Michael Wolf, a member of the stellar Morris-Jumel Mansion docent crew, alerted me recently to a potentially significant episode in the pre-Revolutionary history of the house. I say "potentially significant," because there may be a fly in the ointment: it is not yet clear whether the episode took place in the real world or only in someone's imagination. I hope to be able to answer that question eventually, but for the moment let me give you what information I have found.

The story begins with a calendar page on display this summer at Fraunces Tavern Museum in downtown Manhattan. On the page is a reproduction of a painting by John Ward Dunsmore (1856–1945). Its subject is said to be a reception at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, held on Thursday afternoon, September 1, 1768. The guest of honor was New Jersey governor William Franklin, who was on his way to treaty negotiations with the Six Nations at Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley. (Click "Read More"—just far enough to the right below this paragraph to be difficult to spot—to continue.)
Painting by John Ward Dunsmore of a reception for Gov. William Franklin in the octagon room of the Morris-Jumel Mansion.
John Ward Dunsmore, Reception to Governor Franklin, September 1, 1768. Painted before 1927. From: Early days of the island of Manhattan and its environs 1626–1776 (Title Guarantee and Trust Company and Bond and Mortgage Guarantee Company, 1927), p. 56.
The calendar that contained the illustration was produced in the early twentieth century by the Title Guarantee and Trust Company, a business that provided title insurance for real estate purchasers. Each of the corporation's yearly calendars featured a notable property—such as the Morris-Jumel Mansion—that the company had insured. (Purchasers of the Jumel buildings and landholdings, fought over by many claimants after Eliza Jumel's death, would certainly have slept better with title insurance!)
Those who have visited the Morris-Jumel Mansion will recognize that the artist chose the octagon room at the house as the setting for the reception for Franklin. The governor is shown in the right foreground, flanked on one side by homeowners Col. Roger Morris and Mary Philipse Morris (clearly recognizable from eighteenth-century paintings of them), and on the other by Lady Moore, wife of New York governor Sir Henry Moore, who stands just behind her.
Roger and Mary Morris with Gov. Franklin (detail of a painting by John Ward Dunsmore).
Detail of Mary and Roger Morris with the governor.
In the left foreground, Anne Watts is being presented to the governor. Her fiancé, standing behind her, is naval captain Archibald Kennedy, who was one of the groomsmen at the marriage of Roger and Mary Morris. On the far left of the painting, Mary Morris's sister Susannah, wife of Beverly Robinson, stands in front of the window next to a Chippendale chair. The sitters are identified in a booklet issued by the Title Guarantee and Trust Company in 1927, which reproduced fifteen of the paintings made for the calendars.

Did this gathering take place in actuality? The passage of the governor and his retinue through New York is confirmed by newspapers of the era. The party arrived in New York on Monday, August 29, 1768, and left New York for Albany on Saturday, September 3. But as yet I have found no mention of a stop at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, whether in the newspapers or the governor's correspondence. Many legends surround the history of the mansion, and the reception for Franklin may be among them. However, the choice of a scene with numerous recognizable personalities suggests that the picture might have been based on a verifiable event. Stay tuned—and in the meantime have a look at the calendar page in full color at Fraunces Tavern Museum. Mike Wolf gives a public tour at Fraunces every Sunday at 2 PM, so that would be a perfect time to go.
Detail of Susannah Morris Robinson, from a painting by John Ward Dunsmore.
Detail of Susannah Morris Robinson.


Comments are closed.