Nathaniel Gorham

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Nathaniel Gorham
Nathaniel Gorham.jpg
Nathaniel Gorham
by Charles Willson Peale, circa 1793
6th President of the Confederation Congress
In office
June 6, 1786 – February 2, 1787[1]
Preceded byJohn Hancock
Succeeded byArthur St. Clair
Personal details
Born(1738-05-27)May 27, 1738
Charlestown, Province of Massachusetts Bay
DiedJune 11, 1796(1796-06-11) (aged 58)
Charlestown, Massachusetts
Resting placePhipps Street Burying Ground
SpouseRebecca Call
  • Collinsworth Gorham
  • Emily Gorham
  • Mary Gorham
  • Elizabeth Gorham
  • Ann Gorham
  • John Gorham
  • Benjamin Gorham
  • Stephen Gorham
  • Lydia Gorham
ProfessionPolitician, merchant

Nathaniel Gorham (May 27, 1738 – June 11, 1796; sometimes spelled Nathanial) was an American Founding Father, merchant, and politician from Massachusetts. He was a delegate from the Bay Colony to the Continental Congress and for six months served as the presiding officer of that body under the Articles of Confederation. He also attended the Constitutional Convention, served on its Committee of Detail, and signed the United States Constitution.


Starting at 15, Gorham served an apprenticeship with a merchant in New London, Connecticut, after which he opened a merchant house in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1759.[2] He took part in public affairs at the beginning of the American Revolution: he 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 Congress of the Confederation from 1782 until 1783, and also from 1785 until 1787, serving as its president for five months from June 6 to November 5, 1786, after the resignation of John Hancock. Gorham also served a term as judge of the Middlesex County Court of Common Pleas.[3]

Gorham married Rebecca Call (May 14, 1744 – November 18, 1812), who was descended from Anglican vicar and the first minister of Dorchester, Massachusetts, John Maverick, and his royally descended wife, Mary Gye Maverick. Rebecca was the daughter of Caleb Call and Rebecca Stimson.[4] They were the parents of nine children.[5]

In 1786, it might have been Gorham who suggested to Alexander Hamilton that Prince Henry of Prussia would become president[6] or king of the United States. However, the offer was revoked before the prince could make a reply.[7]

For several months in 1787, Gorham served as one of the Massachusetts delegates to the United States Constitutional Convention.[3] 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' first deliberations on the structure of the new government in late May and June 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 (about $16 million today).[8][9] 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 Native Americans. They soon extinguished the Native American title to the portion of the land east of the Genesee River, as well as a 185,000 acres (750 km2) tract west of the Genesee, the Mill Yard Tract, surveyed all of it, laid out townships, and sold large parts to speculators and settlers. His son Nathaniel Gorham Jr. was a pioneer settler of this tract, having been placed in charge of his father's interests there.[10] In 1790, after Gorham and Phelps defaulted in payment, they sold nearly all of their remaining 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 Native American 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.

Death and legacy[edit]

Gorham died in Charlestown in 1796. He is buried in the Phipps Street Cemetery in Charlestown.[8][11] Gorham Street in Madison, Wisconsin, is named in his honor.[12] The town of Gorham, New York, is also named in his honor.[13]


Gorham's descendants number in the thousands today.[14] Some of his notable descendants include:


  1. ^ Editors. "GORHAM, Nathaniel, (1738–1796)". Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress: 1774–present. United States Congress. Retrieved April 18, 2018. Member of the Continental Congress in 1782, 1783, 1786, 1787, and 1789, and was its president from June 6, 1786, to February 2, 1787 {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  2. ^ Lettieri, Ronald J. (1999). "Gorham, Nathaniel". American National Biography (online ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0100334. (subscription required)
  3. ^ a b Morton, p. 118.
  4. ^ Waters, p. 366.
  5. ^ Morton, p. 117.
  6. ^ Krauel, Richard (1911). "Prince Henry of Prussia and the Regency of the United States, 1786". The American Historical Review. 17 (1): 44–51. doi:10.2307/1832837. JSTOR 1832837.
  7. ^ Fradin, Dennis Brindell (2005). The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9780802789723.
  8. ^ a b Morton, p. 120.
  9. ^ McKeveley, Blake (January 1939). "Historic Aspects of the Phelps and Gorham Treaty of July 4–8, 1788" (PDF). Rochester History. Rochester Public Library. 1 (1). ISSN 0035-7413. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 3, 2007. Retrieved April 29, 2010.
  10. ^ Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Gorham, Nathaniel" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  11. ^ US Army Center of Military History
  12. ^ "Odd Wisconsin Archives". Archived from the original on April 23, 2006.
  13. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 140.
  14. ^ Roberts, Gary Boyd (2001). "#54 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Harvard, Its Presidents, and Kings". New England New England Historic Genealogical Society. Retrieved July 5, 2012.


  • Haxtun, Annie Arnoux. Signers of the Mayflower Compact . Publisher: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1998. ISBN 0-8063-0173-2.
  • MMOA.The bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume 17. Publisher: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1922.
  • Morton, Joseph C. Shapers of the great debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787: a biographical dictionary Volume 8 of Shapers of the great American debates. Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006 ISBN 0-313-33021-2.
  • Waters, Henry Fitz-Gilbert The New England historical and genealogical register, Volume 59. Publisher: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1905.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by President of the Continental Congress
June 6, 1786 – November 5, 1786
Succeeded by