Nathaniel Gorham

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Founding Fathers
Nathaniel Gorham.jpg
Nathaniel Gorham
State Massachusetts
Religion Congregationalist
Founding Documents United States Constitution

Nathaniel Gorham (May 27, 1738 – June 11, 1796) was the fourteenth President of the Continental Congress. He was also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a signer of the United States Constitution, and a member of the Federalist Party.[1]

Early life

Gorham was born in Charleston, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1738, the son of Nathaniel and Mary (Soley) Gorham.[2]

He was a descendant of Ralph Gorham, who came to America about 1635, the line being traced through Ralph Gorham’s son, Capt. John, who fought valiantly in King Philip's War. The town of Gorham, Maine was named in John's honor.[3] Nathaniel was also descended from John Howland, who traveled to North America on the Mayflower with other Pilgrims. Howland helped found Plymouth Colony and signed the Mayflower Compact.

He attended public schools in Charleston, and after serving an apprenticeship with Nathaniel Coffin at New London, Conn., Nathaniel subject engaged in mercantile pursuits in his native town,[4] becoming one of the most eminent public men of his day.


Nathaniel Gorham was married in 1763 to Rebecca Call, and had nine children: Collinsworth, Emily, Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, John, Benjamin, Stephen, Lydia.[5]


He won the esteem of his fellow citizens, and was elected representative to the general court of Massachusetts from 1771 to 1775,[2][6] at a time when the spirit of resistance to tyranny was just beginning to ferment in the bosom of the Bay State men, preparing them for the stirring events of Concord and Lexington and Bunker Hill.[7]

He was also a delegate to the provincial congress from 1774–75, and then again a member of the Massachusetts legislature. From 1778 until its dissolution in 1781 he was a member of the state board of war. In 1779 he served in the Massachusetts state Constitutional Convention.[2]

Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention

Nathaniel Gorham was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782, 1783, 1786, 1787, and 1789, and he was the sixth President of the Confederation Congress from June 6, 1786, to February 2, 1787, being succeeded by Arthur St. Clair.[8] He also served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, and frequently presided over convention sessions.[9] Other members of the Massachusetts delegation to the Convention were Elbridge Gerry, Rufus King, and Caleb Strong.

While at the Convention, Washington called him to the chair when that body went into committee of the whole, and as such he presided over the convention during the greater part of its deliberations. The minutes of the convention show that he served on many of the sub-committees, and that he expressed his views with vigor during the many debates. He was a contemporary with Washington, Adams, Hancock, Jay, Clinton and others who shaped the destiny of the new nation, and the fact that he held so many important public offices at a time when no politics prevailed indicates that he was a man of high character, strict integrity and strong mental characteristics.[2]


After the conclusion of the Convention, he served as a judge of the Massachusetts court of common pleas, his term lasting from 1785 to 1791.[10]

Later life

He retired from public life after the adoption of the constitution. In 1788, in association with Oliver Phelps of Suffield, Massachusetts, and others, he purchased from the state of Massachusetts the premption right of that state in all, and to all, that part of Western New York lying between Seneca Lake on the east, the Genesee river on the west, Pennsylvania on the south and Lake Ontario on the north, estimated to contain about 2,200,000 acres and known as the “Phelps and Gorham purchase.”


Gorham died in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1796. He was interred in Phipps Street Cemetery.


Madison, Wisconsin, has numerous streets named after our Founding Fathers, including Gorham Street after Nathaniel Gorham.[11] Gorham, New York, is also named after him.[12]