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 within Healy Hall at Georgetown University.
Gaston was born in New Bern, North Carolina, the son of Dr. Alexander Gaston and Margaret Sharpe. He entered Georgetown University 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. He was a member of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1800, served in the State House of Commons (now known as the House of Representatives) 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. In 1814 Gaston was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.
Gaston was not a candidate for to Congress in 1816. He again served in the House of Commons 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. 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. Gaston was offered but 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. His home at New Bern, the Coor-Gaston House, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Elmwood, his home at Raleigh, North Carolina, was listed in 1975.
- Biographical history of North Carolina, publisher: Charles L. Van Noman. pen in Greensboro, N.C.,1905 and edited by Samuel A Court Ashe, Stephen B. Weeks and Charles L. Van Noman.
- American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
- Alfred L. Brophy, The Republics of Liberty and Letters: Progress, Union, and Constitutionalism at Graduation Addresses at the Antebellum University of North Carolina, North Carolina Law Review (2011).
- Alfred L. Brophy, "The Nat Turner Trials", North Carolina Law Review (June 2013), volume 91: 1817-80]; Alfred L. Brophy, Anti-Slavery Women and the Origins of American Jurisprudence, Texas Law Review 94 (2015): 115, 133-34.
- Weeks, Stephen Beauregard (1893). "V". Church and State in North Carolina. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins Press.
- Survey Planning Unit Staff (September 1972). "Cedar Grove Cemetery" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved 2014-08-01.
- National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- John Baxton Flowers, III & Mary Alice Hinson (July 1975). "Elmwood" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved 2015-05-01.
- Schauinger, Joseph Herman. William Gaston, Carolinian (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1949).
- United States Congress. "William Gaston (id: G000096)". 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.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 4th congressional district
1813 – 1817