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Gouverneur Morris' death by whalebone is one of the oddest Founding Fathers stories

Shania Wilson May 4, 2022
Portrait Of Gouverneur Morris
Photo by Stock Montdage/Getty Images

Gouverneur Morris, known as the ‘Penman of the Constitution’, has made talk on Twitter as Americans revisit the United States Constitution amid Supreme Court news.

Gouverneur Morris wrote the Preamble to the Constitution and his legacy as a Founding Father is widely talked about, but many are only just finding out about the bizarre way the ‘penman’ met his death.

The Founding Father died in 1816 but his odd cause of death involved using a piece of whalebone to clear a blockage in his urinary tract. Ouch.

Here’s what you need to know.

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Photo by Stock Montdage/Getty Images

Who was Gouverneur Morris?

Gouverneur Morris was a Founding Father of the United States and is responsible for writing the Preamble to the United States Constitution.

Morris was born in New York City in 1752 and went on to attend King’s College (later Columbia University) in 1768. The Founding Father studied law and was put forward for the bar exam in 1771, Britannica reports.

During his lifetime he served in the New York Provincial Congress, going on to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the New York state militia, sat in the Continental Congress, and was a signer of the Articles of Confederation.

Notably, Gouverneur Morris is pictured in portraits with a peg leg and, according to History, that is because a carriage accident left him with several broken leg bones in 1780.

The ‘penman’ survived the accident but his actual cause of death in 1816 was much more bizarre.

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Gouverneur Morris’ death by whalebone

Gouverneur Morris passed away in 1816 after attempting to conduct self-surgery with a piece of whalebone.

As per History, the Founding Father experienced a urinary tract blockage that was causing him pain so he attempted to clear the obstruction with a sliver of bone.

Unfortunately, Gouverneur Morris’ plan didn’t go as intended and his DIY procedure led to further internal injuries and infection. He died aged 64 at his family’s estate, Morrisania, and was buried at nearby St Ann’s Church.

Personal life

The American statesman’s cause of death is bizarre enough but his personal and romantic life is equally eyebrow raising.

Gouverneur Morris was quite the bachelor until he wound up marrying his housekeeper, Anne Cary “Nancy” Randolph, in 1809.

Morris’ new relationship came as a shock to many because Nancy had previously been accused of killing a newborn baby who was suspected of being an illegitimate child with brother-in-law Richard Randolph.

Nancy denied the accusations.

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Shania is a Magazine Journalism graduate from the University of Derby. Her main passion is rooted in print journalism, however, she also branches out towards social media and is also interested in public relations. Outside of writing, Shania enjoys using social media, reading, and drinking coffee.