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Charles Morris was born July 26, 1784, at Woodstock, Connecticut, where his family had long resided. The first of his ancestors who settled in America was Richard Morris, who came from Wales to Boston in 1630. He had previously been in military service, and after serving as “ancient,” and later as lieutenant, to Underhill, he succeeded to the command of the fort built for the defense of Boston. He also appears to have taken a part in the religious disputes of the day, and for his advocacy of Mrs. Hutchinson's tenets, he was banished to Exeter, with others, for a short time. Having made his peace with the authorities, he was recalled, and resided in Boston and Roxbury. His son Edward married in the latter place, and settled himself on a farm in what is now the town of Thompson, on the confines of Woodstock, in Connecticut. His descendants spread themselves in the neighboring towns of Worcester County, as cultivators of the soil. Charles Morris, the sixth in descent from Richard, was born in 1762, and in 1783 married Miriam Nichols. Their son Charles, born the next year, was the future commodore.
Young Morris passed the first fifteen years of his life in Connecticut and Vermont. He was taught the rudiments of knowledge by his father; but he had little or no regular teaching after he was ten years old, and his time for the next five years was chiefly spent in working on a farm. His leisure time was passed in reading every thing he could lay hands on, and the strong inclination which showed itself thus early continued through life. He entered the Navy in 1799 as an acting midshipman, at the suggestion of his father, who held an appointment as purser. He received his warrant the next year, and from that time till his death he was actively employed almost without intermission. Entering the Navy at the most trying period of its history, when it had little support or encouragement from the government, and was almost unknown to the country at large, and when its internal Organization was loose and imperfect, he lived to see it in the height of its prosperity, long after it had won its way to public esteem and honor. A large share in the active work of promoting the growth and well-being of the service during this period belonged to Morris. For more than fifty years, all his time, and thoughts, and energies were devoted to this object; and such was the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries, that he was, during most of the time, in positions where his influence could make itself strongly felt. Like most of the men of talent in the service at that time, his early promotion was rapid. He became a lieutenant at twenty-three and a captain at twenty-eight; and before he was thirty he had been well-seasoned in two hard fought naval wars. In the war with Tripoli it was his good fortune to belong to Preble's squadron; and he thus got his early training in the same school with Hull, Decatur, Stewart and Mc Donough. The outbreak of the war of 1812 found him the executive officer of the Constitution, and his name comes down to us with that of Hull, sharing the honors of the first great victory of the war, the capture of the Guerrière. His subsequent career, though less eventful than the first few years, was marked by the same zeal, the same activity, the same earnest desire to do his best in every station that he filled. As a member of the Board of Navy Commissioners, he had, for more than twelve years, a voice upon every important question of naval administration ; and, while the natural balance of his mind kept him from going to extremes, his early advancement to positions of influence and command had freed him from the excessive conservatism and unwillingness to take responsibility that are so often found in men who have spent their best energies in subordinate stations. His last sea-service was from 1841 to 1844, when he commanded a squadron, first in Brazil and later in the Mediterranean. On his return he was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Construction. From 1847 to 1851 he was on special Ordnance duty, and, in 1851, he became Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography. He died Jan. 27, 1856, at the age of seventy-two, at Washington, continuing the labors of his office till within a few days of his death. During His naval career of fifty-seven years, he had been twenty-one years at sea, and less than three years off duty. We are fortunate in having the record of the best part of Morris's career from his own hand. The autobiography, which appears for the first time in these pages, was prepared by him, not with any view of publication, but simply to tell his children the story of his life. It is to their kindness that the Naval Institute is indebted for the possession of the manuscript and the permission to make it public. A few passages, relating to purely personal and domestic matters, have been omitted, and a few have been added to explain or supplement the narrative, none of the foot-notes forming part of the original manuscript. As a sketch of the development of the Navy from 1800 to 1840, when the narrative closes, and as the testimony of a prominent actor in some of the leading events in which the Navy has taken part, its value to the service is apparent at a glance. As the biography of one who was thought by many of those who knew him the foremost man of the old Navy, one who united judgment and self-control, in the highest degree, with courage and zeal, and who was as successful in the office as upon the quarter-deck,-and as the modest record of a blameless life, it may not be without its lessons for the Navy of to-day. J. R. S. U. S. NAVAL ACADEMY, June, 1880.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF
COMMODORE CHARLES MORRIS, U. S. N.
About May, 1799, a letter was received from my father informing us that he held an appointment as purser in the Navy, and that he could obtain an appointment for me as acting midshipman, if I would join him soon at Norfolk, Virginia, which he strongly recommended. This proposition was, of course, the subject of consultation with our friends. Its importance was so little understood, and the Navy then so little known and appreciated in that part of the country, that our friends were unanimous in their advice that I should remain, rather than expose myself to the moral dangers and profitless hardships which they supposed were the necessary attendants on a sea life. Fortunately my mother judged more wisely, and had the fortitude to recommend my acceptance of the offer, though it separated us from each other. For myself, entirely ignorant of everything connected with the Navy, I was ready to comply with the wishes of my parents, and probably with vague hopes of some future but unknown advantages. Little time was necessary to complete the few preparations that we could make, and, on the 1st of June, I took leave of my affectionate and excellent mother, and, with my small bundle on my shoulder, turned my back on friends and acquaintances to seek my fortune in the world, much in the style and condition of some of the heroes of nursery tales. Two days' walk carried me to Providence, where I was kindly received by my father's uncle, William Wilkinson, and remained till a passage offered for Norfolk, in a coasting sloop. We had a rough passage of fourteen days, during eight of which I experienced all the distressing and depressing effects of sea-sickness. When this had passed I derived much encouragement and considerable information respecting naval duties from the master of the sloop. He had been impressed, and had served some years in the British Navy, and was able and Willing to give me useful information relative to the occupation, duties, and prospects of midshipmen, and in that way to prepare me, in Some Small degree, to enter upon the duties.