Created by an Act of the State Legislature on March 15, 1738 separating it from Hunterdon County, the county derived its name from Colonel Lewis Morris, then Governor of the Province of NJ. The county is known as the "Military Capital of the Revolution", and each of its 39 municipalities played some part in the war effort and contains something of historical importance to this day. Preserving this proud heritage falls to the Morris County Heritage Commission, Historical Society and numerous other groups.
Morristown was settled around 1715 by English Presbyterians from Southold, New York on Long Island and New Haven, Connecticut as the village of New Hanover. The town became the seat of the new Morris County shortly after its separation from Hunterdon County on March 15, 1739. The village and county were named for Lewis Morris, the first and then sitting royal governor of a united colony of New Jersey.
By the mid-century the two hundred and fifty people shared the village which had two churches, a courthouse, two taverns, two schools, several stores, and numerous mills and farms nearby.
George Washington first came to Morristown in May 1773, two years before the Revolutionary War broke out, and traveled from there to New York City together with John Parke Custis (his stepson) and Lord Stirling.
In 1777, General George Washington and the Continental Army marched from the victories at Trenton and Princeton to encamp near Morristown from January to May. Washington had his headquarters during that first encampment at Jacob Arnold's Tavern located at the Morristown Green in the center of the town. Morristown was selected for its extremely strategic location (between Philadelphia and New York and near New England).
It was also chosen for the skills and trades of the residents, local industries and natural resources to provide arms, and what was thought to be the ability of the community to provide enough food to support the army. The churches were used for inoculations for smallpox. That first Headquarters, Arnold's Tavern, was eventually moved .5 miles (800 m) south of the green onto Mount Kemble Avenue to become All Souls Hospital in the late 19th century. It suffered a fire in 1918, and the original structure was demolished, but new buildings for the hospital were built directly across the street.
From December 1779 to June 1780 the Continental Army's second encampment at Morristown was at Jockey Hollow. Then, Washington's headquarters in Morristown was located at the Ford Mansion, a large mansion near what was then the 'edge of town.' Ford's widow and children shared the house with Martha Washington and officers of the Continental Army.
The winter of 1780 was the worst winter of the Revolutionary War. The starvation was complicated by extreme inflation of money and lack of pay for the army. The entire Pennsylvania contingent successfully mutinied and later, 200 New Jersey soldiers attempted to emulate them (unsuccessfully). Durring Washington's second stay, in March 1780, he declared St. Patrick's Day a holiday to honor his many Irish troops.
Martha Washington traveled from Virginia and was loyally present with George each winter throughout the war. The Marquis de Lafayette brought good news here in 1780 of aid from France.
The Ford Mansion, Jockey Hollow, and Fort Nonsense are all preserved as part of Morristown National Historical Park managed by the National Park Service, which has the distinction among historic preservationists of being the first National Historical Park established in the United States. Du ring Washington's stay, Benedict Arnold was court-martialed at Dickerson's Tavern on Spring Street in Morristown, for charges related to profiteering from military supplies at Philadelphia. His admonishment was made public, but Washington quietly promised the hero, Arnold, to make it up to him.
Alexander Hamilton courted and wed Betsy Schuyler at a residence where Washington's personal physician was billeted. Locally known as the Schuyler-Hamilton House, the Dr. Jabez Campfield House is listed on both the New Jersey and National Registry of Historic Places.
Morristown's Burnham Park has a statue of the "Father of the American Revolution", Thomas Paine, who wrote the best selling booklet Common Sense, which urged a complete break from British rule. The bronze statue, by sculptor Georg J. Lober, shows Paine in 1776 composing Crisis 1. as he wrote “These are the times that try men's souls”
Nineteenth century to present
The idea for constructing the Morris Canal is credited to Morristown businessman George P. Macculloch, who in 1822 convened a group to discuss his concept for a canal. The group included Governor of New Jersey Isaac Halstead Williamson, which led to approval of the proposal by the New Jersey Legislature later that year. The canal was used for a century.
The Marquis de Lafayette returned to Morristown in July 1825 on his return tour of the United States, where a ball was held in his honor at the 1807 Sansay House on DeHart Street, which still stands.
Antoine le Blanc, a French immigrant laborer murdered the Sayre family and their servant (or possibly slave),
Phoebe. He was tried and convicted of murder of the Sayres (but not of Phoebe) on August 13, 1833. On September 6, 1833, Le Blanc became the last person hanged on the Morristown Green. Until late 2006, the house where the murders were committed was known as "Jimmy's Haunt," which is purported to be haunted by Phoebe's ghost because her murder never saw justice. In 2007 Jimmy's Haunt was torn down to make way for a bank.
Samuel F. B. Morse and Alfred Vail built the first telegraph at the Speedwell Ironworks in Morristown on January 6, 1838. The first telegraph message was A patient waiter is no loser. The first public demonstration of the invention occurred five days later as an early step toward the information age.