During the 19th century, Philadelphia’s waterfront was lined with wharves which were operated by numerous shipping lines. Smaller vessels designed for domestic use, called packet boats, carried mail, packages, and a limited number of passengers to major cities across the Eastern seaboard. Morris Sheer, a parishioner at Gloria Dei, was one of the first captains of the line of packets that ran between Philadelphia and Charleston.
A lifelong resident of Southwark, Sheer was born around 1820 to Sarah, a proprietor of a dry goods store located at 117 South Street. In 1840, he married Sarah Holderness at Gloria Dei Church in a ceremony presided over by the Reverend J.C. Clay. Sheer and his wife initially settled near 4th and Queen but records indicate that they had moved to 337 Wharton Street by 1850. The Sheers had at least six children including Francis (d. 1855) and George (1847-1851) who both sadly predeceased their parents.
As a ship captain in the packet trade, Sheer often navigated A.J. Culin and Company’s “only regular packet” line between Philadelphia and Mobile. Described by his employer as “experienced in the trade,” Sheer made regular passage on his brig the Sea Flower, departing from 17 N. Wharves, located south of Arch Street. In 1850, a lawsuit filed against Sheer’s employer regarding Admiralty and Maritime Jurisdiction threatened the title and claim against the Sea Flower. However, the claim appears to have been dismissed by the district court of South Carolina.
Toward the end of his life, Sheer contracted dropsy, an unnatural accumulation of fluid in the body which caused major swelling. Popular treatment methods of the time involved augmenting secretions or the mechanical removal of body fluids. Unfortunately, the acts of cutting, bleeding, leeching, and lancing did not always result in recovery. Captain Sheer, who died in his residence at age 46, may have succumbed to the treatment rather than the disease. He is interred at Gloria Dei Church with his wife and two of their children.