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< Gouverneur Benefactors — Gouverneur Morris


Portrait of Gouverneur Morris that is over the fireplace in the Museum's living room.

Gouverneur Morris (January 31, 1752 – November 6, 1816) was an American statesman and a native of New York who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was also an author of large sections of the Constitution of the United States and was one of its signers.

He is widely credited as the author of the document's preamble: "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union ... " and has been called the 'Penman of the Constitution. In an era when most Americans thought of themselves as citizens of their respective states, Morris advanced the idea of being a citizen of a single union of states. A gifted scholar, Morris enrolled at King's College (now Columbia University) at age twelve, in 1764. He graduated in 1768 and received a master's degree in 1771.

In 1780, at age twenty-eight, Morris's left leg was shattered and replaced with a wooden pegleg. Reportedly, he liked to dance, and he managed to dance well on his wooden leg. Morris' public account for the loss of his leg was that it happened in a carriage accident, but there is evidence that this story was a false, concocted to cover for a dalliance with a woman, during which he jumped from a window to escape a jealous husband.

Morris was well-known throughout much of his life for having many affairs, with both married and unmarried women, and he recorded many of these adventures and misadventures in his diary.

At the age of 57, he married Anne Cary ("Nancy") Randolph, who was the sister of Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., husband of Thomas Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. He died at the family estate, Morrisania, and he is buried at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. Morris and his wife had a son, Gouverneur Jr., who eventually became a railroad executive.

The Gouverneur Morris "mansion" in Natural Dam, was built as a residence for Morris when he visited his large landholdings in the north and for use by his land agents. As far as we know, Gouverneur never lived in our area. the house was called a "mansion" because it was so much bigger than other homes in the area.

Morris had arranged for the building of a grist and saw mill and a bridge across the Oswegatchie River. In 1809, he had Joseph Bolton, a Pennsylvania stone mason build walls for the stone house and Captain Rockwell Barnes, a prominent early settler, to do the carpentry work. The house was built into a side hill to provide shelter from the winters. The house is located about 350 feet off Route 58 at Natural Dam and is marked with a New York State plaque.

Morris died on November 6, 1816, after causing himself internal injuries and an infection while using a piece of whalebone as a catheter to attempt clearing a blockage in his urinary tract. He died at the family estate, Morrisania, and was buried at St. Ann's Church in The Bronx.

wooden leg.jpg

Wooden leg of Gouverneur Morris. New-York Historical Society.

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