Like almost every house of its advanced age, the Morris House is comprised of several sections built by various owners over the years. There is no clear consensus on when then oldest section of the house was built, or by whom. According to Francis Cooch in Little Known History of Newark, DE and Its Environs, there are several dates inscribed on stones on different parts of the house: 1684, 1742 or 1752, and 1777. Date stones where often used to record the date of a building's erection, but where also used sometimes to commemorate important dates long after the fact. The original land grant for much of the Polly Drummond Hill (AKA Meetinghouse Hill) area was made from William Penn to William Welsh in December 1683, so if I had to guess, I'd say the 1684 date refers either to this or possibly the date of the first house (probably log) in the area. It's unlikely any part of this house was built then.
It seems that the trail of ownership for the property gets a bit confused for most of the 18th century, but at some point it is purchased by Scottish immigrant Thomas Montgomery. Montgomery was the first of the residents to spend time in public life, and although there is no indication when, I think it was he who built the first section of the current house. Montgomery was in the area by the 1740's, and there is record of him being involved in a local militia regiment at that time.
The other reason I'm inclined to believe that the property sale was related to the fight for independence is Thomas Montgomery's record of public service. He served in the state legislature in the 1780's and not only attended the state constitutional convention in 1792, but ended up as its chairman after John Dickinson resigned. Also that year, he ran for governor in the first public election for the post, but lost to Joshua Clayton. The following year, Montgomery became the Delaware State Auditor. He also served as a trustee of the New Castle County Almshouse (a poorhouse, which I believe was located in what is now the west side of Wilmington).
|The rear of the Morris Estate|
* Although I still think my analysis makes sense, this page states that "John Barclay built the main 2-½ story stone house in 1792." By this, I assume they mean the five-bay, southern-facing section. It then adds that the 1-1/2 story west wing was added by the next owner, the subject of Part 2. I've not been able to verify this information elsewhere, but since they own the house, I'll defer to their assessment.
Edit [2/4/11]: I just found this page , which has a picture of the plaque located on the house grounds. It more or less confirms the previous paragraph, stating that John Barclay built the main section and the rear ell, while the 1-1/2 story section was added later. I still have found little for sure about Barclay, except that he may have been a merchant near Christiana. Also, he may have been prominent in Pennsylvania politics, including serving as mayor of Philadelphia in the 1790's. However, it's not completely clear that this is the same man.