William Foster Otis

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William Foster Otis

Birthplace: Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Versailles, Yvelines, Île-de-France, France
Cause of death: syncope of the heart
Place of Burial: Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Harrison Gray Otis, U.S. Senator and Sally Otis
Husband of Emily Otis
Father of Emily Marshall Eliot; Mary Alleyne Stevens and George Harrison Otis
Brother of Elizabeth Gray Lyman; Harrison Gray Otis; Sally Ann Thorndike; Mary Foster Otis; Alleyne Otis and 5 others

Occupation: Attorney, legislator
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About William Foster Otis

  • Title The hundred Boston orators appointed by the municipal authorities and other public bodies, from 1770 to 1852: comprising historical gleanings illustrating the principles and progress of our republican institutions
  • Author James Spear Loring
  • Edition 2
  • Publisher J. P. Jewett and company, 1852
  • Original from the University of Virginia
  • Digitized Sep 7, 2007
  • Length 694 pages



Was born in Boston, Dec. 1, 1801, and the son of Harrison Gray Otis, and Sally Foster, his wife. He entered the Latin School in 1818; graduated at Harvard College in 1821, where he took part in a conference on the state of physical science, oratory, fine writing, and metaphysics, in England, during the reign of Queen Anne; read law with Harrison Gray Otis, Jr., and Augustus Peabody; became a counsellor-at-law, and married Emily, a daughter of Josiah Marshall, Esq., a selectman of Boston, May 18,1881, who died Aug. 17,1836, aged 29.

Mr. Otis was a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, in 1828; a major in the Boston regiment, a judge-advocate, a representative to the State Legislature, and president of the Young Men's Temperance Society.

At the public festival in Faneuil Hall, after the delivery of the oration for the young men of this city, the following sentiment was given to the orator of the day: *' Rich in the hereditary possession of the virtues and talents of his ancestors,— far richer in possessing the hearts of the present generation."

We will quote the peroration of this performance: " Do we suppose that we can shed our liberty upon other countries without exertion, and let it fall upon them like the dew which stirs not the leaf ? No; liberty must be long held suspended over them in the atmosphere, by our unseen and unwearied power. The more intense the heat which oppresses them, the more must it saturate and surcharge the air, till, at last, when the ground is parched dry, when vegetation is crisped up, and the gasping people are ready to plunge into destruction for relief, then will it call forth its hosts from every quarter of the horizon; then will the sky be overcast, the landscape darkened, and Liberty, at one peal, with one flash, will pour down her million streams; then will she lift up the voice, which echoed, in days of yore, from the peaks of Otter to the Grand Monadhock; then will

Jura answer through her misty cloud,

Back to the joyous Alps, who call to her aloud.

"We are asked upon what is our reliance in times of excitement; what checks have we upon popular violence; what compensation for human infirmities; what substitutes for bayonets, dragoons, and an aristocracy? I answer, the religion and morality of the people. Not the religion of the State; not the morality of the fashionable. Thank Heaven, our house is of no Philistine architecture ! Our trust — our only trust — is where it ought to be,— the religion and morality of the wholo people. Upon that depends, and ought to depend, all that we enjoy or hope. Our strength is in length, in breadth, and in depth. It is in us, and must be felt and exercised by each one and all of us. or our downfall is doomed. For we are the people ; we are our governors ; we are the Lord's anointed ; we are the powers that be, and we bear not the sword in vain. And upon us is the responsibility; humble and obscure, domestic and retiring, secluded and solitary, we may be,— but ours is still the great national trust, go where we will; and to God are we, one and all, accountable. Our responsibility is with us; it weighs upon us; it overhangs us, like the dome of this house: its universal pressure is the great principle of our protection. If the just rules of religion and morality pervade through all its parts, the prodigious weight is gracefully sustained; but if vice and corruption creep in its divided circles, the enfeebled fabric will yawn in dread chasms, and, crumbling, will overwhelm us with unutterable ruin!"


  • Title Necrology of alumni of Harvard college, 1851-52 to 1862-63
  • Author Joseph Palmer
  • Publisher Printed by J. Wilson and son, 1864
  • Original from Harvard University
  • Digitized Feb 2, 2008
  • Length 536 pages

Page 194

1821.—William Foster Otis, of Boston, died in Versailles, France, 29 May, 1858, aged 56. His disease was "syncope of the heart." His death was very sudden, he having been in perfect health until about fifteen minutes before he breathed his last. He left Boston on the 17th of June, 1857, for Liverpool, and had been travelling in England and on the Continent. The last winter he spent in Paris, and had been about two weeks in Versailles at the time of his death. He was the third son of Hon. Harrison Gray (H.C. 1783) and Sally (Foster) Otis; and was born in Boston, 1 December, 1801. He was fitted for college at the Public Latin School in Boston. Having chosen the profession of law, he pursued his legal studies with his eldest brother, Harrison Gray Otis, jun. (H.C. 1811), and Augustus Peabody (D.C. 1803), of Boston. On his admission to the bar, he established himself in the practice of his profession in Boston. In early life he took an active part in political and military affairs. He was an officer in the New-England Guards; was a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1828; and was commissioned as a major in the Boston regiment. He was elected a representative to the legislature in 1830, and was reelected the two following years. On the 4th of July, 1831, he delivered an oration before the young men of Boston, which excited much attention from the spirit of "Young America" which he displayed in it; and which at that time, among the older class, was deemed to be too much in advance of the age. He early retired from public life and from the practice of his profession, preferring the quiet of private life to political strifes and forensic contests. He was a gentleman of polished manners, affable in his deportment, and of unblemished moral character. He was, for several years, president of the Young Men's Temperance Society; was an active member of the Church of the Advent in Boston, was a liberal contributor to its support, and, at the time he left for Europe, was its senior warden. He married, 18 May, 1831, Emily, daughter of Josiah Marshall, Esq., a merchant of Boston. She was a lady of remarkable personal beauty and accomplishments, which were exceeded only by the goodness of her heart and the loveliness of her life. She died, 17 August, 1836, at the early age of 29. Her death was a severe affliction to her husband, from which he seemed never to recover. He left two daughters. His only son died 24 October, 1848, at the age of 12 years.


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

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., 1836, ae. 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.

Page 160

William Foster,7 (323) who m. Emily Marshall, has had:

(546) I. Emily M.8;

(547) II. Mary Alleyne8;

(548) III. George Harrison,8 d. 1848, ae. 12.




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William Foster Otis's Timeline

December 1, 1801
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
March 13, 1832
Age 30
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
October 9, 1833
Age 31
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
July 11, 1836
Age 34
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
May 25, 1858
Age 56
Versailles, Yvelines, Île-de-France, France
Age 56
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States