Excerpts from Lives of the signers to the Declaration Independence|
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich
Published by Thomas Mather 1840
December 22, 1727 - February 15, 1820
Newport, Rhode Island
Harvard College (Lawyer, Judge)
Representing Rhode Island at the Continental Congress
Elected to Continental Congress, 1776-1785
Judge, Supreme Court of Rhode Island, circa 1778-?
First Collector, port of Newport, ?-1820
Compiled by Richard Wilt 2nd cousin 7 times removed to William Ellery.
William Ellery was born at Newport, Rhode Island, in December of 1727. Under the tutelage of his Prominent father, Benjamin Ellery, he attended Harvard College. He searched for the right career
for many years, worked as merchant, then a collector of customs, and later as the Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. He began to practice law in 1770 at the age of 43, that he seemed to find his calling. He was active in the Rhode Island Sons of Liberty, and was sent to the Continental Congress in 1776 to replace Samuel Ward, who had died.
Return to Main Page
He was immediately appointed to the Marine committee and later participated in several others including the committee for foreign relations. Meanwhile he held the office of judge of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. In 1785 he became a strong and vocal advocate for the abolition of slavery. He was appointed First (customs) Collector of the port of Newport, under the provisions of the Federal Constitution, where he served until his death in February of 1820.
William Ellery was born in Newport, Rhode Island on December 22, 1727, the second son of William Ellery, Sr. and Elizabeth Almy, a descendant of Thomas Cornell. He received his early education from his father, a merchant and Harvard College graduate. He graduated from Harvard College in 1747, where he excelled in Greek and Latin.
He searched for the right career for many years before he returned to Newport where he worked first as a merchant, next as a customs collector, and then as Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. He started practicing law in 1770 at the age of 43 which seemed to be his calling and became active in the Rhode Island Sons of Liberty. When Statesman Samuel Ward died in 1776, Ellery replaced him in the Continental Congress. He was immediately appointed to the Marine committee and later participated in several others including the committee for foreign relations. Ellery also served as a judge on the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, He became a signer of the Articles of Confederation and one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The size of his signature on the Declaration is second only to John Hancock's famous signature and an abolitionist by 1785.
He was the first customs collector of the port of Newport under the Constitution, serving there until his death, and he worshiped at the Second Congregational Church of Newport.
Ellery died on February 15, 1820 at age 92 and was buried in Common Burial Ground in Newport. The Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the Revolution and the William Ellery Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution make an annual commemoration at his grave on July 4.
Ellery married Ann Remington of Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1750. She was the daughter of Judge Jonathan Remington (1677-1745). She died in 1764 in Cambridge and was buried there, and he married Abigail Cary in 1767. He had 19 children, and his descendants include Ellery Channing, Washington Allston, William Ellery Channing, Richard Henry Dana, Sr., Edie Sedgwick, Paulita Sedgwick, Kyra Sedgwick and Andra Akers. Francis Dana married his daughter Elizabeth.
William Ellery is the namesake of the town of Ellery, New York, and Ellery Avenue in Middletown, Rhode Island is named in his honor.
William Ellery, the son of a gentleman of the same name, was born at Newport, on 22nd day of December 1727. His ancestors were originally from Bristol in England, whence they emigrated to America during the latter part of the seventeenth century, and took up their residence at Newport, in Rode Island.
The early education of the subject of this memoir, was received almost exclusively from his father, who was graduate of Harvard University; and who although extensively engaged in mercantile pursuits, found leisure personally to cultivate the mind of his son. At the age of sixteen, he was qualified for admission to the university, of which his father had been a member before him. In his twentieth year, he left the university, having sustained, during his collegiate course, the character of a faithful and devoted student. In a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages, he is said to have particularly excelled, and through the whole bustle of his active life, until the very hour of dissolution, he retained his fondness for them.
On his return to Newport, he commenced the study of the law, and after the usual preparatory course, he entered upon the practice, which for twenty years he pursued with great zeal. During this period, no other particulars have been recorded of him, then that he succeeded in acquiring a competent fortune, and receiving the esteem and confidence of his fellow citizens.
During these movements toward independence in Rhode Island, Mr. Ellery, the subject of this notice, was by no means an idle spectator. the particular history of the part which he took in these transactions is, indeed, not recorded; but the tradition is, that he was not behind his contemporaries either in spirit or action.
In the election for delegates to the congress of 1776, Mr. Ellery was a successful candidate, and in that body took his seat, on the seventeenth of May. Here, he soon became an active and influential member, and rendered important services to his country. by his indefatigable attention to duties assigned him, on several committees. During this session he had the honor of affixing his name to the declaration of independence. Of this transaction he frquenlty spoke, and of notice he took of the members of congress when they signed that instrument. He placed himself beside secretary Thompson, that he might see how they look, as they put their names to their death warrant. But while all appeared to feel the solemnity of the occasion, and their countenances bespoke their awe, it was unmigled with fear. They recorded their names as patriots, who were ready, should occasion require, to lead the way to martyrdom.
Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Return to Archives