Founding Fathers - William Hooper

William Hooper

Born: June 28, 1742 (Boston, MA)

Died: October 14, 1790 (Hillsborough, NC)


Until now, all of the signers that we have studied could perhaps be considered lifetime locals - each was born in the state he would represent, and each would eventually die there as well.  This week we look at the first of our movers and shakers that was literally a mover - William Hooper.  Born in Boston, MA, William was the oldest of five children born to a Scottish minister and his wife, William and Mary.  The elder William initially immigrated to the Massachusetts colony as a member of the Congregationalist denomination, but eventually became an Episcopalian and therefore had to cross the Atlantic to study in London prior to his new ordination.  Such devotion to faith led the father to plan for his son to follow in his footsteps, and the younger William was educated at the Boston Latin School before moving on to Harvard.  Much to his parents' dismay, however, Hooper was more interested in law than in the clergy.  Worsening the family conflict, his studies introduced him to a teacher James Otis, an attorney who ardently supported colonial rights and began to sway his pupil against the Loyalist beliefs of his father.  And so in 1764 a 22-year-old William left Massachusetts for North Carolina to create distance both from Boston's many competing attorneys as well as from the discord of family strife.

Despite some health concerns he encountered in Wilmington, NC, William Hooper found a measure of initial success both vocationally and socially, and was embraced by locals to the point of being unanimously elected as the local recorder within two years.  Although he endured the pain of his father's unexpected death, Hooper also found happiness with his new bride - Anne Clark, the wealthy daughter of a past county sheriff.  The couple would have six children, three who survived infancy, and William's positive reputation and success would soon grow into political aspirations.  By 1770 he had become the Deputy Attorney General for North Carolina under British authority and was considered by many to be a Loyalist.  He even helped engage a group of rebels known as the Regulators, reportedly being dragged through the streets by some of their men at one point before joining a militia that defeated them in the Battle of Alamance in 1771.  It has been argued that the fight, which took place four years before Lexington and Concord, should be recognized as the first battle of the American Revolution as it pitted the British against colonials that opposed taxation.

Despite his initial support for the Crown, it wasn't long before Hooper began to shift his allegiance.  He was not quickly welcomed by patriots but remained popular enough to win an election to the General Assembly in 1773, where he was eventually named a member of the Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry.  It was during this time that Hooper defied North Carolina Governor William Tryon regarding a bill favoring British debtors over colonial courts, strenuously opposing the unjust law until he was disbarred for a year as punishment.  His reputation with patriots, however, skyrocketed and while writing to a friend in 1774 he asserted that the colonies "are striding fast to independence".  Considered one of the earliest written statements to predict a complete split from the Crown, this letter has earned Hooper the nickname "Prophet of Independence".  The British closing of the port of Boston goaded Hooper into raising support and aid for his hometown, and in recognition of his patriotic skills of oratory and writing he was chosen as one of three delegates to the First Continental Congress.

For three years William Hooper traveled consistently between Philadelphia and North Carolina, serving both in his state assembly and various committees in the Continental Congress.  At just 32, he was one of the youngest delegates to serve but was recognized as one of the leading orators alongside Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee.  Among his many contributions were supplying his home militia with goods purchased in Philadelphia, as well as the crafting of an address to the residents of the colonies stating the views of Congress in light of the shots fired at Lexington.  He was not in Philadelphia in July, 1776, when the vote for independence was taken but quickly returned to sign the document with his fellow delegates on August 2.  He continued actively serving on numerous committees at both the national and state levels until early in 1777, when he returned to North Carolina to recover from yellow fever and eventually submitted his resignation from Congress.  He resumed his legal work during the Revolution, despite having one home shelled by a British ship and another burned to the ground.  His widowed mother, wife, and children were moved to Wilmington while Hooper himself became a fugitive, battling malaria while being shuttled between the homes of his friends and allies to evade capture.  In early 1781 the city was captured by British forces, and for over a year the family was separated without knowing if the others had survived.

The family was finally reunited and after the war they purchased a home in Hillsborough, NC.  Hooper was very busy due to the number of lawsuits over seized properties, usually those belonging to Loyalists or others who had fled the country, and was noted for his calls for leniency to prevail over vengeance against those who had sided with Britain.  Along with his support of Federalist politics in a region dominated by Democratic-Republicans, this caused him to fall out of favor with the public and he was overlooked as a delegate to the 1788 Constitutional Convention.  Hooper was named as a federal judge in 1789, but his declining health was obvious to all and he eventually succumbed to his illnesses on October 14, 1790, the night before his daughter's wedding.  He was buried a stone's throw from his family home where he remained until his remains were relocated to a national military park in Greensboro in 1894 alongside fellow signers John Penn and Joseph Hewes.

The signature of William Hooper can be found as the first name on the second column beneath the Declaration of Independence.



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