MORRIS, CHARLES, army and militia officer, surveyor, office holder, politician, and jp; b. 18 Nov. 1759 in Hopkinton, Mass., eldest son of Charles Morris* and Elizabeth Bond Leggett, and grandson of Charles Morris*, first surveyor general of Nova Scotia; m. 18 Nov. 1786 Charlotte Pernette, daughter of Colonel Joseph Pernette, in Halifax, and they had 15 children, including Frederick William*; d. there 17 Dec. 1831.
Charles Morris probably came to Halifax in 1760, when his parents apparently arrived. In March 1778 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Loyal Nova Scotia Volunteers, a regiment raised in the province, and in September 1779 exchanged into the 70th Foot, then in Halifax. Promoted lieutenant on 6 March 1782, he was placed on half pay at the peace in 1783. Some time afterwards he was evidently appointed a deputy surveyor by his father, surveyor general of Nova Scotia, and began assisting him in his office, which was particularly busy because of the arrival of the loyalists. Morris was at the centre of things, occasionally assuming the duties of his gout-ridden father (whom he would succeed in 1802).
Early in 1788 Morris entered politics when he ran in the House of Assembly by-election for Halifax County caused by Sampson Salter Blowers*’s appointment to the Council. The contest was influenced by the controversial “judges’ affair,” which had begun a year previously [see James Brenton*; Thomas Henry Barclay]: opposing Morris was the loyalist lawyer Jonathan Sterns, regarded as the chief accuser of the judges. The campaign was a violent one, a number of people being assaulted and one man dying of his injuries in riots which surrounded the election. When Morris won handily he was carried in triumph “on the shoulders of his fellow citizens . . . surrounded by an immense concourse of people, who filled the air with their repeated acclamations of joy.” Morris declined to run in 1793, but re-entered the assembly in a by-election in 1797 and sat until 1806. Two years later he was appointed to the Council on the recommendation of Lieutenant Governor Sir George Prevost*, and continued to serve there until his death. In addition to being surveyor general, Morris was a captain (later major) in the Halifax militia, a justice of the peace, registrar of wills and probate from 1798, and from 1802 surrogate general of the court of probate and registrar of the Vice-Admiralty Court.
Morris’s various offices kept him very busy, and he was also quite active in the assembly. On one occasion in 1800 he informed his father-in-law that he had been “so distracted with Business that half my time I know hardly which way to turn myself.” His condition was undoubtedly aggravated by the fact that his family was then suffering from smallpox. Things were not much better in 1807, when Morris again complained to Pernette that “My Poor head is much affected with the complicated duties of my office, which I am afraid I shall not be long able to Discharge – the tearing and turbulent disposition of many unreasonable people in these levelling and turbulent times of Envy hatred and malice and all uncharitableness makes my office [very] obnoxious.” Besides his difficulties as surveyor general, Morris encountered problems from his duties in the Vice-Admiralty Court. In 1805 actions taken against him in the High Court of Appeals in England for the refund of commissions of more than £1,200 put him to great expense before the case was settled in his favour.
After the War of 1812 Morris seemed more relaxed, although he was still busy. He worked hard to settle disbanded soldiers in the interior of the province and to develop a road between Halifax and Annapolis Royal which would serve the new settlements and give access to the resources of the area. Morris was also active in the Nova Scotia government’s efforts to aid the Indian population. In 1815 he presented Lieutenant Governor Sir John Coape Sherbrooke with a comprehensive report on Indian affairs. The report urged against making grants to individual Indians and recommended setting apart lands for their use “in such situations as they have been in the habit of frequenting.” Morris also believed that moose and other animals could be reserved for the exclusive use of the Indians and that government could make arrangements for their handicrafts to bring a fixed price. As well, in 1820 he submitted a plan for suitable tracts for reservations.
As surveyor general, Morris was hampered throughout his career by the incompetence of many of his deputies and the difficulty of securing skilled, conscientious staff. In 1802 he criticized the “Blunders and inaccuracies” in one deputy’s work, which would necessitate the resurveying of lands to rectify the mistakes, and four years later he upbraided another deputy for laying out crown lands without his direction or the order of the lieutenant governor. In 1814 he described a particularly questionable method of marking a boundary as “a standing and perpetual monument of disgrace to all concerned in that most shameful transaction.” The problems in the department led Lieutenant Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*] to consider replacing him in 1819, but Dalhousie relented because he did not wish to ruin the family.
Between his offices and his extensive property investments (at his death £6,500 in land holdings and £1,139 in mortgages), Morris acquired considerable personal wealth. When he died in 1831 he left an estate variously estimated at from £8,000 to £9,000. He had a 900-acre country estate near Halifax, and a home in town comparable to those of such pillars of local society as Blowers and Michael Wallace. Morris had also been president of the Charitable Irish Society in 1811 and 1816, and had participated in the Rockingham Club, a social institution founded by Sir John Wentworth* and revived by Dalhousie in 1818.
Although Morris’s death attracted little attention, his career was noteworthy. Beset by family problems and plagued by the shortcomings of his staff, Morris in his writings gives the image of a harried functionary. However, he apparently managed to carry out his duties as surveyor general in a capable manner despite the difficulty of reconciling contentious land claims of individuals and of groups such as Acadians, Micmacs, and loyalists. In April 1831 he had been replaced by his son John Spry, who served until the office was merged with that of commissioner of crown lands in 1851. The Morris family thus held the position of surveyor general of Nova Scotia for its entire existence, a continuity of service rivalled only by that of the Wrights of Prince Edward Island.
Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), Deeds (mfm. at PANS). PAC, MG 23, D4. PANS, MG 1, 192, no.19; 544; 794; 1206; MG 100, 112, folders 12–12.3; RG 1, 53, 169, 396B, 430–32; RG 35A, 1, no.3. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc. PANS, Board of Trustees, Report (Halifax), 1937. Ramsay, Dalhousie journals (Whitelaw). Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 21 Dec. 1831. Nova-Scotia Royal Gazette, 4 Feb. 1802. Directory of N.S. MLAs. Akins, Hist. of Halifax City. E. A. Hutton, “The Micmac Indians of Nova Scotia to 1834”
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Cite This Article
Donald F. Chard, “MORRIS, CHARLES (1759-1831),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morris_charles_1759_1831_6E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Donald F. Chard|
|Title of Article:||MORRIS, CHARLES (1759-1831)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||1987|
|Access Date:||June 7, 2023|