Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Robert Morris and John Nicholson Petition to be Released from Debtors' Prison
    This historically significant document embodies one of the great ironies of American history, that Robert Morris, also known as "The Financier of the American Revolution", through a series of misadventures resulting in massive losses and eventual bankruptcy, spent 1798-1801 in debtors' prison. Morris was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. He was one of the best known merchants in the colonies and was instrumental in helping to acquire funds necessary to prosecute the Revolutionary War. He also served as a United States Senator from Pennsylvania from 1789-95. During this period he became heavily involved in land speculation with, among others, John Nicholson, in whose hand the offered petition is drafted. The demand for land was not as strong as Morris and his associates had hoped. He was forced to file for bankruptcy and found himself in debtors' prison, along with Nicholson, a Pennsylvania state official of questionable repute who joined with Morris in a number of enterprises which eventually led to the financial ruination of both men. Nicholson died in debtor's prison, but not before drafting this petition for release.
    It reads in part:
    "I do hereby certify that in my opinion, the infectious or contagious fever with which the City of Philadelphia is at present afflicted renders it proper and necessary that the prisoners therein should be removed....inasmuch as this city is at present afflicted with an infectious or contagious fever which hath spread to an alarming degree and if it should reach this place might prove fatal to the lives of many, and whereas by law in such a case made and provided your honors are invested with discretionary power to order our removal from hence, we intreat that you may be pleased to do so..."
    The personal financial credit of Robert Morris at one time exceeded that of the new nation and he used it to continue funding the government. Morris's petition was refused and two more years would pass before he was released under the provisions of a new bankruptcy law. This is a document of inestimable historic importance testifying to the sad circumstances a great patriot found himself in later in life. There are skillful professional restorations along the folds and a few minor stains. All text is dark and fully readable. The petition is signed by a number of others in addition to Morris and Nicholson, including one Mary Ann London, an apparent illiterate who signs with an "X" noted as "her mark." Very Fine and worthy of the finest collection.

    Shipping, Taxes, Terms and Bidding
    Calculate Standard Domestic Shipping

    Sales Tax information  |  Terms and Conditions

    Bidding Guidelines and Bid Increments

    Glossary of Terms

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2003
    15th Monday
    Internet/Mail Bids: 9
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 168

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    15% of the successful bid (minimum $6) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Only 1 day left to consign to the 2018 September 5 - 11 Long Beach Expo Currency Signature Auction - Long Beach!

    Learn about consigning with us

    Thank you for your quick response. I am a member of Heritage Auctions and I am happy to say that it is truly a great platform.
    Mohammed J.,
    Durban, KZ
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2018 June 27 - 29 HKINF World Currency Signature Auction - Hong Kong
    2018 June 27 - 29 HKINF World Currency Signature Auction - Hong Kong
    REALIZED $1,341,736