Harrison Gray Otis, U.S. Senator

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Harrison Gray Otis, I

Birthdate: (83)
Birthplace: Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts
Death: October 28, 1848 (83)
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Hon. Samuel Allyne Otis, 1st Secretary of the U.S. Senate (Continental Army) and Elizabeth Otis
Husband of Sarah 'Sally" Otis
Father of Elizabeth Gray Lyman; Harrison Gray Otis; Sarah 'Sally" Ann Thorndike; Mary Foster Otis; Alleyne Otis and 6 others
Brother of Elizabeth Otis; Samuel Allyne Otis; Abigail Otis; Jonathan Mayhew Otis and George Otis
Half brother of Harriet Otis and Mary Otis

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About Harrison Gray Otis, U.S. Senator

Harrison Gray Otis was a Massachusetts Senator. Our line of Gray's didn't come to America until the 1890's. His Great GrandUncle Joseph Otis(1665-1754) is our Ancestor.



Harrison Gray Otis (October 8, 1765 – October 28, 1848), was a businessman, lawyer, and politician, becoming one of the most important leaders of the United States' first political party, the Federalists. He is a member of the Otis family.

One of the wealthiest men of Boston during his time, Otis was reportedly worth at least $800,000 in 1846. His estimated net worth as a fraction of the U.S. gross domestic product at the time would be equivalent to $5.6 Billion in 2008 U.S. dollars.


Otis was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Elizabeth (Gray) and Samuel Allyne Otis. His uncle was Revolutionary War leader James Otis, and his father was active in early American politics as a member of Massachusetts state house of representatives, delegate to Massachusetts state constitutional convention, and Continental Congress delegate from Massachusetts. His aunt was Mercy Otis Warren, a well-known poet. A descendant was Montgomery Harrison Ritchie, who died in the American Civil War and was the first husband of Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair.

Otis himself graduated from Harvard University in 1783, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1786, when he commenced practice in Boston, and married Sally Foster on May 31, 1790. In 1794 he was elected to the Massachusetts legislature, and in 1796 was appointed by President George Washington to be district attorney for Massachusetts. In 1797, he was elected U.S. Representative from Massachusetts as a Federalist and a strong advocate for centralized government, in which office he served until 1801. He was appointed United States district attorney for Massachusetts by President John Adams (1801–1802), and again served in the state legislature from 1802 to 1817, serving several terms as President of the state senate (1805-1806, 1808-1811). In subsequent years, Otis was elected U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1817–1822), and then Mayor of Boston (1829–1831).

In 1814, in the midst of his political career, he was also named a judge of the court of common pleas (1814–1818), and played a leading role as delegate to the controversial Hartford Convention in which New England's secession from the United States was discussed. It led to the demise of the Federalists. Otis subsequently defended the convention in his Letters Developing the Character and Views of the Hartford Convention (1820) and his Letters in Defence of the Hartford Convention (1824).

Otis was involved in a major financial scandal during the site selection for the Massachusetts State House. Boston was determined to remain the state capitol, and appointed Otis to a town committee to purchase land and donate it to the state. He did so, and also quietly arranged his own private purchase of 18.5 acres (75,000 m2) adjoining from the agent of John Singleton Copley, then living in England. After a decade of legal arguments, the sale was upheld, and Otis and the Mount Vernon Proprietors developed a large part of Beacon Hill.

Otis was an overseer of Harvard University from 1810 to 1823, and a fellow of the university from 1823 to 1825, as well as one of the original incorporators of the Boston Bank. During the course of his career, he built not one but three grand houses in quick succession (see Harrison Gray Otis House), all designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch. He died in Boston on October 28, 1848, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) — of Boston, Suffolk County, Mass. Born in Boston, Suffolk County, Mass., October 8, 1765. Lawyer;

  • member of Massachusetts state house of representatives, 1796, 1803-05;
  • Speaker of the Massachusetts State House of Representatives, 1803-05;
  • U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, 1796;
  • U.S. Representative from Massachusetts at-large, 1797-1801;
  • member of Massachusetts state senate, 1805;
  • common pleas court judge in Massachusetts, 1814;
  • U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, 1817-22;
  • Federalist candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, 1823;
  • mayor of Boston, Mass., 1829-31.
  • Harrison, Maine, is named for him.
  • Died in Boston, Suffolk County, Mass., October 28, 1848 (age 83 years, 20 days).
  • Interment at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.
 		Relatives: Son of Elizabeth (Gray) Otis and Samuel Alleyne Otis; married, May 31, 1790, to Sally Foster (1770-1836); grandfather of James Otis (1836-1898); second great-grandfather of Robert Helyer Thayer; third cousin once removed of Oran Gray Otis, Asa H. Otis (1797-1856), John Otis, William Shaw Chandler Otis, David Perry Otis, Harris F. Otis, James Otis (1826-1875) and Harrison Gray Otis; third cousin twice removed of Charles Augustus Otis, Sr., George Lorenzo Otis, John Grant Otis, Norton Prentiss Otis, Lauren Ford Otis and Charles Eugene Otis.
 		Political family: Otis family of New York.
 		Politician named for him: Harrison Gray Otis Blake
 		See also congressional biography — Govtrack.us page — Find-A-Grave memorial

Title The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 4 Contributor New England Historic Genealogical Society Publisher S.G. Drake, 1850

Page 143

I. Harrison Gray,6 b. 8 Oct., 1765, m. Sally, dau. of William Foster, Esq., merchant of Boston, 31 May, 1790. She was b. 10 Jan., 1770, and d. 6 Sept., 1838, te. 66 years and 8 months nearly. A very just tribute to her memory may be found in a Philadelphia paper of the time.

Mr. Otis d. 28 Oct., 1848, Saturday, at 2 o'clock, A. M., at his residence in Beacon Street, Boston, in the 84th year of his age.

He graduated at H. C. 1783, read law with John Lowell, was admitted to the Bar 1786, and was chosen Representative in Congress for the Suffolk District in 1797, as soon as he was constitutionally qualified by age, as the successor of Fisher Ames, which station he held during the whole of the Administrntion of John Adams — eight years. For many years he was an active and eminent member of one or other branch of the State Legislature; — Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1803 to 1805, and for six years President of the Senate. He also, at different periods, held the office of Judge of the Boston Court of Common Pleas, and third Mayor of the city of Boston, Jan., 1829. He was elected a Senator to the 16th Congress, 1817, which station he held for five years, when he resigned, June, 1822.

In 1823, after the long administration of Gov. Brooks, he was the Federal candidate for Governor of the Commonwealth, but the strong rally of the Democratic party in that year, brought into office Gov. Eustis in opposition to him.

He was one of the prominent members of the convention that met at Hartford in Dec, 1814, to deliberate on the condition of public affairs;— and many years since he wrote and published a series of letters, in a pamphlet form, in vindication of the views and proceedings of that convention.

On retiring from the mayoralty, he withdrew from all public employment, and resided till his decease in his elegant mansion in Boston.

Page 152

Hon. Harrison Gray," (172) who m. Sally Foster, had:

(315) I. Elizabeth Gray,7 b. 1 June, 1791, m. George W., son of Theodore Lyman, and d. at St. Croix, "W. I., 20 Dec. 1824. She had three sons and two daughters;

(316) II. Harrison Gray,7 b. 7 August, 1792, m. Eliza Henderson, dau. of W. H. Boardman, of Boston. He grad. H. C. 1811, read law with his father and H. Binney, Esq., and was admitted to the bar 1814. His death occurred suddenly at Springfield, 3 January, 1827;

(317) III. Sally,7 b. 22 Dec, 1793, m. Israel Thorndike, of Beverly, d. 2 Dec, 1819, had one son and three daughters;

(318) IV. Mary Foster,7 b. 15 June, 1795, d. 17 Jan., 1796;

(319) V. Alleyne,7 b. 16 July, 1796, drowned 1806;

(320) VI. George,7 b. 1797, d. the next year;

(321) VII. Sophia Harrison,7 b. 29 March, 1799, m. Andrew Ritchie, 9 Dec, 1823, has two sons and one daughter;

(322) VIII. James William,7 b. 18 May, 1800, m. Martha, dau. of William Church, of Providence, R. I, Jan. 1825. He resides in N. Y.;

(323) IX. William Foster,7 b. 1 Dec, 1801, H. C, 1821, m. Emily, dau. of Josiah Marshall, 18 May, 1831. She d. 17 Aug., 183G, se. 29;

(324) X. Alleyne,7b. 27 Aug., 1807, grad. at H. C. 1825, resides in Boston;

(325) XI. George Harrison,7 b. 4 Sept., 1810, d. 25 Oct, 1833.



The best way to get to know Senator Otis is through his letters:

The life and letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848 (1913)

Author: Morison, Samuel Eliot, 1887-1976 Volume: 1 Subject: Otis, Harrison Gray, 1765-1848; Hartford Convention (1814-1815 : Hartford, Conn.) Publisher: Boston ; New York : Houghton Mifflin Company Possible copyright status: NOT_IN_COPYRIGHT Language: English Call number: 1980300 Digitizing sponsor: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Book contributor: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Collection: americana

Full catalog record: MARCXML


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Harrison Gray Otis, U.S. Senator's Timeline

October 8, 1765
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts
May 3, 1791
Age 25
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
August 7, 1792
Age 26
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
December 22, 1793
Age 28
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
June 15, 1795
Age 29
July 16, 1796
Age 30
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Age 31
Massachusetts, United States
March 29, 1799
Age 33
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
May 18, 1800
Age 34