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Otis, Harrison Gray, 1765-1848



The father of Harrison Gray Otis was Samuel Allyne Otis, and his mother was Elizabeth Gray, daughter of Harrison Gray, a Loyalist. Otis, who was born October 8, 1765, could remember standing at the window of his birthplace, which stood on the estate that joined the Revere House, and watching the British regulars march to Lexington.

In 1783, when but eighteen, he was first-honor man at Harvard, and had already given evidence of brilliant oratory that was to give him such a prominent place in New England. He studied law with Judge Lowell, and was admitted to the bar. Each morning at a very early hour, Benjamin Bussy, a merchant, on his way to open his store, noticed a pair of shoes posted at the window of Judge Lowell's office, and led by his curiosity to learn who could be there, discovered young Otis at study. More curious to know if young Otis studied all night, Bussy went by one morning before daylight, and there were the shoes. He went in, and again found young Otis with his feet on the sill, who told him that the early morning was his favorite time to study. So impressed was the merchant that he straightway made Otis his attorney.

In 1796 Otis succeeded Fisher Ames as Congressional representative from Suffolk County. He became one of the leaders of the Federalist party, and upon his retirement from Congress was active in local political affairs, serving as Speaker of the House, and also as president of the Senate. In December of 1814, he was one of the delegates to the much-maligned "Hartford Convention," which met for the purpose of asking the federal government to allow Massachusetts and the neighboring states to assume their own defense and to raise taxes for this purpose. He was appointed, in 1814, judge of the newly established Boston Court of Common Pleas, and served until he resigned in 1818, having been elected in 1817 to the United States Senate. He was one of the great orators of his state. His wife, Sarah, was the daughter of William Foster.

His speech, in reply to Pinckney on the Missouri Compromise, was one of the great speeches of the debate. Upon his retirement from the Senate in 1823 he ran for the governorship, for which he had in 1816 declined a nomination, but was defeated. In 1829 he was elected mayor, and held office until 1831. He died October 28, 1848.

Taken from "Boston's 45 Mayors from John Phillips to Kevin H. White," City Record, Boston, 1979.

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