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Early Life........Marblehead........ Elected to the General Court of
Massachusetts........ Correspondence with Samuel Adams.
ELBRIDGE GERRY was born at Marblehead, in the state of Massachusetts, on the seventeenth day of July 1744. His father, Thomas Gerry, was a native of Newton, in England, of respectable parentage and connexions. In 1730 he emigrated to America, and afterwards married the only daughter of Enoch Greenleaf, of Boston, a gentleman of fortune, according to the opinion of those days. Soon after his marriage, Mr. Gerry established himself as a merchant in Marblehead, where he continued to reside until his death in 1774. He was much esteemed and respected, and received many marks of the confidence re
posed in his judgment and discretion. Five children sárvived himi.
Elbridge, the subject of this memoir, was so named in honour of a maternal ancestor. After receiving the rudiments of education at the common town schools, he entered Harvard College before he had completed his fourteenth year, and received its first honours in 1762.
Little is known of his early habits or manners. He was too young at the university to have acquired any decisive character. In the exercises assigned to his class on receiving their master's degree, and which, according to the fashion of the times, were in the Latin language, a discussion on the right of a people to disregard those restrictive laws which, under the form of revenue laws, were destructive to commerce,* was assigned to him.
Polemical divinity, or some abstruse metaphysical question, had been hitherto the chief subject of college exercise. Political enquiry then began to excite attention ; and new topics, which warmed the public mind, could not long be kept from the discussion of the schools. The theses of that year show the innovation which was beginning to be made on ancient habits, and strangely mingle matters of abstruse learning with modern doctrines of political interest. How the latter were discussed, the ephemeral occasion prevents us from ascertaining ; that they were discussed at all, shows the first glimmering of that light, which was about to throw its effulgence over the country.
* An prohibitionum et vectigalium innovatio, commercium populo inutile reddens, ab iis qua subditis fidélibus evadenda sit ? Affirmat respondens ELBRIDGE GERRY. Questiones pro modulo descutiendæ sub Reverendo D. Edvardo Holyoke Collegii Harvardini Quod est Divina Providentia Cantabrigiæ Nov-Anglorum, preside in commitiis publicis a Laureæ Magistralis candidatis decimo sexto Calendaruin sextilis MDCCLXV.
The same paper contains also the following question. An regni legislatores modum legislationis fundatum mutare jure possint. Negat respondens.
FRANCIS DANA. This Mr. Dana was the future distinguished chief justice of the state of Massachusetts.
Mr. Gerry was at first destined to the profession of medicine, to which his own inclination strongly attached him; but soon after leaving the university he engaged in commercial affairs, by the wish and under the direction of his father, and for some years followed the routine of mercantile business in his native town. The products of the ocean constituted the chief wealth of that ancient and respectable place. In these, all had a common interest; but the inhabitants were principally divided into two classes, Fishermen and Merchants. The latter, among whom were some families of great wealth, were pursuing a bold and adventurous commerce wherever the embarrassments of the French war did not present insurmountable difficulties, or the no less vexatious restrictions of the mother country did not tie down the natural spirit of activity and enterprise.
Marblehead was at that period not merely a principal fishing town, but nearly approached the capital in the extent and value of its trade, which, notwithstanding the troubles of the times, was singularly lucrative. The most numerous part of its population were fishermen, and their peculiarities of character gave to Marblehead the reputation by which it has been most commonly distinguished. The sea furnished them with the material of traffic; without pecuniary capital they depended on personal exertion, and supplied by industry, what was wanting in wealth. Early inured to danger, they found in the hazards and obstacles of their perilous mode of life only inducements for activity and diligence.
The male part of this population was engaged for most of the year on the ocean, while the women and children were left on shore in a sort of primitive and patriarchal community. General equality of condition and common wants prevented any claim of superiority, and produced a social feeling, which united most of them in one great family.
With no great advantages of education, the fishermen of Marblehead were generally distinguished by good sense and sound judgment, produced by their early habits of self-dependence, and the necessity which their course of life enforced of quick discernment, forethought, and decision. Separated in a good degree from temptations by which other classes of society are surrounded, they were characterized by their energy, integrity and sobriety. Little of the artificial refinement of polished life was to be found in their society ; but its place was more than compensated by their generous hospitality, their sincerity. and benevolence.
Such were the men among whom Mr. Gerry was born, and with whom in early life he was in many respects associated, and to the influence which they would naturally exert, controlled and modified as it was by his superiour education, college associations, and family possessions, may be traced some of those conspicuous traits, which were afterwards developed in his character.
The bold and adventurous are lovers of liberty. It was to be expected, therefore, and the fact answered this expectation, that in the controversy between the colonies and Great Britain, the inhabitants of Marblehead should early display their attachment to the cause of their country. The resistance, which began in the capital, was promptly and efficiently encouraged by these courageous citizens, who entered with the natural ardour of their disposition, into all the measures which were devised for the protection of the province. These measures were rapidly assuming a livelier and deeper interest. The operations of