MORTON, John I, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.
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Family and Education
Collector of pontage, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 12 May 1379-12 May 1384.
Collector of taxes, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Nov. 1388.
Bailiff, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Mich. 1393-4.1
Nothing is known for certain about Morton before his appointment, in May 1379, as a collector of pontage in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He soon established himself as a prominent figure in the local mercantile community; and from 1380 onwards he was one of the leading exporters of wool, hides and cloth. The customs accounts for the port of Newcastle reveal that he also dealt in other commodities such as coal, fish and grindstones (acting at least once, in 1408, in partnership with William Middleton*), and that he shipped a wide variety of goods ranging from woad and soap to iron up the Tyne. The appearance, in August 1394, of a John Morton the younger suggests that he had a son or kinsman who was also involved in trade.2
In February 1390, Morton secured a licence from the Crown, under heavy securities, to ship seven lasts of hides to Sandwich, Great Yarmouth or London. He evidently transacted a good deal of business along the east coast, and occasionally ran into trouble with the authorities. In 1395, for example, one of his ships was wrongfully detained at Great Yarmouth and only released after Morton began an action in the court of Chancery for the recovery of his goods. The customs officer concerned, one Roger Drayton, was eventually obliged to hand over compensation of 20 marks, but only after the dispute had dragged on for at least two more years. Morton’s last major commercial venture was less than successful. In June 1408 he was one of a small group of Newcastle merchants to receive permission from the government for the shipment of 600 sarplers of wool direct to any friendly foreign port. The wool was, in fact, part of a far larger consignment originally bought for export in 1400 by a consortium of local men who hoped to bypass the Calais Staple and thus obtain higher prices for their merchandise. Unfortunately, however, the Staplers had foiled their plans by exerting financial pressure on the government, and the wool had been left to rot on the quays. A further offensive was evidently expected by Morton and his associates, who claimed that such ‘obscurity and doubt’ attached themselves to the royal licence of 1408 that they still could not risk putting to sea. New, clearer letters were issued in the following November, but Morton was not named personally in them, and may have abandoned the project.3
It looks very much as if the John Morton who witnessed the will of John Stockdale, a burgess of Newcastle, in April 1416, was our Member’s young namesake, mentioned above. We can be reasonably sure that he did not survive long enough to receive a bequest of 20s. from Roger Thornton* some 14 years later, but there is no means of telling when he died.4
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Moreton, Moorton, Mourton. There is no evidence to connect the subject of this biography with the John Morton who, in February 1368, at the age of 21, succeeded his father, Thomas Morton, to an estate in Morton and Cockerton, Co. Dur. A John Morton, perhaps his son, was still in possession in 1418 (DKR, xlv. 236; Surtees Soc. xxxii. 7, 14, 197).