Morfit, Henry Mason
Collection of Incoming Correspondence to attorney Henry Mason Morfit, Esq., Washington, D.C. claims lawyer and political figure in the Andrew Jackson presidential administrations, 1822-1854

194 letters, 242 manuscript pp., mostly stamp-less letter-sheets, dated 3 June 1822 to 27 September 1854; of the 194 letters, 168 of the letters were written by various individuals to Henry Mason Morfit, Esq.; the remaining 26 are miscellaneous letters written to and from various individuals, perhaps regarding cases, or projects Morfit was involved with, or working on.

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The letters appear to have been sewn into a ledger at one time and removed, and contain small holes in the inner margins. Also included are 9 pieces of ephemera which includes 1 cdv photograph (identity unclear); several manuscript receipts, manuscript copy of a deed, a couple of manuscript pages of accounts, etc.


The letters are addressed to Morfit at his Washington, DC office and are written by individuals (usually merchants) from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City primarily, with a couple of letters addressed from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Washington, DC; Hagerstown, Maryland (family); Rochester, New York; and Alexandria, Virginia.


The various miscellaneous letters in the collection are addressed to individuals mostly in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania; but there are also several addressed to Barry County, Michigan; Bush, New York; Washington, DC; and elsewhere,  they deal mostly with land or financial claims.


Morfit was a claims lawyer in Washington, DC, and the correspondence is mainly business related. Many of the letters deal with the attempts of Morfit’s clients to collect money due to them, either by Morfit persuading or applying pressure on the creditors, or suing them in court if necessary. There are various legal cases mentioned, their verdicts and recovery of the claims, etc. The correspondence offers an interesting look at the business of a claims lawyer in the nation’s capital and the business environment during the first half of the Nineteenth Century.


       The Library of Congress has a large collection of Morfit’s papers.


        Henry Mason Morfit, Esq. (1793-1865)


Henry Mason Morfit was the younger son of Henry Pitner and Hannah (Porter) Morfit. His father, Henry Pitner Morfit, was from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and at the age of nineteen enlisted in the Continental army with the rank of lieutenant. He belonged to the Flying Camp of Pennsylvania, was taken prisoner at the battle of Long Island on 27 August 1778; and was exchanged 29 January 1781, by Abraham Skinner, commissary-general of prisoners, and on 13 April 1781, received considerable money from Thomas Bradford. Lieutenant Morfit served at White Plains, Valley Forge, Germantown, Princeton, Saratoga, Brandywine, and in Rhode Island during the presence there of the French fleet. While visiting his brother officers in Virginia, at the close of the war, he was married on 13 December 1783, at Princess Anne, to Hannah Porter, born in 1761, in Virginia, member of a prominent family of that State, and a granddaughter of George Newton, and a ward of General John Hancock. Lieutenant Morfit and his wife were the parents of two sons: John, who died young; and Henry Mason. Lieutenant Morfit was killed about 1794, while firing a salute at Norfolk, Virginia, in honor of a French victory. His widow died 4 January 1843, in Washington, D. C, and was buried in her son's lot in the Congressional cemetery.


Henry Mason Morfit was born 1 January 1793, in Norfolk, Virginia and studied law in that state, but being too young to be admitted to the bar went aboard a ship commanded by Captain John Adams, as a representative of the boat's owner in London. The ship sailed from Norfolk 5 November 1810, and was boarded by French privateers who gained possession of the vessel. Mr. Morfit was made a prisoner at Dunkirk, but escaped to London, and in 1814 was allowed by the mayor of one of the cities of the county of Kent to return to the United States. He was admitted to the bar in Virginia 22 March 1820, and to the practice of the courts in the District of Columbia in 1821. He received the appointment of consular commercial agent at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and on 9 June 1827, was admitted to practice in the higher courts of the District of Columbia.


During the summer of 1836 President Andrew Jackson sent Henry M. Morfit, a State Department clerk at the time, as a special agent to Texas to collect information on the republic's population, strength, and ability to maintain independence. In August, Morfit filed his report. He estimated the population at 30,000 Anglo-Americans, 3,478 Tejanos, 14,200 Indians, of which 8,000 belonged to civilized tribes that had migrated from the United States, and a slave population of 5,000, plus a few free blacks. The population was small, Texas independence was far from secure, the government had a heavy debt, and there was a vast tract of contested vacant land between the settlements and the Rio Grande. Morfit advised the United States to delay recognition. In his annual message to Congress on December 21, 1836, Jackson cited Morfit's report and stated that the United States traditionally had accorded recognition only when a new community could maintain its independence. Texas was threatened by "an immense disparity of physical force on the side of Mexico," which might recover its lost dominion. Jackson left the disposition of the matter to Congress.


On 8 February 1839, he was admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court. He served as commissioner from Illinois to the Paris Exposition of 1855. In 1857 he was admitted to practice in Maryland, and was a member of the Maryland legislature in 1861. Well known in Washington circles, Morfit always maintained an office in that city, but was an extensive traveler, having lived in Europe from 1810 to 1814, in Washington from 1817 to 1819, in Missouri in 1820, in Washington in 1821, in Halifax in 1827, in Washington from 1828 to 1845, and in Baltimore County from 1845 to 1851.


Mr. Morfit was married on 20 November 1817 in Georgetown, Wash, D.C., to Catherine Campbell (1801-1893) and the following were their children:


1. Margaret Davidson, born 1 Jun 1819, at Norfolk, Virginia.

2. Campbell, born in 1820, was chief chemist to the royal family during the reign of Queen Victoria. He was married in Germantown, Pennsylvania, by Bishop Potter, to Marie Clapier Chancellor, who died in 1855; he died in London, in 1897. They had one daughter, who moved to London. See DAB.

3. Henrietta Seldon Morfit, born 8 Sept 1822, in Washington, died in Baltimore, 4 Apr 1890.

4. John Campbell, born 30 Jun 1824, in Washington, was an eminent physician and surgeon, and died 8 Jan 1858, in Chicago, Illinois.

5. Henry, born 26 Mar 1826, in Washington, died 7 Mar 1832.

6. Clarence, born 16 May 1828, in Washington, became a celebrated chemist.

7. Catherine Mason, born in Washington, 8 Mar 1830; married Professor James Gregory Clark, of Virginia; died at Liberty, Missouri, 26 Dec 1906.

8. Pitner, born 4 Jan 1832, died in infancy.

9. Oliver, born 9 Jan 1834, died in infancy.

10. Mason, born 2 May 1836; served in the Confederate Army with the rank of major; married Elizabeth Meigs Garrison and had eight sons and one daughter.

11. Charles McLean, mentioned below.

12 and 13. Caroline Campbell and Richardson, born 20 Dec 1840; Richardson died in March, 1843 and Caroline died 15 Jan 1876.

14. Fanny V., born in Washington, D. C, 25 Sept 1842.

15. Jane Oliver, born in Washington, D. C, 26 Dec 1844; died 9 Aug 1896.


Henry Mason Morfit died 1 December 1865, at the age of seventy-two. His faithful wife survived him many years, passing away in Baltimore on 2 August 1893. She and her husband are buried side by side in Washington, D. C., in the Congressional Cemetery.




Handbook of Texas Online, Edd Miller, "MORFIT, HENRY MASON," accessed September 07, 2018,



        Sample Quotations:


“Philad’a, April 24th, 1826

Henry M. Morfit, Esq’r


Dear Sir,

We were very much disappointed on viewing your favor of the 20th inst to find that Mr. Gardiner had failed to comply with his promise to have our business settled. From his apparent sincerity and also from the character we had of him here, we were induced to believe, as well as hope, that he would have kept his word; as he has not done so, we must now request you to take the speediest measures to have the debt secured if possible, and to place no further reliance on promises which there is too much reason to think are only made for the purpose of delay. We must leave it to you to make the best settlement you can only let it be done immediately and advise us of the result.

We still hope Mr. Gardiner will, if properly urged, see the necessity of arranging the business if he has no regard for his credit as a merchant, as an honorable man he should have some regard for his word, which was solemnly pledged to give security for the debt – if he longer delays to do so we must consider his last purchase a complete piece of swindling and though the law may not consider it such, it will be so viewed by every one acquainted with the circumstances. We should not have sold him the goods if he had not told us that he had left funds at home to take u the first note, and if he now refuses to make a settlement either by giving security or goods, no one will doubt that his design was at the time, to let the note lay over & to swindle us out of another bill. Very respectfully, Yr Obt Serv’t, Richardson & Colhoun”



New York, 26 Nov 1827

H.M. Morfit, Esq.,


Dear Sir,

Yours of 21st instant is rec’d. I had before rec’d notice of the protest of Mr. Thomas acceptable from the bank and was not a little surprised as he had assured me if should be punctually paid, if I would consent to take it at 90 days.


I know nothing of his circumstances, & cannot judge of the fitness or policy of suing him – but I suppose a first will be tantamount to a further delay of a year or two at least such has been the effect of similar measures in my experience.

I do exceedingly need my dues and I must request you to use you own sound discretion as to the measures best calculated to get the money soonest. Will he not make some arrangement to pay it soon, without a suit? Perhaps give an endorsed note at a short date, which may be discounted. To render the debt secure should be the first object & to obtain the cash as soon as practicable the next. I trust to your wisdom & vigilance to attain these ends. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, Sam’l Whiting”



“Henry M. Morfit, Esq.

Sir, we have received your check for 101.35 as our claim against Mr. b. Williamson, an error is evident in the statement as the only claim we have against him, was for the note of 83$ protest 1.75c, adding interest the balance must have been intended for some other claim against him from the same source in the city, and having received a letter from Mr. Robinson noting the same, the balance overpaid to us should belong to Mr. C. Salmon of this city. You would oblige us by giving a statement of the acc by return mail of the commissions and fee due to you by us on the 83$ protest 1.75 and the balance we will either forward to you or pay over to Mr. Salmon by your order. Yours respectfully, Geddes & Stewart, Balto. Feby 7th, 1828”



“New York, 18 Augt 1828

Henry M. Morfit, Esq.,



Dear Sir,

I wrote you a month ago with an extract from Mr. Thomas letter, relative to the payment of the balance of his note which he promised should be done in all that week. I suggested you to remit me whatever sums you might have collected up to that time, whether Mr. Thomas should pay up his last note, or not. But I have no communication from you since. I now beg you will send me a dft., or US Notes for the amount in hand. Inform me the state of your amt. I hope Mr. Thomas has kept his word – and that Col. Chs K. Gardner has pd you my dft for $25. Mrs. Custis has remitted her small amount. Pray Sir, do you practice in Virginia & Maryland? I have some accts in those states which I fear I shall have to collect thro the medium of the law. I trust to hear from you by return of mail if possible. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, Sam’l Whiting”


“Baltimore Sept 23d, 1840, Henry M. Morfit, Esq.,


Dear Sir,

Your letter of yesterday’s date enclosing the letter of Lieut Sterrett reached me this morning. The customary charge for collecting debts of an amount above one hundred dollars is five per cent & I seldom charge more unless by special agreement, or in case there be a trial &c. The claim in question would be collected for 5 percent. But I cannot institute a suit & stand responsible for fees without $15 pd in advance, all of which in case of recovery would be refunded except 3.33 or legal fee chargeable to Deft in the costs. The tax on a writ is $2 & on judgment 25 cts.

I return the letter as of no use in any event. I cannot collect any thing without the original note, and if required it must be exhibited to hold to special bail.

I charged 10 per cet on the money due by Dickman because it was under 100 dollars., &c.

Should you make any further communication to me in relation to this claim against Sterrett be pleased to inform me if you can, where he is to be found here.

Very respectfully, Edw’d Hinkley”

[Baltimore, Nov 19, 1841]

Mr. Morfit,

I wish to ask a favor of you, and beg you will excuse me. The first apology I offer troubling you is the interest and anxiety I feel to see my brother well situated according to their different dispositions. My next apology, knowing your influence with the members of the cabinet, makes me feel more sanguine of success than if you did not interest yourself. My brother Edward (a good-looking youth) is very desirous to procure a situation as “Lieutenant of the Marines.” He is aware of there being but forty offices to fill, and probably two hundred candidates. Still he thought if you would see Judge Upshaw and say to him you would be pleased to have him confer the office on a young friend of yours it would be a most favorable introduction for him. His intention was to have gone immediately to Washington and seek an interview with the Secretary but I have thought better he should defer it until I wrote to you. If you think there is no chance of his getting a situation, be so good as write to me and he will not go to Washington.

If Edward goes to Washington he will not trouble you to call with him. But if you could agreeably to yourself call and see the Secretary I have some hope of his getting a situation as I am aware of your influence, but again, my good friend if by confirming this favor you will be inconvenienced, or object to see Mr. Upshaw, have the kindness to write to me…

Yours with true esteem, R. G. Gelstone”

“Philadelphia April 5, 1842

Henry M. Morfit, Esq.

Washington City

Dear Sir,

If you have any money for us, pray let us have it, for we are sadly in want, not being able to collect any here these troublous times. We hope Capt. Smoot and the Hon. R. Bamwell Rhett have paid. Your prompt attention will much oblige, very respectfully, your ob’t sv’t, Chas Watson & Son”


“Balt. 3d April 1846

My Dear Sir,

I was at your office today in passing through Washington, but had not the pleasure of seeing you.

I passed through also on Tuesday, I was on my way to Port Tobacco. That evening I called on John Howard Payne, an old acquaintance of mine, and was introduced to John Ross, the Cherokee Chief. I learned too that James Madison Payne was certainly in Washington about the time that I supposed he was there and left Washington about the 20th with [Goody], another Cherokee. This morning I learned that [Goody] has gone back to Washington and it is possible that Payne may be with him…and you may catch him yet. Yrs., John Scott”