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This collection was rehoused and a summary created with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities; this finding aid was created with support from NC ECHO.
|Size||4.0 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 1,400 items)|
|Abstract||William Gaston (1778-1844) of New Bern, N.C., was a lawyer, state legislator, United States representative, and North Carolina Supreme Court judge. The collection consists of the papers of William Gaston, including personal, business, and political correspondence, 1791-1844; law notes and other papers; notes, 1896-1915, of Judge Henry Groves Connor (1852-1924) for his proposed biography of Gaston; and pictures. Topics include the Catholic Church in America; banks and banking; family life; national elections; preparations for war with France in 1800 and subsequent negotiations with France; financial affairs of the United States; anticipated effects upon the United States of the ending of the Napoleonic wars; Federalist Party strategies; legal matters concerning the outbreak of the War of 1812; the nullification controversy; proposals for the appropriation of public lands for the support of public education; internal improvements; life in West Florida in the 1830s; and an 1832 speech in Chapel Hill, N.C., in which Gaston condemned both the nullification scheme and the institution of slavery. Major correspondents include George E. Badger, John Fanning Burgwyn, Thomas Pollock Devereux, Robert Donaldson, Alexander Hamilton, Francis Joseph Kron, Willie Person Mangum, Matthias Manly, John Marshall, Thomas Ruffin, Marcus Cicero Stephens, David Lowry Swain, Roger B. Taney, and Daniel Webster. The Addition of February 2001 is a Gaston family register dated through the 1880s, along with enclosures, 1834-1901.|
|Creator||Gaston, William, 1778-1844.|
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William Gaston (1778-1844) of New Bern, N.C., was a lawyer, state legislator, United States representative, and North Carolina Supreme Court judge.
William Gaston was born in New Bern, N.C., on 19 September 1778. His father, Alexander Gaston, was a prominent physician of the New Bern region who received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, and served as a surgeon in the British navy. The elder Gaston, a Protestant Irishman of Huguenot descent, settled in North Carolina in 1765. He was married in 1775 to Margaret Sharpe, a convent-educated Englishwoman from a family of devout Catholics. The couple had three children: William; his sister Jane, three years his junior, who married John Louis Taylor; and an elder son who died in infancy.
With the outbreak of the American Revolution, Alexander Gaston became active in the patriot cause. On 19 August 1781, he was killed by the leader of a band of Tory raiders at New Bern. Margaret Sharpe Gaston, left with the care of two infants, raised her children in the Catholic faith.
In the spring of 1791, the twelve-year-old William Gaston was sent to Philadelphia, Pa., to be prepared for college. The following fall, he went to Georgetown College to become its first student. He returned to New Bern in 1793 due to poor health, and studied for a year at the New Bern Academy before he enrolled at Princeton, where he was graduated in 1796 with highest honors. He studied law in New Bern under the direction of Francois Xavier Martin, and, on 22 September 1798, he was admitted to the bar. Later in the year, when Gaston's brother-in-law, John Louis Taylor, was appointed judge of the North Carolina Superior Court, Taylor diverted a large part of his practice to Gaston.
In political matters, Gaston was a Federalist and then a Whig. He served four terms in the North Carolina Senate and seven terms in the North Carolina House of Commons. Gaston was a Federalist presidential elector in 1808, and, from 1813 until 1817, he was a member of the United States House of Representatives. As a congressman, Gaston acquired a reputation for the eloquence of his speeches, especially those supporting the Bank of the United States and opposing the Loan Bill. He denounced the War of 1812. He voluntarily retired from national politics in 1817 and on at least one subsequent occasion refused nomination to the United States Senate.
Gaston remained active in North Carolina politics. He served as chair of the judiciary committee of the North Carolina Senate and chair of the joint legislative committee that framed the act creating the North Carolina Supreme Court. In the North Carolina House of Commons, 1827-1833, Gaston served on the judiciary committee and as chair of the finance committee, a position that coincided with his interest in banking. In 1828, he was appointed president of the Bank of New Bern, and while in the House of Commons cooperated with conservative financial groups in an effort to maintain sound banking policies for North Carolina. He helped to lead the fight in North Carolina against the nullification doctrine in 1832.
Gaston took a lively interest in internal improvements for North Carolina. In July 1833, he attended an internal improvements convention in Raleigh, serving as chair of the committee to prepare an address to the state and to lay the convention's proceedings before the state legislature. The address stressed the need for colleges, railroads, hospitals, and asylums for the handicapped. As a member of the House of Commons, Gaston introduced the bill to charter the North Carolina Central Railroad.
In 1835, Gaston was an influential delegate to the North Carolina Constitutional Convention, where he fought to have religious qualifications for office holding dropped and where he attempted to protect the voting privileges of free people of color. Gaston also supported federal representation as the basis for representation in the House of Commons and biennial meetings of the state legislature.
Gaston's law practice was very successful and recognized nationally. Daniel Webster and John Marshall, among others, consulted with him on legal questions. In 1833, Gaston was elected by the state legislature to a post as an associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, where he served until his death in 1844. Gaston's most famous decision on the bench came in 1834 with the case of State v. Negro Will. Gaston ruled that a slave had the right to defend himself against an unlawful attempt of a master, or an agent of a master, to kill him. In the significant case of State v. William Manuel in 1838, he held that a manumitted slave was a citizen of the state and thus entitled to the guarantees of the constitution. Gaston purchased a library for the state Supreme Court while on a trip to New York City in 1835.
In addition to his service as legislator and judge, Gaston served the public as a trustee of the University of North Carolina from 1802 until his death in 1844. For many years, he was chair of the trustees of the New Bern Academy.
Gaston received many honors during his lifetime. He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1817 and of the American Academy of Languages and Belles Lettres in 1821. He received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in 1819, from Harvard and Columbia in 1825, and from Princeton in 1835.
Gaston owned a plantation and slaves (163 at the time of his death) in Craven County, N.C., and a town house and a law office in New Bern. During the sessions of the Supreme Court in Raleigh, Gaston stayed at the home of Mrs. James F. Taylor. At his office nearby, in 1840, he wrote the words for "The Old North State," the music for which he apparently adopted from a melody sung by a group of Swiss bellringers who had visited the capital. "The Old North State" was first performed in public at the Whig state convention in Raleigh in October 1840 and has been North Carolina's official state song since 1927.
Gaston was married three times: on 4 September 1803 to Susan Hay (d. 1804); on 6 October 1805 to Hannah McClure (d. 1813); and on 3 September 1816 to Eliza Ann Worthington (d. 1819). With his second wife, he had one son, Alexander (1807-1848), who married Eliza W. Jones and then Sarah Lauretta Murphy, and two daughters, Susan Jane (1808-1866), who married Robert Donaldson, and Hannah Margaret (1811-1835), who married Matthias E. Manly. With his third wife, Gaston had two daughters, Elizabeth (1817-1874), who married George W. Graham, and Catherine Jane (1819-1885), who did not marry.
William Gaston died in his office in Raleigh in 1844.Back to Top
The collection consists of William Gaston's papers, including personal, business, and political correspondence, 1791-1844; law notes and other papers; notes, 1896-1915, of Judge Henry Groves Connor (1852-1924) for his proposed biography of Gaston; and pictures. Also included are some items relating to other members of Gaston's family, including several letters to Robert Donaldson. Earlier items include "Instructions for Mr. Corbin going to N. Carolina 14th Novr. 1744" (typed copy only); two items relating to William McClure; and an account, undated, of the death in 1781 of Alexander Gaston.
The papers cover a variety of topics, with numerous items concerning the history of the Catholic Church in America, as well as items relating to banks and banking. Gaston's letters to members of his family and to his personal friends are revealing of family and social life in North Carolina, and political affairs are the subject of much comment. Topics include national elections between the years 1800 and 1844, preparations for war with France in 1800, subsequent negotiations with France, financial affairs of the United States, the possible effects upon the United States of the ending of the Napoleonic wars, De Witt Clinton's presidential candidacy, plans for a meeting in New York of Federalists from all parts of the nation for the purpose of considering a Federalist course of action in the 1812 elections, legal matters concerning the outbreak of the War of 1812, the nullification controversy, proposals for the appropriation of public lands for the support of public education, internal improvements, and some discussion of scientific matters.
Major correspondents include George E. Badger, John Fanning Burgwyn, Thomas Pollock Devereux, Robert Donaldson, Alexander Hamilton, Francis Joseph Kron, Willie Person Mangum, Matthias Manly, John Marshall, Thomas Ruffin, Marcus Cicero Stephens, David Lowry Swain, Roger B. Taney, and Daniel Webster.
Letters to Gaston from Marcus Cicero Stephens describe life in West Florida in the 1830s, including information concerning the Seminole wars. A letter from Washington Irving to Gaston in 1837 asks for help finding a job for Irving's nephew. A letter, 15 October 1792, from Alexander Hamilton to John Steele, acquired by Gaston in an effort to help John C. Hamilton collect documents pertaining to the life of Alexander Hamilton, speculates on the coming federal elections, anticipating that Washington would be re-elected and giving Hamilton's opinions of the possible vice-presidential candidates--John Adams, George Clinton, Aaron Burr, and Thomas Jefferson.
Also in the collection are a number of items relating to Gaston's speech in Chapel Hill, N.C., on 21 June 1832, in which he condemned both the nullification scheme and the institution of slavery. There are a number of letters concerned with the suit for the recovery of land in North Carolina owned prior to the Revolution by Lord Carteret, Earl of Granville, in which Gaston served as attorney for the Carteret heirs. The Carteret materials consist, with the exception of a manuscript draft of Gaston's argument in the case, of typed copies of items from the Walter Clark Papers, North Carolina Department of Archives and History.
Other items include two printed forms, 1776 and 1778, pertaining to William McClure of Craven County, N.C.; three letters, 1 August 1833, 30 August 1833 (with enclosure), and 17 July 1834, from William Gaston to John Church Hamilton (typed copies in the collection at time of microfilming); a letter, 31 March 1832, from Gaston to David F. Caldwell of Salisbury, N.C.; a letter, 25 February 1834, from Gaston to Stephen F. Miller of Marion, Ga. (typed copy in collection at time of microfilming); three letters, 10 July, 16 September (with a typed copy attached of a letter, 22 October 1826, from Joseph Story to William Sullivan about Gaston), and 31 October 1908, from Henry Groves Connor to George W. Gage about Gaston.
Also included are a letter book, 1816-1836, of Gaston's business correspondence relating primarily to his law practice, and a late 18th- or early 19th-century manuscript volume that apparently belonged to William Gaston, but was probably transcribed by a law student of an early "reporter" of English law. Undated material includes copies of Gaston family records, letters and notes, drafts of speeches and of letters to newspapers, newspaper clippings, copies of biographical sketches of Gaston, and drafts of Henry Groves Connor's writings on Gaston. Pictures are of William Gaston, Zebulon Baird Vance, William A. Graham, Willie Person Mangum, John Motley Morehead, and John Louis Taylor. There are also pictures of places associated with Gaston, including his law office in New Bern, his law office in Raleigh, and Gaston Hall at Georgetown University.
Included are typed copies made for Henry Groves Connor of many of the letters and of Gaston letters from other collections. Copies are filed with originals if both are present. While these copies may aid in reading the originals, there are errors in transcription and any doubtful reading should be carefully checked.
The Addition of February 2001 is a Gaston family register dated through the 1880s, along with enclosures, 1834-1901.Back to Top
William Gaston, ca. 1830-1840 #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/1
Reproduction of engraving from painting.
William Gaston, ca. 1830-1840 #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/2
Photograph of painting.
Zebulon Baird Vance, ca. 1880-1890 #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/3
Reproduction of engraving.
Reproduction of engraving.
Willie Person Mangum, ca. 1825-1835 #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/5
Reproduction of engraving.
John Motley Morehead, ca. 1830-1840 #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/6
Reproduction of engraving.
Carte-de-visite of painting.
Exterior view of William Gaston's law office, New Bern, N.C., undated #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/8
View across small public square to mission-style church, New Bern, N.C., 18-- #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/9
Mounted albumen print.
"William Gaston's law offices and room where he died," Raleigh, N.C., undated #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/10
Gaston Hall, Georgetown University, Washigton, D.C., undated. #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/11
View of front of unidentified home, undated #00272, Series: "William Gaston Papers, 1744-1950 and undated." P-272/12
Postcard, possibly Gaston's home in New Bern, N.C.
Undated material includes copies of Gaston family records, letters and notes, drafts of speeches and of letters to newspapers, newspaper clippings, copies of biographical sketches of Gaston, and drafts of Henry Groves Connor's writings on Gaston.
The Addition is a Gaston family register dated through the 1880s, along with enclosures that include genealogical notes; an invitation to William Gaston for a public dinner in his honor in New Bern, N.C., 1834; an inscribed document with quotations to George W. Graham, 1839; and a small notebook, 1901. Register is only 11 pages, and possibly belonged to Kate Gaston.
Processed by SHC staff
Encoded by Linda Sellars, June 2000
Updated by: Adam Fielding and Jodi Berkowitz, April 2011; Nancy Kaiser, October 2020.
This collection was rehoused with support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Preservation, Washington, D.C., 1990-1993.
This collection was rehoused and a summary created with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This finding aid was created with support from NC ECHO.Back to Top