The Plymouth Colony Archive Project

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John Morton

of Plymouth/




John Morton was born in 1616 to George and Julian Morton (the daughter of Alexander Carpenter), who arrived in Plymouth Colony aboard the Anne in 1623. Morton was one of six children, including Nathaniel, Ephraim, Patience, Sara, and (probably) George. We know that at least five of these children lived into adulthood, several of them assuming prominent positions within the community. Along with his brothers, Morton is referred to as "sonn in law" by Manasses Kempton, although there is no direct evidence to support this claim (as of yet). John married Lettice Morton, who eventually would bear John Jr. I (1649), John Jr. II (1650), Deborah, Mary (Martha), Hannah, Esther, and twin sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (1653). A possibility exists that the first John Jr. did not survive infancy, even past a year, as we can see that a second John Jr. was born in 1650. John Morton seemed to have kept in close relations with his brothers Nathaniel and Ephraim, because we often see the three mentioned together in the records. As we shall see in a moment, this portion of the Morton family defined the public spirit of Plymouth. No other family seems to have been as given to a government lifestyle as the Morton's were.

There is a modicum of evidence concerning a congenial relationship between the Morton's and the Wood's, as they are listed in several places together. The strongest evidence occurs when Ephraim Morton and John Morton Sr. are approved by the Court to be guardians for David, Joseph, and Benjamin Wood.

There are no records of servants of John Morton's estate.


If we were to conclude anything certain about the days of John Morton, it would be that he was involved with government for the entirety of his adult life. Morton was admitted and sworn as a freemen (with Ephraim) on June 7, 1648, when he would have been around the age of 32. During his lifetime, Morton served as: a soldier, a member of the Grand Enquest (several times), an appraiser of estates, a tax collector (1661-1662, assigned to take excise on liquors, powder, shot, and led; can one say "conflict of interest": see below) and accountant, a constable, a deputy of the Court, a surveyor of the highways, and most of all, as a jury member. It seems obvious that John Morton had his hand in everything to do with the government, and one could barely hesitate to call him a professional juror by the sheer number of cases which he heard (these accounts make up the bulk of the references to John Morton). Between his brother's positions (Ephraim was a lieutenant and Nathaniel was clerk of Court) and his own in Court, the Morton family would have constituted a sizable interest in the government of Plymouth Colony. Given the plethora of accounts that the records contain concerning Morton's involvement in the Court system, one could probably say that the records barely begin to shed light on the extensive network of relationships that Morton had within the Plymouth community.

Interestingly, for as many cases of which he was a part, Morton never sued any other colonists and in turn, was never sued by them. Given the abundancy of litigation in Plymouth Colony at this time, this fact stands outside of the norm. There is almost the sense that John Morton was somewhat of a "do-right" (especially when compared to a Rickard or a Barnes).

John Morton owned several lots of land, including five acres near Aggawam, land at Sagaquas (owned w/ his brothers), land toward Saconeesett, and 2 lots at the Namasskett River, one on the westerly side of the River (acquired 1665) and one on the southwesterly side of John Dunhams land (acquired 1670), this area being known as the Majors Purchase. Eventually, Morton would live at one of these last two lots mentioned, as his residency moves from Plymouth to Middlebury (Namasskett was the Indian name for Middlebury, which was incorporated by Plymouth Colony in June of 1669). The Court seems very generous in granting land to Morton, and one might wonder if his position(s) within the government commanded some favoritism. There are no records telling us if Morton's land was used for farming or herding.

Finally, on March 6, 1649 Morton was granted a license to sell wine for retail in Plymouth and to lodge and entertain strangers. There are no records to reveal how important or profitable this occupation was to Morton's estate.


John Morton appears to have been one of the early proponents of primary and secondary education, as he proposes in 1670 "to teach the children and youth of the towne to reade and write and Cast accounts on Reasonable considerations". The following year, the town began collecting money to build a school for the children.

There is no specific date for John Morton's death, although we know that he died around 1673, when a noncupative will was introduced and an inventory of his estate was sworn (the author has not been able to find access to either of these two items, as of yet).