Roger Morris (January 28, 1717 – September 13, 1794)
Born in England, Morris had come to America in 1746 as a captain in the British Army. He served as one of General Braddock’s aide-de-camps in the French and Indian War, during which time he became a good friend of George Washington. Wounded in Braddock’s Defeat, he returned to New York where he met and married Mary Philipse.
After serving under Wolfe on his expedition against Quebec and being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Morris retired in 1764. Lieutenant Colonel Roger Morris purchased approximately 150 acres of land on Harlem Heights in 1765. There he built the Mount Morris, subsequently known as Morris-Jumel Mansion. His mansion was probably completed by 1768.
Morris and his family spent their summers in the mansion. The elegant house that Morris built for Mary Philipse at what is nowadays 65 Jumel Terrace became the envy of the entire colony. The thickly forested property, consisting of more than one hundred acres from the Harlem to the Hudson Rivers, had magnificent views.
Morris, who came from a family of famous architects and designers, commissioned a nineteen-room, 8500 square-foot manor that was a model of mid-eighteenth century architectural taste, built in an up-to-the-minute, neo-Palladian style, with a hipped roof, wooden corner quoins, and a two-story front portico with Tuscan columns. The Chinese wallpaper in the drawing room was hand-painted, though the outside of the octagonal back wing was shingled to save money. An icehouse, smokehouse, dairy, garden, and orchard helped make the property self-sufficient, and the yacht that Morris moored on the Harlem River could be used for trips downtown. The combination of style and function represented the democratic yearnings of the republic as well as its dependence on the traffic in African lives and labor; Morris’s slaves lived in the house’s attic.
Morris, who at the time served on the king’s Provincial Executive Council of New York, had little opportunity to enjoy his new house. Rising anti-British sentiment in the late 1760’s convinced him to send his family upstate. His wife was eventually accused of treason, one of three such women in the entire Revolutionary War, and her lands were confiscated. Morris himself fled to England.
The Morris-Jumel mansion achieved its most notable historical significance after the exile of its original owners. In addition to its distinction as the only important pre-Revolutionary house still standing in Manhattan, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is the major surviving landmark of the Battle of Harlem Heights. Although a small-scale affair, the important effects of the battle were immediately evident. One major result was the restoration of the offensive spirit of the American Army, after the recent succession of defeats and retreats.
The Jumel house served as the headquarters of Washington from September 14 to October 18, 1776. Following their victory of Long Island, the British had easily occupied New York City on September 15, routing a portion of the American Army at Kip’s Bay that same day. The Americans retreated to their fortified lines on the heights north of present 125th Street. In this vicinity the battle of Harlem Heights was fought on September 16. Here, for the first time in the campaign, the patriots succeeded. After passing through many owners, the mansion was acquired by the City of New York in 1903, and since then has been maintained as a house museum at its original location at West 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. It was moved to the corner of St. Nicholas Terrace, near the City College of New York campus, in the 1960s.