Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June 17: "The Colonies are striding fast to independence….”

Do you know who this is?
-He was dragged through the streets by a mob.
-He was a loyalist, but became a patriot.
-He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

William Hooper was born in Boston, Massachusetts on June 17, 1742. He would be the first child of five born to his parents, William and Mary Dennie Hooper. His father was a Scottish minister who hoped that his eldest son would enter the ministry as an Episcopalian minister, but later consented to allow his son to become a lawyer. His mother was the daughter of a respected Boston merchant.

Hooper’s early education began at home where he was taught by his father until he was seven years old. He was then enrolled in the Boston Latin School – a noted colonial preparatory school - and at the age of fifteen he entered Harvard as a sophomore. There he was considered to be ‘industrious and was highly regarded’ by his fellow students, graduating in 1760 with a MA in Theology. He decided during this time to pursue a career in law and would study under James Otis, a popular attorney in Boston who was known as one of the early ‘radicals’ during this tumultuous time. In 1764 Hooper completed his bar exam, and decided to leave Massachusetts – a decision in part formed because of the abundance of lawyers in Massachusetts colony.

North Carolina beckoned, and Hooper settled and practiced law in Wilmington – making it his permanent residence when he found, wooed and won Miss Anne Clark. The marriage provided Hooper with two sons – William and Thomas – and a daughter – Elizabeth. Hooper’s law practice was a successful one, and he gained the respect of the wealthy farmers and fellow lawyers. In 1769 he was appointed as Attorney General for the Salisbury district, and in 1770 he was appointed as Deputy Attorney General for North Carolina.

Hooper would follow his father’s footsteps as a Loyalist, prosecuting farmers who protested the British taxes, and supporting the stance of the North Carolina colonial governor. Soon after an uprising by fellow colonials protesting taxes in 1771, Hooper began to move from Loyalist to Patriot. Perhaps part of the reason for this was because he was dragged through the streets of Hillsborough, North Carolina, and his home was destroyed by a mob because of his support of the Crown and the Royal Governor. However, his support for the Crown eroded for other reasons as well.

After the Royal Governor dissolved the Colonial Assembly that provided legislation for the colony, Hooper helped to organize a conference in Wilmington to establish a new, more pro-Loyalist Colonial Assembly – to which he was elected as a representative in 1773. As a representative, he strongly opposed the attempts of the legislature to pass laws that would regulate the courts. Because of this the Loyalists in the Assembly – who wanted to control all branches of the government – began to turn against Hooper.

Hooper realized in 1774 that independence was a very likely possibility. He wrote to a friend of his that...

"The Colonies are striding fast to independence, and ere long will build an empire upon the ruins of Great Britain; will adopt its Constitution, purged of its impurities, and from an experience of its defects, will guard against those evils which have wasted its vigor."
As he became more involved politically, Hooper came to believe more in the cause of independence. When the governor again disbanded the assembly, Hooper helped organize a new colonial assembly, and was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry. In 1774 he was appointed as one of North Carolina’s three delegates to the First Continental Congress, and the following year was elected to the Second Continental Congress.

Because a new government was being established in North Carolina, Hooper split his time between the Continental Congress and his political work in North Carolina where he was helping to develop the legal language for the new state legislature. It was during one of these absences that he missed the vote approving the Declaration of Independence, but he did arrive back at the Congress in time to sign the Declaration on August 2, 1776.
There would be several different aspects concerning the cost to Hooper for signing the Declaration of Independence. His father, a staunch loyalist, disowned him. He pledged his fortune and his future income as a lawyer to the cause, and the British destroyed him plantation home - Finian - in retaliation for his support of the rebellion. Hooper was forced to flee from British pursuit while suffering from malaria and nursing a badly injured arm. These events actually caused a decline in his health, precipitating an early death in 1790 at the age of forty-eight.

Hooper would serve in different political capacities during the Revolutionary War, returning to private life and his legal career after the war was over. He supported the idea of the return of property to Loyalists who had fled the colonies as expressed in the Treaty of Paris – and lost support because of his stand for the law. He was appointed a federal judge in 1789, serving only one year before his death on October 14, 1790. He died the day before the marriage of his daughter, Elizabeth, and was buried in Hillsboro, North Carolina. His remains were moved in 1894 to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, along with fellow Declaration of Independence signer John Penn.


Our local library has no biographies on William Hooper at this time.


Colonial Hall
National Park Service
North Carolina History Project
Revolutionary War and Beyond


01. Portrait: Adherents
02. Map of colonial North Carolina, 1770
03. Portrait
04. Signing the Declaration (John Trumbull, 1819)
05. Hooper’s Signature: Declaration of Independence
06. Gravesite


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