The Morton family of Southern Maryland is fairly well attested from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century, when many of the male members of the family sought better land in Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama. The surname Morton barely survives in Southern Maryland after the 19th century, but there are still numerous descendants in the area from female branches.
The Mortons lived in the central part of Southern Maryland along the Patuxent River, mostly within a five-mile radius from the town of Benedict. Because four counties meet there (Prince George’s on the north, Calvert on the east, St. Mary’s on the South, and Charles County on the west), their records are found in various churches and courthouses.
Almost all those with the surname Morton in Southern Maryland seem to be descendants of Thomas Morton and so his family is the subject of these pages. Because their given names (William, George, Thomas, James) were fairly common and often repeated through the various branches and generation, it is necessary to exercise care in making connections or identification. For other Mortons in Southern Maryland and possible ancestry, see the page on early or unplaced Mortons.
Thomas Morton (c. 1715-1782) of Wood’s Joy
From the ages of the children of Thomas Morton (d. 1782), it is reasonable to assume he was born around 1715. The first mention of him is in 1742 when an orphan William Levit (aged 8) of P.G. Co. was bound to Thomas Morton, who promises to give him two years of schooling and “a Decent Suit of Apparel” when the boy reaches 20. Later that same year, he witnessed a deed of gift from the widow Martha Walsh to her grandson William Walsh Gray. He witnessed the last will and testament of Peter Brightwell in Prince George’s County on November 17, 1747.
An active citizen, he is among the parishioners of St. Paul’s Parish in Prince George’s who made a donation to aid the sufferers of the Boston fire of 1761. After the First Continental Congress met in Fall 1774 to decide on a plan of resistance, a group of Prince George’s residents including Thomas Morton, Sr. met in Upper Marlboro in November to organize and choose delegates; his son William attended the subsequent meeting in Jan. 1775. During the war itself, on February 21, 1778, he subscribed to the Oath of Allegiance and Fidelity to the State of Maryland in Prince George’s County.
Land and business
He may have inherited land or married into it, for he is already styled “Planter of Prince George’s County” on April 24, 1750 when he purchased “Wood’s Joy” and “Cross Gutt”, two contiguous tracts beginning at a place in the Patuxent River known as Truman’s Point (today the end of Eagle Harbor Road). He bought them from a London mariner, Capt. Alexander Jolly, for £120/8/6. In 1752, he petitioned the P.G. Co Court to perpetuate the boundaries of these two properties and later documents show that he was living on these properties at the end of his life.
To certify the quality of tobacco, the Maryland Tobacco Inspection Act of 1747 established a number of inspection warehouses throughout the colony. One of these was at Truman’s Point, but it was abolished the following year when another site was established at Hannah Brown’s landing (later called Magruder’s Landing), several miles up the Patuxent from where Morton lived. On Jan. 25, 1751/2, the vestry of St. Paul’s Parish nominated him, along with Jonathan Wight and James Thomas of Swanson Creek, to be the inspectors at Hannah Brown’s landing.
Obviously a respected planter, Thomas is often found among the appraisers of inventories for estates in Prince George’s County: Mr. John Hawkins, Jr. (1758), Mrs. Barbara Wilkinson (1760), Mrs. Ann Freeman (1760), Capt. Josias Wilson (1761), John Cox (1772), Mary Reiley (1763), Mr. John Johnson (1766). But the appraiser of Robert Dove Cook (1767) was his son “Thomas Morton, Jr.”
Either directly or indirectly, he was involved with a number of land transactions involving his sons (a topic to which we will return). In 1761, Thomas Morton made an indenture giving his son John the two parcels “Wood’s Joy” and “Cross Gutt”, but only after Thomas’ decease — until then, Thomas would be peaceably possessed of them. Similarly in March 1772, Joseph and George Morton bought the tract called “Canterbury” in Charles County with the same provision that they would only take legal possession after their father’s death. In 1769, Joshua Beall and wife Eleanor and son George Beall sold parts of “Truman’s Hills” and “Pheasant’s Hills” to Thomas Morton In 1772, in the last manorial rent roll extant before the Revolution, Thomas remitted quit-rents on the following plantations: Wood’s Joy, Cross Gutts, Truman’s Hills (133 acres), Pheasants Hills (25 acres).
In 1778, a year before Thomas wrote his will, these transactions became more frequent. On Jan. 14, 1778, his son Samuel Morton purchased from John Perrie a portion of “Timber Neck” as well as a portion of “Wood’s Joy” near the Patuxent, the boundary beginning where “Thomas Morton now dwellth”.
Sometime around 1745, Thomas Morton married and had a number of children by his first wife, whose name is unknown. Subsequently, he married Ursulee Brightwell (niece of Peter Brightwell above) sometime before March 1766 when John Brightwell of Poplar Hill drew up his will and bequeathed some furniture to his daughter Ursulee Morton. Thomas lived about 15 years more and had several children by Ursulee.
He wrote his will on December 27, 1779, but apparently lived a few years more because it was not probated until June 22, 1782. The witnesses were James Maddock, Sr., Leonard Letchworth (Ursulee’s nephew), and Nathan Maddock. The administration bond of the executors, Urslee Morton and Joseph Morton, was taken out in the large amount of $2000 with sureties Thomas Baden and John Baden of Thomas (Ursulee’s brother-in-law and nephew). The first inventory of Sept. 14, 1782, including much silver plate and 12 slaves was appraised at £595/16/3 (with G. Somervell as the greatest creditor and Samuel Morton as kinsman). An additional inventory added about another £30, including one slave and silver buckles. In both cases, the appraisers were James Wilson and John Collins, probably neighbors.
In his will, Thomas named seven sons and two daughters, leaving each of them a particular slave by name and several of them furniture or other personalty. Presumably the sons and daughters are probably in their respective birth orders: John, Thomas, William, Joseph, Samuel (perhaps younger), George, Richard, James, Mary, Ann.
Rather surprisingly, he makes almost no mention of land, except that to his son William he leaves the plantation whereon he dwelleth and all land “I bought of Mr. Joshua Beall” with also “half of the stock and household furniture”, and the other half went to his son George. The residuary estate is divided among only five of the children (Samuel, Richard, James, Mary and Ann) after his wife’s thirds are deducted.
His wife was also surprised to find out that there was no property left for her and she started legal proceedings with a notice printed in several issues of the Maryland Gazette:
“September 9, 1783 —Whereas Mr. Thomas Morton, my late husband, during our marriage, purchased several tracts of land within this state, and two or three in the state of Virginia, all which lands he privately deeded to the sons of his first marriage, without the knowledge or consent of the subscriber, and that by his last will and testament he hath left me and four children destitute of house and home: This is therefore to give notice, that I intend petitioning the next general assembly for relief in the premises. URSLEY MORTON.”
As we saw, Thomas Morton had indeed made provisions for his land before his decease — the likely reason was that there was some tension between his widow (who automatically inherited one third of the estate) and the children of his first wife (including Joseph, the co-executor). So, there is every reason to trust Ursley’s complaint which was presented to the Senate of the General Assembly on December 19th of that year (on the 20th it was considering a farewell letter of thanks to his Excellency General Washington and other important business). The Senate quickly endorsed the “petition from Ursley Morton praying to be vested with an estate for life in certain lands, purchased by her husband Thomas Morton during their marriage, and deeded to sons by a former marriage” and referred it to the consideration of the House of Delegates.
Accordingly, we may assume that the older offspring (John, Thomas, William, Joseph, George, Samuel) were born to Thomas’ first wife and the four younger children (Richard, James, Mary, Ann) were born to Ursley Brightwell. This is confirmed by the fact that Richard named a son John Brightwell Morton (after his mother’s father). Although Samuel is named among the older children in his father’s will and was certainly a party to the land dealings circumventing Urslee, curiously he is one of the five heirs to the residual estate — probably he was still under 21, or was at least still living at home.
Probably prompted by the issues about her husband’s property, sometime around 1790, Ursley Morton and the youngest four Morton children moved across the Potomac River to Stafford County, Virginia. Perhaps they moved to take possession of some of the “two or three tracts” of land in Virginia mentioned in Ursley’s petition. A terminal date for this move is found in the 1796 sale of Lot #23 in Lower Marlborough (along the Patuxent River in Calvert County, MD) to John Clark by Richard Morton of Virginia and Samuel Morton of St. Mary’s Co., Md. The Morton brothers were representing the heirs of Thomas Morton’s residual estate: Richard, Samuel, Mary, Ann, and Hester (?) Morton for her dower (probably a mistranscription for Urslee). Richard was vested with the power of attorney given him by the three women in Stafford Co., Va. on Oct. 7, 1795. The Mortons quickly became substantial property owners in Virginia and intermarried with prominent families. Urslee Morton lived there until her death in the 1820s.
Children of Thomas Morton and wife unknown:
(based on the order of Thomas’ will and his son William’s)
1) John Morton (c. 1740 – 1794) m. Mary Wheatley
He lived in the Charles County most of his life and was a Justice of the Peace there, but his will was probated in Prince George’s County. His children moved to Georgetown: Susanna (m. Sothoron), William, Mary Pittney, John, Ann.
2) Thomas Morton Jr. (1740s – 1790s?) marr. Susannah Weems
He moved to Anne Arundel County in the 1770s and was associated with the Weems family there until he acquired land in Montgomery County in the 1780s. Nothing is known of his offspring.
3) William Morton (d. 1815), d.s.p.
He was a Second Lieutenant in the Militia in 1777 and that same year he was appointed “Overseer of the Highways” for the middle part of Mattapany Hundred in Prince George’s County. In 1778 he took the Oath of Allegiance; in 1781 he provided wheat for the military. In addition to the plantation he lived on, he inherited part of Truman’s Hills and Pheasants Hills, which his father had bought from the Bealls. He is found in the 1790, 1800, and 1810 censuses with increasing numbers of slaves (8, 20, 24). He was living by himself except for in the 1800 census which also lists him with two boys 10-15 (perhaps his late brother John’s two sons).
His will was probated in Prince George’s Co. (1814/15), with his brother Samuel executor. He left bequests to his neighbor Sarah Tayman’s children (Susannah, Ann, and John), Oswald Swann, “William Morton son of John Morton” (presumably godson and namesake), “the rest to be equally divided amongst my brothers the heirs of John Morton, Joseph, George and Samuel Morton”.
4) Joseph Morton (1750 – 1826) m. Catherine Billingsley
From an early age, he settled in Charles County and was active in land dealings with his brother William. Children: John, Ann (m. Wood), Thomas, Alexander, James, Mary (m. Smoot), William, Richard, Susan (m. Posey).
5) George Morton (c. 1750/53 – 1826) m. (1) — —, (2) Dicandia Billingsley
He settled in Charles County and had many land deals with his brother Joseph. He inherited or acquired Wood’s Joy, Cross Gut, Timberneck. At the end of his life he built the house on Morton’s Mill Farm (Oakland) that still stands today. Children: Henry, Elizabeth (m. McPherson), George, Joseph, Julia Ann (m. Turner), Allen.
6) Samuel Morton (c. 1757 – 1834) m. Rebecca Broome
He served in the Revolutionary Army and then settled in St. Mary’s Co. Children: John H.B., Susan R.G (m. Beall), Samuel, Arabella (m. Field), George H., Henry E.
Children of Thomas Morton and Ursley Brightwell
These moved to Stafford County, Virginia — see the Stafford County Mortons
7) Richard Morton (c.1760/5 – 1812) marr. Margaret Waller
children: William, Thomas, James, Elizabeth, Allen Waller, Anne (m. Jamison), Margaret (m. Head), Mariah Waller, John Brightwell, George.
8) James Morton (died before 1795), d.s.p
9) Mary Morton, married a Maddox, d.s.p.
10) Ann “Nancy” Morton (mid-1770s – after 1810) marr. George Grayson Hedgman
Children: Peter Daniel Grayson Hedgman, John Travers Hedgman