William Grayson - The First Senator to Die in Office

William Grayson - The First Senator to Die in Office

William Grayson was a Founding Father who served on the Board of War during the American Revolution.

Grayson was also an original member of the United States Senate. He holds the unfortunate distinction of being the first Senator to die in office.

William Grayson

When the American Revolution broke out, William Grayson was a well-off Virginia lawyer.

Though not as wealthy as many other Virginians, William was comfortable enough to volunteer his services to the Continental Army. Upon arrival, he was appointed as an aide de camp to his longtime friend and neighbor George Washington.

The following year, Grayson recruited an entire regiment (about 5,500 men) to fight for the Continentals. Due to his hard work, William was appointed Colonel and all of these soldiers were put under his command.

Board of War

After successfully completing a special assignment regarding the transfer of prisoners of war, William Grayson was asked to serve as a member of the Board of War.

The Board of War was a group of five citizens who were chosen by the Continental Congress to oversee the Continental Army. This took much of the responsibility for completing the Revolutionary War out of the hands of the often-arguing Congressmen.

Technically, this made Grayson one of Washington’s bosses (though the General was usually left alone to do as he thought was right).


After independence was won, Grayson served two years in the Congress of the Confederation (as the government was called under the Articles of Confederation).

William left Congress when he was chosen as a Delegate to the Virginia Ratification Convention. He became a staunch Anti-Federalist.

Grayson’s concerns were different from many of his contemporary Anti-Federalists. He did not think the Constitution created too powerful a government. Instead, William thought it was too small to be a strong National Government and too big to be a weak Confederated Government.


Despite his attempts to stop it, the Constitution was passed.

Grayson joined Richard Henry Lee as an inaugural Virginia member of the United States Senate. In this position, William participated in the creation of the foundation of the government as we know it today.

Grayson’s time as a Founder would not last much longer, as he took ill soon after the first session of the Senate. After a long sickness, William Grayson passed away on March 12, 1790.

It was the first time the members of the United States Senate had to bury one of their own.

Do you want to read about other inaugural members of the Senate?


Enjoy these articles on Paine Wingate and Constitution Signer Pierce Butler.

Want to read a full length biography on William Grayson?

Despite his obscurity, there is one!

William Grayson and the Constitution’ is the only book I am aware of featuring this cousin of James Monroe. Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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