Lewis Morris, future signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in 1726 at Morrisania, Westchester County, New York. He was the oldest son and inherited his father's manorial estate according to the English primogeniture law prevailing at that time in America. This inheritance made him affluent.
Morris entered Yale College at age sixteen and received a good education under the direction Rev. Mr. Clapp. At age twenty, he graduated with honors and returned to supervise his estate.
Lewis was handsome, intelligent, wealthy, and popular throughout the Colony. Even though the oppressions of Great Britain didn't affect him, he had great sympathy for those who were affected and was among the first to risk his ease, reputation, and fortune in the cause of liberty. He had the perception to see the end from the beginning, and his patriotism and zeal for the cause was not influenced by events.
Morris refused an office under the Colonial government because he preferred the ease and comfort of his home. When he determined to join the Revolution, putting both his fortune and friends in peril, everyone considered him a great patriot. He considered that war with Great Britain was inevitable. He expressed his convictions so strongly that the lukewarm Colony of New York declined to send him as a delegate to the General Conference of 1774. New York may be forgiven for being lukewarm about the patriot cause because Lord Howe had his British fleet hovering around the New York coast. The terms "Whig" and "Tory" were first for the distinctive political parties in New York City. By April 1775, the people of New York felt differently and elected Morris as a delegate to the second Congress to meet the following May.
During the summer of 1775, Lewis was sent to pacify the Indians on the western frontier. He was elected again to attend the Congress in 1776 and was in attendance when the debates about independence took place. He boldly supported the independence movement even though it directly opposed all his worldly interests. He seemed to realize from the beginning that his house would be ruined, his farm wasted, his thousand acres of forest destroyed, his cattle used by the British, and his family driven into exile. Even with this foreknowledge, he was convinced of the necessity to join the battle for liberty and never faltered in his conviction. He voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence.
When Lewis retired from Congress in 1777 to be succeeded by his brother Gouveneur Morris, he received a vote of thanks from the Convention for his "long and faithful services rendered to the Colony of New York." His family apparently shared his feelings of patriotism because three of his sons served in the army with distinction and were thanked by Congress.
Even though Lewis left Congress in 1777, he continued to be involved in public service in the state legislature or as a military commander until after the Constitution was signed, ratified, and adopted.
When the Revolutionary War was over, Lewis returned to his almost ruined estate and was happy to spend the remainder of his days in caring for his land, home and family. He died in his seventy-second year of age in January 1798. His funeral was attended by a large crowd and included military honors due to his rank of Major General. His body was interred in the family vault.
Facts from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 74-76.
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