Lot 137: Morris, Robert. Autograph letter signed, 1 May 1776.
April 18, 2016
Calabasas, CA, USALive Auction
137. Morris, Robert. Autograph letter signed (“Robt. Morris”) as Chairman of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, 3 pages (7.5 x 9.25 in.; 191 x 235 mm.), front and back on conjoined leaves, Philadelphia, 1 May 1776, written to Thos. Mumford Esqr. of Groton, Connecticut, with autograph address panel and free frank on overleaf: Free R Morris. Docketed in an unknown hand, “Secret Committee of Congress May 1st 1776”. Nearly separated at vertical fold, with small tear by red wax seal on right margin of page 3.
Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution, writes a Connecticut merchant contracted with the Committee of Secret Correspondence to import a large quantity of gunpowder for use of the Continental Army and Navy – dated 1 May 1776 – Morris would sign the Declaration of Independence just two months later.
“We shall be very glad to hear of your receiving more Powder as we want to repay your Colony what they lent Genl. Washington as well as for a quantity of theirs now in our possession.”
Morris writes in full: Sir, We have received your favour of the 17th Ulto. & learn thereby the safe arrival of two of your Vessels with Powder, Sulphur & Salt, all which you have landed & deposited at Norwich as a place of safety. The Cost of this Powder is very reasonable & it will give us pleasure if you are equally successful in procuring the remainder. Capt. Champlin has certainly acquitted himself well & we will lay your letter before the Marine Committee that it may operate in favour of the appointment you recommend. It is a pity your Friends were disappointed of the Powder they expected fro Ireland, but such disappointments have been too Common in Europe. We hope however they will succeed better elsewhere as no Articles are so much wanted as Powder, good Muskets & Gunlocks; either of the latter wou’d now be as acceptable as the former. There can be no objection of your being repaid the Powder you lent Genl. Washington but if that Powder was your private property we had rather pay for it in Money, especially as your Colony have applied for a return of some Powder they lent the General, which probably may be the same you mention, but this you’ll explain hereafter and mention whether a payment in money will be equally acceptable or not. In the mean time you’ll keep the Powder waiting our further orders. With respect to the Sulphur we request you will forward Nineteen barrels thereof to Mr. Henry Wisner’s Powder Mill & Ten barrels to Mr. Livingston’s Powder Mill. Both these Mills are in New York Government and if you are at any loss for the means of sending the Sulphur to them, you may forward it down to Francis Lewis & Philip Livingston & Jno. Alsop Esqrs., Members of this Committee now at New York, with a Copy of the above paragraph requesting them to forward it soon as they can to the Mills. Be pleased to send with the Sulphur an Invoice of its weight & a Copy to us. The Salt may remain for further orders or you may sell it to the Inhabitants if they are in want. If not, it had best remain until the Sale of it will relieve some distress. The Owners of the Ship Liberty refuse to sell her for 700 half Johannes’s; therefore your Friends Messrs. Burch & Co. must not Consider that Sale as Valid, and the Ship must remain on pay according to charter party. We shall be very glad to hear of your receiving more Powder as we want to repay your Colony what they lent Genl. Washington as well as for a quantity of theirs now in our possession. We are Sir Your obedt. Serants, By order of the Secret Committee, Robt. Morris, Chairman
With the American Revolutionary War approaching, the Second Continental Congress, which took place in Philadelphia in 1775, recognized the need for international allies to help the Thirteen Colonies in their fight for independence from Great Britain. To satisfy this need, the Congress created the Committee of Secret Correspondence which was active from 1775 – 1776 (in 1777 the committee was renamed the Committee of Foreign Affairs). Robert Morris (1734 – 1806) was a Liverpool-born American merchant who financed the American Revolution and signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. Morris personally paid £10,000 to pay the Continental troops under Washington. This helped to keep the army together just before the battle of Princeton. He subsequently paid from his own funds the troops via “Morris notes” to continue Washington’s ability to wage war as the U.S. currency had no value. During the war, privateers seized the cargo of English ships. Morris owned an interest in many of the privateers and his firm helped sell the English spoils as they came into port. In addition to owning ships that carried cargo to Cuba, France, and Spain, he was engaged in profiteering. He wrote a friend that his firm had had over 250 ships during the war and so came out “about even.” He had lost one of the largest private navies in the world during the War, but he never asked for reimbursement from the new government. Morris also personally supplied the funding for eighty percent of all bullets fired during the war and almost seventy five percent of all other expenses for the fledgling government, though he also never asked to be reimbursed for these expenses. $15,000 - $20,000