James Gamble was born about 1753 in Ireland; arrived in Philadelphia about 1775, leaving his family behind with the promise that he would return to bring them to America once he was settled in Philadelphia. The outbreak of the Revolution, however, thwarted his plan as he entered military service against the Crown. An impressive service record, Gamble entered as a volunteer private, emerging as Regimental Quartermaster; Deputy Commissary (New York); Ensign and 2nd Lt. of Artillery in the 6th and 7th Pennsylvania Regiments, January 1776-June 1781. He served in the Canada Campaign, Trois Rivieres, Fort Ticonderoga (Garrison Duty), New Jersey Campaign, 1777; Brandywine, Paoli, Germantown, Valley Forge Encampment, Monmouth, Middlebrook Encampment, Morristown Encampment, 1779; New Jersey Summer Campaign; New Bridge, Paramus, NJ; Blockhouse-Bergen Heights; West Point Reinforcement; and the Morristown Encampment of 1780.
He continued to serve as Washington’s deputy commissary until the end of hostilities. After Yorktown he remained in the service of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment as a 2nd Lt., Continental Artillery. He retired as a Captain in 1783; returned to Ireland late that year; collected his family and returned to America, settling temporarily in Lancaster in 1784. He embarked on a nearly two-year campaign to collect his back pay as commissary. His appeals brought him before Robert Morris, General Washington, Congress, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council. He was ultimately successful by 1795, however had moved to Philadelphia about 1788, establishing a merchandising shop on Lombard Street, eventually settling his family there in Cedar Ward. Gamble also owned a property on Spruce St., between Fourth and Fifth Streets, which he rented to James and Dolly Madison, while the future President attended Congress 1794-1795.
With a growing and impressive list of correspondents and contacts, coupled with the honorary brevet epithet of “Captain” and an exemplary military record, the otherwise obscure, non-aristocratic Philadelphia immigrant arose to a level of exceptional popularity. As evidence, he became a member of the House of Representatives from Philadelphia, 1801-1802; and was elected to the Senate of Pennsylvania in October 1802, along with fellow freshman and war comrade John Kean; he resigned during the 1804 recess, accepting an administrative appointment from Gov. McKean as Commonwealth Auctioneer, a controversial move orchestrated by the Governor to remove pro-Constitutional Reform, Jeffersonian Republicans from the Senate (along with Kean), to stack the political majority of the upper house in McKean’s favor. In 1807, Gamble exchanged letters with Jefferson regarding the party schism that led to McKean’s intriguing appointment of Gamble and Kean, and the governor’s continued straying from the Jeffersonian camp. After his stint as Auctioneer, Gamble retired from public life and died September 10, 1813, at home; followed by his daughter, Ann, two days later.