Cardinal, archbishop; b. Bere Regis or Milborne S. Andrew, Dorset, 1420?; d. Knole manor, Kent, Oct. 12, 1500. He studied at Oxford, becoming a doctor of civil law, 1452. He became principal of Peckwater Inn, Oxford in 1453, the same year that he received the first of the numerous benefices he was to hold. Morton had already secured Archbishop Bourgchier of Canterbury as his patron and was soon appointed chancellor to Henry VI's son Edward, Prince of Wales, thus identifying himself with the Lancastrians. After the battle of Towton (1461) Morton was attained and went into exile with Queen Margaret and the young prince; but after the battle of Tewkesbury, when the Lancastrian cause seemed pointless (1471), he made his peace with King Edward IV, whom he subsequently served on many diplomatic missions and by whom he was well rewarded. From 1478 to 1479 he was made bishop of Ely. King Edward's successor, richard iii, arrested Morton (1483), but from prison he managed successful intrigue, escaping to Flanders and siding with Henry Tudor who, once he was settled on the throne as henry vii, laid a succession of honors on Morton, appointing him a member of the king's council and chancellor of England (1487–1500). Morton became archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and a cardinal in 1493; he served as chancellor of both Oxford and Cambridge. King Henry's favor remained with him until his death. The picture of him as a harsh prelate, made traditional by Francis bacon, is less reliable than the sympathetic one given by Thomas more, who knew him.
Bibliography: r. i. woodhouse, The Life of John Morton (New York 1895). t. mozley, Henry VII, Prince Arthur and Cardinal Morton (London 1878). w. a. j. archbold, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900) 13:1048–1050. a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to a.d. 1500, 3 v. (Oxford 1957–59) 2:1318–1320. j. d. mackie, The Earlier Tudors (Oxford 1952).
(b. England, 18 July 1670–18 July 1671; d. Great Oxendon, England, 18 July 1726)
Morton, rector of Great Oxendon, wrote The Natural History of Northamptonshire (1712). In it he discusses the general geography, topography, natural history, and prehistory of the county. The work shows careful observation and the descriptions are generally good. Morton chose popular theoretical assumptions as bases for his commentary.
His observations on geology and paleontology are of interest. Although Morton knew John Ray, Martin Lister, and others who were especially concerned with geology and with fossils, he chose to follow the ideas of John Woodward. The latter believed that the biblical Deluge was responsible for geological features and for the presence of fossils, and Morton applied this assumption to his regional study. As Woodward had done, Morton interpreted the strata as having originated in water and as having settled out of the Flood waters according to the specific gravity of the matter of which they were composed. The remains of invertebrate sealife and the teeth and bones of land vertebrates destroyed by the Deluge settled out concurrently, also according to their specific gravity, and were entombed in the strata as fossils.
The botanical section of Morton’s Natural History received significant attention from his contemporaries and is notable for its attempt to arrange the flora of Northamptonshire systematically. The arrangement is principally that of John Ray’s Synopsis methodica stirpium Britannicarum (1690).
Morton was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1703. In 1705 a letter from him on fossils was published in the Philosophical Transactions. It is Morton’s only other publication.
Morton’s two works are “Letter From the Reverend Mr. Morton Containing a Relation of River and Other Shells Digg’d up, Together With Various Vegetable Bodies, in a Bituminous Marshy Earth, Near Mears Ashby in Northamptonshire: With Some Reflections Thereupon: As Also an Account of the Progress He Has Made in the Natural Hisiory of Northamptonshire,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 25 (1705), 2210 2214; and The Natural History of Northamptonshire; With Some Account of the Antiquities. To Which Is Annexed a Transcript of Doomsday-Book, so Far as It Relates to That Country (London, 1712).
A biographical notice is George Simonds Boulger, “John Morton,” in Dictionary of National Biography, XIII, 1050–1051.
Patsy A. Gerstner
J. A. Cannon
MORTON, JOHN. (1725?–1777). Signer. Pennsylvania. Born in Tinicum, Pennsylvania, perhaps in 1725, Morton was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1756, serving nearly every year until 1776, the last two as speaker. Meanwhile he had been justice of the peace for Chester (now Delaware) County, and served as judge on several courts. He attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and was in the Continental Congress from 1774 to early in 1777. He played a critical role in organizing Pennsylvania's first militia in 1775. An advocate of independence, he joined with Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson to give the Pennsylvania delegation a majority of one in voting for the Declaration of Independence, and he was one of those who signed that document. He was chairman of the Committee of the Whole that adopted the Articles of Confederation, which were ratified after his death. After an extended illness, he died at his home in Tinicum, Pennsylvania, on 1 April 1777.
Springer, Ruth L. John Morton in Contemporary Records. Harrisburg, Penn.: Pennsylvania Historical Museum, 1967.
revised by Michael Bellesiles