Samuel Morris, 1747 to 1770
• He Built Hope Lodge
Samuel Morris was a prosperous Quaker entrepreneur who had a number of business interests. Among them was a grist mill which stood along the banks of the Wissahickon Creek across from his home on Bethlehem Pike. Morris purchased a half interest in the mill property in 1740 and the other half in 1746; the previous owner of the land having been Edward Farmar, whose family had acquired 5,000 acres of land from William Penn in 1683/4. Morris referred to his property as the "Whitemarsh Estate," and he resided there until his death in 1770.
Interestingly, for one who built such a large house, Morris was a single man. He never married and died without a completed will on November 30, 1770 at the age of 61. Under English Common Law his oldest living brother, Joshua, was not only appointed executor of his estate, but also inherited it. Joshua, however, apparently honored those bequests that Samuel had listed in his unsigned will.
Samuel Morris (1709-1770) was born February 27, 1709. His parents were Morris Morris and Susanna Heath. His father was a Quaker active in Abington and, from 1741, in Richland (today's Quakertown area in Bucks County). His mother was well known as a traveling Quaker minister, both in the colonies and abroad.
Samuel Morris seems also to have been active in the Society of Friends or Quakers, attending monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings, in Abington (1709-37) and in Gwynedd (1737-70). His participation included visiting other Friends to encourage their keeping the faith, investigating incidents among the Friends, and helping to enforce the discipline of the Friends meeting.
Samuel began his political career in 1736 when he was elected Assessor of Philadelphia County, one of a group of eight persons who held this position. He was reelected three times.
His interest in mills and milling seems to have come early. During his time as an Assessor Samuel was working for his father at the Upper Dublin Mill in Ambler. He and his father shared a business interest in this mill complex. In 1740 Samuel bought a one-half interest in the mill that is today known as the Farmar' Mill (Mather Mill) from the owner, Edward Farmar. He bought the remaining half interest in 1746 after Farmar's death. The original mill was probably constructed in the late 17th century either by or for Edward Farmar and was replaced in the early 19th century by the current larger structure by Joseph Mather.
Samuel had other business interests besides milling. Most important of these was his lime quarry and kilns located across from the Bent Elbo Inn. His ledger books (of which we have a copy at Hope Lodge) list the very large amounts of lime that he sold and traded for services. The third business activity was the farming of the 150 acres of land he owned.
The ledger books also list the fact that he was part owner of and made improvements to three ships, the Carpenter, the Ann, and an unnamed sloop. He also had partial ownership in two plots of riverfront property, one with a brewhouse, a storehouse and wharf improvements. He was part owner of an iron furnace in northern New Jersey.
Probably the most significant land purchase Samuel Morris made was his c. 1741 acquisition of the land on the east side of Bethlehem Pike, for this would be the future location of his year-round home — the Whitemarsh Estate. (The name Hope Lodge was adopted by later owners, the Watmoughs, in honor of their benefactor.)
Entries in Morris' account book show purchases of building materials such as brick and plaster. The account book also shows that Edmund Woolley, prominent designer of Independence Hall, was probably involved in the design and/or construction of Hope Lodge. The entries show that Woolley had purchased grains and lime from Morris and that Morris shipped these items to Woolley in Philadelphia. We suspect that it may have been in partial payment for these debts that Woolley provided some architectural advice to Morris. This connection may account for some of Hope Lodge's "modern" features, such as the blind niche above the front door.
Except for house servants, Samuel lived alone for much of his time at the Whitemarsh Estate. At some point Susannah Evans, his niece, lived with him. A cousin, Ann Waln, also lived with Morris for a time. An oral tradition, for which we have absolutely no substantiation (an account of the story was printed in a local newspaper around the turn of the 20th century), states that after construction of the house was finished, Morris made a statement such as, "Now the sty is complete and all it needs is the sow." The legend goes on to say that his remark was reported to his fiancÚ in England (due to lack of evidence in the Quaker Meeting records we've investigated, it is unlikely that he even had a fiancÚ in England), and she broke off their engagement. Morris is said to have been heartbroken; thus he never married.
After the house was completed, Samuel returned to his religious and business interests. He continued to serve as Assessor of Philadelphia County in 1748 and 1749, and, in 1749, he was elected Justice of the Peace for Whitemarsh Township, then part of Philadelphia County. During this term of office Samuel assisted on a committee which divided Germantown into precincts.
Morris made another business investment in 1751 when he acquired a one-third interest in an iron forge in New Jersey, known as Chelsea Forge. He held this ownership until 1761.
In the final years of his life Samuel continued to be active in both business and religious affairs. In 1758 he was involved in a dispute with his sister-in-law Elizabeth Morris, daughter of Jonathan Mifflin, over an unpaid debt, left by Elizabeth's husband, Morris Morris, Jr. Samuel Morris was executor of the estate. The Gwynedd Monthly Meeting minutes recorded the investigation of the claim and the final vindication of Samuel in 1760 by the Quarterly Meeting.
Samuel Morris died November 30, 1770. We do not know the cause of his death. He left an incomplete will which was executed by his oldest living brother, Joshua Morris. He left a number of bequests to his family and his servants, to two Quaker meetings, and to a free school for Whitemarsh. The school was built in 1773 and was to remain forever free to all inhabitants who lived within a one-and-one-half mile radius of it. This was the second oldest free school in Pennsylvania, and the building continued to be used as a school into the early twentieth century. (The building still stands on Bethlehem Pike near the turnpike overpass and is currently used as an architect's office.)
The Account Ledger we have at Hope Lodge has provided much information about Samuel Morris. In this ledger, however, he refers to others, including a Day, Memorandum, Mill, New Mill, Store, Upper Mill Store, and Wheat Books. If these missing ledgers could some day be found, we could know much more about the man who built Hope Lodge.
Morris' farm was run with the help of domestic servants. What type of servants were they — indentured, servants by choice, or even slaves? Quakers were allowed to have slaves if they inherited them or received them in payment of a debt but were not allowed to buy or sell slaves. However, by 1750 relatively few Quakers owned such people. Slave ownership by Samuel Morris has been implied because of references to black servants. As Morris was not taxed for any slaves, we think it unlikely, but do not remove the possibility that there was a slave presence at Hope Lodge during Samuel Morris' residency.