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John Chipman Gray

John Chipman Gray served as a member of the Harvard Law School faculty for more than four decades. He was an expert on the law of real property, and his works are still cited as persuasive authority today.

John Chipman Gray was born July 14, 1839, in Brighton, Massachusetts, son of Horace and Sarah Russell (Gardner) Gray. He was the grandson of "Billy" Gray, shipowner and one-time lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Boston. Gray's older half-brother, HORACE GRAY, later became a Supreme Court justice.

When he was still a young boy, Gray's father experienced a financial setback. This did not, however, discourage Gray from seeking higher education. After attending Boston Latin School, he went to Harvard University, earning a bachelor of arts degree in 1859 and a bachelor of laws degree in 1861. Gray also received honorary doctor of laws degrees from Yale University in 1894 and Harvard in 1895.

After his ADMISSION TO THE BAR in 1862, Gray served a tour of military duty in the Civil War before establishing his legal practice in Boston in 1865. The law firm, Ropes & Gray, still exists and is a major national law firm, with offices in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Four years after establishing the firm, Gray became a member of the faculty of the Harvard Law School. He served as a lecturer from 1869 to 1871 before becoming a law professor in 1875. He was named the Royall professor of law in 1883, a position he held until 1913. This chair is named after Isaac Royall, who funded the first chair in law at Harvard Law School, and it remains one of the most prestigious chairs of any law school in the United States.

Chipman's specialty was real PROPERTY LAW, and his works about future interests are still largely regarded as classic works. Among his more notable publications about future interests are Restraints on the Alienation of Property (1883) and The Rule against Perpetuities (1886), reprints of which are still available today. His most noteworthy publication, however, is The Nature and Sources of the Law (1909), which is widely considered one of the more significant works on the nature of COMMON LAW.

On February 25, 1915, two years after retiring from teaching, Gray died in Boston, Massachusetts.


Boyden, Albert. 1942. Ropes-Gray, 1865–1940. Boston: Lincoln & Smith.

"John Chipman Gray." 1915. Harvard Law Review (April).

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