Home in the Bronx 1811

Anyone interested in Gouverneur Morris's life will necessarily encounter some of the history of the Bronx. We can get an introduction to the neighborhood by taking a closer look at a 1811 map of the area, made by John H. Eddy. This map is available online at the David Rumsey Collection:  link Eddy Map of NYC, 1811

Looking at this map online, we can zoom in on the Bronx and see that at that time it was still a region of individual houses in the middle of farmland and swamps.  In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century most of this area was known as the estate of "Morrisania," after the Morris family who owned the land, having acquired it in the late 1660s. The area stayed sparsely populated until the 1840s, when the land was sold to have the first railroads built. Industrialization, with all its progress and problems, took off, and the Bronx quickly developed into the densely-populated urban area we know today, a far cry from the "gentleman-farmer" region that it had been before. 

In 1811, there were actually only two villages that had a cluster of houses, Westchester and West Farms. The only church in the region was in Westchester and we see a few mills in the creeks. The names of the big homeowners are written on the map. On the tip of the land (nowadays 133rd Street at St. Ann's Avenue in the south Bronx), overlooking the East River, was the splendid mansion owned by "G.Morris" (GM).
Old Morrisania, by Charles E. H. Bonwill. (The New York Public Library)
North-west of Morris's mansion, across the Mill Creek and over some hills, was the house owned by GM's nephew Commodore (Richard) Valentine Morris. Another nephew, Colonel Lewis Morris IV, lived, as we know from GM's diary, in a house located just across Mill Creek, close to the Harlem bridge, but his residence is --surprisingly-- not depicted. On the east side was the house of yet another family member, GM's cousin John Graham. The "new road" that is projected over his and GM's land was an undertaking that caused much friction between the two neighbors.

Then we come to the house of wealthy merchant Joshua Waddington, who was married to GM's second cousin, Gertrude Ogden. It is funny to see that GM's diary records that they wed in November 1804, no further comment. But we happen to know an interesting detail from Jonathan Mason's diary (who visited GM around that time) that the bride was young, whereas the groom was sixty, "a little disparity, but balanced by a good house and  a plentiful fortune -- convenient things to a young lady at twenty-eight." Amen to that.  Mason went on to comment on GM's "chateau" as he called it, "... he lives like a real nobleman. You are continually attracted by a profusion of plate, gold, and mirror." (From: Edward J. Young, Clement Hugh Hill and Alexander McKenzie, eds., Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1885-1886 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1886), 2:5, 7-8.)

Back to the map. Mr. A. Clapp owned a farm to the north adjacent to a swampy area; next to him is Dominique Lynch, who not only owned plenty of acres bordering the East River, but also had invested in a huge area in upstate New York. As had GM himself.


Westchester County, pretty much still empty land. 

View from Valentine's Hill, Westchester County, N.Y., Throg's Neck in the Distance, by Duthie.
The New York Public Library)

   Hunt's Point used to be home to the Hunt family, but by this time had been sold to others; there is an Isaac Clason and merchant Robert Gilchrist further to the east. Following the coastline, we encounter Nicolas Hoffman, also related through marriage to GM. Next to Mr.  A. Livingston there is Abijah Hammond, who around 1805 built a grand home on Throg's Neck, and, as there seem to have been plenty, was also married to a second cousin of Morris. Sister of Waddington's wife, in fact.

All these neighbors on the map (except Clason) appear in Gouverneur Morris's diary, and almost all of them have an interesting story to tell, too. Please look forward to the publication of the last part of GM's diaries, which cover the period 1799-1816 (publication is anticipated in 2018 by University of Virginia Press).   

The Gouverneur Morris Papers

This blog is kept updated by the editors of the Gouverneur Morris Papers, a project affiliated with the New-York Historical Society. The Gouverneur Morris Papers project is in the process of transcribing and annotating the papers of Morris to modern editorial standards. The first book of materials, "The Diaries of Gouverneur Morris: European Travels, 1794-1798" was published by the University of Virginia Press in 2011. Work is currently progressing on the second volume, of his diaries from 1799 until 1816, the year of his death.

We have created the blog, and expect soon to have a small website, in order that people interested in the project will be able to locate it.  You can contact us via millermelanie830@gmail.com

For those unfamiliar with Morris (1752-1816), here is a little preliminary background in the form of "Things every American really should know about Gouverneur Morris."

1.  He was a significant contributor to the U.S. Constitution, drafting its final version and writing the Preamble.

2.  He was (in our opinion but most agree) the most engaging Founding Father next to Benjamin Franklin, and one of the most talented:  he was a great writer, a great speaker, he had a wonderful sense of humor, one that George Washington, his friend, appreciated.

3.  He was our minister to France from 1792-94, during the height of the French Revolution, replacing Jefferson (who left in 1789).  It was the most terrifying period of the Revolution, and his service to our country is unparalled in diplomatic history, and deserves recognition, respect -- and further study.

4.  He was an early and significant promoter of the Erie Canal.

5.  He was a member of the commission that designed the modern layout of the streets of Manhattan. 

There's more -- much more!  and we'll be writing about it.

Melanie R. Miller, editor
Hendrina  Krol, associate editor
Gouverneur Morris Papers