ESSE QUAM VIDERI: NC Signers of the Declaration of Independence (Part 2)

USA – As we approach the celebration of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, at a perilous cultural crossroads in which the very essence of our nation’s founding and the principles that undergird it are under attack, we at First in Freedom Daily want to highlight the men of North Carolina that pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to take a stand for liberty.

There are three such North Carolinians that signed the declaration, and yesterday we presented the story North Carolina patriot of Joseph Hewes, which you can find here. Today we take a look at a biographical synopsis of William Hooper, a Boston born lawyer and eventually a judge that settled in Wilmington where he gained such a reputation an ardent defender of rights that he chosen to serve in the Continental Congress during the height of tensions with the King.

“William Hooper was born in Boston, Massachusetts on June 28, 1742. He graduated from Harvard College in 1760, continued his studies in the law, and settled in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1767. In 1773, he was elected to represent New Hanover County in the House of Burgesses of North Carolina, and he continued until Royal Governor Josiah Martin prorogued the Assembly in April of 1775.

In the meantime, New Hanover County again elected William Hooper to the First Provincial Congress held from August 25-27, 1774 in New Bern.

He attended the First Continental Congress in 1774. He resigned from the Congress in 1776 and returned home. In 1789, he was appointed to the Federal Bench, but a year later he retired due to failing health. He died on October 14, 1790.

Elected to the House of Burgesses of North Carolina, 1773-1775; Member of the North Carolina First Provincial Congress, 1774; Member of Continental Congress, 1774-1776; Judge of the Federal Court; 1786.”

William Hooper was a native of Boston, province of Massachusetts Bay, where he was born on the seventeenth of June in 1742.

His father’s name was also William Hooper. He was born in Scotland, in the year 1702, and soon after leaving the university of Edinburgh emigrated to America. He settled in Boston, where he became connected in marriage with the daughter of Mr. John Dennie, a respectable merchant. Not long after his emigration, he was elected pastor of Trinity Church, in Boston, in which office, such were his fidelity and affectionate intercourse with the people of his charge, that long after his death he was remembered by them with peculiar veneration and regard.

William Hooper, a biographical notice of whom we are now to give, was the eldest of five children. At an early age he exhibited indications of considerable talent. Until he was seven years old, he was instructed by his father; but at length, became a member of a free grammar school, in Boston, which at that time was under the care of Mr. John Lovell a teacher of distinguished eminence. At the age of fifteen, he entered Harvard University, where he acquired the reputation of a good classical scholar; and, at length, in 1760, commenced a bachelor of arts, with distinguished honor.

Mr. Hooper had destined his son for the ministerial office. But his inclination turning towards the law, he obtained his father’s consent to pursue the studies of that profession, in the office of the celebrated James Otis. On being qualified for the bar, he left the province of Massachusetts, with the design of pursuing the practice of his profession in North Carolina. After spending a year or two in that province, his father became exceedingly desirous that he should return home. The health of his son had greatly suffered, in consequence of an excessive application to the duties of his profession. In addition to this, the free manner of living, generally adopted by the wealthier inhabitants of the south, and in which he had probably participated, had not a little contributed to the injury of his health.

Notwithstanding the wishes of his father, in regard to his favorite son, the latter, at length, in the fall of 1767, fixed his residence permanently in North Carolina, and became connected by marriage with Miss Ann Clark, of Wilmington, in that province.

Mr. Hooper now devoted himself with great zeal to his professional duties. He early enjoyed the confidence of his fellow citizens, and was highly respected by his brethren at the bar, among whom he occupied an enviable rank.

In the year 1773, he was appointed to represent New Hanover County, in which he resided, in the House of Burgesses. In the following year, he was elected to a seat in the same body, soon after taking which, he was called upon to assist in opposing a most tyrannical act of the British government, in respect to the laws regulating the courts of justice in the province.

The former laws in relation to these courts being about to expire, others became necessary. Accordingly, a bill was brought forward, the provisions of which were designed to regulate the courts as formerly. But the advocates of the British government took occasion to introduce a clause into the bill, which was intended to exempt from attachment all species of property in North Carolina, which belonged to non-residents. This bill having passed the Upper House, and been approved of by Royal Governor Joseiah Martin, was sent to the House of Burgesses, where it met with a most spirited opposition. In this opposition Mr. Hooper took the lead.

In strong and animated language, he set forth the injustice of this part of the bill, and remonstrated against its passage by the House. In consequence of the measures which were pursued by the respective houses composing the General Assembly, the province was left for more than a year without a single court of law. Personally to Mr. Hooper, the issue of this business was highly injurious, since he was thus deprived of the practice of his profession, upon which he depended for his support. Conscious, however, of having discharged his duty, he bowed in submission to the pecuniary sacrifices to which he was thus called, preferring honorable poverty to the greatest pecuniary acquisitions, if the latter must he made at the expense of principle.

On August 25, 1774, William Hooper was elected a delegate to the First Continental Congress, to be held at Philadelphia. Soon after taking his seat in this body, he was placed upon several important committees, and when occasion required, took a share in the animated discussions, which were had on the various important subjects which came before them. On one occasion, and the first on which he addressed the Congress, it is said, that he so entirely riveted the attention of the members by his bold and animated language, that many expressed their wonder that such eloquence should flow forth from a member from North Carolina.

In the following year, Mr. Hooper was again appointed a delegate to serve in the Second Continental Congress, during whose session he was selected as the chairman of a committee appointed to report an address to the inhabitants of Jamaica. The draught was the production of his pen. It was characterized for great boldness, and was eminently adapted to produce a strong impression upon the people for whom it was designed. In conclusion of the address, Mr. Hooper used the following bold and animated language:

“That our petitions have been treated with disdain, is now become the smallest part of our complaint: ministerial insolence is lost in ministerial barbarity. It has, by an exertion peculiarly ingenious, procured those very measures, which it laid us under the hard necessity of pursuing, to be stigmatized in parliament as rebellious: it has employed additional fleets and armies for the infamous purpose of compelling us to abandon them: it has plunged us in all the horrors and calamities of a civil war: it has caused the treasure and blood of Britons (formerly shed and expended for far other ends) to be spilt and wasted in the execrable design of spreading slavery over British America: it will not, however, accomplish its aim; in the worst of contingencies, a choice will still be left, which it never can prevent us from making.”

In January of 1776, Mr. Hooper was appointed, with Dr. Benjamin Franklin and Mr. Livingston, a committee to report to Congress a proper method of honoring the memory of General Richard Montgomery, who had then recently fallen beneath the walls of Quebec. This committee, in their report, recommended the erection of a monument, which, while it expressed the respect and affection of the colonies, might record, for the benefit of future ages, the patriotic zeal and fidelity, enterprise and perseverance of the hero, whose memory the monument was designed to celebrate. In compliance with the recommendation of this committee, a monument was afterwards erected by congress in the city of New York.

In the spring of 1776, the private business of Mr. Hooper so greatly required his attention in North Carolina, that he did not attend upon the sitting of Congress. He returned, however, in season to share in the honor of passing and publishing to the world the immortal Declaration of Independence.

On December 20, 1776, William Hooper was again elected a delegate to the Continental Congress for the third time. The embarrassed situation of his private affairs, however, rendered his longer absence from North Carolina inconsistent with his interests. Accordingly, in February of 1777, he relinquished, his seat in Congress, and not long after tendered to the General Assembly his resignation of the important trust.

But, although he found it necessary to retire from this particular sphere of action, he was nevertheless usefully employed in North Carolina. He was an ardent friend to his country, zealously attached to her rights, and ready to make every required personal sacrifice for her good. Nor like many other Patriots of the day, did he allow himself to indulge in despondency. While to others the prospect appeared dubious, he would always point to some brighter spots on the canvass, and upon these he delighted to dwell.

In 1786, Mr. Hooper was appointed by Congress one of the judges of a federal court, which was formed for the purpose of settling a controversy which existed between the states of New York and Massachusetts, in regard to certain lands, the jurisdiction of which each pretended to claim. The point at issue was of great importance, not only as it related to a considerable extent of territory, but in respect of the people of these two states, among whom great excitement prevailed on the subject. Fortunately, the respective parties themselves appointed commissioners to settle the dispute, which was, at length, amicably done, and the above federal court was saved a most difficult and delicate duty.

In the following year, the constitutional infirmities of Mr. Hooper increasing, his health became considerably impaired. He now gradually relaxed from public and professional exertions, and in a short time sought repose in retirement, which he greatly coveted. In the month of October in 1790, at the early age of forty-eight years, he was called to exchange worlds. He left a widow, two sons, and a daughter, the last of whom only, it is believed, still lives.

In his person, Mr. Hooper was of middle stature, well formed, but of delicate and slender appearance. He carried a pleasing and intelligent countenance. In his manners he was polite and engaging, although towards those with whom he was not particularly acquainted, he was somewhat reserved. He was distinguished for his powers of conversation; in point of literary merit he had but few rivals in the neighborhood in which he dwelt.

As a lawyer, he was distinguished for his professional knowledge, and indefatigable zeal in respect to business with which he was entrusted. Towards his brethren he ever maintained a high and honorable course of conduct and particularly towards the younger members of the bar. As a politician, he was characterized for judgment, ardor, and constancy. In times of the greatest political difficulty and danger, he was calm, but resolute. He never desponded; but trusting to the justice of his country’s cause, he had an unshaken confidence that heaven would protect and deliver her.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 422-427. (with minor edits)


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