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Harrison Gray Otis (politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harrison Gray Otis
Harrison Gray Otis by Chester Harding, 1833, oil on canvas, from the National Portrait Gallery - NPG-7700056A 2.jpg
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1817 – May 30, 1822
Preceded byJoseph Bradley Varnum
Succeeded byJames Lloyd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1797 – March 3, 1801
Preceded byFisher Ames
Succeeded byWilliam Eustis
3rd Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
In office
January 5, 1829[1] – January 2, 1832[2]
Preceded byJosiah Quincy III
Succeeded byCharles Wells
Delegate from Massachusetts to the Hartford Convention
In office
President of the Massachusetts Senate
In office
1805 – 1806
United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts
In office
Preceded byChristopher Gore
Succeeded byJohn Davis
Personal details
Born(1765-10-08)October 8, 1765
Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, British America
DiedOctober 28, 1848(1848-10-28) (aged 83)
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Political partyFederalist
Spouse(s)Sally Foster Otis
EducationBoston Latin School
Alma materHarvard University

Harrison Gray Otis (October 8, 1765 – October 28, 1848), was a businessman, lawyer, and politician, becoming one of the most important leaders of the United States' first political party, the Federalists. He was a member of the Otis family.

One of the wealthiest men of Boston during his time, Otis was reportedly worth at least US$800,000 in 1846, which in 2019 would be equivalent to $27 million.[3]

Early life

Otis was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 8, 1765 to Elizabeth (née Gray) and Samuel Allyne Otis. His uncle was American colonial leader and activist James Otis, and his father was active in early American politics as a member of Massachusetts state house of representatives, delegate to Massachusetts state constitutional convention, and Continental Congress delegate from Massachusetts. His aunt was Mercy Otis Warren, a well-known poet.

Otis himself graduated from Boston Latin School in 1773 and Harvard University in 1783, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1786 when he commenced practice in Boston.


In 1794 he was elected to the Massachusetts legislature, and in 1796 was appointed by President George Washington to be U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. In 1797, he was elected U.S. Representative from Massachusetts as a Federalist and a strong advocate for centralized government, in which office he served until 1801. He was appointed United States U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts by President John Adams (1801–1802), and again served in the state legislature from 1802 to 1817, serving several terms as President of the state senate (1805–1806, 1808–1811). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1804.[4] In subsequent years, Otis was elected U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1817–1822), and then Mayor of Boston (1829–1831).

Judicial career

In 1814, in the midst of his political career, he was also named a judge of the court of common pleas (1814–1818), and played a leading role as delegate to the controversial Hartford Convention in which New England's secession from the United States was discussed. Overall, it led to the demise of the Federalists, and Otis's political ambitions suffered. Otis subsequently defended the convention in his Letters Developing the Character and Views of the Hartford Convention (1820) and his Letters in Defence of the Hartford Convention (1824).

Otis was involved in a major financial scandal during the site selection for the Massachusetts State House. Boston was determined to remain the state capitol, and appointed Otis to a town committee to purchase land and donate it to the state. He did so, and also quietly arranged his own private purchase of 18.5 acres (75,000 m2) adjoining from the agent of John Singleton Copley, then living in England. After a decade of legal arguments, the sale was upheld, and Otis and the Mount Vernon Proprietors developed a large part of Beacon Hill.

Otis was an overseer of Harvard University from 1810 to 1823, and a fellow of the university from 1823 to 1825, as well as one of the original incorporators of the Boston Bank. In 1812, Otis also became a founding member of the American Antiquarian Society.[5]

Personal life

On May 31, 1790, Otis married Sally Foster, the daughter of prominent merchant William Foster. During the course of his lifetime, he built not one, but three, grand houses in quick succession (see Harrison Gray Otis House), all designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch. Together, Harrison and Sally were the parents of eleven children, including:[6]

  • Elizabeth Gray Otis (1791–1824), who married George Williams Lyman (1786–1880), a director of the Boston and Lowell Railroad.[6]
  • Harrison Gray Otis, Jr. (1792–1827), who married Eliza Henderson Boardman (1796–1873).[6]
  • Sally Ann Otis (1793–1819), who married Israel Thorndike, Jr. (1785–1867), son of merchant Israel Thorndike.[6]
  • Sophia Harrison Otis (1799–1874), who married Andrew Ritchie Jr. (1782–1862).[6]
  • James William Otis (1800–1869), who married Martha C. Church (1807–1888) in 1825.[6]
  • William Foster Otis (1801–1858), who married Emily Marshall (1807–1836).[6]

He died in Boston on October 28, 1848, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.[6]


Through his son William, he was the grandfather of Emily Marshall Otis (1832–1906), who married historian and educator Samuel Eliot.[7] Through his son James, he was the grandfather of James Otis, a New York State Senator and society leader.[8]

A descendant was J. Wadsworth Ritchie (1861–1924), son of Montgomery Harrison Ritchie, who died in the American Civil War, and the first husband of Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair.[9]


See also


  1. ^ A Catalogue of the City Councils of Boston, 1822–1908, Roxbury, 1846–1867, Charlestown 1847–1873 and of The Selectmen of Boston, 1634–1822 also of Various Other Town and Municipal officers, Boston, MA: City of Boston Printing Department, 1909, p. 219
  2. ^ A Catalogue of the City Councils of Boston, 1822–1908, Roxbury, 1846–1867, Charlestown 1847–1873 and of The Selectmen of Boston, 1634–1822 also of Various Other Town and Municipal officers, Boston, MA: City of Boston Printing Department, 1909, p. 222
  3. ^ "Inflation Calculator". Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter O" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  5. ^ "American Antiquarian Society Members Directory". American Antiquarian Society. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Morison, Samuel Eliot (1913). The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 238. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  7. ^ Testimonials to Dr. Samuel Eliot : who died at Beverly Farms, Mass., on Wednesday, September 14, 1898. Boston, MA. 1898. Retrieved November 16, 2016.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. S.G. Drake. 1850. p. 143. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  9. ^ "PLANS FOR THE RITCHIE-TOOKER WEDDING It Will Take Place in Newport the Last Week in August" (PDF). The New York Times. June 29, 1895. Retrieved July 12, 2018.

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by Federalist nominee for Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
January 5, 1829 – January 2, 1832
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by  U.S. senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: Eli P. Ashmun, Prentiss Mellen, Elijah H. Mills
Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th congressional district

March 4, 1797 – March 3, 1801
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 8 July 2022, at 05:10
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