Fonds accession 2013-014 - John Gorham fonds

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John Gorham fonds

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accession 2013-014

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Physical description

178 leaves of textual records and cartographic materials (1 volume)

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Biographical history

John Gorham was born 12 December 1709 (OS) at Barnstable, Massachusetts, U.S.A., and died in London, England during December of 1751. Although descended from a number of generations of military men Gorham appears to have started a career as a merchant, landholder, whaler and trader before entering military service around 1741 in Massachusetts. During this phase of his life he was recorded as seeking a land grant on Sable Island and indeed appears to have been active in the affairs of the Island. He appears to have recruited, organized and led an auxiliary unit “of the Massachusetts provincial army” who became known as Gorham’s Rangers and who patrolled the inland waters in modified whaleboats that facilitated their ability to appear and strike anywhere. Some accounts suggest rangers also specialized in less conventional warfare taking more advantage of the natural ability to conceal and hide in the woods than would regular soldiers. As a captain in the military he was dispatched to Annapolis Royal in September of 1744 with his company of 50 described by Massachusetts Governor Shirley as “picked Indians and other men fit for ranging the woods,” to provide relief to the garrison then besieged by French forces based in Louisbourg, NS. The following year he returned to Boston and then was sent, with his Rangers, to Louisbourg where they participated in a series of actions that eventually led to the fall of the fortress. Although he returned to Boston in 1746 he was quickly back in the province and during the period 1746 to 1747 erected blockhouses at Chignecto and Cobequid to support the defense of Nova Scotia. In 1747 he was sent to London to unsuccessfully plead the case for imperial support to help Massachusetts subdue the remaining French forces in Nova Scotia and to ensure the safety of the Annapolis Royal settlement. The imperial denial of support left Gorham and his company of rangers the principal defenders of Nova Scotia in its then wider boundaries including modern New Brunswick. With the settlement of Halifax in June 1749 Gorham relocated to Halifax and was named a member of Council. To support the new settlement he built a fort at Sackville (head of Halifax Harbour) and was engaged in various skirmishes with French and Mi'kmaq forces. He died of smallpox in London in December of 1751 after having sailed there on his boat the Osborne, the first vessel built in Halifax. His death was reported in the first issue of the Halifax Gazette, 23 March 1752.

Custodial history

Acquired by purchase, May 2013. Two most recent owners known; provenance and previous custodial history of the volume not known.

Scope and content

Fonds consists of a single volume used as a waste or note book in which Gorham recorded, for the most part, financial transactions. In places the book displays some evidence that entries were later copied to ledger books recording the accounts of his ventures and pay of his men and many entries are about payments on accounts rather than direct cash transactions. The book covers activities during the period 1747 to 1750 and includes lists of expenses for recruiting, equipping and provisioning his company of rangers, lists of expenses for the upkeep and provisioning of several ships including the sloop Diligence and the schooners Warren and Anson. For the most part the volume documents the issuance of provisions and supplies to his men recording the distribution of food, clothing and to a lesser extent equipment and goods. Some entries record in the French language transactions with Acadians at Pizaquid (now Windsor, NS) for the provision of fresh meat and goods. Entries for wages paid, sometimes with the signed or marked receipts of his men appear throughout the book.
The start of the book contains many entries related to his establishment on Sable Island, some entered retrospectively from 1747, and other island entries are scattered across the volume. Entries generally record where the activity was happening be it Annapolis Royal, Chebucto (now Halifax,NS), Minas or Boston (MA, USA).
The volume also includes copies of a few letters. One in particular to a Mr Owles, speaks to the recruitment of rangers, the size of companies, some conditions of service and what happens in a peace. Also included in the volume is a crude manuscript map showing houses and names of some families, presumably along a portion of Cape Breton Island, NS – from Cape 'Shebnacada' (Shenacadie) which is a settlement located on the south end of St. Andrew’s Channel to past 'Grand Ance' (Grande Anse) which is on the north side of Lennox Passage. The volume ends with a description by Gorham in a two page entry of a skirmish with Mi'kmaq encountered by his sloop Diligence while sailing along the coastline in August of 1748 from 'Port Mahoan'(Mahone Bay) to 'Cape Porpicom'. (Portapique, Colchester County or Pubnico have been suggested as possible contemporary locations for "Porpicom".)

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Volume was digitized in its entirety in June 2013.

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For preservation reasons, access is limited to the digital version.

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Finding aids

Item list available. Website exhibit available.

Associated materials

24 letters and other materials of John Gorham are held by the William Clements Library at the University of Michigan and were originally part of the Whittemor-Low family papers. Among these records are a number of muster rolls of the Gorham Rangers as well as Gorham's journal from September 1749 while he was stationed at Sackville, at the head of Halifax Harbour. Another muster roll is held by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

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Physical description

The volume was constructed from two signatures of about 23 leaves, approximately 18 by 14 inches in dimension, which are sewn into vellum endpapers. When folded each leaf produces a page approximately 9 inches in width and 14 inches in height. (Some pages were cut from the volume prior to its acquisition by the Archives.) A ribbon served as a closure. By watermarks the paper appears to have been manufactured in the UK by Whattman. The endpapers of the binding are a contemporary map repurposed. The last two pages of the volume were completed in verso and are oriented as if a journal was started in that orientation.
The volume, at page 90, contains a hand drawn map, possibly showing a portion of the Bras D'Or lakes, Nova Scotia.
The spine of the ledger has a paper label affixed: "Attic ledger 13".

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