The Morrises were among the first families of Philadelphia after the Revolution, entertaining the nation’s leaders as well as distinguished visitors and diplomats from abroad. During the constitutional convention held there in 1787, George Washington stayed at the Morris House— Robert Morris made the motion for Washington to preside over the convention. After the Constitution was ratified, Morris was chosen by the Pennsylvania legislature to be one of its two senators in the new government.
Martha Washington did not attend her husband’s inauguration as president in April 1789 in New York City but subsequently made her way north, honored and feted along the way. She stayed for several days with Mary Morris in Philadelphia, who then accompanied her to New York where Mary was present at the first levée held by Mrs. Washington in May.
Robert Morris declined the position of Secretary of the Treasury which President Washington had offered him, preferring to tend to his personal business. When the capital of the United States was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, Morris gave up his house to the President and moved to an adjacent dwelling. The hot air balloon described in an earlier post was launched from his back garden in 1793. At the end of his second term in 1797, Washington gave a farewell dinner at which he presented Mrs. Morris with a portrait miniature of himself.
During this period Robert Morris’ financial troubles multiplied as a result of excessive spending and bad investments. He rashly speculated in western lands in several states and overextended himself right before the Panic of 1796-97. His creditors caught up with him and in 1798 he was sent to debtor’s prison in Philadelphia where he remained for more than three years. Mary, the loyal wife, visited her husband daily and often took dinner with him. Morris was released from prison in 1801 with the passage of a new bankruptcy law. Gouverneur Morris (no relation), perhaps the closest of their family friends, arranged for Mary to have an annuity of $1500 a year that allowed the pair to live in modest circumstances until Morris’ death in 1806.
Lafayette, touring the United States in 1824, visited Mary in Philadelphia and at his invitation she attended the ball given in his honor. Mary died in 1827 at the age of 78. This passage taken from her obituary describes her well: Morris’ “deceased widow, after having enjoyed with him without arrogance the wealth and the honours of the early and middle years of his life, descended with him, without repining, to the privation incident to the reverses of his fortune towards the close of it.”
The portrait of Mary White Morris was painted by John Trumbull in 1790 and hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A summary of the life of Mary White Morris is included in an ADDRESS delivered in 1877, which includes the obituary.