A National Historic Landmark, Morven is situated on five pristine acres in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey. Home to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and to five New Jersey governors, Morven has played a role in the history of New Jersey and the nation for more than 250 years.
Morven was built by Richard Stockton (1730–1781), in the 1750s on property granted to his grandfather by William Penn (1644–1718) in 1701. Of course, European settlers were not the first to call this land home. Native Americans lived in the Mid-Atlantic region for more than 12,000 years. Archaeology at Morven has uncovered evidence of Lenni-Lenape tool-making on its five acres.
After a fire in 1758, the home was rebuilt and christened Morven, (“big hill” in Gaelic) by Richard’s wife Annis Boudinot Stockton (1736–1801). Richard was a graduate of the first class of The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and became a prominent lawyer. In 1776 he was one of five New Jersey delegates appointed to the Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence. The British ransacked Morven later that year, capturing and imprisoning Stockton. He was released in January 1777. Annis is one of America’s earliest published female poets, immortalizing heroes of the Revolution such as George Washington, who called her “the elegant Muse of Morven.”
As wealthy lawyers, the first two generations of Stocktons at Morven owned enslaved men, women, and children. Records indicate that by the time the third generation of Stocktons took ownership of Morven in 1840, enslaved people no longer lived on the property. At first, they were replaced by free African Americans, and then eventually by immigrants from Ireland and Germany. Servants worked at Morven well into the twentieth century.
Four more generations of Stocktons resided at Morven through the early 20th century before the property was leased to General Robert Wood Johnson, Chairman of Johnson & Johnson from 1928to 1944. He was followed by five New Jersey governors when Morven served as the state’s first Governor’s Mansion (1945–1981).
After the Governor’s Mansion was relocated in 1982, Morven went through an extensive restoration and archaeological investigation. Morven re-opened as a museum and garden in 2004.