Did you know… Elbridge Gerry?

Signers of the Declaration of Independence

We posted sometime back about Ann Gerry, Elbridge Gerry’s wife since he also served as Vice President of the United States. You can see that article here: https://business.facebook.com/historicalnovelsrus/posts/199507974074569?__tn__=K-R

Elbridge Gerry( July 17, 1744 (O.S. July 6, 1744) – November 23, 1814 ) was born into a Boston merchant family. His father Thomas had come to the colonies in 1730 from England, and quickly established a fleet of ships plying their trade throughout the western hemisphere. His mother, Elizabeth Greenleaf, came from another merchant family. His unusual first name was from an ancestor of Elizbeth’s, John Elbridge. Elbridge was the third of eleven children. Coming from a wealthy family, he was educated at home until he began attending Harvard, graduating with both a bachelor’s and a master’s from that institution. He didn’t follow the usual pattern of the wealthy in attending university in England. Elbridge originally intended to study medicine but was persuaded to join the family merchant business, shipping dried cod to ports in Europe and the Caribbean.

Elbridge married Ann Thompson, from Dublin. She returned to New York City from Dublin in the mid-1780s, when she was about 20. There she caught the attention of Elbridge, some 17 years her senior. Elbridge was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a member of the Continental Congress. They apparently had a fervent mutual romance and married January 12, 1786. The couple had ten children in 14 years, losing only one at a young age, uncommon for the times.

Elbridge was elected to the colonial legislature and became friends with Sam Adams. Upon the closing of Boston port during British reprisal, he helped the city by shipping goods from his home port of Marblehead into the city, largely negating the British tyranny. When the British royal governor presented letters arguing for the colony’s submission, Elbridge was an ardent foe, and with Adams argued for defiance and independence.

He was appointed to the committee for correspondence between the colonies, and subsequently to the Continental Congress. However, he declined election to the First Continental Congress, owing to the illness and death of his father. After a suitable period of mourning, he rejoined the fray and was instrumental in warning John Hancock and Sam Adams of the approach of British troops on Lexington and Concord the night of April 18, 1775, barely eluding capture himself. Hancock responded:

Lexington, April 18th, 1775.   I am much obliged for your notice. It is said the officers are gone to Concord, and I will send word thither. I am full with you, that we ought to be serious, and I hope your decision will be effectual. I intend doing myself the pleasure of being with you to-morrow. My respects to the committee.

I am your real friend,


Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 120-130

Gerry was elected to the Second Continental Congress in December 1775, serving until 1780 and again from 1783 to 1785. If he was, as his biographer George Athan Billias admits, a “second rank figure” in a body that included such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and John and Samuel Adams, he was also a diligent legislator. His efforts to persuade wavering middle colony delegates to support independence during the summer of 1776 evoked paeans of praise from John Adams. “If every man here was a Gerry,” Adams claimed, “the Liberties of America would be safe against the Gates of Earth and Hell. – us senate archives

Gerry signed the Declaration with the majority on August 2, 1776.

He used his business contacts to supply the Continental Army throughout the war, but unlike others refused to charge the nascent republic premium prices, or personally profit from the transactions.

Gerry opposed the Federalists, with their call for a strong central government, believing liberty was best preserved by local control. He did not sign the Constitution and left Congress over the dispute.

In 1811, after a bitter campaign, he was elected governor of Massachusetts, despite his personal opposition to the idea of political parties. He presided over the re-districting of Massachusetts, done in such a way as to give preference to the Democratic-Republicans, and is often remembered for the term “gerrymandering”, named after him. This earned him enmity, and he lost the next election. This led to some financial problems, and he asked his friend James Madison for help. Madison named him his running mate in the 1812 election, and he became Vice President. His advanced age and poor health meant that he didn’t last long.

In the fall of 1814, the 70-year old politician collapsed on his way to the Senate and died.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.