John Morton

Associated Locations:

  • Ridley Township, Pennsylvania

Associated Dates:

  • 1725 – Born

John Morton is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.

Life Sketch from Lives of the Signers

Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.

John Morton descended from ancestors of Swedish birth, who emigrated to America in the early part of the seventeenth century, and settled upon the Delaware River, not far below Philadelphia. He was the only child of his father, who died before his son was born, which event occurred in the year 1724. His mother, who was quite young, afterward married an English gentleman, who became greatly attached to his infant charge. Being highly educated, and a good practical surveyor, he instructed young Morton in mathematics, as well as in all the common branches of a good education. His mind was of unusual strength, and at an early age it exhibited traits of sound maturity. Mr. Morton first accepted official station, in 1764, when he was appointed justice of the peace under the Provincial government of Pennsylvania. He was soon afterward chosen a member of the General Assembly of that Province, and for a number of years was Speaker of the House. So highly were his public services appreciated, that the people were loath to dispense with them. He was a delegate to the “ Stamp Act Congress,” in1765; and in 1766, he was made high sheriff of the county in which he resided. He warmly espoused the cause of the patriots, and on that account, when, after the Lexington tragedy, military corps were formed in Pennsylvania, he was offered the command of one. This he declined, on account of other engagements, for he then held the office of presiding Judge of the Quarter Sessions and Common Pleas and about the same time he was elevated to the bench of the Supreme Court of the Province.

In 1774, the Assembly of Pennsylvania appointed Mr. Morton a delegate to the General Congress. He was re-elected for 1775 in December of the same year, and he was also elected in 1776 to the same office. His election did not take place until some days after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, but he had the privilege of signing it in August.” He was very active while in Congress, and the committee duties which he performed were many and arduous. Among other committees on which he served, he formed one of that which reported the Articles of Confederation for the States, which were adopted, and remained the organic law of the nation until the adoption of the present Constitution in 1787. Mr. Morton did not live to see the blessings of peace and independence descend upon his country. He died in April, 1777, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, leaving a widow and a large family of children. His death was a great public calamity, for men of his genius and patriotism were much needed at that time. His care presented another instance of the triumph of virtue and sound principles, in rising from obscurity to exalted station.  1

Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.

John Morton was a native of Ridley, in the county of Chester, now Delaware. His ancestors were of Swedish extraction, and among the first Swedish emigrants, who located themselves on the banks of the Delaware. His father, after whom he was called, died a few months previously to his birth. His mother was some time after married to an Englishman, who possessed a more than ordinary education, and who, with great kindness, on young Morton’s becoming of the proper age, superintended and directed his education at home. Here his active mind rapidly expanded, and gave promise of the important part which he was destined to act in the subsequent history of his country.

About the year 1764, he was commissioned as a justice of the peace, and was sent as a delegate to the general assembly of Pennsylvania. Of this body he was for many years an active and distinguished member, and for some time the speaker of the house of representatives. The following year he was appointed by the house of representatives of Pennsylvania to attend the general congress at New-York. The object and proceedings of this congress are too well known to need a recital in this place.

In 1766, Mr. Morton was appointed sheriff of the county in which he lived, an office which he continued to hold for the three following years, and the duties of which he discharged with great satisfaction to the public. Some time after, he was elevated to a seat on the bench, in the superior court of Pennsylvania.

Of the memorable congress of 1774 he was a member, and continued to represent the state of Pennsylvania in the national assembly, through the memorable session of that body which gave birth to the declaration of American Independence.

On the occurrence of the momentous subject of independence, in the continental congress, Mr. Morton unexpectedly found himself placed in a delicate and trying situation. Previously to the 4th of July, the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania had voted in opposition to that measure. Great doubts were therefore entertained by the other members of congress, how the Pennsylvania and Delaware delegations would act. Much was obviously depending upon them, for it was justly apprehended, that should these two states decline to accede to the measure, the result might prove most unfortunate. Happily, the votes of both these states were, at length, secured in favor of independence. But, as the delegation from Pennsylvania were equally divided, it fell to Mr. Morton to give his casting vote. The responsibility which he thus assumed was great, and even fearful, should the measure be attended by disastrous results. Mr. Morton, however, was a man of firmness and decision, and, in the spirit of true patriotism, he enrolled his vote in favor of the liberty of his country. Considering his novel and solemn situation, he deserves to be remembered with peculiar respect, by the free and independent yeomanry of America.

In the following year, he assisted in organizing a system of confederation, and was chairman of the committee of the whole, at the time it was finally agreed to, on the 15th of November, 1777. During the same year, he was seized with an inflammatory fever, which, after a few days, ended his mortal existence, in the 64th year of his age. Mr. Morton was a professor of religion, and a truly excellent man. To the poor he was ever kind; and to an affectionate family, consisting of a wife, three sons, and five daughters, he was an affectionate husband and father. His only enemies were those who would not forgive him because of his vote in favor of independence. During his last sickness, and even on the verge of the eternal world, he remembered them, and requested those who stood round him, to tell them, that the hour would yet come, when it would be acknowledged, that his vote in favor of American independence was the most illustrious act of his life. 2

Resources

E-books

Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, John Morton

Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing

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Notes:

  1. Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, 1848 original
  2. Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1829 original

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