Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Gorham, Nathaniel

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GORHAM, Nathaniel, statesman, b. in Charlestown, Mass., 27 May, 1738; d. there, 11 June, 1796. After receiving a common-school education, he engaged in mercantile pursuits in his native town. He took an active part in public affairs at the beginning of the Revolution, was a member of the colonial legislature from 1771 till 1775, a delegate to the Provincial congress from 1774 till 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 till 1783, and also from 1785 till 1787, serving as president of that body in June, 1786. For several years he was judge of the court of common pleas. He took high rank in the convention that framed the National constitution, and, when it was sitting as committee of the whole, he was called by Washington to preside, and filled the chair for three months. He afterward exerted a powerful influence in securing the ratification of the constitution in the State convention. In connection with Oliver Phelps he purchased from the state of Massachusetts in 1786 an immense tract of land on Genesee river, for the sum of $l,000,000. This had been previously ceded to Massachusetts from the state of New York. They soon extinguished the Indian title to a part of this territory, surveyed it into tracts, laid out townships, and sold large parts to speculators and settlers. In 1790 they had sold nearly all their property, and, being unable to fulfil their contract in full to Massachusetts, Phelps and Gorham compromised and surrendered that portion of the land which remained under the Indian title. — His eldest son, Nathaniel, d. in Canandaigua, N. Y., 22 Oct., 1836, was a pioneer settler of this tract, having been placed there in charge of his father's interests. — Another son, Benjamin, lawyer, b. in Charlestown, Mass., 13 Feb., 1775; d. in Boston, Mass., 27 Sept., 1855, was graduated at Harvard in 1795. He studied law under Theophilus Parsons, and rose to eminence at the Boston bar. He was elected a representative to congress as a Federalist to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Jonathan Mason, and served from 1820 till 1821. He was again in congress from 1827 till 1831, and from 1833 till 1835. He was also a member of the state house of representatives. He gave his professional services without compensation to defend the newspaper press in libel suits.