Today we have a look at another signer of the Declaration of Independence, one of which you likely are not familiar.
William Whipple was born in 1730 in Kittery, Maine. His father William was a brewer and his mother the daughter of Robert Cutts, a distinguished ship builder. As a teen, he was sent off to sea to claim his fortune, and he became a Ship’s Master by the time he was 21. Most of his voyages were to the West Indies, Africa, and Europe, which indicates that he was aboard a slave ship. His diligence to duty and responsibility earned him a fortune. In 1759, he and his brother formed a partnership and established themselves as merchants on Bow Street on Spring Hill in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
We recognize in history many of the time held slaves, and Whipple was one these men. What made him “different” was the fact that his slave, one named Prince, fought along side of Whipple during the Revolutionary War. Some 5000 slaves fought for the Americans during the war, but more fought for the British for the British offered “freedom” to those who fought for them. Prince, by the way, was not granted his freedom until 1784. He is buried in the same cemetery as was his master, William Whipple, another uncommon event.
Whipple was not so fortunate in love. His fiancé left him at the altar. Later, he married a cousin, who was then 35 years of age in 1767. Her name was Catherine Moffat. The couple moved into the Moffat home in 1769: It was a Georgian colonial, which is still standing in Portsmouth.
He became popular and was elected to local offices, representing Portsmouth in the provincial congress. “In the provincial congress, which met at Exeter, January, 1775 to elect delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Whipple represented the town of Portsmouth. He also represented that town in the provincial congress, which was assembled at Exeter the following May, and by that body was appointed one of the provincial committee of safety. In 1776 he was appointed a delegate to the Continental Congress. Sensing the increasing sentiment for freedom, Whipple wrote as follows to Josiah Bartlett on January 7, 1776: ‘This year, my Friend, is big with mighty events. Nothing less than the fate of America depends on the virtue of her sons, and if they do not have virtue enough to support the most Glorious Cause ever human beings were engaged in, they don’t deserve the blessings of freedom.’
“Whipple was present in Congress and voted for independence on July 2, the Declaration of Independence on July 4, and signed the Declaration on August 2.
“’The memorable day which gave birth to the declaration of independence afforded, in the case of William Whipple,’ as a writer observes, ‘is a striking example of the uncertainty of human affairs, and the triumphs of perseverance. The cabin boy, who thirty years before had looked forward to a command of a vessel as the consummation of all his hopes and wishes, now stood amidst the congress of 1776, and looked around upon a conclave of patriots, such as the world had never witnessed. He whose ambition once centered in inscribing his name as commander upon a crew list, now affixed his signature to a document, which has embalmed it for posterity.'” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)
New Hampshire was the first colony to declare independence from King George III.
Congressional protocol said that votes for independence were taken from the northernmost colony to the southernmost one. Therefore, Whipple and his co-signer from New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett, were the first to cast their votes for independence, and their signatures are the first two after that of John Hancock. (Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnest, Signing Their Lives Away, page 18)
“The following year New Hampshire dissolved the Royal government and reorganized with a House of Representatives and an Executive Council. Whipple was made a Council member, a member of the Committee of Safety, and was promptly elected to the Continental Congress. He served there through 1779, though he took much leave for military affairs. In 1777 he was made Brigadier General of the New Hampshire Militia. General Whipple led men in the successful expedition against General Burgoyne at the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga.
He served as the superintendent of the commissary’s and quartermaster’s departments after the forming of the new government, where he oversaw the efficiency of the system.
“After the war Whipple was appointed an associate justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire. He suffered from a heart ailment for several years and he died, fainting from atop his horse while traveling his court circuit, in November of 1785.” (USHistory)
“In 1782, he was appointed receiver of public moneys for the state of New Hampshire, from Robert Morris, the superintendent of finance appointed by the Congress. The duties devolving upon him were both arduous and unpopular. The collection of money was, at that time, extremely difficult. Whipple experienced many vexations in the exercise of his commission; and at length, in 1784, found it necessary, on account of the infirm state of his health, to relinquish his office. About the same time that he received this appointment, he was created a judge of the superior court of judicature. He began now, however, to be afflicted with strictures in the breast, which prevented him from engaging in the more active scenes of life. He was able, however, to ride the circuits of the court for two or three years, but owing to an affection of the heart, his effectiveness was limited.
“In the fall of 1785, while riding the circuit, this disorder so rapidly increased, that he was obliged to return home. From this time he was confined to his room, until the 28th day of November, when he expired, in the 55th year of his age. He was buried in the North Cemetery, as was his servant ‘Prince,’ whose grave marker indicates that he was a soldier in the American army.
“The mind of Mr. Whipple was naturally strong, and his power of discrimination quick. In his manners, he was easy and unassuming; in his habits correct, and in his friendships constant. Although his early education was limited, his subsequent intercourse with the world, united to his natural good sense, enabled him to fill with ability the various offices to which he was appointed.
“Few men have exhibited a more honest and persevering ambition to act a worthy part in the community, and few, with his advantages, have been more successful in obtaining the object of their ambition.
‘On December 9, 1785, the New Hampshire Gazette noted: “On Monday the 28th of November, died, universally lamented, the Hon. Gen. William Whipple, Judge of the Superior Court of New Hampshire. ‘In him concentrated every principle that exalts the dignity of man. His disinterested patriotism and public services are now known to all. And when newspaper encomiums are lost in oblivion, the pen of the historian shall preserve the remembrance of his virtue in the breast of succeeding generations. During the long course of unequaled sufferings, he endured his lot with a firmness correspondent to the greatness of his mind.
‘He viewed his approaching dissolution with a heroic fortitude, in full confidence, that He who made him knew best how to dispose of him. In his extremist agonies, his mind was still revolving schemes for the happiness of mankind, and those sentiments of benevolence which distinguished him while living, were the last that died in him. He was generous and humane, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might rise up and say THIS WAS A MAN.” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)