St. Ann’s Churchyard, Bronx

Depiction of St. Ann’ Church and Gouverneur Morris tomb by artist August Will, 1885 (MCNY)

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These words—the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution—were written by Founding Father Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), who is buried in a nondescript tomb near a gritty main drag in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx. The land where he is interred is a remnant of the vast estate established by brothers Richard Morris (1616-1672) and Lewis Morris (1601-1691), English immigrants who in 1670 acquired property in the Bronx that was expanded to create the 2,000-acre Manor of Morrisania. The Morris family became part of the powerful colonial aristocracy, producing several generations of military, political, and social leaders.

Early Morris family members were interred in burial grounds near their manor house that stood by the Bronx Kill, west of the Mill Brook, at today’s 132nd Street near Brown Place. Gouverneur Morris broke with this tradition, choosing to be buried in a field on his property east of the Mill Brook. Following his 1816 death, his wife Ann Cary Randolph Morris constructed a vault here to receive his remains; she was interred nearby when she died in 1837.

This extract from an 1860 map of the town of Morrisania shows St. Ann’s Church at top and the Gouverneur Morris house at bottom right, below 132nd St. At left, west of the Mill Brook, the old Morris manor house can be seen on the south side of 132nd St, between Morris and Willis Aves. Both homes were demolished around the turn of the 20th c.

Gouverneur Morris, Jr. (1813-1888)—the only child of Gouverneur and Ann Morris—built St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in 1841 as a public memorial to his mother, erecting it on the hallowed ground where his parents were laid to rest. Situated at what is now St. Ann’s Avenue and East 140th Street, the church was constructed of fieldstone, followed a simple Gothic Revival design, and featured burial vaults beneath the building and in the grassy yard along its east side. Morris, Jr. had his mother’s remains moved to one of the vaults beneath the church, leaving his father’s remains in the tomb outside the church.

An 1866 property map shows the layout of burial vaults in the yard on the east side of St. Ann’s Church, including the Gouverneur Morris vault next to the building.

Remains from the earlier Morris family burial ground near the old manor house were moved to vaults under St. Ann’s in 1866. Morris family descendants and other members of the local community purchased the rest of the interior and outdoor vaults, and interments at St. Ann’s were made into the mid-20th century. Individuals of exceptional historical significance are interred here, including Judge Lewis Morris (1671-1746), first Governor of New Jersey, and Major General Lewis Morris (1726-1798), a member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Portrait of Gouverneur Morris by Alonzo Chappel, 1862

Today, St. Ann’s Church is the oldest surviving church building in the Bronx. It still serves as a parish church; its current congregation is predominantly Hispanic, as is the surrounding neighborhood. Gouverneur Morris’ half-sunken tomb is located outside the old church, next to the southeast corner of the building and surrounded by an iron fence. The most remarkable figure of his distinguished American family, Gouverneur Morris was revered by his peers—both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison deemed him a “genius”—and he emerged as one of the leading figures of the Constitutional Convention. In addition to writing the Preamble, Morris drafted the final version of the Constitution; the beautiful, powerful prose of that document is almost entirely his work.

Gouverneur Morris tomb at St. Ann’s Churchyard, April 2016 (Mary French)
2018 Aerial View of St. Ann’s Church complex (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the Town of Morrisania (Beers 1860); St. Ann’s Church Property and Cemetery on St. Ann’s Ave (Greene 1866), Westchester County Clerk Map 538; A History of the County of Westchester (Bolton 1848) Vol 2; The History of the Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester (Bolton 1881); History of Westchester County (Scharf 1886) Vol 1; The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); National Portrait Gallery of Eminent Americans (Duyckinck 1862), Vol 1; “Colonial Days: How the Land of North New York was Conveyed,” New Rochelle Pioneer, Apr 26 1884;“Neglect of Gouverneur Morris’s Grave at Last Stirs Public,” The Sun and New York Herald Sunday Magazine, May 2 1920; Some Descendants of Richard Morris and Sarah Pole of Morrisania (Wilkinson 1966); National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form—St. Ann’s Church Complex, Oct 1979; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “St. Ann’s Church; A Son’s Homage, Hallowed by Time,” New York Times, Sept 20, 1987; “The Forgotten Founding Father,City Journal, Spring 2002; “The Framer’s Intent: Gouverneur Morris, the Committee of Style and the Creation of the Federalist Constitution,” SCOTUSblog, Aug 5, 2019

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