William Williams: “I have signed the Declaration of Independence. I shall be hung.”

William_Williams-202x300William Williams was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, on April 18, 1731, the son of Pastor Solomon Williams, D.D., and Mary Porter Williams. William enrolled at Harvard College at age 16, graduated at 20 with honorable distinction, and commenced theological studies with his father. “The family of William Williams is said to have been originally from Wales. A branch of it came to America in the year 1630, and settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts. His grandfather, who bore the same name, was the minister of Hatfield, Massachusetts; and his father, Solomon Williams, D. D. was the minister of a parish in Lebanon, where he was settled fifty-four years. Solomon Williams, the father, married a daughter of Colonel Porter, of Hadley, by whom he had five sons and three daughters. The sons were all liberally educated. Of these, Eliphalet was settled, as a minister of the gospel, in East-Hartford, where be continued to officiate for about half a century. Ezekiel was sheriff of the county of Hartford for more than thirty years; he died a few years since at Wethersfield, leaving behind him a character distinguished for energy and enterprise, liberality and benevolence.” (Colonial Hall)

“William was a man of medium build, erect and well proportioned. He had dark brown eyes and black hair. Normally he was a man self-controlled and discrete; but it is said, upon occasion, his strong feelings led him to ‘violence of language.’ His plan for life was to follow his father in Christian ministry. The French and Indian Wars (1754-1763) interrupted this when he enlisted in the Continental Army. He joined his uncle, Colonel Ephraim Williams, and accompanied a British military expedition to Lake George in northeastern New York. On September 8, 1755, at Rocky Brook, four miles from Lake George, British Major General William Johnson, leading 1,200 provincial troops, engaged Monsieur le Baron de Dieskau in a fierce battle. Colonel Ephraim Williams commanded a regiment of provincial troops, and at the first volley was shot through the head.” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)

historicsigning3 (Mary Williams’ brother, John Trumbull, became famous as a painter of the Revolution. His works include the portrait above of William Williams, and the four large paintings of the Revolution now hanging in the Rotunda of the U. S. Capitol. http://www.dsdi1776.com/signers-by-state/william-williams/) Williams married Mary Trumbull, the daughter of the Royal Governor Jonathan Trumbull. Mary’s family included connections to John Adams, Oliver Wolcott, and William Ellery. Williams was forty at the time, and Mary was 25. They married on 14 February 1771. The couple had three children: Solomon, Faith, and William.

“William became an ardent supporter of the proposition for Independence, and gave his support financially through his own purse as well as through many effective writings. Williams presented the claims of the colonists in the press, and helped compose many of the Revolutionary state papers of the Royal Governor Jonathon Trumbull. During the 1760s he served on committees that considered the Stamp Act, the Connecticut claims to the Susquehanna lands, the case of the Mohegan Indians, and settlement of the boundary disputes between Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“Williams served as a Colonel in the Connecticut Militia (1773-75), but he was also the son-in-law of the Royal Governor! Governor Trumbull was the only royal governor to support the revolution. In 1775 William went from house to house soliciting private donations to defray the cost of sending Connecticut troops to aid in the capture of Ticonderoga.

“The Connecticut Assembly appointed Williams a delegate to the 2d Continental Congress in June, 1776, to take the place of Oliver Wolcott, who had become ill and had to return to Connecticut. Williams’ letter to Wolcott dated August 12, 1776, said that he did not arrive in Philadelphia until near the last of July, after the most Sultry & fatiqueing journey I ever performed, by much. The City has been since I came & yet is the most uncomfortable Place that I ever saw …, his language confirming the extreme heat and humidity attributed to Philadelphia at the time of the Declaration deliberations. Williams did not arrive in time to take part in the debates for Independence in Congress, nor was he present to cast a vote for the Declaration. His timing did permit him to sign that parchment in August when most of the other delegates did so.” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)

“In 1779 Williams accepted worthless paper money in exchange for $2,000 in coin for military supplies. He was said to have remarked that if independence were established he would get his money back; if not, the loss would be of no account to him.

“Some had criticized Williams for resigning his colonelcy of the 12th Militia Regiment at the outbreak of the Revolution in order to accept the election to the Continental Congress. His courage, however, was evidenced in 1781, when word arrived in Lebanon of the traitor Benedict Arnold’s raid upon New London. He immediately mounted his horse and rode twenty-three miles in three hours to offer his services as a volunteer. On arrival the town was already in flames.

“In the winter of 1781, while a French regiment was stationed in Lebanon, Williams moved out of his home and turned it over to French officers.

williams“Williams was a delegate to the convention which adopted the Articles of Confederation, and then again in 1788 he was a delegate to the ratifying convention at Hartford to consider the adoption by Connecticut of the Constitution of the United States. He voted for it, but objected to the clause forbidding religious tests.

“His later years were spent as a county judge. In 1810 his eldest son, Solomon, died, and he never seemed to be able to get over the loss. With rapidly declining health, the old patriarch died at 81 on August 2, 1811. Interment was in the Trumbull Cemetery, about a mile east of the town of Lebanon.

“In Washington, D.C, on the north side of the mall near the George Washington monument, there is a small park and lagoon celebrating the signers of the Declaration of Independence. One of the 56 granite blocks there is engraved with the name of William Williams. In the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol hangs the famous Trumbull painting “The Declaration of Independence. William Williams is shown standing on the right at the back of the room in a group of two, with a brown coat. Next to him, on the right in a red coat, is Oliver Wolcott.” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)





About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to William Williams: “I have signed the Declaration of Independence. I shall be hung.”

  1. I shall be hung???? Obviously not a credit to Harvard’s teachings. I shall be hanged. is the correct English and he should have known better 😀

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