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Increase Sumner (November 27, 1746 June 7, 1799) was an Americanmarker politician from Massachusettsmarker. He served as the first Federalist governor of Massachusetts from 1797 to 1799.

Early life

Increase Sumner was born on 27 November, 1746 in Roxbury, Massachusetts to Increase Sumner and Sarah Sharp. His father was a farmer, who by dint of hard work built and left a considerable property. Increase Sumner, the elder, held a number of public offices including Coroner for the County of Suffolk, and Selectman of Roxbury. Sumner's father died on 28 November, 1774 and left eight children. Shortly after his father's death, the Sumner family moved temporarily to the Sumner farm in Dorchester, called "Morgan's", because their house was exposed to enemy fire during the Siege of Bostonmarker.

In 1752 Sumner enrolled in the Grammar School in Roxbury, now Roxbury Latin School, headed by William Cushing, future justice of the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker, and excelled to the extent of winning admission to Harvard Universitymarker in 1763, from which he graduated in 1767.

Working career

After graduating from Harvard, Sumner took charge of the Roxbury Latin School where he remained for two years while he apprenticed law under Samuel Quincy, Solicitor General of the State. Sumner was admitted to the Bar in 1770 and opened a law office in Roxbury that year.

Increase Sumner was chosen a member of the Massachusetts General Court in 1776 where he represented the town of Roxbury. He served in the General Court for three years until he was elected Senator for the County of Suffolk in 1780, where he served for two years. Sumner held a seat in the convention of 1777 where the General Court decided on a form of government.

In June, 1782, Increase Sumner was chosen a member of the United States Congress by the Legislature of Massachusetts, replacing Timothy Danielson, who resigned, but Sumner never actually took his seat. In August, 1782 he was made an Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Courtmarker where he served from 1782-97.

The period when he served in the Supreme Judicial Court was a time of great turmoil in Massachusetts. Following the American Revolutionary War the value of the paper currency then in circulation fell significantly leaving many citizens nearly wiped out. The Commonwealth raised taxes to fund the newly organized state and to help pay the public debt which had run up during the war. Economic pressure led to outbreaks of civil unrest, culminating in Shay's Rebellion, an uprising in central and western Massachusetts lasting from 1786 to 1787.

In 1785 Sumner was chosen by the Legislature to sit on a committee to revise the laws of the Commonwealth. In 1789 he was a member of the Massachusetts Convention for the purpose of discussing the Constitution for the Federal Government.

Governorship of Massachusetts

By 1796, Governor Samuel Adams, then having served four consecutive terms in office, saw his popularity declining. A Republican in a state that was growing increasingly Federalist, and increasingly suffering the ill effects of old age, (he was 75 at the time), Adams declined a re-nomination to office in a speech to the Legislature in January 1797. A number of popular figures were raised as nominees, and in the election of that year, Increase Sumner won the vote with 15,000 out of a total 25,000 votes cast. On 2 June Sumner rode from his home in Roxbury accompanied by three hundred citizens on horseback to the Old State Housemarker in Boston, where the Secretary of the Commonwealth proclaimed his Governorship from the eastern balcony. Sumner was the last Governor to preside in the Old State House as the seat of government was moved to the New State Housemarker the following year.

Sumner was re-elected in April 1799. His popularity as Governor was seen by his garnering a larger share of the vote for his second term, where he won 17,000 out of 21,000 votes cast. Indeed he received the unanimous vote of 180 towns out of 393 in the state. However, he never assumed the duties of office during this term as he was on his sick bed at the time. Sumner's attending physician was Dr. John Warren.
Increase Sumner died in office from angina pectoris, aged 52 on 7 June, 1799. His funeral, with full military honors was on 12 June, and was attended by United States President John Adams. The funeral procession which included four regiments of militia ran from the Governor's mansion to a service at the Old South Meeting Housemarker. He is interred at the northerly corner of the Old Granary Burying Groundmarker in Boston, Massachusettsmarker. Sumner's Lieutenant Governor, Moses Gill assumed office and served for a year.

The affection Sumner engendered may be measured by Gill's comments in a speech to the Legislature on 13 June where he said:
"...It may be proper for me to observe that the dignity of his (Sumner's) person, the equanimity and mildness of his temper, his real unaffected piety, his natural and governmental talents, rendered him an ornament to society and a blessing in the world."


Sumner was a highly respected individual, garnering admiration from the public as his overwhelming election to Governor attests. The affection of the public may have been due in large part to his personal qualities which have been described by a contemporary as;
"His person was attractive and commanding He was of elevated stature and well proportioned His countenance was remarkable for composure and was often lighted up with a smile of peculiar sweetness. Many a young practitioner at the bar has borne testimony to the pleasure and relief he felt when he was addressing the Court in fear and trembling in catching the looks of Judge Sumner looks of encouragement and protection which never disappointed the youthful advocate. In his manners he was polite and unassuming yet dignified and manly He never forgot or compromised his dignity in any place or circle even in the moments of his greatest familiarity. His mind was naturally strong and its various powers were well balanced. He was remarkably free from every thing that had the appearance of party spirit or rancour. His candor and moderation were known to all men. He possessed an unusual degree of self command. Divesting himself of prejudice and passion he examined with deliberation and impartiality and decided with rectitude and wisdom. His cool and dispassionate temper reflects more honor on his memory inasmuch as it was less the effect of a peculiarly happy constitutional temperament than of moral discipline and culture and the benign influence of a religious principle. Humility without meanness the incontestable proof of a superior mind was a distinguishing trait in his character. No one ever heard or saw in his conversation or deportment any thing that had the appearance of pride vanity or affectation or that could be construed into an ostentatious display of his own talents virtues or services. Though raised to the highest dignity it was in the power of the citizens of the Commonwealth to bestow he was never accused or suspected of employing any unworthy arts to gain the popular favor nor of obtruding himself on the public as a candidate for places of power and trust. On the contrary such was his modesty that when he found the eyes of the community were turned upon him he appeared not a little surprised and disordered at the deep regard he drew."'

Family life

Sumner married on 30 September, 1779 while serving on the General Court to Elizabeth Hyslop, daughter of William Hyslop. Upon his father-in-law's death, Sumner inherited a considerable property which allowed him to maintain a dignified lifestyle during his public service.

Sumner was said to be a talented and practical farmer, an excellent horseman, and great admirer of cattle. He was fond of agriculture and personally grafted an entire orchard of fruit trees on his farm, and worked diligently to pass these skills on to his son.

He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and President of the Board of Trustees of the Roxbury Latin School.

Sumner was a Christian, having made a public profession of faith around the time he entered the practice of Law, and became a member of the Congregational Church in Roxbury under Rev Dr. Porter. After Sumner's death Rev Porter addressed Sumner's approach to faith by relating a conversation the two had on Sumner's death bed;
"A dying bed," said he (Sumner), "is not the place for one dying to begin to attend to his religion and prepare for another world. I have not been unmindful of these concerns. I have thought much of them The more I have reflected on the subject of religion the more has my mind been settled and confirmed in its reality and importance. I am sensible that many infirmities and errors have attended me but I trust I have the testimony of my conscience to the general rectitude of my views and conduct in life."

Sumner left three children. His son William H. Sumner is well known for his efforts to develop what is now East Bostonmarker and for whom the Sumner Tunnelmarker is named.


  1. Memoirs p. 21
  2. Memoirs p. 21
  3. Memoirs p. 28
  4. Memoirs p. 29
  5. Memoirs pp. 29-30

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