William J. Gaston (September 19, 1778 – January 23, 1844) was a jurist and United States Representative from North Carolina. Gaston is the author of the official state song of North Carolina, “The Old North State”. Gaston County, North Carolina is named after him, as are Lake Gaston, the city of Gastonia, North Carolina, and Gaston Hall at Georgetown University.
Gaston was born in New Bern, North Carolina, the son of Dr. Alexander Gaston and Margaret (née Sharpe) Gaston. He entered Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., at the age of thirteen, becoming its first student. Due to illness shortly thereafter, he also became its first dropout.
After Georgetown and some education in North Carolina, he graduated from Princeton University in 1796, where he studied law. Gaston was admitted to the bar in 1798 and commenced practice in New Bern, North Carolina. He was a member of the State senate in 1800, served in the State House of Commons from 1807 to 1809, and as its speaker in 1808. He was again a member of the State senate in 1812, 1818, and 1819, and was elected as a Federalist to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Congresses (March 4, 1813 – March 3, 1817). While in Congress, he obtained a federal charter for Georgetown University.
Gaston was not a candidate for renomination to Congress in 1816. He again served in the State house of representatives in 1824, 1827, 1828, 1829, and 1831. In 1832 Gaston delivered a graduation address at the University of North Carolina, which emphasized the duties of the graduates to themselves and their communities and urged them to take action against slavery. Three years later he gave an address to the Princeton student literary societies. Gaston was appointed judge of the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1833, holding the position until his death. As a justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Gaston wrote a decision that limited the control that slave-owners could exercise over enslaved humans. Interestingly, as a legislator, Gaston had introduced the bill that established the state Supreme Court as a distinct body in 1818. He was also a member of the State constitutional convention in 1835 and declined a nomination for election to the United States Senate in 1840.
Gaston won elective office on several occasions, even though the Constitution of North Carolina before 1835 seemed to prohibit it, because Gaston was a Roman Catholic. He was largely responsible, as a member of the constitutional convention of 1835, for removing official discrimination against Catholics from North Carolina law. He died in Raleigh, North Carolina, on January 23, 1844, and was interred in Cedar Grove Cemetery, New Bern, N.C.
- Biographical history of North Carolina, publisher: Charles L. Van Noppen in Greensboro, N.C.,1905 and edited by Samuel A'Court Ashe, Stephen B. Weeks and Charles L. Van Noppen
- The Republics of Liberty and Letters: Progress, Union, and Constitutionalism at Graduation Addresses at the Antebellum University of Alabama,
- Alfred L. Brophy, "The Nat Turner Trials", North Carolina Law Review (June 2013), volume 91: 1817-80.
- Weeks, Stephen Beauregard (1893). "V". Church and State in North Carolina. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins Press.
- Schauinger, Joseph Herman. William Gaston, Carolinian (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1949).
- William Gaston at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- William Gaston at Find a Grave
- North Carolina History Project
- Catholic Encyclopedia
- William Gaston Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Entry in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, University of North Carolina Press.
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 4th congressional district
1813 – 1817