Historical Markers
Stiegel Mansion (Robert Morris) Historical Marker
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Stiegel Mansion (Robert Morris)

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
1 North Main Street (PA 72), Manheim

Dedication Date:
May 13, 1962

Behind the Marker

At first, Philadelphia's merchant community attempted to avoid any direct involvement in the War for American Independence. Realizing that their livelihoods depended upon good relations with a mercantilist network in London and Britain's other colonies, many of the city's merchants argued for moderation. There were exceptions, though. Robert Morris, who resided at Stiegel Mansion during the winter of 1777-1778, is generally regarded as the "Financier of the American Revolution" for his indispensable efforts to raise and deploy capital for the Continental Army, and for subsidizing the war effort with his own finances.
Portrait of Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris in formal attire.
Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783.

Born in Liverpool, England, in 1734, Morris emigrated to Maryland at the age of thirteen to join his father, a tobacco exporter at Oxford, Maryland. Shortly after, he was apprenticed to the firm of Charles and Thomas Willing, a prominent mercantilist house in Philadelphia. By 1754 the ambitious Morris had risen to full partnership in the firm. For the next four decades he would be one of the city's most prominent citizens.

In 1775 the Second Continental Congress contracted with Morris' firm to import arms and ammunition for the American war effort. Appointed to the Congress as a Pennsylvania delegate, Morris chaired the Secret Committee of Trade and managed procurement of military supplies abroad. In so doing, he mixed public service with private trade, usually conducted in the name of his firm, Willing and Morris. Such a practice was not uncommon in those days, and Morris profited handsomely from it. Not surprisingly, markerThomas Paine, a radical republican newspaper editor, attacked Morris in Congress for profiteering. Congress investigated his accounts and cleared Morris of any wrongdoing.

When the British drove Congress out of Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, Morris managed his affairs from Stiegel mansion in Lancaster County, formerly the residence of markerHenry William Stiegel, a German immigrant and prominent glass manufacturer and ironmaster. Morris' commercial network, which extended from America to Europe and the West Indies, was indispensable to the war effort. As Superintendent of Finance to the Congress, he worked closely with Gen. George Washington, extracting money and supplies from the states and securing personal loans to further the patriot cause. Hiring markerHaym Salomon as an assistant and broker to work with French bills of exchange, Morris financed Washington's Yorktown campaign by obtaining a sizeable loan from France.

After the American victory at Yorktown brought the war to a successful conclusion, Morris' efforts to keep the fledgling nation afloat financially became even more difficult. Inflation continued to grow, and war weariness made many Americans less willing to make sacrifices for the public good. The Continental Army often went unpaid, and for a while the Congress operated on the edge of bankruptcy. Under these desperate circumstances, Morris slashed all governmental and military expenditures, personally purchased supplies for the American army and navy, tightened accounting procedures, pressed the states for financial contributions, and when necessary strained his personal credit by issuing notes over his own signature, or borrowed from his friends.

Morris served as a member of the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 and, from 1789 to 1795, as a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania in the new federal government. Throughout this period, he speculated wildly in western lands and lots in Washington, D.C., often on overextended credit. His fiscal irresponsibility finally caught up with him in 1798 when he was thrown into Philadelphia's debtors' prison. Released in 1801, Morris lived in poverty and relative obscurity until his death in 1806.
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