Born at opposite ends of Dale Street Liverpool and fighting on opposite sides of the American War of Independence this is the story of two Liverpudlians’ involvement in a momentous struggle 3100 miles away that changed the course of world history.
Robert Morris was born in Chorley Court, just off Dale Street in 1734 he became known as the Financier of the American Revolution and Banastre Tarleton was born at 7 Water Street in 1754 (now the site of Il Palazzo) he became MP for Liverpool, a Baronet and an Army General, however, in the USA he is known as ‘Bloody Ban’ or ‘Ban the Butcher’.
Robert Morris lived his early life in Liverpool but at the age of 13 he left to join his father who was a tobacco trader in Oxford, Maryland. He was sent to Philadelphia to study and it was here that he was apprenticed to the shipping and banking firm of Bristol born Charles Willing who twice became Mayor of Philadelphia. After the death of Willing his son Thomas invited Morris to become a partner and they established the successful shipping-banking firm of Willing, Morris & Co. The company was involved in various trades including the infamous triangular trade of sugar, tobacco and slaves.
Morris began his American public service in 1765 serving on local merchant committees, he was a staunch believer in free trade and although remaining initially loyal to the crown he supported the view that taxation without representation violated the colonists’ rights. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, and participated in many of the committees involved in raising capital and provisions for the Continental Army including negotiating bills of exchange. Oddly enough one of his most successful money raising schemes was lotteries! The war quickly drained the coffers of the Colonies and in late 1776; the Continental Army was in a state of severe deprivation. Morris loaned $10,000 of his own money to the government for provisions for desperate troops. His company’s ship the Black Prince under the name Alfred was fitted out as a man’o’war and was the first Continental Navy’s ship. Throughout the war he personally underwrote the operations of privateers as well as continuing to finance George Washington’s Army. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Bank of North America, an institution that brought stability to the colonial economy. He is also credited with being the first person to use $ as the sign for the dollar.
Such was Morris’s stature that he was one of only two people to sign the three significant founding documents of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. After the war Morris became a senator, however, he lost what was left of his fortune in land speculation deals and died in relative poverty in 1806 aged 73. He is buried in the family vault at Christ Church, Pennsylvania. He has a number of monuments in America commemorating his life including a statue at the Independence National Historical Park Philadelphia.
Banastre Tarleton was the son John Tarleton who was Mayor of Liverpool in 1764 and a merchant. He was educated in London and in 1771 went on to study at Oxford University. At the age of 19, on the death of his father he inherited £5,000, which he squandered in less than a year on gambling and women. His widowed mother purchased for him a commission as a Cornet in the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards and he embarked for American as a volunteer with General George Cornwallis. Here he promptly ran up another £2,500 in debts, however, he proved to be a gifted horseman and leader. Due to his abilities, he swiftly worked his way up through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel. One night whilst out on patrol he was instrumental in capturing American Major General Charles Lee in his underwear by threatening to burn down the building he was sleeping in! He took part in the New York Campaign of 1776 and aided in the capture of Charleston, SC. In 1778 he was made Lieutenant Colonel at the age 24 and was put in command of the British Legion a group of around 500 Loyalist Americans, who wore green rather than the red of regular British army and soon became known as Tarleton’s Raiders. It was in the Carolinas that the ‘raiders’ earned their reputation not only for their relentless pursuit of rebel militias and guerrillas but also for plunder, arson, rape, brutality and terror! It was at the battle of Waxhaw’s on the North Carolina border that Tarleton came to cement his reputation for ‘ruthlessness’, there are numerous versions of what actually happened, however, traditionally, he was seen as a “butcher” when, it was said, America forces under Colonel Buford laid down their arms in an attempt to surrender but the ‘raiders’ continued their assault despite white flags, killing over 100 men. From then on, his reputation grew and “Tarleton’s quarter”, in effect, came to mean no quarter was given and was often used as a rallying cry by Revolutionary troops. After the battle Tarleton is said to have sent a message to Cornwallis which read ‘I have cut 170 officers and men to pieces’. He was captured at the surrender of Yorktown in 1781. In negotiating the surrender, special arrangements had to be made to protect him due to his unsavoury reputation. He later served in Portugal and Ireland attaining the rank of general.
Returning home in 1781, he entered politics and was initially defeated in his first election attempt, however, in 1790, he was more successful and went on to represent Liverpool as MP for seven terms He was an ardent supporter of the slave trade largely due to his brothers’ and other Liverpudlian ship owners involvement in the trade.
He often boasted that he “had killed more men and ravished more women than any man in America”. He died aged 79 at his estate in Shropshire in 1833. A Hollywood version of Tarleton appeared in the shape of “Colonel William Tavington” who coincidentally was played by Liverpool-born actor Jason Isaacs, in the 2000 Mel Gibson film “The Patriot”.
In the UK there are a number of portraits of Tarleton including one by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the National Gallery London and in Liverpool Banastre Street (formerly L3) and Tarleton Street L1 were both named after the family, however, of tributes to Robert Morris in his home city there are none!
Photo credit: Bombedoutpunk.com
Courtesy of https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/sir-joshua-reynolds-colonel-tarleton
Next month read about Liverpudlian Edward Rushton the founder of UK’s first School for the Blind