Charles Morris papers (1801-1861)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Shannon Wait, June 2011
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Charles Morris papers
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1801-1861
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
The Charles Morris papers contain letters and documents relating to the naval career of Commodore Charles Morris, during the War of 1812 and his subsequent commands at the Portsmouth and Charlestown Navy Yards, and as a member of the Board of Navy Commissioners.
Language: The material is in English and French
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1965-2000. M-1284, M-1336, M-1429, M-1712, M-1715, M-1746, M-1766, M-1783, M-1934, M-4111.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Alternate Format

A portion of the Charles Morris papers has been microfilmed.

Preferred Citation

Charles Morris Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Charles Morris papers are arranged into two series:
  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Memoir, Documents, and Portrait


Charles Morris was born on July 26, 1784, in Woodstock, Connecticut, the son of Charles Morris and Miriam Nichols. His father’s position as a purser for the Navy in the Quasi-War with France allowed Charles to get an appointment as a midshipman in 1799, when he was 15. Morris was onboard the Constitution as it sailed to Tripoli in 1803 and Stephen Decatur selected him to participate in the raid to destroy the captured Philadelphia , whose deck Morris was the first to reach.

By the outbreak of the War of 1812, Morris was first lieutenant under Captain Isaac Hull on the Constitution . Morris famously aided in evading a British squadron by suggesting kedging and towing the Constitution ; later he was badly wounded during the ship's battle with the HMS Guerriere , and received a promotion to captain for his efforts. After his recovery, he commanded the Adams in raiding expeditions against British merchant ships.

After serving on the Congress from 1815 to 1817, Morris commanded the Portsmouth Navy Yard until his appointment to the Navy Board of Commissioners in 1823. He also succeeded Oliver Hazard Perry on an 1819 mission to promote friendly relations with Venezuela after Perry died of yellow fever. Morris then served as navy commissioner from 1823-1827 (except for a mission transporting Lafayette back to France in 1825-1826) and from 1832-1841, and was instrumental in instituting a number of naval reforms. For the last five years of his life, he was chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography. He died on January 27, 1856.

Charles Morris married Harriet Bowen in February 1815, and the couple had four sons and six daughters. One son, Charles W. Morris also served in the United States Navy. He was flag lieutenant under Commodore David Connor and perished in the Mexican-American War from wounds received in an attack on Tabasco, October 1846.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles Morris papers contain 66 letters, 2 documents, and an engraved portrait, spanning 1801-1861. The collection relates primarily to Commodore Charles Morris' naval activities and career. A few materials represent Morris' involvement in the War of 1812, but the papers primarily document his command at Portsmouth and Boston Navy Yards and his tenure as a navy commissioner.

The Correspondence series spans 1801 to 1851. Early letters to Morris contain routine orders and requests, frequently from various secretaries of the Navy, including several items written by Secretary Paul Hamilton. Included is an order assigning Morris to the USS Constitution , dated June 22, 1812, as well as another order instructing him not to intercept any unarmed British ships bound for Sable Island (November 11, 1812). Other War of 1812 items pertain to furloughs, promotions, and strategy. Also included are several letters by Morris to colleagues such as Henry Dearborn and John Orde Creighton, concerning mutual acquaintances, appointments, and naval activities.

A particularly important item in the collection is a 20-page letter of May 20, 1819, written by John Quincy Adams to Smith Thompson, secretary of the navy. In the letter, Adams provided instructions and objectives for a diplomatic mission to Venezuela and Argentina, led by Oliver Hazard Perry. He also discussed such topics as restitution for several American ships seized during the Venezuelan Revolution, Venezuelan piracy off the coast of Florida, and the involvement of Spain and other European powers in South American politics. The letter likely came into the possession of Morris after the death of Perry from yellow fever in August 1819; Morris took over for Perry as leader of the naval expedition soon after. Also pertaining to the Venezuelan expedition is a letter from Thompson to Perry, further explaining the goals of the mission, and providing instructions to Perry in regards to pirate and slave ships (June 1, 1819).

Another segment of the correspondence, 1828-1829, concerns the presentation of an urn to General Lafayette by the midshipman of the Brandywine . Included is a manuscript copy of a letter from Lafayette, thanking the men of the Brandywine and praising their patriotism (December 25, 1828). Later correspondence relates to naval business, such as appointments, courts martial, and invitations to events. In an additional letter dated July 17, 1834, John Quincy Adams expressed hope that Morris would find a position in the navy for a relative, Joseph Adams. The latest correspondence in the series pertains to the activities of Morris' children, particularly George A. Morris, and contains comments on foreign relations and routine naval matters.

The Memoir, Documents and Portrait series contains four items. A seven-page memoir written by Charles or Harriet Morris in 1847 provides an account of the life and naval service of their son, Charles W. Morris. In the first document, dated August 29, 1815, Attorney General Richard Rush recorded the trials of alleged pirates. The second document is undated and relates to a silver medal awarded to Charles Morris. Finally, the series contains an 1861 engraved portrait of John Quincy Adams. Published by Johnson & Fry of New York, the image was engraved from a painting by Alonzo Chappel.

Subject Terms

  • Boston Navy Yard (Boston, Mass.)
  • Creighton, John Orde, ca. 1785-1838.
  • Morris, Charles, 1784-1856.
  • Perry, Oliver Hazard, 1785-1819.
  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (U.S.)
  • United States--Foreign relations--Venezuela.
  • United States--History--War of 1812--Naval operations.
  • United States. Navy--Officers.
  • Venezuela--Foreign relations--United States.
Subjects - Visual Materials:
  • Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848.
  • Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848.
  • Allen, Paul, 1775-1826.
  • Bancroft, George, 1800-1891.
  • Barnet, I. Cox (Isaac Cox), d. 1833.
  • Charlton, Thomas U. P. (Thomas Usher Pulaski), 1779-1835.
  • Chauncey, Isaac, 1772-1840.
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de, 1757-1834.
  • Rush, Richard, 1780-1859.
  • Thompson, Smith, 1768-1843.
Genre Terms:
  • Engravings (prints)
  • Legal documents.
  • Letters (correspondence)

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Correspondence [series]
Box   1 Folder   1
 June 4, 1801-May 24, 1810
Box   1 Folder   2
 May 24, 1810-June 22, 1812
Box   1 Folder   3
 October 13, 1812-January 7, 1813
Box   1 Folder   4
 February 5, 1813-March 1, 1813
Box   1 Folder   5
 March 6, 1813-May 13, 1813
Box   1 Folder   6
 [May 1813]-January 30, 1814
Box   1 Folder   7
 April 29, 1814-January 15, 1815
Box   1 Folder   8
 March 15, 1815-January 7, 1819
Box   1 Folder   9
 May 20, 1819
Box   1 Folder   10
 June 1, 1819
Box   1 Folder   11
 April 29, 1820-August 29, 1820
Box   1 Folder   12
 April 9, 1821-May 27, 1824
Box   1 Folder   13
 March 9, 1825-September 1, 1825
Box   1 Folder   14
 September 1, 1825-October 29, 1825
Box   1 Folder   15
 January 12, 1826-June 1, 1827
Box   1 Folder   16
 May 14, 1828-January 14, 1829
Box   1 Folder   17
 February 19, 1829-February 23, 1832
Box   1 Folder   18
 May 28, 1834-March 25, 1839
Box   1 Folder   19
 May 2, 1839-January 29, 1841
Box   1 Folder   20
 January 5, 1844-August 14, 1846
Box   1 Folder   21
 November 25, 1846-April 21, 1849
Box   1 Folder   22
 May 30, 1849-March 21, 1850
Box   1 Folder   23
 October 7, 1850-June 26, 1860
Memoir, Documents and Portrait [series]
Box   1 Folder   24
Richard Rush document,  1815
Box   1 Folder   24
Memoir of Charles W. Morris (written by one of his parents), [ 1847]
Box   1 Folder   24
Manuscript notes,  [undated]
Box   1 Folder   25
John Quincy Adams portrait,  1861

Additional Descriptive Data

Related Materials

The David Baldwin papers and Thomas J. Chew family papers contain items relating to Charles Morris.

The "Prescription book of the U.S. Frigate Constitution ," within the Amos A. Evans collection, includes a description of Evans' treatment of Charles Morris' severe stomach wound.


Bailey, Isaac and Washington Irving. American naval biography. Providence, R.I.: Published by Isaac Bailey, near the Turk's Head, H. Mann & Co., printers, 1815.