Col. John Gorham

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John Gorham

Also Known As: "Gorhams Rangers"
Birthdate: (42)
Birthplace: Yarmouth, Barnstable County, Province of Massachusetts
Death: December 1751 (41)
London, Middlesex, England, United Kingdom (Smallpox)
Immediate Family:

Son of Col. Shubael Gorham and Mary Gorham
Husband of Elizabeth Gorham
Father of Susannah Gorham; Anna Gorham; John Gorham; Lt. Christopher Gorham; Elizabeth Rogers and 8 others
Brother of Col. David Gorham; Mary Clapp; William Gorham; Lydia Gorham; Hannah Gorham and 3 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Col. John Gorham

Added by Elwin C. Nickerson-Harwich, Massachusetts - Formed with his Brother and others North Americas First Every Elite Ranger Troops/ Later to be Combined with Robert Rogers Rangers.Regiment.Born at Barnstable, Mass., on December 12, 1709, John Gorham began working on ships operating out of the port before he had turned twenty, trading at various ports in Canada, and he was occasionally involved in land speculation in Nova Scotia and Maine. Following the family pattern, however, he entered into military service before 1741. At the outbreak of King George's War in 1744, Gorham organized a group of about 50 Rangers in New England that was sent to reinforce the garrison at Annapolis Royal, N.S. Gorham's Rangers, mostly Mohawks or persons of mixed-blood Native americans From East Harwich, were a highly successful free-ranging unit that employed "unorthodox" tactics -- i.e., those not commonly employed by British regulars -- including the applied use of Close Battle tactics/ Tomahawks/ knives., Most Native and mixed Blood Troops Went to This Battle without a Rifle/ECN/. Their arrival at Annapolis Royal shifted the military balance in favor of the English, and for this, Gorham received wide recognition. His Rangers rapidly gained a fearsome reputation among the French and indigenous populations. Early in 1745, Gorham returned to Massachusetts to recruit additional Rangers, and was persuaded by Governor Shirley and William Pepperell to join the expedition against Louisburg and Isle Royale. At their request, Gorham accepted a commission as Lt. Col. of the 7th Massachusetts Regiment commanded by his father. John Gorham organized the landing at Gabarus Bay on April 30, 1745 and, along with Lt. Col. Arthur Noble, led the failed assault on the Island Battery on 23 May. With his father's death on February 20, 1745/46, he was promoted to Colonel of the 7th Massachusetts and remained in effective command of New England forces at Louisburg until April 1746. /ECN/

John Gorham1 was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts. His father, Shubael Gorham (1686-1746) was a military officer and had been with Colonel John March in 1707 and then again, probably, with Nicholson when the English took Port Royal in 1710. John, in his earlier years, was more a merchant and a land speculator than the woods fighter he was to become. His trading activities undoubtedly gave him a good sense of how to deal with the inland natives. In 1732, he married a Massachusetts girl, Elizabeth Allen, and, together, they had 15 children (not an unusual number in those days). Though, as we will see, Gorham was to spend a lot of time in his later years in Nova Scotia -- during which time he earned a reputation as a negotiator and Indian fighter -- his home was always Barnstable. Gorham made his first official visit to Nova Scotia in September of 1744 when he arrived with Captain Edward Tyng at Annapolis Royal. Tyng had sailed from Boston to bring relief to the besieged garrison at Annapolis Royal. Gorham had with him "fifty picked Indians," Mohawks of the Finger Lakes district (present day upstate New York). "Gorham Rangers" were to make an immediate impact and the siege was soon at an end. With the arrival of "Gorham Rangers," matters were to be put on an entirely different basis in Nova Scotia then what they had been. The first 34 years of British occupation in Nova Scotia had consisted of a holding or defensive operation: the Gorham Rangers were an offensive bunch and they knew exactly how to apply frontier techniques to their benefit. They were to make a lasting impression and were to become much hated by the French and the local Indians. Gorham was soon back in Boston and caught up in the plans which were then brewing to launch an attack against Louisbourg, a place, which to the English colonials, was a piratical and popish nest which had to be cleaned out, once and for all. Being a man who was noted for turning plans into action, Gorham was no doubt one of the prime movers in the great colonial assault against Louisbourg which came about in 1745. This great enterprise of New England against Louisbourg, was, for the Gormans, very much a family affair. The 7th Massachusetts Regiment was commanded by Gorham's father. Gorham, Sr., had with him his two sons: John, the subject of this biographical note, and David (b. 1712). John was put in charge of securing at Boston a sufficient number of whale boats needed for the landing at Louisbourg. At Louisbourg, John Gorham, on the 30th of April 1745: successfully led the troops off the larger vessels, into the whale boats, and onto the shores of Garabus Bay. He was with Colonel Arthur Noble, when, borne in the small landing boats, a colonial contingent of volunteers assaulted the Island Battery in Louisbourg Harbour on May 23rd (they were badly cut up, as my larger story will show, but little fault could be assigned to either Noble or Gorham). After the French capitulated, a number of the colonials were to stay over during the winter of 1745/1746 awaiting their replacements which was to be a body of regular British soldiers due in from Gibralter the following spring. Both Gorham and his father were part of the wintering garrison. Gorham, Sr., was to die that winter;2 and Gorham, on the spot, was to succeed his father as the regimental commander. Excepting those who died occupying their prize during the winter of 1745/46, most of the colonial heroes, John Gorham and his brother among them, returned3 back to their New England homes during the summer of 1746. Being recognized as one of the most knowledgeable of both the territory and of the native populations in Nova Scotia, Gorham was to devote much of the next five years of his life in Nova Scotia. During the summer of 1746 he was once again in Nova Scotia, this time with his 21 year old brother, Joseph who was commissioned to be a lieutenant in the Rangers. Gorham continued to extend and entrench the British presence in Nova Scotia. Late in 1746 he marched with Noble and five hundred other New Englanders who were to take up a position at Grand Pré. (Gorham had just left Noble, in January of 1747, by just two days, when the French regulars, having made a brilliant cross-country winter march, attacked and overtook the larger English force; killing, in the process, a number of Englishmen, including Noble -- in the body of my work I tell of the Massacre at Grand Pre.) Having returned to his home at Barnstable for a short stay with his family, Gorham is soon found conferring with Governor Shirley about the state of Nova Scotia. It was determined that Gorham (his wife accompanied him) should go to England and meet with the Duke of Newcastle being the person with the power to do something about the situation in Nova Scotia. At the end of April, 1747, Gorham set sail from Boston, likely in his own sloop, arriving at England approximately two months later. Apparently, the powerful elite at London were most impressed with our colonial hero and his wife Elizabeth (reported to have been a beautiful and an accomplished woman). At one point they were presented to George II at the court at Saint James. Having made the summer rounds, Gorham was sent back to America as a captain in the military, as commissioned by the king, with a dispatch for Governor Shirley that he should do everything he could to encourage Gorham's splendid work in Nova Scotia: it would not appear that the dispatches contained any promise of direct help in the resolution of stopping the French incursions into Acadia. Gorham's role as a negotiator and fighter was to continue even though, in 1748, a peace was declared by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. (Did I say peace! Well, at best it was never more than a very uneasy eight year truce sandwiched between two wars). During 1748, Gorham's Rangers continued to be with the British regulars at Annapolis Royal (they had their own accommodations outside of the fort). To supplement this land force, Gorham also sent up from Massachusetts two armed "schooners," the Anson (Captain John Beare) and the Warren (70 tons, Captain Jonathan Davis).4 (Gorham was apparently under contract with the Massachusetts government to supply these land and sea forces; and, as was usual in those days, many years were to pass before Gorham's accounts were to be finally settled.) In the autumn of 1748, Gorham himself came up from New England to clear out certain of the French troublemakers at Minas and then sailed (October 19th) over to the Saint John River, there to deal with certain usurpers which were locating themselves on territory (present day New Brunswick) which the English calculated was part of Acadia and therefore theirs. While Gorham going from place to place putting out French flames in Acadia, his wife, Elizabeth, back in Barnstable gave birth to their 13th child and seventh son, Solomon. With the arrival of Edward Cornwallis in 1749, Gorham had a new boss. Gorham was appointed a member of the Counsel which was formed at the newly founded capital of Halifax. So too, in 1749, he built Fort Sackville at the head of Bedford Basin. Also in that year, Gorham, took to one of his armed vessels and once again journeyed to the Saint John River. Gorham had with him a man possessing a similar background and similar talents, Edward How. The object of the mission was to win over the "Saint John Indians." (During this time, a time of "peace," the French goaded the Indians on to attacking the English everywhere they were to be found, especially at their new settlements. The French and the English might have declared "peace," but war it was between the English and the Micmac, and, at an intensity greater then it had been and was ever to be -- and the French were most certainly behind every bit of it.) If the French incursions into Acadian territory (the present day New Brunswick) were to stop, then it was to happen either by English diplomats going to France or British troops coming to Acadia. No matter which action was to be initiated, it would have to happen in London; so, Gorham, in 1751, left Halifax aboard the Osborne,5 the first ship to be built at Halifax in August of 1751; his objective was to acquaint the English authorities with the difficulties in Acadia and to induce them, if he could, to take some sort of decisive action, one way or the other. Though, within a few short years, England was moved to take very decisive action to deal with the French in North America, it is not known to what extent Gorham influence might have been. At the age of only 43, Gorham died within months of his arrival at London: smallpox. The scourge of the age, an indiscriminate killer the world over, took another victim.6 FOOTNOTES:

[1] We see that Gorham's brother Joseph, spelt his surname, "Goreham." The name, however, generally used, and as appears in the documents, is "Gorham." [Harry Piers, "The 40th Regiment ..." NSHS, Vol #21 (1927) at p. 153.] [2] As was typical of any war, more colonial lives were lost during the winter to disease then were lost in the fight to take the fort. [3] NSHS, vol. 30, p. 39. [4] It is to be remembered that the two English admirals Anson and Warren on May 14th, 1747, beat the French fleet of La Jonquière off the Cape Finisterre, off the northwest coast of Spain.. [5] The Osborne was not decked out to necessarily accommodate travelers -- though I am sure that her owner and wife were as comfortable as passengers might be on a cross oceanic passage -- the Osborne, mounting "ten carriage guns," was carrying lumber, one of the first exports, other than fish and furs, out of the province. [6] See DCB, vol. iii, p. 260; and see "John Gorham 1709-1751," by George T. Bates NSHS, vol. 30, p. 27.

At the outbreak of King George's War in 1744, Gorham organized a group of about 50 Rangers in New England that was sent to reinforce the garrison at Annapolis Royal, in Nova Scotia. Gorham's Rangers mostly Mohawks or persons of mixed blood, were a highly successful free-ranging unit that employed unorthodox tactics -- ie. those not commonly employed by British Regulars including the applied use of terror. Their arrival at Annapolis Royal shifted the military balance in favor of the British, and for this, Gorham was widely recognized. His Rangers rapidly gained a fearsome reputation among the French and indigenous populations. Early in 1745, Gorham returned to Massachuesetts to recruit additional Rangers, and was persuaded by Governor Shirley and William Pepperell to join the expedition against Louisburg and Ile Royale. At their request, Gorham accepted a commission as Lt. Colonel of the 7th Massachuesetts Regiment commanded by his father. John Gorham organized the landing at Garabus Bay on 30 April 1745 and along with Lt. Colonel Arthur Noble, led the failed assault ont he Island Battery on 23 May. With his fathers death in 1745 or 1746 he was promoted to full Colonel of the 7th Massachuesetts and remained in effective command of New England focres at Louisburg until April 1746.

The Louisburg victory, however, did not prove as beneficial as Gorham had wished. First, rivalries with other officers cost him the opportunity to deliver news of the victory personally to George II, effectively denying him a measure of recognition and monetary reward; second, his troops were not allowed to plunder the area around Louisburg as they had been promised, depriving him of a large, and fully expected source of compensation. Finally, Gorham and his troops never received any direct compensation from the crown for their services. The lack of financial support from the British government became an issue that occupied much of Gorham's time and energy during the last five years of his life. Throughout the remainder of 1746 and 1747, Gorham and his Rangers enhanced their reputation as being "far more terrible than European soldiers," and came to be viewed as the most effective fighting unit in the Province. It was said that their reputation was such that neither French nor Indians would meet with them, and the arrival of Gorham's Rangers was usually sufficient cause for attacking parties to disperse. After the defeat of Arthur Noble by French forces at Grand Pr�, January 1747, Gorham returned to New England and received permission to form a much larger company of Rangers (about 100 men). With the support of the Duke of Newcastle and George II in England (gathered on a brief trip to London), and of Paul Mascarene and Gov. Shirley in the colonies, the defense of the entire province of Nova Scotia fell de facto into Gorham's hands. Following the peace treaty with France, the Rangers continued to play a vital role in furthering British interests in Nova Scotia. In 1748, Mascarene order Gorham to subdue French settlers along the disputed St. John River and to impose the Oath of Allegiance. In addition, he helped to establish Fort Sackville as a means of protecting the newly founded Halifax, and his Rangers were often involved in quelling disturbances of the Micmac and St. John Indians. Gorham's career reached its apex in July 1749 when he was appointed to the Nova Scotia Council, on which he served until August 1751. But beginning with the appointment of Edward Cornwallis as Governor in July 1749, his fortunes began to decline. Cornwallis and Gorham shared a mutual antipathy perhaps stemming from Cornwallis' feeling that Gorham had already received adequate compensation for his efforts and that the constant requests for additional payment were exorbitant. In 1751, Gorham traveled to England in an attempt to satisfy his financial claims. He died of smallpox in London in 1751.

Scope and contents: Material in this collection is concentrated in the years 1748-1750, when Gorham was in the vicinity of Halifax, N.S. With the exception of two deeds (dated 1772, from his son, Solomon) and one letter (1749 June) that concern the sale of property, and of the genealogical material, all items in the collection pertain to John Gorham's military career in Nova Scotia. Seven letters relate to his military activities around Fort Sackville in the Fall of 1749, describing his efforts and attempting to gain support among members of the government. Four letters include attempts to get back pay owed the Rangers. ___________________________

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Col. John Gorham's Timeline

December 12, 1709
Yarmouth, Barnstable County, Province of Massachusetts
Age 22
Age 23
Age 26
January 10, 1737
Age 27
Barnstable, Barnstable County, Province of Massachusetts
December 10, 1739
Age 29
Barmstable, Barnstable, Massachusetts, United States
Age 31
Age 32
Age 33