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John Morton
Morton's signature
Birthplace of John Morton

John Morton (1725 – April 1, 1777) was a farmer, surveyor, and jurist from the Province of Pennsylvania. As a delegate to the Continental Congress during the American Revolution, he provided the swing vote that allowed Pennsylvania to vote in favor of the United States Declaration of Independence. Morton signed the Declaration and chaired the committee that wrote the Articles of Confederation.


Early life

Morton was born in Ridley Township, in Chester County, Pennsylvania, now part of Delaware County. His paternal great-grandfather, Martti Marttinen, who was a native of Rautalampi, Finland, had arrived in the Swedish colony of New Sweden in 1654. The family's original name was anglicized as Morton. His mother, Mary Archer, was also descended from Swedish colonists. His father died before he was born, and when John was about seven years old, his mother married John Sketchley, a farmer of English ancestry, who educated Morton. About 1748, Morton married Ann Justis, who was herself a great-granddaughter of Swedish colonists. The couple would have nine children. Morton was an active member of the Anglican Church in Chester County.

Political career

Morton was elected to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly in 1756. The following year he was also appointed justice of the peace, an office he held until 1764. He served as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. He resigned from the Assembly in 1766 to serve as sheriff of Chester County. He returned to the Assembly in 1769 and was elected Speaker in 1775. Meanwhile, his judicial career reached its pinnacle with his appointment as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1774.

Morton was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775. He cautiously helped move Pennsylvania towards independence, though he opposed the radical Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. When in June 1776 Congress began the debate on a resolution of independence, the Pennsylvania delegation was split, with Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson in favor of declaring independence, and John Dickinson and Robert Morris opposed. Morton was uncommitted until July 1, when he sided with Franklin and Wilson. When the final vote was taken on July 2, Dickinson and Morris abstained, allowing the Pennsylvania delegation to support the resolution of independence without dissent. Morton signed the Declaration on August 2 with most of the other delegates.

Morton was chairman of the committee that wrote the Articles of Confederation, although he died, probably from tuberculosis, before the Articles were ratified. He was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence to die.


  • Purcell, L. Edward. Who Was Who in the American Revolution. New York: Facts on File, 1993. ISBN 0-8160-2107-4.
  • Warden, Rosemary. "Morton, John". American National Biography Online, February 2000.

Further reading

  • Morton, John S. A History of the Origin of the Apellation Keystone State as Applied to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Together with Extracts from Many Authorities Relative to the Adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, July 4, 1776; To Which is Appended the New Constitution of Pennsylvania with an Alphabetical Contents. Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1874.

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