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 James Bowdoin

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James Bowdoin

  • Birth 7 Aug 1726 Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Death 6 Nov 1790 Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Burial Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Memorial ID 1502

Massachusetts Governor. He was born James Bowdoin II in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of a wealthy merchant. His paternal grandfather, Pierre Baudouin, was a Huguenot refugee from France, who settled in Boston in 1690 by way of Ireland and eastern Massachusetts (present-day Maine). After attending grammar school he enrolled at Harvard College (now Harvard University) in Boston where he was educated in the sciences by John Winthrop, and developed an interest in electricity and astronomy. In 1745 he graduated from Harvard and soon embarked on a political career. Two years later his father died and he inherited a sizeable fortune. From the 1750s to the 1770s he served in both branches of the Massachusetts General Court. Although he was initially supportive of the royal governors, he opposed British colonial policy and eventually became an influential advocate of American independence. He authored a highly political report on the 1770 Boston Massacre entitled "A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre," which would become one of the most influential propaganda pieces of writing that shaped public opinion in the American colonies. In 1774 he was named as a delegate to the First Continental Congress but did not attend due to his wife's poor health. When the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775 he relocated his family from Boston to Dorchester, Massachusetts and then to Middleborough, where he remained until 1778. From 1775 to 1777 he served as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress' executive council, the de facto head of the Massachusetts government, resigning from that post due to his ongoing poor health. He then withdrew from public view until 1779 when he was elected president of the constitutional convention that drafted the state's constitution. In spite of the economic struggles that America encountered during the Revolutionary War, he was extremely careful to manage his financial affairs, supporting the cause for independence financially without damaging his own business interests. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1780, losing to John Hancock, with whom he had a deeply long-running and personal rivalry. In 1785, following Hancock's resignation, he was elected governor. During his two years as governor, poor economic conditions and harsh fiscal policy laid down by his government, including the vigorous collection of back taxes and further raising taxes to make payments that Massachusetts owed against America's foreign debt, led to the uprising in the rural areas of Massachusetts known as Shays' Rebellion. He personally funded militia forces that were instrumental in putting down the uprising and his high-handed treatment of the rebels probably contributed to his loss of the 1787 election, in which the popular Hancock was reelected governor. In addition to his political interests he was active in scientific pursuits, collaborating with Benjamin Franklin in his pioneering research on electricity. In 1780 he founded and was the first president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to whom he bequeathed his library. In 1788 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the first such honor bestowed on an American after the end of the Revolutionary War. He died at his home in Boston of "putrid fever and dysentery" at the age of 64. He bequeathed a gift to Harvard for awards that are now known as the Bowdoin Prizes. His son, James Bowdoin III donated land from the family estate in Brunswick, Maine, as well as funds and books, for the establishment of Bowdoin College (which was delayed until after the death of Hancock) named in his honor.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1502
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for James Bowdoin (7 Aug 1726–6 Nov 1790), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1502, citing Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .