Wife of Founding Father Thomas Mifflin
Portrait of Sarah and Thomas Mifflin
By John Singleton Copley, 1773
The Mifflins were the only Philadelphians painted by John Singleton Copley, the greatest artist in the American colonies prior to the Revolution. Copley depicts not only the features and costumes of his sitters, but creates an image of marriage as an equal partnership – an innovative concept in American portraiture at the time. Sarah recalled that Copley required twenty sittings for the hands alone. In the portrait, Sarah is weaving a decorative fringe on a portable loom, which symbolizes their endorsement of the colonists’ boycott of highly taxed imported English goods.
Sarah Morris was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 5, 1747. Thomas Mifflin was also born in Philadelphia, on January 10, 1744, the eldest son of wealthy Quaker merchant John Mifflin and Elizabeth Bagnall Mifflin. Thomas attended Philadelphia’s grammar schools, and graduated at the age of sixteen from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania).
Following in his father’s footsteps, Thomas Mifflin apprenticed himself to an important local merchant, completing his training with a year-long trip to Europe to gain a better insight into markets and trading patterns. In 1765 Mifflin returned to the colonies and founded an import and export business with his younger brother George Mifflin.
Thomas Mifflin married Sarah Morris on March 4, 1765. The young couple – witty, intelligent and wealthy – soon became an ornament in Philadelphia’s highest social circles. Sarah was an accomplished and supportive partner.
Soon after the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Mifflin left the Continental Congress to serve in the Continental Army. Upon his appointment as a Major in May 1775, John Adams declared that Mifflin “ought to have been a general” because he was the “animating soul” of the revolutionary movement. Soon thereafter, the Quakers disowned him because his involvement with a military force contradicted his faith’s pacifist beliefs.
On June 23, 1775, Mifflin was appointed as General George Washington‘s aide-de-camp, but Mifflin’s talents and mercantile background led almost immediately to a more challenging assignment. In August, Washington appointed him Quartermaster General of the Continental Army. Washington believed that Mifflin’s personal integrity would protect the Army from the fraud and corruption. Mifflin struggled to eliminate the abuses that existed in the supply system.