Precious Sister - Letters from Euphemia

When Gouverneur Morris finally returned home after ten years abroad, it was much to his sister Euphemia's (1754-1818) relief. Her husband (also her cousin), Samuel Ogden (1746-1810), had not been well and was very worried about his financial interests in the land speculation he was involved in with Gouverneur and Robert Morris (not related) and others.

Over the years, the brothers-in-law had frequently written to each other about business, but Euphemia had also stayed in touch on a regular basis via mail while Gouverneur was in Europe. Some of Morris's letters are recorded in his letterbooks in the Library of Congress, and a few of her letters have survived in the Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscripts.
Writing Implements from the 19th Century
Euphemia wrote about the expansion of her family (they had at least twelve children), while Morris supplied her with some fashionable items from Europe. There is for example the letter written by Euphemia in December 1796, thanking him for the cloak and gloves he sent from London. A note of interest is the fact that Morris's wife, Nancy, after his death sarcastically wrote on this letter: "while He was in the Act of giving - They were in good humor."

Soon after Morris arrived in New York City in the last week of 1798, he became absorbed by the renovation of his ancestral home on the estate of Morrisania, which had been in disrepair for years. Much of his energy and money was poured into the extensive restoration of the mansion. However, seven weeks after his arrival, his sister, without her husband's knowledge, wrote Morris an urgent invitation to visit them in Newark, New Jersey. They needed help, that is: money.

"Pardon me my dear Brother for again entruding on your patience--my good husbands Situation obliges me to do what I hope you will forgive--it hath long been the Opinion of his physitions that his mind should be kept placid and Easy such hath been and still is his great anxiety to see you that his mind is continually on the Rush--the Consequence is his attacks are much more frequent and Violent--the last week he looked for you every day. I cannot express to you his disappointment--[...]"
In bold letters Nancy wrote on the last page of this letter: "precious Sister and Friend she wanted to shew her love by using his money."

Morris, apparently, was not too worried about Samuel's health because he did not drop everything he was working on to visit Newark. He stopped by a few months later, in April of 1799, on his way further south to Philadelphia, where his old friend and business partner Robert Morris was in debtor's prison.He stayed with the Ogdens from April 16-22 and then again on his return in May, from the 5th till the 13th. There was a lot to discuss with Samuel, whose business had taken a bad turn. In his diary Morris recorded that he encouraged Samuel to pay back his debts and employ David Ford to manage his affairs. During that same week, Samuel wrote his will with Morris's assistance. 

A week after this visit, on May 21, Morris noted in his diary that he had received a letter from Ogden asking for money (although this letter has not been located). He  promptly advanced Ogden a thousand dollars. Half a year later, in November 1799, Euphemia sent a letter, delivered by her son David Bayard Ogden, to ask for help in settling the affairs with Robert Morris. And again, Nancy wrote a remark on the letter: "what a tender sister,"... implying, of course, she only was interested in her brother's money.  

If we compile the data from Morris's diary, we can see that there were regular visits back and forth between Morris and his sister. Typically, Morris visited the Ogdens in Newark on his way to or from Washington (where he served as Senator from 1800 to 1803), and in later years he combined visits to Newark with business trips in New Jersey. The Ogdens visited Morrisania every November for a few days. After Samuel died in 1810, Euphemia moved to New York City. For the next few years, the frequency of the visits increased: he visited her in town and she visited him and his young bride Nancy almost monthly. 

It all came to a sudden stop after November 1814. There had been a falling out between the two siblings because of a publicized letter by John Randolph of Roanoke to Nancy. A letter in which John accused her of murdering his brother, and of committing infanticide some twenty years ago in Virginia. It looks like John Randolph had been consumed with rage and bitterness and was out to break Nancy's reputation. Many ladies of New York City's 'society,' including Euphemia, started shunning Nancy. 

There is no more mention of Euphemia in the diary at all after that, and we do not know of any correspondence between them. What we do know is that nephew David B. Ogden had been inciting Randolph to blame Nancy and that he, at the same time, had defrauded Morris out of a fortune, bringing him to the verge of bankruptcy. 

The last two years of Morris's life were clouded not only by declining health, an ostracized social position for his wife, but with financial worries as well. His sister Euphemia had chosen to side with her son David and was blind to his unfortunate behavior. 

Nancy had good reason for her snide remarks on Euphemia's earlier letters, jotted down when she sorted through her late husband's papers. 

Happy Birthday, Gouverno!

Gouverneur Morris, Jr. (1813-1883).  
This portrait has often been mistaken as a painting of his father.  (Engraver John Rogers?)

It is two hundred years ago this week that Gouverneur Morris's son, Gouverneur Morris, Jr., affectionately nicknamed "Gouverno," was born. Tuesday the ninth of February, 1813, in the midst of the War of 1812-14, was the day that Ann Randolph Morris ("Nancy") gave birth to a son at Morrisania.

The birth must have been a widely anticipated event for not only his parents, but also other family members, who were going to lose their right to inherit when Morris would produce a legal heir. Rumor has it that one of the nephews, upon hearing of the birth of Gouverno, remarked something in the line of "His name should have been Cutusoff" (the name of a Russian marshal who defeated Napoleon). It soon turned out that they were not above instituting a smear campaign, implying Morris was not the father of the child.

However, they made two miscalculations: 1.The woman Morris married stood her ground and fought for her and her son's rights. 2. Morris's fortune had been significantly reduced, mainly due to foul play by nephew David B. Ogden. There was not as much left to inherit as they thought there was.
The new father was not young, 
Morris had just turned sixty-one, and must have been overwhelmed with the situation. Who would have thought he would ever have any children? He, who probably suffered from venereal disease (he mentions treating himself (and others) with mercury in diary entries of the 1790s without specifying the cause but mercury was a popular treatment of the period, and he mentions a few episodes with prostitutes). He, who, although he had many an occasion, had never procreated. It was, in short, a small miracle, that he was to be blessed with offspring. Morris asked his friend John Jay to be a godfather for the baby. To which Jay responded: "I thank you for informing me by your letter of the 15th inst. that you had received "an heritage and gift," which doubtless filled your heart with joy and gratitude,"  but then politely declined the honor, because of his advanced age. 

One would think the upcoming birth of a child, so unexpected, would keep Morris's thoughts occupied in 1812-13. It probably did, but unfortunately he did not record anything of the kind. His health prevented him from writing in his diary after December 1812 and he only picked the habit up again in October 1813, thereby skipping the whole period of birth and early fatherhood. He had been confined to his bed due to the gout for long periods, and apparently was not feeling well at all.

The day after the birth, on February 10, he wrote a letter to nephew David B. Ogden which in a business-like tone informed David that " Your Aunt, after a long severe and dangerous Struggle, was delivered at half an Hour after Eight last Evening of a Son. He is large fat and strong. Her Condition is still critical; but we humbly trust in God that, keeping her very quiet, she may recover.” Morris then asked David to announce the birth in one of the newspapers and pay the midwife for her visit, even though she did not even make it to the delivery because of bad weather. We are kept in the dark as to who wás there to assist. The maids, perhaps? Two months later, in a letter to business partner Vincent Le Ray, Morris showed us a glimpse of family life by telling him his own health was slowly mending, and his wife's health after the birth "is as well as a Boy who lives entirely from what her Breasts supply, and who is uncommonly strong and voracious, will permit."

Little Gouverno's name appeared for the first time in the diary when he was 10 months old, on the occasion of his vaccination (against smallpox). His father mentioned him only nineteen times in the course of three years, ten of which had to do with the child being sick. Still, we can feel fatherly love and pride radiating in the few instances he does get mentioned. For example, at 28 months of age, Morris wrote that the "little fellow" frolicked around the house and went on a long walk with his parents. A little wine and milk had given him energy to run about for two hours straight, to the amazement of his father. 

Unfortunately, Morris could only enjoy his son for a mere three and a half years. Nancy wrote, after her husband's death, that Gouverno asked for his father for a long time, unable to comprehend that he had passed away.

              (From the digital collection of The New York Public Library)

It took Nancy many years of frugal management to consolidate the estate and secure an inheritance for her son. Nevertheless, Gouverno did well in life. He lived for seventy years (he died in 1883) and became a promoter of industrialization of the Bronx. Railroads, ports and housing projects were part of his legacy. In memory of his mother, he donated St. Ann's Church to the city in 1840, and subsequently re-buried his parents's remains there. He married one of his distant cousins and had five children; one of his daughters (Anne Cary Morris) even edited and published some of her grandfather's papers in 1888. 

Gouverneur, Sr., would have had every reason to be proud of his namesake.