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GORHAM (Goreham, Gorum), JOHN, merchant, military officer, member of the Nova Scotia Council; b. 12 Dec. 1709 (o.s.) in Barnstable, Massachusetts, son of Colonel Shobal (Shubael) Gorham and Mary Thacter; m. Elizabeth Allyn (Allen) 9 March 1731/32 and had 15 children; d. in London, December 1751.

John Gorham began his career as a merchant, trading at various ports in Newfoundland and speculating in land. In 1738 he sought a grant of land on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, and in 1743 was granted 400 acres at Gorham (Maine). He seems to have entered military service in Massachusetts about 1741; by 1744 he had attained the rank of captain. In September of that year, with his company of 50 “picked Indians and other men fit for ranging the woods,” he arrived at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, to reinforce the undermanned garrison which had been besieged for about three weeks by French and Indian forces commanded by François Du Pont* Duvivier. According to Massachusetts Governor William Shirley, Gorham used his Indian rangers, consisting mostly of full blood Mohawks, so “that the garrison is now entirely free from alarms.” Early in the next year, however, “as that fort was then in great danger of falling into the hands of the enemy,” Paul Mascarene sent Gorham to Boston to recruit additional troops for its defence.

In Boston, Shirley and William Pepperrell induced Gorham to raise troops for the expedition “then in embryo” against Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). He was appointed lieutenant-colonel in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment, under the command of his father, and led the successful landing at Gabarus Bay on 30 April 1745. With Colonel Arthur Noble he was selected to lead the volunteer assault on the Island battery on 23 May “which fail’d of being put in execution.” Because of numerous complaints of cowardice and dereliction of duty made by the raw, obstreperous, hard-drinking volunteers, a council of war was convened to investigate their officers’ actions in the assault. The council decided that “it did not appear that Col. Noble or Col. Gorham were chargeable with misbehaviour in the affair.” Upon his father’s death, on 20 Feb. 1745/46, John Gorham was promoted colonel and succeeded to the command of his father’s regiment. He attended meetings of the council of war at Louisbourg until mid-April 1746.

Despite the English victory, the Louisbourg campaign was not a particularly rewarding engagement for Gorham and he was no doubt happy to return to Nova Scotia in the summer of 1746. His spirited efforts in its defence were his most significant contribution to the English war effort. As a result of his activities, he became “well Acquainted with the Country in general, and with the Temper and Dispositions of the Inhabitants in particular” and was called upon to perform a variety of duties. Highly mobile and “far more terrible than European soldiers,” Gorham and his Indians ranged the province during 1746 and 1747. In the summer of 1746 he built blockhouses at such strategic points as Cobequid (near Truro) and Chignecto. In November he reported to Shirley that “our Expedition up the Bay [of Fundy] by Water is over for this year” and recommended that it was “of the Utmost Consequence to get possession of Minas this Winter or in the Spring. . . .” Forces under Arthur Noble were dispatched and Gorham met him at Grand Pré in January 1747. Two days after Gorham left for Annapolis Royal, a French force surprised the English at Grand Pré, killing Noble and forcing the garrison’s surrender.

Gorham returned to New England where he discussed the problem of Nova Scotia with Shirley who, in turn, sent him in April 1747 to England to explain the situation to the Duke of Newcastle. The rejection of Shirley’s proposal that the English government meet the costs of “raising 2,000 Men out of the Massachusetts bay” made Gorham and his rangers, as the Duke of Bedford informed Newcastle, “more than ever absolutely necessary for the immediate preservation of the Province of Nova Scotia.” As a result, Gorham received a commission to command a company of 100 men for the defence of the province. Newcastle ordered Shirley to assist Gorham in every way possible, for “the case of this gentleman is so particular and the service he has and may render so great, that no inconvenience can arise from this mark of favour to him.”

Upon his return to Nova Scotia, Gorham assumed sole responsibility for its defence. With the cessation of hostilities, but before a peace had been concluded, Mascarene ordered Gorham and his rangers in October 1748 to exact submission from the French settlers along the Saint John River, an area claimed by both France and England, Gorham had orders “not to commit any hostility,” unless provoked. When unknown assailants killed some of his men, Gorham seized two Abenakis to give the Indians, according to Mascarene, an opportunity “to clear themselves of having a share in that outrage and to bring to light the Offenders.” Despite the strenuous protest of the Marquis de La Galissonière [Barrin], Governor Shirley backed Gorham in this matter.

With the arrival of Edward Cornwallis*, newly appointed governor of Nova Scotia, in July 1749, Gorham was appointed to the Nova Scotia Council. Despite occasional disagreements with the governor, he held his position until his departure from Nova Scotia two years later. He remained active in the defence of the province, establishing Fort Sackville at the head of Bedford Basin for the protection of the new settlement at Halifax and engaging in numerous skirmishes with hostile Indians. In August 1751 Gorham left Nova Scotia for England aboard his ship, the Osborne, the first ship built in Halifax. He died in London of smallpox in December 1751.

Governor Shirley wrote in February 1746 that “the great Service which Lieut. Colonel Gorham’s Company of Rangers has been of to the Garrison at Annapolis Royal, is a demonstration of the Usefulness of such a Corps.” Gorham and his company of brutal rangers seem to have been a necessary ingredient in maintaining the English presence in Nova Scotia.

John David Krugler

“Barnstable, Mass., Vital records,” Mayflower Descendant (Boston), XXXIII (1935), 119, 126. “Col. John Gorham’s ‘Wast Book,’” ed. F. W. Sprague, New Eng. Hist. and Geneal. Register, LII (1898), 186–92. “Col. John Gorham’s ‘Wast Book’ and his ‘Dayly Journal,’” Mayflower Descendant, V (1903), 172–80. “Col. John Gorham’s ‘Wast Book’ and the Gorham family,” N.YGeneal. and Biog. Record (New York), XXVIII (1897), 133–36, 197–201. Correspondence of William Shirley (Lincoln), I, 135. Documentary history of Maine, XI, 315, 341, 344, 387–89, 465; XII, 60, 71, 74. Documents relating to currency in Nova Scotia, 1675–1758 (Shortt), 274, 281, 294, 304, 335, 338, 342. “Gorham letters, with facsimiles,” Mayflower Descendant, IV (1904), 181–84. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow). N.SArchives, I. “The Pepperrell papers,” Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., 6th ser., X (1899). The Wyllys papers: correspondence and documents chiefly of descendants of Gov. George Wyllys of Connecticut, 1590–1796 (Conn. Hist. Soc. Coll., XXI, Hartford, 1924), 427–28. Murdoch, History of Nova-Scotia, II, 36, 104–5, 124, 139, 166. J. G. Palfrey, History of New England (5v., Boston, 1858–90), V, 59, 242. T. B. Akins, “The first council,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., II (1881), 26–27. G. T. Bates, “John Gorham, 1709–1751: an outline of his activities in Nova Scotia, 1744–1751,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., XXX (1954), 27–77. F. W. Sprague, “Barnstable Gorhams,” New Eng. Hist. and Geneal. Register, L (1896), 32–34.

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Cite This Article

John David Krugler, “GORHAM, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gorham_john_3E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gorham_john_3E.html
Author of Article:   John David Krugler
Title of Article:   GORHAM, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   June 18, 2024