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Colonel Morris, who was a , fought in the French and Indian War (1754-1763) alongside George Washington under General Edward Braddock. After his retirement from the British army in 1764, Morris wanted a summer home that would be a bucolic refuge from the congestion of the downtown city, so he had the house built in the northern part of Manhattan. At the time the city of New York, which ended at today’s Chambers Street, was located eleven miles south of the house.” At the time Upper Manhattan consisted of farmland, forests, and rocky outcroppings and had cleaner water and fresher air than the southern tip of the island. This Georgian-Palladian home, with symmetrical proportions and Classical details, was erected on land acquired once owned by Jacob Dyckman, an early Dutch colonizer. 

Inspired by contemporary British residences, the Mansion was possibly inspired by the architectural designs of Morris’s father and uncle, who were both architects. It features very progressive architectural elements for the time and location, including a large dominating portico, a serving alcove in the dining room, and an octagonal-shaped wing which was among the first of its kind constructed in the colonies. Seated atop what was then the second highest point on Manhattan Island, the house provided unprecedented views, including the Harlem and Hudson rivers, present day Westchester County, and as far south as Staten Island. 

Mary Philipse Morris was a descendant of a prosperous, old Dutch colonial family named the Philipses, whose estates were located further north along the Hudson River. The Philipse family made their fortune in the slave trade and were among the largest enslavers in colonial New York.