In many ways, Matthew Morry I (1750-1836) can be considered to be the patriarch of the Morry family of Newfoundland. Not only was he the immigrant responsible for bringing the family to the New World in the first place, in the latter part of the 18th Century, but he was also the first person to ensure that the surname his children bore was consistently spelled “Morry” and not one of the half dozen other spellings that had been in use for the previous 7 generations, sometimes two or three spellings in the same generation.
Not that the “Morry” spelling was universally used once the family arrived in Newfoundland. Anglican ministers and Catholic priests In Newfoundland, as well as the clerks at the Church registry offices that bore responsibility for the recording of vital statistics in Newfoundland until well into the 20th Century, were no more concerned or cautious about the spelling of names in their record books than were their counterparts in England. Indeed, many of the names of the children of Thomas Graham Morry III, Matthew’s great-grandson, were incorrectly spelled “Morey” in their birth and Christening records.
However, it would seem that the level of literacy in the Morry family took a decided leap forward at about the time of Matthew I. Not only did he and his children sign their names on all manner of legal documents (prior to this time the “X” was the common form of signature in the family), but they were also writers and recipients of letters, business communications and even poetry.
It is strictly a matter of conjecture as to why the family chose to be known by the surname Morry and not, for example, the much more prevalent Morey of their native Devon. It may have been a matter of dissociating or distinguishing themselves from the Moreys that had already arrived in this part of Newfoundland before them. The Moreys were Irish, and worse still, Papists! The Morrys were loyal Britons and of course staunch Anglicans. There may also have been a little “airs and graces” element to the whole thing, just as there was for their close relations from Aquaforte, the Windsors, who had settled on that more prestigious sounding name instead of the name Winsor or Winser, by which they had been previously known.
Matthew Morry was a self-made man, of that there is no doubt. The story of his maritime career has been pieced together from references in the so-called “Name File” for the Morry family created by Dr. Keith Matthews at Memorial University of Newfoundland during the preparation of his Ph.D. dissertation.
Dr. Keith Matthews (1938-1984), was professor of history at Memorial University. He initiated the establishment of the Maritime History Archive in 1971, as a repository for documents and collections of material relating to maritime history and culture in the North Atlantic region. His own research was focussed on the Newfoundland fishery and settlement from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
From a careful analysis of the Morry Name File and digging deeply into the Lloyds and Board of Trade Muster Rolls and Shipping Registries it has been possible to piece together Matthew Morrys entire maritime career from the time he was an Ordinary Seaman plying the Newfoundland trade in 1770 until he essentially retired and turned the business over to his son, Matthew Morry Junior, in 1821. In 1770 he would have been 20 years of age and one can speculate that he had probably been at sea from the time he was 14, as a cabin boy, as that is how these things began in bygone days.
For generations, it was believed by family historians, including Dad Morry (Howard Leopold Morry), that Matthew was forced into bankruptcy by a partner, Prideaux, in the firm of Morry, Prideaux and Le Messurier, a banking house based in Guernsey, who made off with the funds of the firm. The belief was that this was the cause for Matthew taking his family and moving to Newfoundland, where they could start anew in the fish business he had been developing there for some time. It was known that the relationship with a man named Prideaux was still extant in 1819. They were jointly sued in that year by the firm of Olive and Britten of London, who claimed they had an outstanding insurance owed to them by Morry and Prideaux in the amount of £976. Nimshi Crewe of the Newfoundland Archives researched this for Dad Morry in 1965 and concluded that the jury found in favour of the defendants (Morry and Prideaux). Here is a transcript of the article in the Newfoundland Mercantile Journal, September 1, 1819.
But the truth of the old family myth is much more complicated than that and the answer is now found in a detailed analysis of High Court of Chancery records on a separate page on this website. In effect, Matthew Morry’s standing in Dartmouth society was ruined, not to mention the financial existence of his company, Matthew Morry and Company, as a result of these cases, and other economic factors including a downturn in the fishery, and this left him little choice but to return to Newfoundland permanently, though he had been planning on retiring to Dartmouth.
Another contributing factor behind Matthew’s move to Newfoundland with his family at about the turn of the century (1800) can be deduced from a series of references to the role to the Dartmouth merchants, especially Arthur Holdsworth’s family in Newfoundland affairs. These references are taken from Patrick O’Flaherty’s book: Old Newfoundland — a History to 1843. These references pertain to the dominance of the Dartmouth merchants and their control over Newfoundland commerce during the entire 18th century but their decreasing economic interest in the colony by the end of that century:
Page 54: In 1697 Arthur Holdsworth sailed the NICHOLAS from Dartmouth with 100 passengers returning to Newfoundland following the disruption of their residence by the French. To those people, Newfoundland was home.
Page 57: The merchant Arthur Holdsworth of Dartmouth certainly saw an opening [ in the 1699 William’s Act laying down restrictions on permanent habitation but giving fishing admirals greater powers to control access to fishing rooms ] . He brought no fewer than 236 passengers to Newfoundland in 1701 (when he was also admiral of the harbour [ St. John’s]) and placed them in fishing ships’ rooms.
Page 98: [in 1775] Dartmouth spokesman Arthur Holdsworth, a merchant and Member of Parliament, even proposed legislation that would vest occupiers of land there in their possession “in fee simple”. The suggestion got nowhere. Holdsworth also proposed that only one-half of an employer’s fish and oil be liable to the payment of servant’ wages, but this too was not taken up.
Page 104: When bread and flour arrived in St. John’s from Philadelphia in the summer of 1784, prices immediately fell 30%. Dartmouth merchants responded to the threat posed by cheaper goods from the U.S. by pressing for a total prohibition on American imports, with Holdsworth heading the lobby.
Page 106: By 1793, the inhabitant fishery was dominant; by 1800, assisted by a war that showed no signs of ending, it had effectively supplanted the fishery for the West Country. (Though a small migratory effort persisted into the next century.)
Page 184: Their petition [the petition of the St. John’s Chamber of Commerce to dissolve the Legislative Assembly] was followed, moreover, by one from the merchants, traders and ship owners of Conception Bay, likewise calling for the abolition of the legislature, and by three others (from the merchants of Torquay, Dartmouth and Teignmouth) with the same objective in mind [to wrest control over Newfoundland affairs from a largely Roman Catholic, Irish working class dominated legislature].
It should be obvious that the Arthur Holdsworth mentioned in these references was not one and same person. In fact there were three generations of Arthur Holdsworths involved in the Newfoundland trade – father, son and grandson. It was the third of these, Arthur William Olive Holdsworth, along with his brother Robert Holdsworth, who jointly owned almost all of the Northside of Ferryland at the time that John Henry Morry and his partner, Peter Paint LeMessurier purchased the Holdsworth mansion and property in 1836. By then the family had lost interest in Newfoundland altogether and had, moreover, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, lost their dominance over Dartmouth as well. But in point of fact, as the references above show, with the exception of some petty meddling in the politics of the colony, Dartmouth merchants, including the Holdsworths, had, for all intents and purposes, given up on their interests in Newfoundland by 1800. It was into this vacuum that the next generation of English merchants, including Matthew Morry, interjected themselves. Matthew was most likely an employee or at best a minor partner of the Holdsworths initially, but was able to strike out on his own and make a modest fortune taking advantage of the opportunities in Newfoundland that the Dartmouth merchants gave up. No doubt, the fortune he and his company made was petty compared to what had been earned over three generations by the Holdsworths and was also much more short-lived, apparently fading away pretty well within the next generation due to financial turmoil and the near bankruptcy of Newfoundland in the 1830s.
Matthew and his sons seemed to spend a good deal of time in court once they arrived in Newfoundland, partly seeking compensation for debts or other injuries and partly because they functioned in a quasi-legal capacity or on juries, but also not uncommonly because others were suing them for presumed debts and injuries. Kevin Reddigan, on his excellent website on Calvert (http://www.calvertweb.ca/names/morry.shtml ), covers the paper trail of the Morrys’ early days in Ferryland by means of their appearances in court and their various land transactions, first in Caplin Bay (now Calvert) and later in Ferryland.
In 2008, Karen [Funkhouser] Chapman very kindly and generously agreed to share with me a large collection of photographs, letters, documents and other articles of both historical and family history value. This material had been accumulated by her mother, Jean [Morry] Funkhouser, during the course of her lengthy family history research. What I presently hold, once properly catalogued and copied will be offered to The Rooms for their accession into the Morry Papers. This may take some time, however, because there is an immense amount of material to go through. Not only that, but this is only a small part of Aunt Jean’s collection, most of which is still retained by Karen.
As I complete the digitising and/or transcription of these documents, copies will be placed on this website and elsewhere online where I have information pertaining to the Morry family history so that it will be accessible to anyone who is interested.
One document that stood out immediately from this collection sent to me by Karen was a document that appeared to be an original of the petition for a grant of land by Matthew Morry, the immigrant, to John Campbell, Governor of Newfoundland, in 1784. See File 8, Box 1, in the Morry Papers at PANL. On closer inspection however it appears that this may be a copy made half a century later or more. Its age and authenticity is now being researched by staff at The Rooms. Here, for now, is a digital copy.