Harlem to Charleston and Back: The Southern Connections of an Elite New York Family

By Lindsay M. Keiter

John Marshall, "Ile de New York, Partie de Long-Island ou de I'le Longue, et Positions des Armees Americaine et Britannique, Apres le Combat livre sure Hauteurs le 27 Aout 1776" (1807).

John Marshall, "Ile de New York, Partie de Long-Island ou de I'le Longue, et Positions des Armees Americaine et Britannique, Apres le Combat livre sure Hauteurs le 27 Aout 1776" (1807).

Benjamin Franklin Stevens, "Facsimile of the Unpublished British Headquarters Coloured Manuscript Map of New York and Environs 1782. Reproduced from the Original Drawing in the War Office London" (1782).

Benjamin Franklin Stevens, "Facsimile of the Unpublished British Headquarters Coloured Manuscript Map of New York and Environs 1782. Reproduced from the Original Drawing in the War Office London" (1782).

I encountered the Morris clan purely by coincidence. It was my first visit to the South Carolina Historical Society –- (they were still in the Fireproof Building then) –- and I was disappointed to find that the collections I identified for research yielded little. An archivist suggested that, since I was looking for extensive correspondence between married couples, that I look at the Vanderhorst (pronounced VAN-dross) Family Papers. As I gingerly leafed through pages in various degrees of decay from long-ago water damage and long-dead silverfish, a surprising postal marking kept appearing: Morrisania, Harlem, New York. As my research unfolded, the Morrises continually resurfaced, a testament to the tenacity of family ties and the flexibility of “Northern” and “Southern” identities from the American Revolution through the Civil War. The Morris-Vanderhorst connections are a fascinating example of how families were knit together by marriage, affection, and property despite individuals’ personal and political identification with New York or South Carolina as the United States fractured along regional lines.

To follow this story, I had to familiarize myself with the Vanderhorst’s northern connections. The Morrises were an influential New York family, established by brothers Richard and Lewis in the 1670s. Morrisania, now a small neighborhood in the Bronx, originally encompassed almost 2,000 acres along the Harlem River.[1] Lewis 1 had no children, but raised his orphaned nephew and namesake, Lewis 2, who became Governor of New Jersey himself. As did many well-off newcomers, the Morrises solidified their standing by intermarrying with more established elite families. Lewis 2 married Isabella Graham, daughter of New York’s Attorney General, and Lewis 3 was the third of their nine children. This Lewis married into not one but two prominent Dutch-descended families. With his first wife, Tryntje Staats, he welcomed one daughter and three sons, including Lewis 4, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and with his second wife Sarah Gouverneur added four daughters and one son, the famous Gouverneur, who signed the Articles of Confederation and helped draft the Constitution. In addition to sharing an interest and aptitude for politics, both Lewis 4 and Governeur broke with established family practice and married women from outside the mid-Atlantic elite.


Livingston Rutherford, Family Records and Events: Compiled Principally from the Original Manuscripts in the Rutherfurd Collection (New York: De Vinne Press, 1894), pp. 113 and 101.

National service, in fact, facilitated both marriages in different ways, but this piece will focus on the lesser-known Morris brother. Lewis met Ann Elliott of South Carolina in 1782 while serving as aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel Greene. Born in rice country in 1762, Ann Elliot inherited half of her father’s enormous estate when she was only four. Upon her marriage she claimed over 200 slaves, more than 3000 acres, and twenty-four additional lots, whose worth was estimated at £25,000 sterling. While an acquaintance drily reported to St. George Tucker that “Colonel Morris could not withstand the charms of Miss Elliot[t] and twenty thousand guineas so they were married,” this was unkind gossip.[2] While a central function of marriage was the transfer of resources to the newly established household,Lewis was wealthy enough to be more interested in her “amiable, gentle disposition, with a well improved mind, and a person tall and genteel.” He sent “My dear Girl” letters regularly during their separation, extolling “that sensibility, that tenderness in your nature, which endears you to me, and which I consider as the greatest ornament in your sex.”[3] And when they married in 1783, Lewis agreed to relinquish his claims to the bulk of Ann’s fortune.

In fact, Lewis Morris was unusually generous towards his wife, before and after their marriage. Lewis consented to a marriage settlement, in essence waiving his rights to much of his wife’s property, without which he would have assumed total control of all of Ann’s property when they married.[4] Only a tiny minority of men consented to marriage settlements, which created separate estates to protect wives’ property from alienation and waste by their husbands. Both South Carolina and New York had the legal apparatus to create and enforce these agreements. Ann and Lewis filed their agreement in Charleston, appointing Ann’s brother-in-law, planter Daniel Huger, as the trustee charged with defending her interests. And Lewis’s largess extended posthumously: in his will, while his wife was “entitled to large estate under her marriage settlement,” he also left Ann a life interest in his entire estate, rather than the usual widows’ thirds. This included not only Morrisania in New York, but also Hope Plantation, which Lewis had purchased from the estate of his wife’s sister and brother-in-law, making him a southern planter in his own right. Because Ann was thus amply supported in her widowhood, Lewis urged her in his will to provide for their eight children, who ranged in age from three to sixteen, when they came of age.[5] Ann Elliott Morris strove to honor her husband’s request, using her personal wealth in South Carolina and control over the Morris estate in New York to groom her children and grandchildren for successful careers and auspicious marriages.

Clara Erskine Clement, A History of Art for Beginners and Students: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (New York: Frderick A. Stokes, 1887), 187.

Clara Erskine Clement, A History of Art for Beginners and Students: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (New York: Frderick A. Stokes, 1887), 187.

Mathew Carey, "State of South Carolina" (1795).

Mathew Carey, "State of South Carolina" (1795).

This New York-South Carolina link suggests that once cross-states connections were established, they frequently begot others, often facilitated by kinship connections. Elite men and women with the wealth and leisure to do so often visited relatives in other states, and frequently stayed for long periods, allowing young people to develop far-flung friendships and attachments. Of the six of Lewis and Ann Morris’s children who married, three found partners in New York or New Jersey, while another three met partners in their mother’s native South Carolina.[6] Lewis’s nephew, Gouverneur Morris, Jr., married a Virginia cousin and raised a brood of children with a mix of New York names –- including the mandatory Gouverneur -- and proudly Virginian names, including Powhatan Randolph, Ann Cary, and Orlando Fairfax.

The availability of property in both locations also certainly smoothed the way for such matches. Two sons and one daughter migrated south –- Ann married Elias Vanderhorst, son of a former South Carolina governor; Lewis 5 married Elizabeth Manigault, granddaughter of New Yorker Alice DeLancey and her low-country husband Ralph Izard; and William married Anna Fishburne and assumed the management of his father’s plantation, Hope.[7] Little information is available about William and Anna, who both died young, leaving three daughters to be raised in New York in the care of Ann Elliott Morris, who subsequently directed the management of theHope plantation property through her son-in-law Elias. In 1830, Ann Morris expressed concern that Elias was visiting one of her properties during the sickly summer season, writing, “Pray let me entreat you not to visit the Hope again -- it would make me more miserable than I now am, if you were to suffer my business to induce you to risk your life or health in any way, I should feel myself desolate indeed without your kindness and attention.”[8]

The mother-and-daughter Anns had the luxury of renewing their bonds through periodic reunions. In June of 1829, Ann Morris Vanderhorst, heavily pregnant with her third child, packed up her two toddlers and made the long -– at least three-week -– overland journey to her natal home of Morrisania in Harlem, New York. She remained for nearly six monthsmonths, giving birth to her first daughter in July under the supervision of her mother and sister. Ann could only indulge in this long vacation because of the enormous privilege of both the Vanderhorst and Morris households. Her husband had sufficient slave labor to continue his agricultural and domestic operations without Ann’s presence, and the Morris matriarch had enough wealth, space, and contracted labor to absorb the financial and logistical commitments of supporting Ann, two toddlers, and new baby for months.

Women who had enjoyed the benefits of settlements might have been more likely to insist upon them for female kin, and I suspect that Ann Morris did so for her daughters. This reflects what Suzanne Lebsock termed women’s personalism, “a tendency to respond to the needs and merits of individuals,” and may have simultaneously engendered and reflected both Anns’ assertive personalities.[9] While reference to reliance on Elias’s remittances suggest that Ann V. had no separate income or accounts, and no settlement appears in the well-indexed records of South Carolina, Ann and Elias may well have filed the settlement in New York. And if they created a prenuptial settlement in New York, it may have been constructed as a simple settlement. Simple settlements did not require the appointment of a trustee –- rather, the affianced couple contracted directly with each other. This type of settlement would have allowed Elias to manage the property for their joint benefit and disburse funds directly to his wife.[10] Unfortunately, New York’s chancery records are difficult to navigate, due to both significant losses in fires and to inadequate indexing, preventing me from confirming the definite existence of the document or its contents. But clues in the Vanderhorst papers suggest that Ann Morris Vanderhorst had some form of settlement -- not least that in his will, Elias left to his “dearest wife Ann… all the estate I am possessed of in New York” -– almost certainly acquired by their marriage -– “and all the stocks and securities for money standing in her name to her and her heirs forever,” plus an annuity of $3,000 and life use of his Charleston house with its furnishings, enslaved staff, and horses and carriage (emphasis added).[11]

Ann Morris’s actions on behalf of one of her orphaned granddaughters further suggest that the Morris matriarch encouraged marriage settlements for her daughters, and instigated a fascinating debate over married women’s property rights –- and their appropriate limits. Ann was one of the guardians of her orphaned granddaughter Julia, and sought to ensure her future security. After her younger sister’s death, Julia was the heir to one half of her late parents’ estate, which consisted of Hope Plantation with 87 enslaved workers, 164 acres on Bear Island, and a military grant in Ohio of 400 acres, plus one half of her grandparent’s plantation, Accabee.[12]Ann Morris was likely eager to ensure not only Julia’s future security, but that the property acquired through the Elliott family connection would pass to Julia’s biological children -– her great-grandchildren.

While both Julia and her fiancée William Stebbins were raised in New York, they were married in Charleston; this may have been because Julia was under age and it required additional paperwork to transfer the title of Julia’s inherited properties.However, in her eagerness to ensure that Julia receive the properties she herself brought to her marriage, the shrewd Morris matriarch overreached in 1843, as revealed in an equity complaint filed that year.

William’s behavior suggests how some men could be receptive to separate estates. William swore that when he proposed to Julia, “he was ignorant that he was entitled to any property at all,” until Ann Morris informed him of it. This seems unlikely –- he was courting a well-educated, well-supplied orphan who lived with an exceptionally wealthy grandmother as her guardian. More likely, William was adhering to the rhetorical trope of unselfish romance popular with -– and expected of –- young people in the antebellum era.
Julia’s grandmother was well aware of her granddaughter’s wealth, however. In August 1841, “four months after his engagement” to Julia, Mrs. Morris “asked him if he has any objections to settle his intended wife[’]s property on her, Mrs[.] Morris stating at the time that as there was a probability of [William’s] going into business, she was very unwilling that her granddaughters fortune should be taken to pay her husbands debts, to which proposition the Defendant cheerfully agreed, and replied that he was anxious that his wife should enjoy her own property.”[13] William may have simply thought it the fair thing to do, or he may have shared Mrs. Morris’s concerns about bankruptcy after the Panic of 1837. In either case, a separate estate ensured that Julia would have resources to fall back on in case of financial hardship.
Perhaps in the whirlwind of preparations, William forgot about that conversation, and his future grandmother-in-law didn’t bring it up again. But then, he later testified, standing before the altar on his wedding day:

five minutes before the marriage ceremony -– in fact after he had stood up before the clergyman to be married… he was beckoned from the room by Mrs[.] Morris, who said to him that she hoped he was willing to do as he had promised in relation to a settlement of Miss Morris’ fortune, to which the defendant answered certainly, upon which he was carried into a small room where he found his intended wife and her Trustee present, and when a paper purporting to be marriage articles between the said defendant and his said intended wife… was handed to him for his signature which the defendant signed, ignorant of the contents of the instrument.[14]

Mrs. Morris had drawn up marriage articles in New York in early October of 1842 in anticipation of the wedding later that month, perhaps with the assistance of Julia’s trustee. While she informed her son-in-law Elias of her plan because she insisted he pay for the costs of filing the settlement, she carried them to Charleston with the apparent intention of surprising the couple at the last minute.[15] Perhaps aware that she was overreaching, Ann Morris evidently, and correctly, expected that the element of surprise –- and the enormous pressure of the situation –- would secure William’s signature.

After the wedding, Julia insisted she was as shocked as William to find that the document dictated the “total exclusion of her husband from the benefit of her fortune.” Now newly married, William was forced to articulate his expectations of financial gain upon finding out that his hopes were thwarted. Mrs. Morris has miscalculated in returning to New York to file the settlement -– under New York’s law, a Bill had to be filed before the contract legally took effect, offering the newlyweds the opportunity to object.[16] They chose to do so in South Carolina, perhaps aware of the courts’ sympathy towards husbands, and the Stebbinses found a receptive audience for their insistence that matrimony should confersome financial privileges to husbands.

In his complaint, William argued that the articles were “so unjust, illiberal and contrary to what he had verbally agreed to” that he refused to accept them. He asked the court that “the said articles may be entirely set aside as obtained by surprise and in the place thereof, your Honors may order and decree such settlement of his wife[‘]s fortune as may protect her interests and that of the issue of the marriage, without depriving this Defendant of the consideration due to him as the head of his family.”[17] Perhaps William was counting on receiving money or property necessary to start or augment his business, or he may have simply been insisting on his “consideration as the head of his family” on principle.

The court readily concurred. Justices in previous cases like the Morris-Stebbins dispute had repeatedly expressed hostility to women’s control of property and zealously guarded husbands’ rights. As Marylynn Salmon points out in her indispensible study of Women and the Law of Property in Early America, “colonial justices did not expand on women’s rights to own property separately from their husbands,” and in fact periodically refused to recognize English precedents that did.[18] After the American Revolution, the emphasis on husbands’ rights only intensified – one early nineteenth-century judge in Virginia went so far as to suggest that husbands’ had the prerogative to deprive their wives of dower, because if a husband could “leave [his wife] pennyless at his death, she might find it her interest to conduct herself better.”[19]
In the Stebbinses’ case, the justices readily agreed with William’s arguments that his consent had been obtained fraudulently. The court appointed a lawyer to inventory Julia’s fortune and recommend a settlement more agreeable to the couple. Ultimately, Julia retained control of roughly half of the land, slaves, stocks, and bonds she inherited from her father’s estate.[20] William agreed that this new settlement was perfectly fair.

The Morris-Stebbins case, while unusual, is illuminating in that it sheds light on how one trans-regional family managed its resources. It also reveals a widely accepted conception of a husband’s right to acquire wealth via marriage. As much as politics might divide New Yorkers and South Carolinians, marriage -– and the money that went with it -– knit them together.

Thus, when Ann Elliott Morris’s South Carolina-born granddaughter Meta (Morris)Grimball grumbled about the “imprudence of marrying among strangers” in 1861, she probably meant it more in terms of wealth and status than location. Even parents who warned against cross-state matches might have overstated the incompatibility of individuals from different states. For instance, Elizabeth Izard’s advice to her son seems to support assertions of regional difference –- in 1816, she cautioned her son against inter-regional romance. Discovering her son’s affections were directed at Mary Louise Shore of Petersburg, Virginia, she “objected” because she “scarcely ever saw a gentlewoman from the Ancient Dominion that suited the Meridian of Philadelphia. Their Manners, habits, nay very ideas are different.”[21] While she was surely in earnest, she herself never regarded any such warning if it was offered to her. Elizabeth Carter Farley had been born in Virginia, and married her first husband there; after his death, she married the father of the son she advised, joining the prominent Shippen family; and when widowed again, she married into the wealthy plantation Izard clan. Thus while Elizabeth was in the perfect position to appreciate the difficulties of interregional marriages, she was simultaneously a testament to the ease –- and frequency -– with which families overcame such difficulties.

Meta Grimball, on the other hand, when fretting about marrying her children suitably, mentioned money consistently, but never region. Her siblings married up and down the eastern seaboard from Pennsylvania to Georgia. In 1865, when her son, (unsurprisingly named) Lewis Morris Grimball, married Clementina Legge, Meta’s objections were class-based. Clementina’sSouth Carolina-born mother married her Virginian husband “not knowing anything about him and after her marriage found he had very low relations.” Meta detested Col. Legge, who was “a man of intemperate habits, and no morals, never pays any thing he owes, and does not regard his word.” But given her family background, Meta evidently had no objections to marriages among “nice people” of different states.[22]

Despite the social and political upheaval created by the war and its aftermath, marriage and family soon resumed roles in knitting together families both within and across state and regional borders. Indeed, Meta’s cross-state connections were just as valuable by 1865 -– if not more so. Despite their political differences, even through the Civil War and Reconstruction families coordinated across the Mason-Dixon line to manage and distribute property.Post-war South Carolina’s economy was wrecked, and as ardent Confederates, much of the Grimball wealth had been invested in the doomed upstart government, and most of the remainder confiscated for treason.Lewis owed his mother’s gift of “$3000 to commence his married life on” largely to his northern connections. Meta “gave it to him, but as the property in New York was in the law courts, under the Confiscation act,” (because the Grimballs supported the Confederacy) it “could not be used until released by Lewis Morris,” a great-uncle in New York.[23]Their ruined fortunes likely prevented –- or dissuaded –- most of Meta’s nine children from marrying at all; only four tied the proverbial knot.

The extended Morris family handily illustrates how marriage and family complicate the narrative of regional division in the United States. A broadly shared understanding of marriage as a critical financial decision meant that a prospective spouse’s resources –- whether real estate, liquid assets, or intangibles like education and personal connections –- rather than location, were the primary criteria by which elite families “vetted” potential in-laws. Women as well as men took an active part in assessing potential in-laws and in advising their children and younger relatives.Matrimony’s financial significance was rooted in and reinforced by the core elements of the English common law that informed American jurisprudence on marriage and property. As long as a child’s marriage was a substantial and generally unrecoverable financial investment in a new household, elite families would continue to focus on what resources a spouse brought to the marriage, rather than where they came from. Even before the bitterness of the postbellum period faded, regional identity and political affiliation were distant seconds to wealth when considering a marriage partner.

Lindsay Keiter is an historian for the Department of Research and Interpretive Education at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. She recently finished a dissertation at William & Mary exploring the economic functions of marriage in early America.

[1] Richard Brookhiser, Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 2-3.

[2] Eliza Harleston to St. George Tucker, Feb. 22 1783, Tucker-Coleman Papers, College of William & Mary.

[3] Col. Lewis Morris to Miss Nancy Elliott, July 15 1782, published in Morris Rutherfurd, ed., “Letters from Col. Lewis Morris to Miss Ann Elliott,” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 1939), 122-136, quotation from p. 123. More of their correspondence is published in Morris Rutherfurd, ed., “Letters from Col. Lewis Morris to Miss Ann Elliott,” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), 1-14.

[4] Indenture [Marriage Settlement], June 30 1783, between Daniel and Sabina Huger of the first part and Lewis and Ann Morris of the second part, Miscellaneous Records, Vol. TT, p. 318, South Carolina Department of Records and History. Ann inherited two plantations at her father’s death in 1766 and 213 slaves when her brother died shortly after her marriage in 1783. Suzanne Cameron Linder, Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of the ACE River Basin (Columbia, South Carolina: Published by the South Carolina Dept. of Archives & History for the Archives and History Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, and the Nature Conservancy, 1995), 575, 628.

[5] Linder, Historical Atlas… ACE River Basin, 254, 631.

[6] General Lewis Morris married Elizabeth Manigault, Ann Morris married Elias Vanderhorst, George Washington Morris married Maria Whaley, and William Elliot Morris married Anna Fishburne.

[7] Information gathered from the Vanderhorst Family Papers, Mss. 1169.00, the South Carolina Historical Society.

[8] Ann Elliott Morris to Elias Vanderhorst, August 6 18[30], Vanderhorst Family Papers, Box 197, folder 11.

[9] Suzanne Lebsock, The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1985), defined xix; see also ch. 5, “Women Alone: Property and Personalism.”

[10] For a succinct overview of the shift from tripartite to simple settlements, see Joseph A. Ranney, “Anglicans, Merchants, and Feminists: A Comparative Study of the Evolution of Married Women’s Rights in Virginia, New York, and Wisconsin,” William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law 6, no. 3 (2000): 503-10.

[11] Wills of Elias Vanderhorst (1857, 1864, 1874) with proved document (1874), Vanderhorst Family Papers, Box 196A, folders 3 and 4.

[12] Indenture between William Stebbins, Julia Morris, and Richard Morris, July 11 1844, South Carolina Secretary of State, Recorded Instruments, Marriage Settlements, Vol. 16, 116-120, South CarolinaDepartment of Archives &History.

[13] Julia Morris to Elias Vanderhorst, April 9 1841, Vanderhorst Family Papers, Box 197, folder 25; Simons & Simons Legal papers, SCHS, Box 31 (M) 41.

[14] Simons & Simons Legal papers, SCHS, Box 31 (M) 41.

[15] Ann Morris to [Elias Vanderhorst], October 4, 1842, Vanderhorst Family Papers, Box 198, folder 3. Julia had only determined the outlines of her wedding plans in late September: Julia Morris to Elias Vanderhorst, September 30, 1842, Vanderhorst Family Papers, Box 198, folder 3.

[16] P. Lesesne to Elias Vanderhorst, March 8, 1844, Vanderhorst Family Papers, Box 198, folder 10.

[17] Simons & Simons Legal papers, SCHS, Box 31 (M) 41.

[18] Marylynn Salmon, Women and the Law of Property in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 82.

[19] “Opinion of Judge Coalter, in the case of Lightfoot’s Executors v. Colgin and Wife,” Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals et al., Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia (Joseph Gold, 1819), 55-56

[20] Simons & Simons Legal papers, SCHS, Box 31 (M) 41; S.C. Secretary of State, Recorded Instruments, Marriage Settlements, Vol. 15, 431-33, SCDAH; S.C. Secretary of State, Recorded Instruments, Marriage Settlements, Vol. 16, 116-120, SCDAH; P. Lesesne to Elias Vanderhorst, March 8, 1844, Vanderhorst Family Papers, Box 198, folder 10.

[21] Elizabeth Farley Izard to William Shippen, April 11 1816, ShippenFamily papers, Library of Congress, cited in WylmaWates, “Precursor to the Victorian Age: The Concept of Marriage and Family as Revealed in the Correspondence of the Izard Family of South Carolina,” in Carol Bleser, ed., In Joy and In Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 14.

[22] September 30 1861, February 20 1866, Margaret Ann “Meta” Morris Diary, #975-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[23] February 20 1866, Margaret Ann “Meta” Morris Diary, SHC.