Founding Fathers - William Floyd
Born: December 17, 1734 (Brookhaven, New York)
Died: August 4, 1821 (Westernville, New York)
This week we'll look into the life of our sixth and final William appearing on the Declaration of Independence. Born in what is today known as the town of Mastic on Long Island to Nicoll and Tabitha Floyd, William Floyd was the second of nine children raised on their sprawling 4,400 acre estate. Well on his way to receiving the best education available at the time, his plans were interrupted late in his teenage years upon the death of his father, followed by his mother just months later. As the oldest son, William had to assume responsibility for running both his family and their farm. When he turned 21 in 1755 he inherited the property, and from all accounts he was a practical and profitable steward. In addition to farming, he also utilized his proximity to the water to engage in shipping, have access to fish and oysters, and attract wealthy friends who might be seeking a resort as boarders. In 1760 he married Hannah Jones from nearby Southampton, and in 21 years of marriage the couple had a son and two daughters.
The French and Indian War concluded shortly after William Floyd's 30th birthday, a time when the young man was developing political influence among his wealthy peers from both New York and neighboring Connecticut. He was elected as town trustee multiple times and in 1769 was chosen to represent Suffolk County in the Provincial Assembly. Having developed strong connections and a solid reputation, Floyd was chosen to represent New York at the First Continental Congress in 1774. Soon thereafter, as tensions with Britain continued to mount, Floyd joined the county militia and was granted the rank of Colonel. Before his military career ended, however, he had risen to the rank of Major General. Floyd returned to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress in 1775, fully aware that although George Washington had secured Boston, British General Howe was determined to control New York - including Long Island. The colony's political leaders had not instructed their delegates how to address a motion for independence, so when the vote was taken the four representatives from New York were obliged to remain silent as the remaining 12 colonies unanimously agreed. It wasn't until August 1, 1776, that the signing began on the finalized Declaration and Floyd was finally able to join his fellow delegates in officially supporting the cause for liberty.
Within a month, invading troops landed on Long Island and the family of William Floyd was forced to flee. Knowing the names of the men who had signed the Declaration of Independence, Floyd's home was targeted by the British for capture and destruction. He left Congress but was elected to the New York Senate in 1777, where he served for twelve years. Although the war ended in victory during 1781, it was a bitter year for Floyd as his wife Hannah succumbed to poor health brought on by exposure, stress, and fatigue. He rebuilt his estate and remarried three years later, this time to Setauket native Joanna Strong, with whom he had two more daughters. In 1789 the new Constitution took effect, and Floyd was elected to serve a single term in the 1st United States Congress. He ran unsuccessfully for election as Lieutenant Governor alongside Robert Yates, but the pair was defeated by John Jay and Stephen Van Rensselaer. Floyd had purchased new property in Westernville, near Syracuse, so in 1803 he conveyed his Long Island property to his only son, who had been named Nicoll after Floyd's father. Representing his new location in Oneida County, he served a single term in the New York Senate starting that same year and acted as an Presidential Elector on at least four separate occasions before finally retiring in 1809. He was invited back one final time in 1820 to cast a vote for the president, but declined and was replaced by future president Martin Van Buren. Floyd died in the summer of 1821 at the age of 86, survived by his wife and three of his five children. His home in Brookhaven is still owned by members of the Floyd family, and is open to the public.
The signature of William Floyd can be found as the first name on the fifth column beneath the Declaration of Independence.