A Historical Novel
American Decision: Morris and the Declaration of Independence
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William R. Truran
On July 4, 1776, Lewis Morris makes a decision that will change his life. AMERICAN DECISION follows the story of this real-life aristocratic founding father who lost his home and family after signing the Declaration of Independence, and how he persevered to help win the Revolutionary War and become an equal citizen who helps construct the new United States.
In the springtime of 1775 the North American continent is seething with repression by Britain and many Colonists possess an eagerness for revolt. The British are aware of the increasingly violent discontent. Lewis Morris is the principled, purposeful, and proud aristocrat who holds a fashionable ball with his wife Lady Mary as a coming out party for his beloved daughter Miss Mary, with the best of New York City as attendees. Guests included General William Howe and his brother Admiral Richard Howe, the commanders of the British forces in North America. Among other officers of the empire are Captain Nesbit Balfour, a young and upcoming military man. Beautiful Miss Mary captures the eye of Balfour who falls in love with her as the Howe brothers press Morris to decide on where his loyalty lies, and create an embarrassing scene for him when he hesitates.
As the months go on, the financial implication of taxation force Morris, normally content to relax in his agrarian pastime, to make hard decisions. Despite pleas to abstain by his brother who is a general in the British army, on July 4, 1776 he commits to signing the Declaration of Independence, for which he is the deciding vote, and makes himself a marked man who might be hanged for rebelling against the crown.
Morris quickly loses his high-class home and estate Morrisania to the British, his high position of respect, and is banished to the frontier of New Jersey in a country cabin and land he called Morrisvale. His daughter Miss Mary, who had married another, dies in childbirth on the very same day, July 4, 1776.
As both are in despair, his wife Mary provides support and encouragement. Morris responds, and builds up the cabin, applies his agrarian talent to crop production, and successfully develops a sustaining plantation that also feeds those who remained in New York City.
His relatives, the accomplished and respected Lawrence family from Philadelphia, also lose their home to the British as the Howes’ army forces have gone south, and they come to live at Morrisvale.
Captain Balfour, as an effective and dedicated British officer, becomes the nemesis of Morris as he has several narrow escapes from the gallows. And Balfour, as the spurned suitor of Miss Mary, is fueled by that humiliation and redoubles his effort and his duty to the British Army to continue the hunt for the rebel Morris.
All the while the question of slavery lingers about. The family has slaves in the city and some are brought to the country where they make significant contribution to nourishing the people, spying for the Patriots, and have their own love and personal freedom concerns. Morris grapples with the issue, which had been deferred at Independence Hall—unity in the declaration over true equality for all. The Overseer is responsible for discipline and order on the Morris plantation, and incidents with the enslaved sharpen the disparity of freedom and equality for Morris. As the Revolutionary War winds down, this historical novel AMERICAN DECISION follows Morris as he recovers from his adversity and regains his stature and wealth, now as an equal citizen, and as he becomes a key figure in the success of the new United States along with his brother Gouverneur (known as the Penman of the Constitution), including his offer that the rebuilt Morrisania be the Capitol of the new country.
Characters and Conflicts
Lewis Morris and his wife Mary. They both have strong family heritage in the New York City area, and their families have been here for generations. Their families have grown wealthy and have much respect, and they, Lewis and Mary, would like to keep it. In addition, Lewis wants to retire and have peace and quiet and work his agrarian interest in a garden. Mary wants order to her life. They both want to see their teen Miss Mary become a woman and to carry on the traditions. The emotional pull is that all these desires are upset with embarrassment, loss of property and daughter, and becoming a fugitive in the land of the far frontier.
Miss Mary and Captain Balfour. British officer Captain Nisbet Balfour becomes fond of Miss Mary as she is introduced at her coming out ball shortly before the Revolutionary War. He prepares and reads a poem to her, and pursues her. Miss Mary’s father Lewis does not want her to be with a British man, although she looks for her freedom to choose, a similar to passion as that of the newly forming nation. She marries another (her cousin from Philadelphia) and dies in childbirth on July 4, 1776, the same day as dad Lewis signs the Declaration of Independence. Balfour now pursues the fugitive Lewis, who could be hanged for treason. Eventually Captain, then rising to Colonel, Balfour is a successful soldier but is on the losing side and who remains despondent for Miss Mary and befuddled at the escape of Lewis.
Cesar Pompey and Rose. Two enslaved young people who work in the household as servants. Cesar is the proud Butler of the Manor, and younger Rose looks up to him as she learns the life of a domestic servant. They become attracted to each other. Cesar only later becomes aware of his fortunate position as a slave indoors while watching Ned’s hardship. Cesar realizes that he loves Rose, as she does him. Rose is revealed as a spy for the Patriots and Cesar’s appreciation of her increases. They later become a pair, although she has a baby, whose father is the Overseer.
The Overseer. This man, is without a name, and his face is always in shadow. He never speaks a word but has a quick temper with severely violent reactions, like whipping a member of the field gang Ned. He is the personification of a slaver. He is held in fear by all below him, and his actions are not noticed by the owner Lewis, until later in the story as Lewis now has to consider the dichotomy of freedom and equality for the Patriots, but not for the enslaved. As the Overseer is dragged away his valuable gold chain falls off and Cesar, long an admirer of gold, retrieves it and agonizes on if to give it to his master Morris or buy his own freedom but at the same time leave his love Rose.
Ned. Ned is a big and physical, but meek and-not too-bright, slave in the field gang who is good-hearted and helps his brethren although the favorite “whipping boy” of the Overseer. His old cotton-haired dad watches as he is whipped. Ned considers running away to the West where he might find freedom, but near the end of the story he returns after the war because it is home and he knows he can get a next meal. Near Lewis’s last days, Ned reveals that he had saved Lewis from Balfour one time in a quick thinking moment.
Lord Stirling. The leading Patriot, also known as General William Alexander, gains fame during the losing Battle of Long Island and is captured by the British. He is returned to the Patriots during a trade early in the war, and becomes the nemesis of General William Howe because he is constantly outsmarting Howe in battle maneuvers. Stirling chases off two Tory iron masters, tar and feathering one. He also finds out about the Overseer who moonlights for the one iron master and thus is arrested and removed. Stirling is a brave, boastful, action-oriented Patriot who uses his money for fancy clothes and is always inebriated.
Admiral Howe. The British commander of the North American region “Black Dick” Richard is as feisty as Stirling and delights in Stirling’s capture and is the one who embarrasses Morris by plunking his family’s heritage loons-skin cap fast over Morris’ head. He later returns to Britain in disgust at not having been in charge of, or successful in, peace talks.
General Howe. The British commander on land in North America, William begins the war with high confidence but loses many battles and having gone to Philadelphia rather than help Burgoyne at Saratoga he has a great party but is removed from command. Lord Stirling has outwitted him.
The Overseer. Additionally described above, he is the personification of slavery. A tattooed, fight scarred, ex-seaman from the South Pacific and the Atlantic Triangle trade of slaves, he is a loner who beats anyone who disobeys his commands and discipline.