Nathaniel Gorham, Signer of the US Constitution, 14th President of the Continental Congress

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Nathaniel Gorham

Birthplace: Charlestown, Boston, Massachusetts
Death: June 11, 1796 (58)
Charleston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: Phipps Street Cemetery, Charleston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Nathaniel Gorham and Mary Gorham
Husband of Rebecca Gorham
Father of Nathaniel Gorham; Rebecca Gorham; Mary Gorham; Elizabeth Gorham; Ann Brooks and 4 others
Brother of Elizabeth Leighton; Mary Gorham; John Gorham and Stephen Gorham

Occupation: Revolutionary, President of the Continental Congress and signer of the U.S. Constitution.
Managed by: Ivy Jo Smith
Last Updated:

About Nathaniel Gorham, Signer of the US Constitution, 14th President of the Continental Congress

(Wikipedia): Nathaniel was the fourteenth President of the United States in Congress assembled, under the Articles of Confederation. He also attended the Constitutional Convention and was one of the signers of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Gorham was born in Charleston, Massachusetts. He took part in public affairs at the beginning of the American Revolution, was a member of the Massachusetts General Court (Legislature) from 1771 until 1775, a delegate to the Provincial congress from 1774 until 1775, and a member of the Board of War from 1778 until its dissolution in 1781. In 1779 he served in the State constitutional convention. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1782 until 1783, and also from 1785 until 1787. Gorham also sered a term as judge of the Middlesex County, Massachusetts Court of Common Pleas.

For several months in 1787, Gorham served as one of the Massachusetts delegates to the United States Constitutional Convention. Gorham frequently served as Chairman of the Convention's Committee of the Whole, meaning that he (rather than the President of the Convention, George Washington) presided over convention sessions during the delegates' fist deliberations on the structure of the new government in late May and June of 1787. After the convention, he worked hard to see that the Constitution was approved in his home state.

In connection with Oliver Phelps, he purchased from the state of Massachusetts in 1788 pre-emption rights to an immense tract of land in western New York State which straddled the Genesee River, all for the sum of $1,000,000 (the Phelps and Gorham Purchase). The land in question had been previously ceded to Massachusetts from the state of New York under the 1786 Treaty of Hartford. The pre-emption right gave them the first or preemptive right to obtain clear title to this land from the Indians. They soon extinguished the Indian title to the portion of the land east of the Genessee River, as well as a 185,000 acre (749 km squared) tract west of the Genesee The Mill Yard Tract), surveyed all of it, laid out townships, and sold large parts to speculators and settlers. In 1790, after they defaulted in payment, they sold nearly all of their unsold lands east of the Genesee to Robert Morris, who eventually resold those lands to The Pulteney Association. Phelps and Gorham were unable to fulfill their contract in full to Massachusetts, so in 1790, they surrendered back to Massachusetts that portion of the lands which remained under the Indian title, namely, the land west of the Genesee. It also was eventually acquired by Robert Morris, who resold most of it to The Holland Land Company. Morris did keep 500,000 acres (2,000 km squared) for himself, and that land became known as The Morris Reserve.

Gorham died in Charleston, Massachusetts in 1796.

Fourteenth President of the United States in Congress assembled, under the Articles of Confederation. He served from June 1786 to November 13, 1786. He was preceded in office by John Hancock and succeeded by Arthur St. Clair.

GORHAM, Nathaniel, (father of Benjamin Gorham), a Delegate from Massachusetts; born in Charlestown, Mass., May 27, 1738; attended the public schools; engaged in mercantile pursuits; member of the provincial legislature 1771-1775; delegate to the Provincial Congress in 1774 and 1775; member of the board of war 1778-1781; delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1779; served in the State senate in 1780 and 1781; Member of the Continental Congress in 1782, 1783, 1786, 1787, and 1789, and was its president from June 6, 1786, to February 2, 1787; delegate to the Federal Convention at Philadelphia in 1787; delegate to the State constitutional convention which ratified the Federal Constitution in 1788; judge of the court of common pleas from July 1, 1785, until his resignation on May 31, 1796; interested in the purchase and settlement of lands in the Genesee Valley, N.Y.; died in Charlestown, Mass., June 11, 1796; interment in Phipps Street Cemetery.

Gorham, an eldest child, was born in 1738 at Charlestown, MA, into an old Bay Colony family of modest means. His father operated a packet boat. The youth's education was minimal. When he was about 15 years of age, he was apprenticed to a New London, CT, merchant. He quit in 1759, returned to his hometown and established a business which quickly succeeded. In 1763 he wed Rebecca Call, who was to bear nine children.

Gorham began his political career as a public notary but soon won election to the colonial legislature (1771-75). During the Revolution, he unswervingly backed the Whigs. He was a delegate to the provincial congress (1774-75), member of the Massachusetts Board of War (1778-81), delegate to the constitutional convention (1779-80), and representative in both the upper (1780) and lower (1781-87) houses of the legislature, including speaker of the latter in 1781, 1782, and 1785. In the last year, though he apparently lacked formal legal training, he began a judicial career as judge of the Middlesex County court of common pleas (1785-96). During this same period, he sat on the Governor's Council (1788-89).

During the war, British troops had ravaged much of Gorham's property, though by privateering and speculation he managed to recoup most of his fortune. Despite these pressing business concerns and his state political and judicial activities, he also served the nation. He was a member of the Continental Congress (1782-83 and 1785-87), and held the office of president from June 1786 until January 1787.

The next year, at age 49, Gorham attended the Constitutional Convention. A moderate nationalist, he attended all the sessions and played an influential role.. He spoke often, acted as chairman of the Committee of the Whole, and sat on the Committee of Detail. As a delegate to the Massachusetts ratifying convention, he stood behind the Constitution.

Some unhappy years followed. Gorham did not serve in the new government he had helped to create. In 1788 he and Oliver Phelps of Windsor, CT, and possibly others, contracted to purchase from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 6 million acres of unimproved land in western New York. The price was $1 million in devalued Massachusetts scrip. Gorham and Phelps quickly succeeded in clearing Indian title to 2,600,000 acres in the eastern section of the grant and sold much of it to settlers. Problems soon arose, however. Massachusetts scrip rose dramatically in value, enormously swelling the purchase price of the vast tract. By 1790 the two men were unable to meet their payments. The result was a financial crisis that led to Gorham's insolvency--and a fall from the heights of Boston society and political esteem.

Gorham died in 1796 at the age of 58 and is buried at the Phipps Street Cemetery in Charlestown, MA.


Birth: May 27, 1738 Death: Jun. 11, 1796

Signer of US Constitution. He was a self-made real estate magnate whose extensive contributions at the US Constitutional Convention helped shape much of America's guiding principles. Born in Massachusetts, he received little formal education before being sent as an apprentice, at the age of fifteen, to a Connecticut businessman. In 1759 he returned to his hometown of Charlestown, Massachusetts where he established a successful business and became a public notary. In 1771 he was elected to the provincial legislature and served until 1775. He believed strongly in American independence. He sat on the Board of War from 1778 to 1781 and became famous for his organizational and management skills because of the way he helped manage the logistics and manpower of the Massachusetts military. His efforts were rewarded as he was elected to both houses of his new state's legislature and served at the Massachusetts constitutional convention. In 1782 he was sent to represent his state in the Continental Congress. He served from 1782 to 1783, from 1786 to 1787 and again in 1789. He was president of the Congress from 1786 to 1787. In 1787 he was selected to represent Massachusetts at the US Constitutional Convention. He took an active role in the convention serving on the "Committee of Detail" and serving as Chairman of the "Committee for the Whole" and for several months as assistant President to the Convention when George Washington was unable to attend. He campaigned for a strong central government that could regulate the use of paper money and interstate commerce while promoting international trade. He fought for long terms for senators and presidents, sought to give the Congress wide powers while favoring the concept of the President appointing federal judges. In spite of his passionate work on behalf of his new nation he believed it would prove unsuccessful and that the nation was too large and diverse to remain as one. In 1788 he entered into a land deal involving six million acres in western New York. The venture did not work out and he and his partners were unable to fulfill their financial obligations leaving him in financial ruin and causing him to lose his political popularity. However, even though he had no legal training, he was appointed a state judge and sat on the bench from 1788 until he resigned in 1796. He died in his hometown at the age of fifty-eight. (bio by: Bigwoo)

Family links:

 Rebecca Call Gorham (1744 - 1812)*

 Nathaniel Gorham (1763 - 1826)*
 Benjamin Gorham (1775 - 1855)*
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Burial: Phipps Street Burying Ground Charlestown Suffolk County Massachusetts, USA

Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: Mar 15, 1999 Find A Grave Memorial# 4713

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Nathaniel Gorham, Signer of the US Constitution, 14th President of the Continental Congress's Timeline

May 22, 1738
Boston, Massachusetts
October 25, 1763
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
March 20, 1765
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
October 7, 1767
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
July 21, 1769
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
March 3, 1771
Boston, Middlesex, Massachusetts
November 22, 1772
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
February 13, 1775
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts