Robert Morris

Robert Morris, Bankrupted Dec. Signer and Rev. War Financier, ALS: "Help, Help if you can - "

Robert Morris, Bankrupted Declaration Signer and Revolutionary War Financier, ALS: "Help, Help if you can - "



1p ALS inscribed overall, and signed with initials by Declaration Signer Robert Morris (1734-1806) as "RM" at center. Dated November 21, 1794. On watermarked pale blue laid paper. Expected paper folds, and isolated discoloration, else near fine. 7.125" x 9.5". Accompanied by a 5" x 7" black and white print of Morris after Alonzo Chappel, lightly stained along bottom.


Robert Morris, facing ruin, desperately pleads with business partner John Nicholson to cover a debt due Andrew Summers resulting from land speculation with the North American Land Company. Morris, who had previously used his own funds to finance the Revolutionary War, would suffer the indignity of imprisonment for debt between 1798 and 1801.


In full, with unchanged spelling and punctuation:


"Dear Sir


Mr Summers insisted on & got yesterday the $3000 you mention -


The enclosed letter is necessary to be signed by you & sent, to prevent the Money if it arrives at Salem, lying there           


Yours +c




Novr  21# 1794


Help, help if you can - ".


Three months later, in February 1795, Morris, Nicholson, and James Greenleaf formed the North American Land Company with holdings scattered across 4,000,000 acres from Georgia to New York. The three partners also remained “independent” speculators. They habitually purchased land tracts using promissory notes in favor of and endorsed by each other, as well as reserving large tracts for themselves outside of the holding company. Unsurprisingly, loan deadlines outpaced revenues. The resulting crash came in 1798, after which both Morris and Nicholson spent years in debtors’ prison as a result of their speculations.


Robert Morris had immigrated to Maryland from Liverpool at age 13. He became a partner in a banking and shipping firm in Philadelphia in 1757. At the Second Continental Congress, he initially opposed independence and abstained in the final vote, but then signed the Declaration of Independence with the rest of the Pennsylvania delegation. He signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778 and the Constitution in 1787.

Morris served as Superintendent of Finance from 1781-1784, and personally paid £10 million to fund the American army during the Revolutionary War. Morris served as Senator from Pennsylvania from 1789 to 1795. Deeply engaged in land speculation, he bought millions of acres in western New York in 1791, forming the North American Land Company. Due in no small part to their speculation, the land market collapsed, and Morris was ruined. The final blow came in 1798, when a minor creditor’s claim sent him to the Philadelphia debtor’s prison, where former President George Washington visited him. He remained in prison for three years until his wife was able to bail him out.

John (Jonathan) Nicholson (1758-1800) was a Welsh-born émigré who engaged in a variety of business ventures in Revolutionary-era Philadelphia. In 1778 he was appointed clerk to the Board of Treasury of the Continental Congress. In 1782 he was appointed state Comptroller General, involving him in the collection of taxes and the liquidation of the assets of Loyalists convicted of treason in absentia. In 1793, he was impeached for personally speculating in federal securities with state funds. He was acquitted but forced to resign, because he was by this time a large public defaulter. In 1795, he joined Robert Morris and James Greenleaf in the business venture described above. Nicholson died in 1800, more than four million dollars in debt. His estate was not satisfactorily settled for over a half-century, and required the creation of a special Nicholson Court of Pleas in 1843.


Andrew Summers (1742-1806) was a wealthy Philadelphia banker and a close friend of Robert Morris. He was an original member of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, founded in 1790.


This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.



Item: 66622

Price: $3,500.00
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Robert Morris
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