Contributed by Robert Gutowski, Director of Education and Visitor Experience, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania  

Figure 1. A sketch from the Morris Family of Philadelphia

“Where did the wealth of John and Lydia Morris come from?” is a frequently asked question about the Morris Arboretum’s founders.  The quick answer is that John T. Morris was regarded as one of the wealthiest Philadelphia Quakers.  He was primarily known as a civic-minded philanthropist and engineer-industrialist who inherited, operated and sold Port Richmond Iron Works, the creation of his father Isaac Paschall Morris (1803-1869). 

A more complete answer traces the accumulation and transfer of wealth back through seven Morris family generations of elite Quaker, Philadelphians to John’s and Lydia’s paternal ancestor, emigrant Friend, Anthony Morris.  He was a wealthy merchant who arrived at the time of William Penn and was a business and political associate with Penn and the early Philadelphia “Quaker Grandees.”   

While the story of the Morris family wealth through the generations involves seafaring merchants, land deals and investment, oceanic trade, grist mills, iron mining and foundries, engine and machinery manufacture, sugar refining and other pursuits, that first Philadelphia Anthony Morris, despite civic offices and other businesses, including lucrative foreign trade, was known as a “brewer,” a respectable and profitable occupation.  Brewing beer and malting was among his earliest capital endeavors and was one of the most successful commercial pursuits available for capitalists in the Colonial and early Republic periods, particularly those with merchant and shipping connections in one of the British Empire’s largest port cities.  

At least part of John and Lydia’s wealth can be traced to the Anthony Morris Brewhouse and the later brewery at Dock and Pear Street. These two of the Morris breweries were operated by Anthony Morris, Anthony Morris, Jr., Anthony Morris III and his surviving brother Thomas Morris.  The businesses operated under various names during periods of partnership changes.  A third brewery between Second and Bread Streets and possibly a fourth Morris brewery at Vine Street were outside the direct line of inheritance and had little impact on the wealth of John and Lydia Morris.   

 Anthony Morris emigrated here with his year-old son in 1682, about the time the first successful barley crop was growing in Pennsylvania.  Barley (Hordeum vulgare) was the agricultural product needed locally to advance the brewing and malting industries and compete successfully with imports of beer, barley.  Malting barley (steeping it in water then spreading it out to germinate before drying and roasting) begins the ale brewing process.  During malting, enzymes convert starches to fermentable sugars.  Other grains, such as wheat, corn or oats, can be malted (“indian corn” was mentioned in 1683) but barley is preferred by many.  Locally sourced hops (Humulus lupulus) became important agriculturally when Parliament banned other bittering agents in beer and imposed a hops tax on brewers in 1710.

At the time of that first harvest there were about 85 houses and 500 inhabitants in Philadelphia for whom beer was consumed as a staple of their diet.  Many Philadelphians at that time drank a common beer, commonly home brewed, based on fermented molasses with the addition of pine or sassafras.  There is much written of beer consumption as a way to avoid water-borne illness, such as cholera, that plagued early urban areas known for the lack of sanitary conditions or knowledge.    

“… beer was the dominant drink of the new American colonies.  Wherever settlements sprang up, beer was loaded ashore.  It was always considered a necessary food source, but it was more.  Beer was the one comfort.  More important, it was the one connection with a distant home, an element of constant routine as the settler adjusted to life in a strange and often frightening land.  …  As settlement, towns, and villages were established, breweries followed, and when colonial economies first blossomed, taverns appeared.  Colonial North America and beer were inseparable. “(Smith) 

In 1683 the first brewery in Philadelphia was approved by William Penn for merchant William Frampton.  There were three Philadelphia breweries by 1685.  Beer brewed by the prominent Friends in Philadelphia was highly esteemed for its purity and strength.  It earned a better reputation and value than the British beer then brewed in the Barbadoes and was considered equal in strength to London’s ales.  It sold in 1696 for fifteen shillings per barrel of half ale and half stout.

Anthony Morris Brewhouse, Front and Water Streets 1687-c.1745

Anthony Morris (1654-1721) appears to have built the fourth Philadelphia brewery (thought by some to be the largest commercial brewery of the time) in 1687 along with a malt house and residence adjacent to his dock at Front and Water Streets, the start of a family business interest that survived in some form for almost 300 years.  All of the early breweries were close to the town center near the waterfront wharves.  The Anthony Morris Brewhouse supplied ships and the colonial taverns and public houses which were social centers for public discourse as well as entertainment and hospitality of a primitive nature.  

Anthony Morris brewed a bitter, English-style ale that was reputed to be nutritious and invigorating. Peter Cooper’s painting of the Philadelphia waterfront, the first ever published, shows the “Ant. Morris Brew Ho” at Water Street by the Dock Creek drawbridge below Walnut Street. 

Figure 2. Painting by Peter Cooper, The South East Prospect of the City of Philadelphia, circa 1720 showing Ant. Morris Brew Ho. on the waterfront of a thriving commercial port. Library Company of Philadelphia. A print copy of this painting hung in the home of John and Lydia Morris.

Anthony’s first son, Anthony Morris, Jr. (1682-1763) apprenticed at the age of fourteen years for seven years with brewer Henry Bradcock, to learn the “art and mysteries of brewing.”  This was a good arrangement in that the indenture stated that the apprenticed Anthony  “shall not [be put] to drive the dray or cart; carrying of casks, grinding at the hand mill or such like slavish work not fit for an apprentice of his degree… .”  The choice of the term “slavish work” may have had a specific meaning in that “negroes” were included in the properties he later inherited.    It was not until 1776 that the Friends decided that any members who continued to hold slaves were to be disowned and not until 1781 that the Society seems to have become entirely clear of holding slaves. 

Anthony Morris, Jr., who like his father served as Philadelphia’s Mayor, inherited the “…bank and water lot in Philadelphia with Brewhouse, Malthouses, brewing utensils, negroes, horses, and cattle (except one cow which he intends for his wife)….” He gave his son Anthony Morris III a half interest in that brewery in 1741 just as he had received it from his father, although negroes are not included as they were in 1721.  This may suggest that Anthony, Jr. supported the early movement for abolition.  The deed reads, in part:

“…In consideration of the natural affection which they [Anthony III’s parents] have and bear for their said son, Anthony Morris, and for divers other good causes [give over to him] a half share of all the Messuage or Tenement and Brewhouse, and Bank lot and Wharf thereunto belonging, situate and Philadelphia… from Front Street to the Street then called King Street… Together also with ye one full moiety or half part of all and singular ye messuages, tenements, brewhouse, Malthouse, granaries, stables, outhouses, ways, water courses, lights, easements ….and also all and singular ye Malt mills, Cauldrons, Copper, pumps and other implements and utensils of Brewing in the use or service of said Brewhouse or Malthouse.”

The brewhouse then operated under the name of Anthony Morris & Co.

It should be noted that Anthony Morris, Jr. was not just a brewer.  By the time of his election as Mayor in 1738, he had “acquired a considerable amount of property, and was one of the leading men of the community” with substantial interests in flour mills, one of the largest financiers of iron furnaces and forges, and an owner of bake houses and wharves, among other holdings.  His land holdings at his death, valued at over 11,000 Pounds, ranked him among the largest landowners.

Figure 3. The Morris Mansion and gardens fronted the brewhouse.

The Anthony Morris Brewhouse also served, by Anthony’s invitation, as a Baptist meeting house and refuge when the Baptists and Presbyterians were in dispute.  

Morris Brewery, Second and Arch Streets, 1741 – c. 1836

Anthony Morris, Jr. in, 1741, started a new brewery and malt house between Second and Bread streets above Arch Street, including underground vaults for beer storage.  He lived in the mansion there on 2nd Street with his son, Anthony (III) and his son Anthony’s son, Anthony (IV), until his death in 1763.   The residence, known as the Morris Mansion House, was said to be in a fair state of preservation as late as 1898 when there was still affixed to the house Benjamin Franklin’s first lightening rod.

His grandson Anthony Morris IV (1738-1777) purchased the brewery and mansion from the rest of the heirs as stipulated in the Will of Anthony, Jr., but died at the Battle of Princeton.  Thomas Morris (1774-1841), half-brother of deceased Major Anthony Morris, and also born at 2nd and Arch, in time came to operate this brewery. 

About 1810 Thomas Morris took on Francis Perot as an apprentice. This would lead to a merger of families and business when Francis married Thomas’s daughter Elizabeth Marshall Morris.  This arrangement would carry the family malting into the 1960s as the “Oldest Business House in America” under the name Francis Perot’s Sons Malting Company.  Francis was joined in his brewery on Vine Street by his brother William Perot.  Together they installed some of the earliest stationary steam engines in America, automating the brewery to the amazement of observers in this country and abroad.   While it is not yet known where the Perot’s sourced their machinery, steam engines and pumps were products that the Morris manufacturers were famous for.  There was a portrait of Thomas Morris painted by Thomas Sully in 1825, in the possession of his great-grandson T. Morris Perot.

The sons of Thomas Morris operated the brewery at Bread Street until selling it about 1836 to associates James Abbot and Robert Newlin, who continued to brew there.  James Abbot and Robert Newlin were earlier involved in the Anthony Morris Brewhouse.

Dock and Pear Streets Brewery, 1745 – 1810

Anthony Morris III (1705 or 6 -1780), after inheriting and operating the family brewing business for some years, closed the original Anthony Morris Brew House on the waterfront and purchased a lot at Dock and Pear Streets, building a brewery there in 1745, using water from several springs under the lot.  This access to quality water was a guarded secret.  The brewery long prospered under various family managers and owners.  

Figure 4. Morris Brewery at Dock and Pear Streets, drawing from a photograph in Moon's "Morris Family of Philadelphia"

Anthony III was a signer of the Non-importation Agreement of 1765 whereby the merchants and traders of the city resolved to “not import any goods from Great Britain until the Stamp Act was repealed.”  The Brewers of Philadelphia sustained the resolution and turned back a cargo of Malt in 1769 that had to return to Yarmouth, England.

Anthony III’s brewer-grandson, Luke Wistar Morris (1768-1830), marched with other barley shock wielding Philadelphia brewers in the 1787 parade celebrating the Declaration of Independence and Pennsylvania’s ratification of the Constitution.  Luke’s banner read “Home brewed is best.”  It is suggested that the nearby City Tavern probably served Morris-brewed beer to the delegates as they dined, drank and debated the Constitution.  George Washington was reported to favor a good porter.

 

In January, 1790 the Pennsylvania Gazette announced:  “The New Brewery, at the corner of Dock and Pear Streets, is now completed. And the different qualities of Malt liquor in readiness, to deliver to those who please to encourage it.  Luke W. Morris & Co., Philadelphia, Jan. 20, 1790.” 

Luke Wistar Morris expanded the brewery at Dock and Pear Street, then known as the Luke W. Morris & Co., and operated it with his brother – grandfather of John and Lydia Morris - Isaac Wistar Morris (1770-1831) until retiring in 1810 and ending five generations of Morris brewers.  They shipped hogsheads of mixed old and new porter to other port cities, including Baltimore.  They also introduced a method of step infusion mashing that improved the extraction of sugar from malt. In 1805 Isaac Wistar Morris introduced a mashing machine in his brewery that was effective but broke down often and was too costly to operate. The brewery changed ownerships, beginning with William Abbott and Caleb Steward in 1810, and closed in 1842.  


It was observed in 1898, that the Dock and Pear Street Brewery, then out of the Morris Family hands, had been repurposed as a mahogany saw-mill.  “It now seems likely to give way to the march of improvements.  The old brewery building is one of the old land-marks of Philadelphia, ranking in antiquity with the State House, and a few other structures still standing.”  Society Hill’s Ritz Movie theatre now stands in place of the brewery.

 

References

Baltzwell, E. Digby. Philadelphia Gentleman, The making of a National Upper Class. The Free Press, 1958.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Collection 2000B: Morris Family Papers.

Leach, Frank W. Morris Family, The Historical Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1932.

Moon, Robert C. The Morris Family of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, 1898.

Smith, Gregg.  Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587-1840. Boulder, CO, Siris Press, 1998.

Tolles, Frederick B. Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants in Colonial Philadelphia, 1682-1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1948.

Wagner, Richard.  Philadelphia Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty.  Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2012. 

Wagner, Richard. “The Beers and Breweries of Colonial Philadelphia,” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, December 2005/January 2006.