John Gorham first appears in the records as a child. On 16 April 1676, the Northumberland County court ordered that John Gorham “sonne to Miles Goreham” serve Captain John Rogers until he reached the age of 21.1 The court record notes that “the father of the said child hath absented himself out of this country” and that John Gorham, who had already been kept by Rogers “for some time” had given his consent to the apprenticeship.
Two years later, on 21 August 1678, Miles Goreham petitioned the court to return his son, “who pretends he was bound to Capt. John Rogers”.2 The case was heard at the next court, on 16 October 1678, when Miles Goreham complained that “Capt. John Rogers did binde his son John to him without his privity or knowledge”.3 The court noted that Miles Goreham “did make oath within six months after he was bound” (although the only record we can find is over two years later) and ordered the child returned to his father.
This provides a valuable clue to the age of the child, since English common law provided that a child of 14 he could bind himself without a father’s permission while the Virginia Poor Law of 1672 permitted certain destitute children to bind themselves at the age of 10.4 It is possible that the issue before the court was that John Gorham had bound himself after reaching the age of 10 but before reaching 14, thus forcing consideration of which law applied to the case.
There is no further record of John Gorham for more than ten years. In December 1692 he witnessed two releases of dower in land sales by persons who lived in the same vicinity as Miles Gorham.5 The next record of him is the following year, when he was witness to a deed dated 29 November 1693.6 In the meantime, the widow Winifred Gorham was granted administration of the estate of his father Miles Gorham on 27 September 1693.7
John Goreham’s life was a relatively short one. On 28 February 1699/1700, the will of John Gorham was proved in Westmoreland court by Charles Thomas, with probate granted to William Butler “executor in the will named.”8 Unfortunately, the will is among the missing records of Westmoreland County and only this court record survives. William Butler’s identity is uncertain, for there were at least two persons of that name in the county at the time.
A later event strongly suggests that John Gorham had married a daughter of Thomas Moore, and that his wife had predeceased him. Back in 1693 Thomas Moore had made a deed of gift of 60 acres to John Gorham, a minor.9 We know that this was not John Gorham, son of Miles Gorham, for 48 years later John Gorham sold this land and identified himself as the original grantee of Thomas Moore.10 That this John Gorham II must have been the son of John Gorham I, is implied by the fact that the deed of gift was dated the same day as the court record referring to the death of Miles Gorham. Further, the deed of gift appointed Thomas Walker as trustee to manage the land for the child, apparently the same Thomas Walker who was security for Winifred Gorham’s administration. It would seem that Thomas Moore was providing for the future of his grandson, probably because his mother was dead.11 Thus our theory is that one of Thomas Moore’s daughters had married John Gorham I and died shortly after bearing him his son John Gorham II, which event occasioned Thomas Moore to make provision for her heir. In support of this theory we note that Thomas Moore later made similar deeds of gift to others of his children after they had reached majority. His 1709 will does not mention all his heirs, only sons William (who had already received land) and Thomas and a minor daughter named Margaret.
- John Gorham II (c1683 – 1769) See separate page.
- Northumberland County Order Book 1666-1678, p134. [↩]
- Northumberland County Order Book 1678-1698, p3. [↩]
- Northumberland County Order Book 1678-1698, p8. [↩]
- The 1672 Poor Law seems to provide that orphans and poor children who had reached the age of 10 could also bind themselves out. [↩]
- Westmoreland County Order Book 1690-1698, p105 [↩]
- Westmoreland County Order Book 1690-1698, p111. [↩]
- Westmoreland County Order Book 1690-1698, pp104-105. [↩]
- Westmoreland County Order Book 1698-1705, p72a. [↩]
- t was proved in court 29 November 1693 (Westmoreland Order Book 1690-1698, p111.) and is referenced in the 1741 deed in which John Gorham sold “the land which Thomas Moore gave to said John Goreham by deed of gift bearing date the 27 September 1693” (Westmoreland County Deeds & Wills 9, p161). [↩]
- Westmoreland County Deeds & Wills 9, p161. [↩]
- By vesting title in the grandson, Moore could assure that the father could not dispose of the land. Grandparents commonly made gifts to the children of their daughters, rather than to the daughters themselves, to prevent the sons-in-law from taking control of the property. [↩]