it was a good location for the capital to be established.
Morris lost the capital city by two votes because southern delegates wanted the principal city closer to them. SoWashington,D.C., was created.
As a successful businessman, Morris purchased properties. One was the Summerseat estate in Colven’s Ferry, which he owned from 1791 to 1798. Morrisville’s historical society still maintains the the Georgian mansion at Hillcrest and Legion avenues in the borough. Built in the 1770s, Summerseat housed numerous high-ranking military and government officials, including Gen.Washington.
Washingtonstopped there before leading the Continental Army in the infamous Christmas crossing of theDelawarefor the Battle of Trenton.
Morris purchased more property after the war, but later found himself in financial hardship and unable to pay much of his debt.
It was then that the behind-the-scenes war hero was sent to debtor’s prison for more than three years and was released in 1801,Murraysaid.
After being released from prison, he remained in Philadelphia, where he died at 72 year old.