This Day in History: William Hooper, Signer of the Declaration
On this day in 1742, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence is born in Boston. William Hooper signed the Declaration less than a decade after he’d been dragged through the streets as a suspected Royalist!
How’s that for a change of pace?
Hooper’s father had hoped that he’d be a minister, but Hooper had something else in mind. After his graduation from Harvard College, he studied law and moved to North Carolina, where he became an established and respected lawyer.
Hooper was in North Carolina during the War of the Regulation, an uprising against the state’s government. Hooper chose to support the Royal Governor. Thus, when the Regulators were dragging judges and attorneys out of court rooms and whipping them in the streets, William Hooper was one of the officials who came under attack.
By 1773, Hooper had apparently rehabilitated his image a bit, and he was elected to the state’s colonial legislature. During this time, he wrote a letter that has caused some to label him the “Prophet of Independence.”
The Colonies, he wrote, “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.”
Not too long after Hooper penned these words, North Carolina received word that the British Parliament had closed the Port of Boston. “I am absorbed in the distress of my native country,” Hooper wrote to James Iredell. “The inhumanity of Britain can be equalled by nothing but its mistaken policy. Infatuated people! Do they imagine that we will make a tame surrender of all that an honest man ought to hold dear, without a struggle to preserve?”
Hooper threw himself into the cause. He chaired a meeting of Wilmington citizens, which approved a strongly worded declaration: “[W]e consider the cause of the town of Boston as the common cause of British America . . . .”
A month after this meeting, Hooper was elected to the First Continental Congress, where he would serve until 1777. John Adams once wrote that Hooper was one of “the orators” of Congress. Perhaps this wasn’t entirely a compliment? Adams also wrote that the “Deliberations of the Congress, are spun out to an immeasurable Length. There is so much Wit, Sense, Learning, Acuteness, Subtilty, Eloquence, &c. among fifty Gentlemen, each of whom has been habituated to lead and guide in his own Province, that an immensity of Time, is spent unnecessarily.”
Hmm. So even back then, elected officials loved to hear themselves speak.
Hooper left Congress in 1777 and returned home to North Carolina. Unfortunately, he was still the target of British animosity. When the British occupied Wilmington in 1781, he was forced to flee to the interior of the state. The British also burned his house.
Over time, Hooper began to lose influence in his state, at least in part because he was unwilling to treat Loyalists too harshly. Some of his family members had remained Loyalists, though, so perhaps that influenced his position.
Hooper was struck with a severe illness in 1790. He died on October 14 at the age of 48.
Benson John Lossing, Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence (1866)
Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1832)
Dennis Brindell Fradin, The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence (2003)
Diary of John Adams (Oct. 10, 1774)
Letter from William Hooper to James Iredell (April 26, 1774)
Samuel A’Court Ashe, Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present (1908) (Vol. 7)
Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (Robert T. Conrad ed. 1865)
The North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register (J.R.B. Hathaway, ed.; Jan. 1903) (Vol. 3; p. 233)