So we’re off to a good start. Okay, there’s a good chance you might know some of these Declaration of Independence signers. I mean the delegation of Massachusetts certainly has names you most likely would’ve heard of in history class since Boston was a big hots spot of radical colonial activity and rioting during the lead up to the American Revolution. I mean you have the Boston Massacre as well as the Boston Tea Party. Of course, you probably don’t know who the hell those guys from New Hampshire are. And if you recognize Josiah Bartlett, you’re probably a fan of The West Wing. Most of the guys in this installment you probably won’t have any idea unless they’re very notable in your home state. Which means you’re probably from New England and not from Massachusetts or New Hampshire. This section, we’ll meet the Declaration of Independence signers from Connecticut and Rhode Island as a couple from New York (the other two will be in the next post along with Robert Morris and the 5 Revolutionary Jersey Boys). First, we have Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery from Rhode Island who may be well known in the state. But outside Rhode Island, hardly anyone has any idea who either of them were. Yet, one of them is an ancestor to the woman who’d marry Kevin Bacon. Second, it’s off to Connecticut where we have Roger Sherman best known for presenting the Connecticut Compromise during the Constitutional Convention and is why Connecticut is called the “Constitution State.” He was also on the Committee of Five that actually drafted the Declaration of Independence as well. After him are fellow Connecticut Yankees Samuel Huntington, William Williams, and Oliver Wolcott. Finally, it’s on to the first two guys of New York William Floyd and Philip Livingston who are the ancestors of David Crosby from the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Eleanor Roosevelt. So for your American history reading enjoyment, feel free to read my second installment of the Declaration of Independence signers who were much more than just boring white guys. Well, at least some of them anyway.
9. Stephen Hopkins
Lived: (1707-1785) He was 69 at the signing and 78 at his death.
Family: Son of William Hopkins and Ruth Wilkinson. Second of 9 children. Grandfather William Hopkins served the Rhode Island colony for 40 years as Major, Deputy, Assistant, and Speaker of the House of Deputies. Great-Grandfather Thomas Hopkins was an original settler of Providence and first cousin of royal governor Benedict Arnold (no, not that guy). Younger brother Esek was first commander in chief of the Continental Navy (though he really sucked). Married Sarah Scott at 19 and had 7 kids. Second wife was Anne Smith, who converted him to Quakerism but they had no children (but her daughter married his youngest son).
State: Rhode Island
Occupation: Surveyor, astronomer, merchant, college administrator, manufacturer, and businessman
Early Life: Born in Providence but spent his childhood Chopmist Hill (now Scituate). Despite being from a prominent and wealthy family (he inherited 160 acres of land at a young age which he’d later sell), he received almost no formal education since there were no schools in the area. But he made up for it by voraciously reading books in his family library where he developed an interest in science, mathematics, and literature. Learned surveying skills from his maternal grandfather which he put to good use to create maps of Scituate and Providence. Held his first public office as justice of the peace at 23 as well as a judge on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas in 1736. Other offices he held during this time were President of the Town Council, Deputy, and Speaker of the House of Deputies. In 1742, he moved to Providence and established himself as a merchant, manufacturer, and businessman. In 1751, he would become Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court for the first time (he’d serve 2 more nonconsecutive times). In 1755, he was elected Governor of Rhode Island for the first time (he’d serve 3 more nonconsecutive times). However, during his governorship, he got into a major rivalry with Samuel Ward whom he later sued for 40,000 pounds, which he lost. Their rivalry would become a serious distraction for the colonial government that they both agreed not to run for office in 1768 and opted for a compromise candidate instead. ). In 1764, he published an anti-Stamp Act pamphlet called “The Rights of the Colonies Examined” which gave him name recognition throughout the 13 colonies. As Chief Justice, he was a principal player in the Gaspee Affair when a group of angry Rhode Islanders bombarded a British revenue vessel and burned it to the waterline. In 1774, he was selected as a delegate for the First Continental Congress and served until 1776 when ill health forced him to resign.
Significant Roles: Co-owned Hope Furnace which produced pig iron and cannons during the Revolutionary War, which would be managed by his son Rufus for 4 decades. Signed the Declaration of Independence saying, “my hand trembles but my heart does not” as worsening palsy compelled him to use his left hand to steady his right. His knowledge of the shipping business was particularly useful as a member of the naval committee that helped Congress purchase, outfit, man and operate the first ships of the new Continental Navy. He was even instrumental in framing naval legislation and drafting the rules and regulations necessary to govern the fledgling organization.
Ultimate Fate: Remained an active member of the Rhode Island Assembly between 1777-1779. Died at his home and is buried in the North Burial Ground in Providence. Though known as “the greatest statesmen of Rhode Island,” he’s hardly known anywhere else.
Trivia: Was an ardent supporter, founding trustee, and served as the first chancellor of what is now Brown University from 1764-1785. In 1769, he was involved in the observation of the transit of Venus across the face of the sun, a rare astronomical event. Founded the Providence Library Company in 1753 and was member of the Philosophical Society of Newport. Depicted dozing at a tavern table in John Greenwood’s Captains Carousing in Surinam. First wife was the third great niece of Anne Hutchinson. Had very interesting views on slavery and probably wouldn’t have introduce an anti-slavery importation bill (or free any of his 5 slaves) without significant pressure from Rhode Island’s large Quaker population. Had a liberty ship named after him which was the first to sink a German surface warship during WWII.
10. William Ellery
Lived: (1727-1820) He was 48 at the signing and 92 at his death.
Family: Second son of William Ellery Sr. and Elizabeth Almy. Father was a merchant and Harvard graduate. Married Ann Remington and Abigail Carey as well as had a total of 19 children.
State: Rhode Island
Occupation: Merchant, customs collector, and lawyer
Early Life: Born in Newport and received his early education from his father. Graduated from Harvard in 1747 where he excelled in Latin and Greek. He then returned to Newport where he worked as a merchant and customs collector. With the Reverend Ezra Stiles, he was sought consultation by the Baptists on writing a charter for a college which would later be known as Brown University. However, being the staunch Congregationalists they were, they wanted to give college control to their group but the Baptists withdrew their petition until it was rewritten to assure Baptist control. This led to him and Stiles refusing their board of trustees seats. Started practicing law at 43 in 1770 and became active in the Sons of Liberty.
Significant Roles: All his term in the Second Continental Congress is significant is that he was chosen as a delegate in 1776 to replace somebody who died. However, he’s the reason why the British seized the town of Newport and burned his home to the ground in December of 1776. This led him to borrow money from his friends to pay his expenses.
Ultimate Fate: All he does after the Revolution is serve a year as the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, became an abolitionist, and resumed his old job as a customs collector until his death. Buried in Newport’s Common Burial Ground. The Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the Revolution and the William Ellery Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution make an annual commemoration at his grave on July 4.
Trivia: Has the second biggest signature on the Declaration of Independence. Ancestor of Edie and Kyra Sedgwick (the latter also known as Mrs. Kevin Bacon). Preferred to travel by horse over carriage and was known as the “Congressman on Horseback” when he came to meet his constituents. Loved to grow flowers and vegetables in his spare time. Said to be a kind and gentle man.
11. Roger Sherman
Lived: (1721-1793) He was 54 at the signing and 72 at his death.
Family: Son of William Sherman and Mehetabel Wellington. Born into a not-so-well-off Massachusetts farm family that later moved to Connecticut. Married to Elizabeth Hartwell and Rebecca Minot Prescott and had 15 children between the two of them. He would start a political dynasty with 3 US Senators, 2 US Attorney Generals, a Secretary of State, a state governor, and a founding trustee of a university.
Occupation: Lawyer, shoemaker, shopkeeper, clerk, surveyor, astronomer, professor, theologian, and philanthropist
Early Life: Born in Newton, Massachusetts before his family moved to Connecticut very early in his childhood. Education didn’t extend beyond grammar school or his father’s library but he had a high aptitude for learning to make up for it. He was also taken under the wing of his parish minister, Reverend Samuel Dunbar. Started out as a shoemaker before moving to New Mitford to open a shop with his brother. There he soon became a leading citizen where he served as town clerk and was county surveyor in 1745. In 1759, he started providing astronomical calculations for almanacs. Was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1754 despite no formal legal training as well as wrote A Caveat Against Injustice the same year. Represented New Mitford by serving two nonconsecutive terms in the Connecticut House of Representatives. Elected justice of the peace in 1762 and common pleas judge in 1765. Was elected to the Governor’s Council in 1766, a position he’d serve until 1785. In 1768, he became a Superior Court Justice, a position he’d serve until 1789.
Significant Roles: As a member of the Continental Congress he served on the Committee of Five with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert R. Livingston. In 1776, he was on a committee with John Adams which was responsible for establishing guidelines for US embassy officials in Canada with instructions including, “You are to declare that we hold sacred the rights of conscience, and may promise to the whole people, solemnly in our name, the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion. And…that all civil rights and the rights to hold office were to be extended to persons of any Christian denomination.”
Ultimate Fate: In 1784, he was elected the first mayor of New Haven, a position he’d serve until his death. Was one of the oldest delegates in the Constitutional Convention but was very active and influential. Though he initially supported a unicameral legislature, he decided that was unattainable. Thus, he and Oliver Ellsworth decided to formulate the Great Compromise in which every state would have two senators and state representation would be determined by population. He was elected to the US Congress and was elected US Senator two years later. In 1790, he and Richard Law were appointed to revise the confused and archaic Connecticut statutes, which they accomplished with great success. Died after a two month bout with typhoid and is buried in Grove Street Cemetery. He’s probably the best known New England signer outside Massachusetts.
Trivia: Best known for being the only person to sign all 4 great state papers of the United States such as the US Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution. Ancestor of Solicitor General and Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Was a treasurer and major benefactor of Yale where he taught religion for many years and engaged in lengthy correspondences with some of the greatest theologians at the time, promoted the construction of a campus chapel, as well as received an honorary Master of Arts degree.
12. Samuel Huntington
Lived: (1731-1796) Was 44 at the signing and 64 at his death.
Family: Son of Nathaniel and Mehetabel Huntington. Was fourth of 10 children but oldest son. Father was a farmer. Married his pastor’s daughter and possible childhood sweetheart Martha Devotion in 1761. They had no children but raised his brother Joseph’s kids as their own. His nephew Samuel would become Governor of Ohio.
Occupation: Cooper, farmer, and lawyer
Early Life: Born in Windham (now Scotland), Connecticut. Had limited education in the common schools and mostly educated himself with the help of the Reverend Ebenezer Devotion’s library and books borrowed from local lawyers. Apprenticed to a cooper at 16 but helped his dad on the farm. Admitted to the bar in 1754 and moved to Norwich to practice law. After briefly serving as a selectman, he began his 20 year career in the Connecticut Assembly. He was also appointed King’s Attorney for Connecticut in 1768 and the Superior Court in 1773 eventually rising to Chief Justice in 1784. Was such an outspoken critic of the Coercive Acts that the assembly sent him to the Second Continental Congress in 1775.
Significant Roles: Was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1779 for his hard work and calm manner that earned the respect of his fellow delegates. It was mostly a ceremonial position with no real authority, but he had to handle a great deal of correspondence and sign official documents. Mostly spent these two years urging the states and their legislatures to support the levies for men, supplies, and money needed to fight the Revolutionary War. His term also saw the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Resigned in 1781 due to ill health. Yet, he returned to Congress in 1783 to see the success of the Revolution embodied in the Treaty of Paris.
Ultimate Fate: Was elected lieutenant governor in Connecticut in 1785 and became governor the next year, a post he held until his death. Supported the Northwest Ordinance. In 1788, he presided over the Connecticut Convention called to ratify the US Constitution as well as saw Connecticut’s transition to a US state. Resolved the issue of a permanent capital in Hartford and saw the construction of the state house. Died at his home. Buried in the Old Norwichtown Cemetery (behind his mansion) where his tomb underwent extensive restoration and renovation in 2003. Not well known outside of Connecticut.
Trivia: Has a town in Pennsylvania and a county in Indiana named after him.
13. William Williams
Lived: (1731-1811) He was 45 at the signing and 80 at his death.
Family: Son of Reverend Tom Solomon Williams and Mary Porter. Married Mary Trumbull in 1771 and had 3 children.
Occupation: Lay minister, merchant, soldier, businessman, pundit, and shopkeeper
Early Life: Born in Lebanon, Connecticut. Said to profess a religious vocation at an early age and might’ve been ordained a deacon as a teenager. Studied theology and law at Harvard though he took a break to fight in the French and Indian War. Afterwards, opened a store called The Williams Inc. Was a successful merchant and pastor of Lebanon’s First Congregational Church (though he decided that a church career wasn’t for him). Member of the Connecticut Assembly for over 40 years and served as a judge for 35 years. Wrote letters to newspapers on British policies during the lead up to the Revolution and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776.
Significant Roles: He didn’t technically vote for independence and was basically elected to replace Oliver Wolcott but he signed a formal copy. Signed the Articles of Confederation. Opened his home to American soldiers and their allies. Purchased supplies with his own money and went from door to door raising funds and collecting blankets.
Ultimate Fate: Spent his later years as a county judge. Was a delegate for the ratifying convention in Connecticut for the US Constitution. Buried in Trumbull Cemetery. Home still survives.
Trivia: Father-in-law was a Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Brother-in-law to John Trumbull, best known for his American Revolution paintings. Mostly self-controlled unless he was passionate about something then his language could be described as, “violent.”
14. Oliver Wolcott
Lived: (1726-1797) He was 49 at the signing and 71 at his death.
Family: Son of Roger Wolcott who was a royal governor of Connecticut. Youngest of 14 children. Married Lorraine “Laura” Collins in 1755 and had 5 children.
Occupation: Physician, diplomat, and soldier
Early Life: Born in Windsor, Connecticut. Graduated from Yale in 1747. Raised his own militia company to fight in the French and Indian War, serving as Captain on the northern frontier. After the war, he studied medicine with his brother Alexander and was appointed sheriff of the newly created Litchfield County, which he served from 1751-1771. Also represented Litchfield in the Connecticut Assembly as well as Council. In 1775, he served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department.
Significant Roles: Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, he commanded 14 regiments and was made at least a Brigadier General in 1777. Attended the Congress in Yorktown in 1778. Was said to be consulted on important military movements and listened to with great confidence and respect.
Ultimate Fate: Said to help make peace with the Six Nations in In 1786, he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, a position he’d hold for 10 years. In 1787, he was a member of the Connecticut State Convention to ratify the US Constitution. Elected governor in 1796 but died in office the next year.
Trivia: Had a town in Connecticut named after him while he was still alive when he cast the deciding vote in the state legislature to incorporate it. His town of Litchfield was a site for bullet manufacturing during the American Revolution.
15. William Floyd
Lived: (1734-1821) He was 41 at the signing and 86 at his death.
Family: Born into a family of Welsh origins and had been in New York for 4 generations. Married Hannah Jones and Joanna Strong and had 5 children.
State: New York
Occupation: Farmer, landowner, and soldier
Early Life: Born in Brookhaven, New York on Long Island. Took over the family farm when his father died. Was a delegate in the First Continental Congress in 1774-1776.
Significant Roles: Was a member of the Suffolk County Militia early in the American Revolution and rose to the rank of Major General. Member of the New York State Senate from 1777-1788. When the British were marching on Long Island he had fisherman take his family to Long Island Sound to Middletown Connecticut for safety. When he came home after the 7 year British occupation, he found his home turned into a stable and ruined. He spent a year rebuilding it and getting rid of the horseshit all over the place.
Ultimate Fate: In 1784, he purchased a track of land in central New York near the headwaters of the Mohawk River receiving a grant of 10,000 acres. In 1789, he was elected to the US Congress. Buried in a town in Oneida County that bears his name. His house still stands as part of the Fire Island National Seashore.
Trivia: Is an ancestor of cinematographer Floyd Crosby and rock musician David Crosby (Floyd is also David’s dad by the way). Was listed as largest slaveholder in New York in 1820 who owned 6 while his household also included 2 free blacks.
16. Philip Livingston
Lived: (1716-1778) He was 60 at the signing and 62 at his death.
Family: Son of Philip Livingston, 2nd Lord of the Manor. He was the fourth son so he didn’t get anything and had to work for a living. Mother was a daughter of a Dutch mayor of Albany. Married Christina Ten Broeck in 1740 and had 9 children. Part of the famous American Livingston family.
State: New York
Occupation: Merchant, diplomat, and philanthropist
Early Life: Born in Albany. Graduated from Yale in 1737 and settled in New York City to pursue a mercantile career. Served as alderman 1754-1763. Became a delegate to the Albany Congress in 1754 as well. There, he joined delegates from several other colonies to negotiate with Indians to discuss common plans for dealing with the French and Indian War as well as developed a Plan of Union which was rejected by King George II. He was also an active promoter of efforts to raise funds for this war as well. Served in the New York Assembly from 1759-1769, including a stint as speaker in 1768. Attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and became strongly aligned with the radical block as well as joined New York City’s Committee of Correspondence and Committee of Sixty. Was president of the New York Provincial Congress in 1775 and delegate to the Continental Congress that year.
Significant Roles: Strongly supported separation from Great Britain and used a lot of his assets to assist the Continental Army. Was appointed to the New York State Senate in 1777. Died suddenly during a Continental Congress session in York, Pennsylvania and is buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery there. Both his homes were seized during the British occupation of New York City which they turned into a military hospital and barracks. Family fled to Kingston.
Ultimate Fate: Livingston didn’t survive the American Revolution.
Trivia: Was an original promoter of what is now Columbia University. Ancestor of Eleanor Roosevelt (on her mother’s side).