Lot 1011: Robert Morris

RR Auction

December 15, 2012
Amherst, NH, US

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Description: Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania (1734-1806). Morris was known as the 'Financier of the Revolution,' who leveraged his own monies and financial acumen to help raise funds to support the new nation. After the war, he became involved in land speculation and lost his fortune in 1798, famously landing in debtor's prison. Superb content war-dated ALS, signed "Robt Morris," four pages on two adjoining 7.75 x 9.5 sheets, January 12, 1777, Philadelphia. Written to fellow merchant John Langdon (1741-1819) who was serving as an agent for Continental prizes in New Hampshire. Morris updates Langdon on the flight of Congress as the British invaded New Jersey in 1776, and his appointment (together with George Walton and George Clymer) as agents of the Continental Congress while the main body fled to Baltimore as a precaution in the event Philadelphia was captured by Howe's rapidly advancing army. Morris expresses his pleasure at the prospect of being useful to this country in a time of crisis and believing that Congress had taken favorable notice of his show of initiative. Morris writes, in full, "As you wou'd undoubtedly hear of the unhappy situation of this city for some weeks past, you wou'd naturally suppose that to be the only cause why you did not hear from me. When the British troops made such a rapid progress through the Jerseys & got within a few miles of us, the Congress thought proper to remove to Baltimore, at that time I sent my family, my books, papers and considerable effects into Maryland, but having still a great value here and being desirous of spiriting up our people in all my power, I determined to wait until; the last, happy in having done so, as I have had an opportunity of being very useful both to this country & to the general cause. The Congress know this well, and have appointed myself & two others that remained here, a committee with full powers to transact all Continental business that may be proper and necessary here. I mention this as an apology for not having wrote you sooner for I do assure you, the business of that committee engrosses so much of my time that I cannot attend my own business. The letters I rec'd from you in answer to my proposals for speculating in prize goods &c are in the country with my other papers & such variety of business had gone through my hands since that I do not perfectly remember their contents, but think you had made some purchases which I very much approved at the time and wished you to proceed being certain that goods bought with judgment at moderate prices much answer very well. I continue of the same mind and authorize you to proceed not doubting your utmost care & attention as to quality & prices as well as to the safety of the goods after bought. I wish also that you wou'd buy a good prize vessel, double decked, & pick up a cargo for her suitable for France, dispatch her for Bordeaux consigned to Messrs. Smal. & J.H. Delap with orders to make sale of both vessel and cargo provided the vessel can be sold for a sum equal to her first cost which I am in hopes will be very reasonable, you'll put in a prudent carefull master & send her away as soon as possible because I think the risque of the voyage is considerable during the winter. I do not particularize the articles to compose this cargo because I don't know what you can get, but masts, spars, oak plank, bees wax, pearls & potash, fish oil &c &c are wanted in that country & will answer well if laid in at moderate prices & unless this can be done I wou'd drop the plan altogether, but if it can be executed reasonably, the sooner the better & the value of vessel & cargo not to exceed three thousand pounds lawfull money. You'll tell Messrs. Delap to hold the proceeds in their hands subject to my orders & if they cannot sell the vessel to send her back to you with a cargo of salt. You will want money to execute this business and I am in hopes can supply yourself by drawing on me. You may depend the bills shall be punctually paid but if that will not do, I will furnish you with money from hence from time to time the sums you may write for." Intersecting folds, small splits along fold ends, and writing showing through from opposing sides, otherwise fine condition. Retreating across New Jersey, Washington crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania on December 7, 1776, and proceeded to destroy every boat along the 75 mile stretch to hamper a crossing by the British that would threaten the capital at Philadelphia. Fearful that Washington's pitifully small army would be unable to stem the tide, Congress resolved to move its seat to Baltimore on December 12. The next day, however, Howe announced his intention to close the campaign for the season and not advance any further. Congress was not taking any chances. They left Philadelphia on December 20 leaving Morris, Clymer, and Walton as official agents of Congress, empowered to transact all Continental business in Philadelphia. Despite Washington's surprise victories at Trenton and Princeton in December and January, a move that forced the British to abandon many of their forward posts in New Jersey, Congress chose to remain in Baltimore until March 4, 1777. By the time Morris wrote Langdon in the present letter, the danger of a British invasion of Philadelphia had largely subsided (for the time being), allowing him time to catch up on his personal business. Morris' conduct here would be greeted today with a good deal of suspicion as he was essentially using his and Langdon's official connections to speculate in prize goods from captured British merchantmen. A superb war-dated letter by Morris, accomplished at one of the more critical moments in the Revolutionary War.
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