GERRY - This Saturday, the town of Gerry will celebrate its bicentennial with a parade, speeches, history booths, music, a pig roast, corn roast and fireworks.
Two hundred years ago, on June 1, 1812, the town of Gerry was formed from Pomfret. At the time it was 12 square miles and consisted of the current day towns of Gerry, Charlotte, Ellington and Cherry Creek. Ellington and Cherry Creek were removed in 1824 and Charlotte in 1829, leaving Gerry as we know it today. It was a patriotic time in our history and many towns in Chautauqua County and elsewhere were named after those who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Our town chose Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.
Many know this much about the history and naming of the town, but few know who Elbridge Gerry was.
Gerry was born in Marblehead, Mass., in 1744. He was the third of 12 children, his father being a wealthy merchant and shipper. At the age of 14, Gerry enrolled in Harvard University to study medicine with intentions of becoming a doctor. Upon graduation he became involved in his father's shipping business and gained prominence over his opposition to commerce taxes. He was elected to the General Court of the province of Massachusetts in May 1772 on an Anti-British platform.
Gerry was a Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1780 and again from 1783 to 1785. In 1787 he was elected to the United States Constitutional Convention and was one of the delegates voting against it as he felt there were not enough safeguards to protect the citizens from the government. He later supported the Constitution after the addition of the Bill of Rights. Gerry surprised his friends by becoming a strong supporter of the new government. He vigorously supported Alexander Hamilton's reports on public credit and the assumption of state debts and supported Hamilton's new Bank of the United States.
He was a presidential elector for John Adams in 1796 and was appointed by Adams to the delegation to France that was humiliated by the French in the XYZ Affair. He stayed in France after his colleagues returned to the U.S. and was criticized for this by his fellow federalists. In 1800 he switched his party affiliation to the Democratic-Republican Party.
Gerry was the unsuccessful candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 1800, '01, '02 and '03. In 1810 he was finally elected governor of Massachusetts and re-elected in 1811. In 1812 Gerry was defeated in his re-election bid because of his support for a state redistricting plan that greatly favored his party. One of the districts looked like a salamander and his rivals coined it a Gerrymander. To further add insult to injury, at some point they began pronouncing the word with a softer "J" sound at the beginning. To this day redistricting that protects certain representatives over others is referred to as Gerrymandering.
In 1813, Gerry was chosen to serve as the fifth vice president of our country under President James Madison. He died of heart failure on his way to work at the capitol building on Nov. 23, 1814.
Although Gerry never set foot in the town that is named after him, those who were here in 1812 knew of his accomplishments and were proud to give his name to their new home. Mr. Gerry was a merchant, a state representative, a contributor to and signer of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Continental Congress, a contributor to the writing of the U.S. Constitution, a foreign delegate, Governor of Massachusetts and Vice President of the United States, quite a resume for someone that most people today have never heard of.
This Saturday the people of Gerry will celebrate the 200th birthday of their town. Now they will know why their town was named Gerry.