A Blupete Biography Page

John Gorham

John Gorham1 was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts. His father, Shubael Gorham (1686-1746) was a military officer and had been with Colonel John March in 1707 and then again, probably, with Nicholson when the English took Port Royal in 1710. John, in his earlier years, was more a merchant and a land speculator than the woods fighter he was to become. His trading activities undoubtedly gave him a good sense of how to deal with the inland natives. In 1732, he married a Massachusetts girl, Elizabeth Allen, and, together, they had 15 children (not an unusual number in those days). Though, as we will see, Gorham was to spend a lot of time in his later years in Nova Scotia -- during which time he earned a reputation as a negotiator and Indian fighter -- his home was always Barnstable.

Gorham made his first official visit to Nova Scotia in September of 1744 when he arrived with Captain Edward Tyng at Annapolis Royal. Tyng had sailed from Boston to bring relief to the besieged garrison at Annapolis Royal. Gorham had with him "fifty picked Indians." "Gorham Rangers" were to make an immediate impact and the siege was soon at an end. With the arrival of "Gorham Rangers," matters were to be put on an entirely different basis in Nova Scotia then what they had been. The first 34 years of British occupation in Nova Scotia had consisted of a holding or defensive operation: the Gorham Rangers were an offensive bunch and they knew exactly how to apply frontier techniques to their benefit. They were to make a lasting impression and were to become much hated by the French and the local Indians.

Gorham was soon back in Boston and caught up in the plans which were then brewing to launch an attack against Louisbourg, a place, which to the English colonials, was a piratical and popish nest which had to be cleaned out, once and for all. Being a man who was noted for turning plans into action, Gorham was no doubt one of the prime movers in the great colonial assault against Louisbourg which came about in 1745. This great enterprise of New England against Louisbourg, was, for the Gormans, very much a family affair. The 7th Massachusetts Regiment was commanded by Gorham's father. Gorham, Sr., had with him his two sons: John, the subject of this biographical note, and David (b. 1712). John was put in charge of securing, at Boston, a sufficient number of whale boats needed for the landing at Louisbourg. At Louisbourg, John Gorham, on the 30th of April 1745: successfully led the troops off the larger vessels, into the whale boats, and onto the shores of Garabus Bay. He was with Colonel Arthur Noble, when, borne in the small landing boats, a colonial contingent of volunteers assaulted the Island Battery in Louisbourg Harbour on May 23rd (they were badly cut up, as my larger story will show, but little fault could be assigned to either Noble or Gorham). After the French capitulated, a number of the colonials were to stay over during the winter of 1745/1746 awaiting their replacements which was to be a body of regular British soldiers due in from Gibralter the following spring. Both Gorham and his father were part of the wintering garrison. Gorham, Sr., died that winter;2 and Gorham, on the spot, was to succeed his father as the regimental commander. Excepting those who died occupying their prize during the winter of 1745/46, most of the colonial heroes, John Gorham and his brother among them, returned3 back to their New England homes during the summer of 1746.

Being recognized as one of the most knowledgeable of both the territory and of the native populations in Nova Scotia, Gorham was to devote much of the next five years of his life there. During the summer of 1746 he was once again in Nova Scotia, this time with his 21 year old brother, Joseph who was commissioned to be a lieutenant in the Rangers. Gorham continued to extend and entrench the British presence in Nova Scotia. Late in 1746 he marched with Noble and five hundred other New Englanders who were to take up a position at Grand Pre. (Gorham had left Noble, in January of 1747, by just two days, when the French regulars, having made a brilliant cross-country winter march, attacked and overtook the larger English force; killing, in the process, a number of Englishmen, including Noble -- in the body of my work I tell of the Massacre at Grand Pre.)

Having returned to his home at Barnstable for a short stay with his family, Gorham is soon found conferring with Governor Shirley about the state of Nova Scotia. It was determined that Gorham (his wife accompanied him) should go to England and meet with the Duke of Newcastle being the person with the power to do something about the situation in Nova Scotia. At the end of April, 1747, Gorham set sail from Boston, likely in his own sloop, arriving at England approximately two months later. Apparently, the powerful elite at London were most impressed with our colonial hero and his wife Elizabeth (reported to have been a beautiful and an accomplished woman). At one point they were presented to George II at the court at Saint James. Having made the summer rounds, Gorham was sent back to America as a captain in the military, as commissioned by the king, with a dispatch for Governor Shirley that he should do everything he could to encourage Gorham's splendid work in Nova Scotia: it would not appear that the dispatches contained any promise of direct help in the resolution of stopping the French incursions into Acadia.

Gorham's role as a negotiator and fighter was to continue even though, in 1748, a peace was declared by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. (Did I say peace! Well, at best it was never more than a very uneasy eight year truce sandwiched between two wars). During 1748, Gorham's Rangers continued to be with the British regulars at Annapolis Royal (they had their own accommodations outside of the fort). To supplement this land force, Gorham also sent up from Massachusetts two armed "schooners," the Anson (Captain John Beare) and the Warren (70 tons, Captain Jonathan Davis).4 (Gorham was apparently under contract with the Massachusetts government to supply these land and sea forces; and, as was usual in those days, many years were to pass before Gorham's accounts were to be finally settled.) In the autumn of 1748, Gorham himself came up from New England to clear out certain of the French troublemakers at Minas and then sailed (October 19th) over to the Saint John River, there to deal with certain usurpers which were locating themselves on territory (present day New Brunswick) which the English calculated was part of Acadia and therefore theirs. While Gorham going from place to place putting out French flames in Acadia, his wife, Elizabeth, back in Barnstable gave birth to their 13th child and seventh son, Solomon.

With the arrival of Edward Cornwallis in 1749, Gorham had a new boss. Gorham was appointed a member of the Counsel which was formed at the newly founded capital of Halifax. So too, in 1749, he built Fort Sackville at the head of Bedford Basin. Also in that year, Gorham, took to one of his armed vessels and once again journeyed to the Saint John River. Gorham had with him a man possessing a similar background and similar talents, Edward How. The object of the mission was to win over the "Saint John Indians." (During this time, a time of "peace," the French goaded the Indians on to attacking the English everywhere they were to be found, especially at their new settlements. The French and the English might have declared "peace," but war it was between the English and the Micmac, and, at an intensity greater than it had been and was ever to be -- and the French were most certainly behind every bit of it.)

If the French incursions into Acadian territory (the present day New Brunswick) were to stop, then it was to happen either by English diplomats going to France or British troops coming to Acadia. No matter which action was to be initiated, it would have to happen in London; so, Gorham, in 1751, left Halifax aboard the Osborne,5 the first ship to be built at Halifax in August of 1751; his objective was to acquaint the English authorities with the difficulties in Acadia and to induce them, if he could, to take some sort of decisive action, one way or the other. Though, within a few short years, England was moved to take very decisive action to deal with the French in North America, it is not known to what extent Gorham's influence might have been. At the age of only 43, Gorham died within months of his arrival at London: smallpox. The scourge of the age, an indiscriminate killer the world over, took another victim.6


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[1] We see that Gorham's brother Joseph, spelt his surname, "Goreham." The name, however, generally used, and as appears in the documents, is "Gorham." [Harry Piers, "The 40th Regiment ..." NSHS, Vol #21 (1927) at p. 153.]

[2] As was typical of any war, more colonial lives were lost during the winter to disease then were lost in the fight to take the fort.

[3] NSHS, vol. 30, p. 39.

[4] It is to be remembered that the two English admirals Anson and Warren on May 14th, 1747, beat the French fleet of La Jonquière off the Cape Finisterre, off the northwest coast of Spain..

[5] The Osborne was not decked out to necessarily accommodate travelers -- though I am sure that her owner and wife were as comfortable as passengers might be on a cross oceanic passage -- the Osborne, mounting "ten carriage guns," was carrying lumber, one of the first exports, other than fish and furs, out of the province.

[6] See DCB, vol. iii, p. 260; and see "John Gorham 1709-1751," by George T. Bates NSHS, vol. 30, p. 27.


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[The Lion & The Lily -- Book 1 (1500-1763)]
[Settlement, Revolution & War -- Book 2 (1760-1815)]
[The Road To Being Canada -- Book 3 (1815-1867)]
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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)