Founding Fathers Series: William Few

few_w_110William Few

Few was born in 1748. His father’s family had emigrated from England to Pennsylvania in the 1680s, but the father had subsequently moved to Maryland, where he married and settled on a farm near Baltimore. William was born there. He encountered much hardship and received minimal schooling. When he was 10 years of age, his father, seeking better opportunity, moved his family to North Carolina.

In 1771 Few, his father, and a brother associated themselves with the “Regulators,” a group of frontiersmen who opposed the royal governor. As a result, the brother was hanged, the Few family farm was destroyed, and the father was forced to move once again, this time to Georgia. William remained behind, helping to settle his father’s affairs, until 1776 when he joined his family near Wrightsboro, Ga. About this time, he won admittance to the bar, based on earlier informal study, and set up practice in Augusta.

When the War for Independence began, Few enthusiastically aligned himself with the Whig cause. Although largely self-educated, he soon proved his capacity for leadership and won a lieutenant-colonelcy in the dragoons. In addition, he entered politics. He was elected to the Georgia provincial congress of 1776 and during the war twice served in the assembly, in 1777 and 1779. During the same period, he also sat on the state executive council besides holding the positions of surveyor-general and Indian commissioner. He also served in the Continental Congress (1780-88), during which time he was reelected to the Georgia Assembly (1783).

Four years later, Few was appointed as one of six state delegates to the Constitutional Convention, two of whom never attended and two others of whom did not stay for the duration. Few himself missed large segments of the proceedings, being absent during all of July and part of August because of congressional service, and never made a speech. Nonetheless, he contributed nationalist votes at critical times. Furthermore, as a delegate to the last sessions of the Continental Congress, he helped steer the Constitution past its first obstacle, approval by Congress. And he attended the state ratifying convention.

Few became one of his state’s first U.S. senators (1789-93). When his term ended, he headed back home and served again in the assembly. In 1796 he received an appointment as a federal judge for the Georgia circuit. For reasons unknown, he resigned his judgeship in 1799 at the age of 52 and moved to New York City.

Few’s career continued to blossom. He served 4 years in the legislature (1802-5) and then as inspector of prisons (1802-10), alderman (1813-14), and U.S. commissioner of loans (1804). From 1804 to 1814 he held a directorship at the Manhattan Bank and later the presidency of City Bank. A devout Methodist, he also donated generously to philanthropic causes.

When Few died in 1828 at the age of 80 in Fishkill-on-the-Hudson (present Beacon), he was survived by his wife (born Catherine Nicholson) and three daughters. Originally buried in the yard of the local Reformed Dutch Church, his body was later reinterred at St. Paul’s Church, Augusta, GA.

Copy taken directly from the National Archives Website:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_georgia.html

Image: Courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions
(148-CP-157)

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Founding Father Series: William Leigh Pierce

William Leigh Pierce

Very little is known about William Pierce’s early life. He was probably born in Georgia in 1740, but he grew up in Virginia. During the Revolutionary War Pierce acted as an aide-de-camp to Gen. Nathanael Greene and eventually attained the rank of brevet major. For his conduct at the battle of Eutaw Springs, Congress presented him with a ceremonial sword.

The year Pierce left the army, 1783, he married Charlotte Fenwick of South Carolina. They had two sons, one of whom died as a child. Pierce made his home in Savannah, where he engaged in business. He first organized an import-export company, Pierce, White, and Call, in 1783, but it dissolved less than a year later. He made a new start with his wife’s dowry and formed William Pierce & Company. In 1786 he was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and was also elected to the Continental Congress.

At the Constitutional Convention Pierce did not play a large role, but he exerted some influence and participated in three debates. He argued for the election of one house of the federal legislature by the people and one house by the states; he favored a 3-year term instead of a 7-year term in the second house. Because he agreed that the Articles had been insufficient, he recommended strengthening the federal government at the expense of state privileges as long as state distinctions were not altogether destroyed. Pierce approved of the resulting Constitution, but he found it necessary to leave in the middle of the proceedings. A decline in the European rice market adversely affected his business. Soon after he returned to Savannah he went bankrupt, having “neither the skill of an experienced merchant nor any reserve capital.” Only 2 years later, on December 10, 1789, Pierce died in Savannah at age 49 leaving tremendous debts.

Pierce’s notes on the proceedings of the convention were published in the Savannah Georgian in 1828. In them he wrote incisive character sketches that are especially valuable for the information they provide about the lesser-known delegates.

Copy taken directly from the National Archives Website:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_georgia.html

Founding Father Series: William Houston

houston_w_110William Houston

William Houston was the son of Sir Patrick Houston, a member of the council under the royal government of Georgia. He was born in 1755 in Savannah, GA. Houston received a liberal education, which included legal training at Inner Temple in London. The War for Independence cut short his training, and Houston returned home to Georgia. For many years members of Houston’s family had been high officials in the colony. With the onset of war, many remained loyal to the crown, but William, a zealous advocate of colonists’ rights, was among the first to counsel resistance to British aggression.

Houston represented Georgia in the Continental Congress from 1783 through 1786. He was chosen as one of Georgia’s agents to settle a boundary dispute with South Carolina in 1785 and was one of the original trustees of the University of Georgia at Athens.

When the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787, Houston presented his credentials as one of Georgia’s delegates. He stayed for only a short time, from June 1 until about July 23, but he was present during the debate on the representation question. Houston split Georgia’s vote on equal representation in the Senate, voting “nay” against Abraham Baldwin’s “aye.”

Houston died in Savannah on March 17, 1813, and was interred in St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City.

Copy taken directly from the National Archives Website:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_georgia.html

Image: Courtesy of The Georgia Historical Society

Founding Fathers Series: Abraham Baldwin

baldwin_a_110Abraham Baldwin

Baldwin was born at Guilford, Conn., in 1754, the second son of a blacksmith who fathered 12 children by 2 wives. Besides Abraham, several of the family attained distinction. His sister Ruth married the poet and diplomat Joel Barlow, and his half-brother Henry attained the position of justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their ambitious father went heavily into debt to educate his children.

After attending a local village school, Abraham matriculated at Yale, in nearby New Haven. He graduated in 1772. Three years later, he became a minister and tutor at the college. He held that position until 1779, when he served as a chaplain in the Continental Army. Two years later, he declined an offer from his alma mater of a professorship of divinity. Instead of resuming his ministerial or educational duties after the war, he turned to the study of law and in 1783 gained admittance to the bar at Fairfield, CT.

Within a year, Baldwin moved to Georgia, won legislative approval to practice his profession, and obtained a grant of land in Wilkes County. In 1785 he sat in the assembly and the Continental Congress. Two years later, his father died and Baldwin undertook to pay off his debts and educate, out of his own pocket, his half-brothers and half-sisters.

That same year, Baldwin attended the Constitutional Convention, from which he was absent for a few weeks. Although usually inconspicuous, he sat on the Committee on Postponed Matters and helped resolve the large-small state representation crisis. At first, he favored representation in the Senate based upon property holdings, but possibly because of his close relationship with the Connecticut delegation he later came to fear alienation of the small states and changed his mind to representation by state.

After the convention, Baldwin returned to the Continental Congress (1787-89). He was then elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served for 18 years (House of Representatives, 1789-99; Senate, 1799-1807). During these years, he became a bitter opponent of Hamiltonian policies and, unlike most other native New Englanders, an ally of Madison and Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. In the Senate, he presided for a while as president pro tem.

By 1790 Baldwin had taken up residence in Augusta. Beginning in the preceding decade, he had begun efforts to advance the educational system in Georgia. Appointed with six others in 1784 to oversee the founding of a state college, he saw his dream come true in 1798 when Franklin College was founded. Modeled after Yale, it became the nucleus of the University of Georgia.

Baldwin, who never married, died after a short illness during his 53d year in 1807. Still serving in the Senate at the time, he was buried in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery.

 

Copy taken directly from the National Archives Website:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_georgia.html

Founding Fathers Series – George Read

read_g_110George Read

Read’s mother was the daughter of a Welsh planter, and his Dublin-born father a landholder of means. Soon after George’s birth in 1733 near the village of North East in Cecil County, MD, his family moved to New Castle, DE, where the youth, who was one of six sons, grew up. He attended school at Chester, PA, and Rev. Francis Alison’s academy at New London, PA, and about the age of 15 he began reading with a Philadelphia lawyer.

In 1753 Read was admitted to the bar and began to practice. The next year, he journeyed back to New Castle, hung out his shingle, and before long enlisted a clientele that extended into Maryland. During this period he resided in New Castle but maintained Stonum a country retreat near the city. In 1763 he wed Gertrude Ross Till, the widowed sister of George Ross, like Read a future signer of the Declaration of Independence. She bore four sons and a daughter.

While crown attorney general (1763-74) for the Three Lower Counties (present Delaware), Read protested against the Stamp Act. In 1765 he began a career in the colonial legislature that lasted more than a decade. A moderate Whig, he supported nonimportation measures and dignified protests. His attendance at the Continental Congress (1774-77) was irregular. Like his friend John Dickinson, he was willing to protect colonial rights but was wary of extremism. He voted against independence on July 2, 1776, the only signer of the Declaration to do so, apparently either bowing to the strong Tory sentiment in Delaware, or believing reconciliation with Britain was still possible.

That same year, Read gave priority to state responsibilities. He presided over the Delaware constitutional convention, in which he chaired the drafting committee, and began a term as speaker of the legislative council, which in effect made him vice president of the state. When the British took Wilmington the next fall, they captured the president, a resident of the city. At first, because Read was away in Congress, Thomas McKean, speaker of the lower house, took over as acting president. But in November, after barely escaping from the British himself while he and his family were en route to Dover from Philadelphia, newly occupied by the redcoats, Read assumed the office and held it until the spring of 1778. Back in the legislative council, in 1779 he drafted the act directing Delaware congressional delegates to sign the Articles of Confederation.

During 1779, in poor health, Read resigned from the legislative council, refused reelection to Congress, and began a period of inactivity. During the years 1782-88, he again sat on the council and concurrently held the position of judge of the court of appeals in admiralty cases.

Meantime, in 1784, Read had served on a commission that adjusted New York-Massachusetts land claims. In 1786 he attended the Annapolis Convention. The next year, he participated in the Constitutional Convention, where he missed few if any sessions and championed the rights of the small states. Otherwise, he adopted a Hamiltonian stance, favoring a strong executive. He later led the ratification movement in Delaware, the first state to ratify.

In the U.S. Senate (1789-93), Read’s attendance was again erratic, but when present he allied with the Federalists. He resigned to accept the post of chief justice of Delaware. He held it until his death at New Castle 5 years later, just 3 days after he celebrated his 65th birthday. His grave is there in the Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard.

 

Copy taken directly from the National Archives Website:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_delaware.html

Image: Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Founding Fathers Series – John Dickinson

dickinson_j_110John Dickinson


Dickinson, “Penman of the Revolution,” was born in 1732 at Crosiadore estate, near the village of Trappe in Talbot County, MD. He was the second son of Samuel Dickinson, the prosperous farmer, and his second wife, Mary (Cadwalader) Dickinson. In 1740 the family moved to Kent County near Dover, DE., where private tutors educated the youth. In 1750 he began to study law with John Moland in Philadelphia. In 1753 Dickinson went to England to continue his studies at London’s Middle Temple. Four years later, he returned to Philadelphia and became a prominent lawyer there. In 1770 he married Mary Norris, daughter of a wealthy merchant. The couple had at least one daughter.


By that time, Dickinson’s superior education and talents had propelled him into politics. In 1760 he had served in the assembly of the Three Lower Counties (Delaware), where he held the speakership. Combining his Pennsylvania and Delaware careers in 1762, he won a seat as a Philadelphia member in the Pennsylvania assembly and sat there again in 1764. He became the leader of the conservative side in the colony’s political battles. His defense of the proprietary governor against the faction led by Benjamin Franklin hurt his popularity but earned him respect for his integrity. Nevertheless, as an immediate consequence, he lost his legislative seat in 1764.


Meantime, the struggle between the colonies and the mother country had waxed strong and Dickinson had emerged in the forefront of Revolutionary thinkers. In the debates over the Stamp Act (1765), he played a key part. That year, he wrote The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies . . . Considered, an influential pamphlet that urged Americans to seek repeal of the act by pressuring British merchants. Accordingly, the Pennsylvania legislature appointed him as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, whose resolutions he drafted.


In 1767-68 Dickinson wrote a series of newspaper articles in the Pennsylvania Chronicle that came to be known collectively as Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania. They attacked British taxation policy and urged resistance to unjust laws, but also emphasized the possibility of a peaceful resolution. So popular were the Letters in the colonies that Dickinson received an honorary LL.D. from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) and public thanks from a meeting in Boston. In 1768, responding to the Townshend Duties, he championed rigorous colonial resistance in the form of nonimportation and nonexportation agreements.


In 1771, Dickinson returned to the Pennsylvania legislature and drafted a petition to the king that was unanimously approved. Because of his continued opposition to the use of force, however, he lost much of his popularity by 1774. He particularly resented the tactics of New England leaders in that year and refused to support aid requested by Boston in the wake of the Intolerable Acts, though he sympathized with the city’s plight. Reluctantly, Dickinson was drawn into the Revolutionary fray. In 1774 he chaired the Philadelphia committee of correspondence and briefly sat in the First Continental Congress as a representative from Pennsylvania.


Throughout 1775, Dickinson supported the Whig cause, but continued to work for peace. He drew up petitions asking the king for redress of grievances. At the same time, he chaired a Philadelphia committee of safety and defense and held a colonelcy in the first battalion recruited in Philadelphia to defend the city.


After Lexington and Concord, Dickinson continued to hope for a peaceful solution. In the Second Continental Congress (1775-76), still a representative of Pennsylvania, he drew up them> Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms. In the Pennsylvania assembly, he drafted an authorization to send delegates to Congress in 1776. It directed them to seek redress of grievances, but ordered them to oppose separation of the colonies from Britain.


By that time, Dickinson’s moderate position had left him in the minority. In Congress he voted against the Declaration of Independence (1776) and refused to sign it. Nevertheless, he then became one of only two contemporary congressional members (with Thomas McKean) who entered the military. When he was not reelected he resigned his brigadier general’s commission and withdrew to his estate in Delaware. Later in 1776, though reelected to Congress by his new constituency, he declined to serve and also resigned from the Pennsylvania Assembly. He may have taken part in the Battle of Brandywine, PA (September 11, 1777), as a private in a special Delaware force but otherwise saw no further military action.


Dickinson came out of retirement to take a seat in the Continental Congress (1779-80), where he signed the Articles of Confederation; earlier he had headed the committee that had drafted them. In 1781 he became president of Delaware’s Supreme Executive Council. Shortly thereafter, he moved back to Philadelphia. There, he became president of Pennsylvania (1782-85). In 1786, representing Delaware, he attended and chaired the Annapolis Convention.


The next year, Delaware sent Dickinson to the Constitutional Convention. He missed a number of sessions and left early because of illness, but he made worthwhile contributions, including service on the Committee on Postponed Matters. Although he resented the forcefulness of Madison and the other nationalists, he helped engineer the Great Compromise and wrote public letters supporting constitutional ratification. Because of his premature departure from the convention, he did not actually sign the Constitution but authorized his friend and fellow-delegate George Read to do so for him.


Dickinson lived for two decades more but held no public offices. Instead, he devoted himself to writing on politics and in 1801 published two volumes of his collected works. He died at Wilmington in 1808 at the age of 75 and was entombed in the Friends Burial Ground.


Image: Courtesy of Independence National Historical Park


 



Copy taken directly from the National Archives Website:







http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_delaware.html

 


Founding Fathers Series – Jacob Broom

Jacob Broom

Broom was born in 1752 at Wilmington, DE., the eldest son of a blacksmith who prospered in farming. The youth was educated at home and probably at the local Old Academy. Although he followed his father into farming and also studied surveying, he was to make his career primarily in mercantile pursuits, including shipping and the import trade, and in real estate. In 1773 he married Rachel Pierce, who bore eight children.

Broom was not a distinguished patriot. His only recorded service was the preparation of maps for George Washington before the Battle of Brandywine, PA. In 1776, at 24 years of age, Broom became assistant burgess of Wilmington. Over the next several decades, he held that office six times and that of chief burgess four times, as well as those of borough assessor, president of the city “street regulators,” and justice of the peace for New Castle County.

Broom sat in the state legislature in the years 1784-86 and 1788, during which time he was chosen as a delegate to the Annapolis Convention, but he did not attend. At the Constitutional Convention, he never missed a session and spoke on several occasions, but his role was only a minor one.

After the convention, Broom returned to Wilmington, where in 1795 he erected a home near the Brandywine River on the outskirts of the city. He was its first postmaster (1790-92) and continued to hold various local offices and to participate in a variety of economic endeavors. For many years, he chaired the board of directors of Wilmington’s Delaware Bank. He also operated a cotton mill, as well as a machine shop that produced and repaired mill machinery. He was involved, too, in an unsuccessful scheme to mine bog iron ore. A further interest was internal improvements: toll roads, canals, and bridges.

Broom also found time for philanthropic and religious activities. He served on the board of trustees of the College of Wilmington and as a lay leader at Old Swedes Church. He died at the age of 58 in 1810 while in Philadelphia on business and was buried there at Christ Church Burial Ground.

 

Copy taken directly from the National Archives Website:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_delaware.html