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John Chipman Gray (July 14, 1839 – February 25, 1915) was an American scholar of property law and professor at Harvard Law School. He also founded the law firm Ropes & Gray, with law partner John Codman Ropes. He was half-brother to U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Horace Gray, and a grandson of merchant and politician William Gray.

John Chipman Gray
Born(1839-07-14)July 14, 1839
DiedFebruary 25, 1915(1915-02-25) (aged 75)
Academic background
Alma materHarvard University
Academic work
Main interestsProperty law


Early lifeEdit

Gray was born in Brighton, Massachusetts to Horace and Sarah Russell (Gardner) Gray, and graduated from Boston Latin School. From there, he went on to Harvard University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1859, and Harvard Law School, where he earned his law degree in 1861. He was admitted to the bar in 1862, and thereafter served in the Union Army in the American Civil War. He enlisted from Boston as a 2nd lieutenant in Company B, 4th Battalion, Massachusetts Infantry on May 27, 1862, was mustered out a few days later, and commissioned into Company H, 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry on October 7, 1862. He left that unit to accept a commission as a major in the U.S. Volunteers Adjutant General Department on July 25, 1864. Gray was wounded at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, and resigned from the Army on July 14, 1865.

Legal careerEdit

In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, Gray established his law practice in Boston, Massachusetts, which would eventually evolve into the modern firm of Ropes and Gray. In 1869, he began teaching at Harvard Law School, first as a lecturer, and became a full professor in 1875. In 1883, he was named Royall Professor of Law (a chair named for Isaac Royall, Jr.), a position he would hold for 20 years. He received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Yale University in 1894, and from Harvard in 1895.

Two years after retiring from teaching, he died at Boston, Massachusetts on February 25, 1915.

Works written by GrayEdit

Gray wrote two books on future interests, Restraints on the Alienation of Property (1883), and The Rule against Perpetuities (1886). His best known work is his survey of the common law, The Nature and Sources of the Law (1909). Gray's writings were so influential that they are still used in American law schools and cited in law journals to this day.


  • Thayer, Ezra R.; Williston, Samuel; Beale, Joseph H. (1915). "John Chipman Gray". Harvard Law Review. 28 (6): 539–49. JSTOR 1326405.

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