Description

    Less than three months before the Declaration of Independence, Pennsylvania Signer John Morton and Governor John Penn make it easier for four imprisoned colonists to pay their debts

    John Morton and John Penn Document Signed "John Morton Speaker" and "John Penn" as Governor and Commander in Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania, 17 pages, 8" x 12.75", separate sheets. [Philadelphia, Pa.], April 6, 1776. From the "Votes of Assembly 1776" in the Pennsylvania Archives: "Message by Mr. Secretary" notifying the assembly that "The Governor is at the Council-Chamber, and requires the Attendance of the Speaker and the House to enact into Laws the several Bills that have received his Assent." Continuing, "Mr. Speaker then with the whole House waited on the Governor, and being returned from the Council-Chamber, the Speaker resumed the Chair, and reported they had waited on his Honour, and presented several Bills respectively entituled..." One of the Bills listed was "An Act for the Relief of William Judd, John Onions, Michael Jordan and William Sanders, Prisoners for Debt in the Gaol of Philadelphia County, with respect to the Imprisonment of their Persons..." The Governor was John Penn; the Speaker was John Morton. Written on top of the first page is "Be it carried to the Governor." Penn has boldly signed in the otherwise blank left margin of the first page. On the last page, Morton has "Signed by Order of the House." Noted by the Secretary and signed by him on the last page: "Passed by The Governor the sixth/day of April in the sixteenth Year of His/Majesty's Reign Annoque Domini 1776./By his Honour's Command/Joseph Shippen Jr/Secretary." This document states that the four named men petitioned the Assembly, stating "that altho' they are willing to assign over all their respective effects to the use of their respective Creditors for the Payment of their respective Debts, and to discharge such as shall thereafter remain unpaid, as soon as, by their Industry, they can find Means of satisfying such Creditors, yet, by their Imprisonment, they are disabled from putting in Execution their just Intentions, and are reduced to great Distress." The Governor orders the Justices of the County Court of Common Pleas to appoint a day at which Judd, Onions, Jordan, and Sanders and their creditors would meet at which time the four men would present an accounting of their assets, "except the wearing Apparel and Bedding for himself and Family not exceeding Ten pounds in Value in the whole." After their assets have been assigned to the creditors, each will "be discharged from his Imprisonment aforesaid." The discharge would not release any other creditors. The four men would still be "liable to be sued, prosecuted or imprisoned for any Debt due to the Crown." The document is on laid, watermarked paper. The first page is lightly soiled with minor soiling throughout. Some nicks at the blank edges of a few pages, particularly the first page. The signature page has been expertly repaired. Overall, in near fine condition.
    As twelve other colonies had voted for independence, and the Pennsylvania congressional delegation was evenly split, Morton, who had arrived late, cast the deciding vote in favor of independence. Nine months later, a year after signing this document, he succumbed to an inflammatory fever. John Morton was the first Signer to die, a month before Button Gwinnett was killed in a duel. Documents bearing a 1776 signature of any Signer of the Declaration of Independence are exceptionally desirable; those signed by Morton in the year of independence are extremely rare. The last 1776 Morton signature to appear at public auction was at Sotheby's 28 years ago.


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    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    3rd-4th Tuesday-Wednesday
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