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.