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John Morton

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

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Morton signs a Pennsylvania 2½ shilling colonial note

John Morton, 1725–1777.  Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania; signer of the Continental Association.  Pennsylvania colonial currency signed, John Morton, April 3, 1772.  Countersigned by John Sellers and Charles Humphreys.

This is a Pennsylvania note for two shillings, six pence.  Morton has signed it as a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly.

Morton, an associate justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and by then a former speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, played an vital role in the decision to declare American independence from Great Britain.  Although he did not want to sever ties with Britain, he ultimately provided the vote that swung the Pennsylvania delegation to vote in favor of adopting the Declaration of Independence.  His vote preserved the unanimity of the colonies on the issue of independence.

Morton, was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775.  He had been outspoken against Britainʼs taxation of the colonies without granting them representation in Parliament, and he had served in the 1765 Stamp Act Congress that met in New York.  In the summer of 1775, Morton wrote to a London merchant, whom he addressed as his “Respected Friend,” to order a gun and to say that the colonies were preparing for war, although he hoped that it could be avoided.  The colonies, he wrote,

are heartily united in one general Cause, not one Tory dare shew his Face in opposition, we are really preparing for the worst that can happen, viz., a Civil War.  We have nearly 2000 Troops now under Arms in this City [Philadelphia], & very well disciplined.  I suppose the Province will raise 20,000 effective Men determined to support the noble Cause of Liberty.  . . . I hope Time will manifest to the World that a steady Perseverance in the Cause of Freedom will triumph over all the deep lay'd schemes of Tyranny, & that Britain & America will again be united on the solid Foundation of Commerce & the Constitution. . . . I sincerely wish a Reconciliation, the Contest is horrid, Parents against Children, & Children against Parents, the longer the wound is left in the present state the worse it will be to heal at last.

John Morton to Thomas Powell, June 8, 1775, reprinted in Library of Congress, 1 Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789, at 460–61 (Paul H. Smith ed. 1976).  Later, after the Congress had issued the Declaration of Independence, Morton wrote to General Anthony Wayne:  “Our army at New York are rather Weak but Increasing and are well provided to receive the Enemy.  May god grant them the Success to End this Cruel & Unnatural war by Totally defeating our Enemies."  John Morton to Anthony Wayne, Aug. 16, 1776, reprinted in Library of Congress, 5 Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789, at 8 (Paul H. Smith ed. 1979).

Pennsylvaniaʼs John Dickinson led Congressional opposition to a complete break with Great Britain.  He was supported by three other members of the Pennsylvania delegation—Robert Morris, who subsequently signed the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Willing, and Charles Humphreys, who also signed this note.  When Congress voted on the resolution for independence on July 2, 1776, Dickinson and Morris were absent.  Of the five members of the Pennsylvania delegation who were present, including Morton, the other four were split:  Willing and Humphreys opposed it, while Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson supported it.  Morton voted with Franklin and Wilson, breaking the tie, and thus Pennsylvania joined the other colonies in voting for independence.

Morton took abuse for his vote.  Many of his friends and political supporters, Quakers who opposed military action and those who opposed severing all ties with Britain, turned against him.  There is some thought that the loss of their friendship weighed on Mortonʼs mind and hastened his early death, at about age 53, in 1777.  He was the first of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence to die.  Morton is said to have declared on his deathbed, “Tell them that they will live to see the hour, when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service that I ever rendered to my country."

Morton has signed this note for two shillings, six pence—"Half-a-Crown"— issued “According to an act of the General Assembly of Pensilvania [sic], passed in the Twelfth Year of the Reign of his Majesty GEORGE the Third.  Dated the 3d Day of April, Anno. Dom. 1772."  This piece bears the Penn family coat of arms.  It is from Plate A and is hand numbered as No. 30529.  The reverse bears the legend “To Counterfeit is DEATH."

This note is part of an issuance of 25,000 in bills of credit by the colony of Pennsylvania.  It was printed in Philadelphia by Davis Hall and William Sellers, who bought the printing business from Benjamin Franklin.  The April 3, 1772, issuance comprised nine denominations of notes:  3, 4, 6, and 18 pence, 1, 2, and 40 shillings, and this denomination of 2 shillings 6 pence, or 2½ shillings.  Pieces of this issuance are not among the most common of Pennsylvaniaʼs colonial currency.

Colonial currency followed the old British system, which was based on the troy system of weighing precious metals, and which originated with King Henry II, who reigned 1154–1189.  A penny was one pennyweight of sterling silver.  There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.  Thus, the pound sterling, which was literally one pound of sterling silver, weighed 240 pennyweights.

Morton has signed this currency in brown ink.  The paper is darkly toned, but the signatures of Morton and the others are still nicely readable.  The note has one vertical fold, which affects one letter of Mortonʼs signature.  The fold is separated at the top, with slight paper loss at the edge affecting the border, but the separation does not affect the signatures. 

This note has both autographic and numismatic value.  From an autograph standpoint, the piece is in very good condition.

Unframed.  Click here for information about custom framing this piece.


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