Gouverneur Morris Playground
Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) was an important political figure on both the state and national stages. Born at his family estate of Morrisania, in what is now the Bronx, Gouverneur Morris entered New York politics in 1777, when he was elected to the New York Provincial Congress. From 1777 to 1778, he, John Jay and Robert Livingston wrote the New York State Constitution. At the national level, Morris was instrumental in securing the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious toleration, but was unsuccessful in his fight to abolish slavery and institute a strong executive.
In 1779, Morris was elected to the Continental Congress, where he was one of George Washington’s strongest supporters, and began a lifelong friendship with Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), then an aide-de-camp to Washington. After losing his seat in Congress, Morris wrote a series of brilliant essays on national finance, including one advocating the adoption of a currency based on the decimal system, which later became the basis for the current system of dollars and cents. He attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he spoke more than any other delegate and played a major role in writing the final draft of the U.S. Constitution.
Morris was invited by Hamilton to assist in the writing of the Federalist Papers. Despite his role at the Constitutional Convention, Morris refused, passing on an opportunity to collaborate on the definitive interpretive document on the Constitution. In 1789, Morris left for Europe on a business trip and stayed there for ten years. During that time, he served as the American ambassador to France (1791-1794), supported attempts to establish a constitutional monarchy, and kept a diary, which detailed his observations of the French Revolution and his disgust with its violence. In 1799, he returned to the United States to tend to his personal affairs and rebuild his estate. He was appointed to fill a vacant US Senate seat in 1800, serving until 1803. From 1810 to 1813, he chaired the committee that recommended construction of the Erie Canal. He died in Morrisania on November 6, 1816, and is buried at St. Anne’s Church in the Bronx.
Morris was one of the most vivid characters of early American history. He was known as a ladies’ man, and when he lost one of his legs in a riding accident, rumors circulated that the damage had actually occurred when he jumped from a window to escape a lover’s husband. He finally settled down in 1809 at the age of 57, marrying Anne Carey Randolph, by whom he had one son. He was also one of the wittiest men of his age, as well as a great orator and writer.
Gouverneur Morris Playground was constructed in 1959 as part of the Gouverneur Morris Houses, a public housing project, on land which had been part of the Morris family estate. Richard Morris began acquiring what became the two-thousand-acre Morrisania estate in the 17th century. Gouverneur Morris, Richard’s great-grandson, later acquired it from his half-brother Lewis (1726-1798), and devoted a great deal of time and effort to remodeling the grounds and mansion. The estate slowly shrank over the years, and in 1848, Gouverneur Morris II (1813-1888) sold what remained of the estate to Jordan L. Mott (namesake of Mott Haven), who built a small development on the site. Morrisania was annexed by the Bronx in 1874.
The Parks Department completed extensive renovations in 2000 and 2001 to Gouverneur Morris Playground with the aid of $1.672 million in city funds.