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The Liverpool lad who bankrolled the War of Independence

Larry Neild on Robert Morris, founding father of the United States. And born? Just off Dale Street

Written by . Published on July 4th 2011.


The Liverpool lad who bankrolled the War of Independence

TO our American readers, happy Fourth of July - but on this Independence Day should we be waving the Stars and Stripes in honour of Scouser Robert Morris?

He’s Liverpool’s best kept secret, a boy who changed the course of history. Born in a poverty stricken home in Liverpool, he headed off as a teenager to the New World in what was an incredible rags-to-riches-to-rags story.

Morrisville, PennsylvaniaMorrisville, PennsylvaniaMorrisville, a town in Pennsylvania of around 10,000 people, is named after Robert Morris and there’s grand statue of the great man. Two universities, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Chicago, are named the Robert Morris University.

Warships have been named in honour of this one-time resident of Chorley Court, just off Dale Street. Born in 1734, He was baptised at St George's Church, Derby Square – the son of Robert Morris senior and Elizabeth Murphet. In the late 1800s his picture was featured on $1,000 banknotes.

This amazing Liverpudlian almost single handedly funded the American War of Independence against us Brits, which led to America and Great Britain parting company. He was one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, and better still he is one of only two people to sign all three documents that created the USA – the Declaration itself, the American Constitution and the Articles of Confederation.

He was on first name terms with the founding fathers of the United States. Later in life his businesses collapsed and he ended up for almost three years in a debtor’s prison.

 In Liverpool there is little to mark the importance of Robert Morris. A plaque inside the ornate building that is now home to the charity organisation MCVS is seemingly the only recognition of his existence this side of the Pond.

PlaquePlaqueContaining both the Union flag and the US flag, the circular memorial states: “Rob. Morris - Liverpool-born American Patriot and Financier.”

In addition to his Independence credentials, it says: “He virtually controlled the operation of Congress, becoming Superintendent of Finance and Head of the Navy Department.” It also mentions that Morris founded the Bank of North  America (the first national bank in the US) and he owned the western half of New York State and much land in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. Not bad.

A few years ago, an actor's group in the Morrisville area staged a musical about the life of Robert Morris titled The Man Who Bought a Country. It was written by local man Joe Doyle and directed by Joe's wife, Cheryl.

 Joe told me: “We came up with the title because he was, in many ways, the financier of the American Revolution.  While he brought with him from Liverpool a tireless determination to succeed, there is scant information about his early days.  There, we know he left behind his grandmother and headed to America.

Morris' life was captured in a book, Forgotten Patriot, by Eleanor Young who has some descriptions of his early life.

EagleEagleWhat is now the Sony shop, opposite John Lewis, with the huge eagle on its frontage, was the first ever American consulate in the world. The Americans considered Liverpool more important than London at the time.

There are still many reminders of Liverpool's close links with America, but do we make enough of this heritage. We should have some more visible expressions – how about the Robert Morris Community College, or a Robert Morris Boulevard, perhaps a replica of Morris's statue?

 

From Joe Doyle's script

Robert Morris: I was born in Lancashire, England in January, 1734 to Robert Morris Sr. and his – ahem – wife, Elizabeth Ann Murphet. 

Img_0637From here to over thereMy father emigrated to America when I was four, settling in Oxford, MD.  He became a successful tobacco exporter.  My mother died a few years after, leaving me in the care of my grandmother, a stern woman.  So it was I actually hardly knew my mother and barely remembered my father. 

Imagine my excitement, therefore, when my father sent for me in 1747 to join him in America. 

I was 13 and boarded the ship alone.  The passage was exciting, also slightly terrifying.  But, my fears were dispelled by a surge of hope and optimism as I stepped onto the dock at Oxford.  I carried a sack with my few belongings.


Additional reporting by Sarah Cavanagh

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Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on July 4th 2011.
AnonymousJuly 4th 2011.

Just goes to show Scousers were and are everywhere. Maybe because the Mersey was our front door it created this calling to go out and do good. It really is amazing to think this chap strolled the streets of Liverpool and became so prominent in the world. How cool is that.

Absinthe & TurksJuly 6th 2011.

He wasn't a scouser, he was a Dicky Sam. Scousers were only invented about forty years ago. We were Liverpudlians before that.

Jim FganJanuary 10th 2013.

I was in the forces 60 years ago and all of us lads from Liverpool were called scousers

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