Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Massachusetts. He is one of the few politicians whose name created a word in the English language: gerrymander. Born at Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1744, he entered Harvard University at age 14, graduating with a Master's Degree in 1765 at age 20. His Master's dissertation was an argument that Americans should resist the recently passed Stamp Act. Returning home to Marblehead, he worked in his parents merchant business, and in 1772, was elected to the Massachusetts General Court. In 1775, he was made a representative of Massachusetts, attending the Second Continental Congress, and in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence. During the evening of April 18, 1775, Gerry had attended a meeting of patriots in Arlington, Massachusetts, and went to sleep at the town's Black Horse Tavern. In the middle of the night, British soldiers marched by on their way to Lexington and Concord, and Gerry and his friends ran outside to hide in a cornfield, just as British soldiers entered the inn to search for "traitors." Gerry and his friends would lie on the cold ground in their nightclothes for several hours, before the soldiers left and they could return for their clothing. Gerry would become known as one of the boldest spokesmen for Independence in the Congress. In 1786, at the age of 41, he married Ann Thompson, who was twenty years younger than him, and they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they would have ten children. In 1787 he became a delegate to the Federal Convention, which developed the US Constitution. He served as a Congressman in the House of Representatives for four years, and in 1797, he went to France to establish diplomatic relations with that country. He was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1810. In 1812, Governor Elbridge Gerry attempted to have a bill passed in the Massachusetts legislature that would have divided the state into special districts for election purposes; districts that would have ensured that Gerry's anti-federalist friends would be elected and his opponents would be defeated. As the shape of one of the new districts had the appearance of a mythical animal, which others claimed looked something like a salamander, the news media named it a gerrymander. The word became popular mostly among Gerry's Federalist opponents, and within a year, became part of the newly evolving American language. While Gerry's Bill failed to pass the legislature, the word has remained in the American vocabulary: to this day, the practice of drawing boundary lines to favor a political party or group is called gerrymandering. After this defeat, he became Vice President of the United States under President James Madison, serving during the War of 1812 until his death of a sudden heart attack in 1814 in Washington, DC. His widow, Ann, would live to 1849, becoming the last surviving wife of a signer of the Declaration of Independence to die.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
Ann Thompson Gerry