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On William Ellery


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A final project from Kaplan University. ha! .. funny how I wrote just two years ago..

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On William Ellery

  1. 1. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 quot;Humility rather than pride becomes such creatures as we are” By Tanya Hogan March 9, 2007 SS230-02 Timothy Noonan, Professor 1
  2. 2. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 Graduating from Harvard College at the age of 15, a distinct pathway for the son of Benjamin Ellery began to take shape. Tutoring William most all of his years beforehand, Benjamin encouraged his son to go to Harvard College, and what William Ellery eventually became known for, obviously started right there in that home (Vinci, 2004, William Ellery). This family man learned the values of hard work, love, respect, justice and humility, albeit working with his country in the midst of the rough, formative years that would forever define America’s Founding Father generation. As the title of this essay therefore suggests, William Ellery became known for attending to all he could reasonably do with his life, yet be able to clearly speak, “humility rather than pride becomes such creatures as we are.” With what appeared to be a humble attitude towards his fellowman and himself, how would this fair in the turbulent years the Founding Fathers were in? What acts of humility would William be remembered for that would actually help pave those streets of history? Because historical accuracy of the accounts of the lives of those living in those days can be difficult to locate and decipher, there is some debate about the personal life of William Ellery. Most all agree that upon graduating, William first took on the role of legal student, but soon moved on to husband and father, getting married at 23 years of age and beginning to raise a large family. According to the data, he either fathered 15 or 17 children during his two marriages. His first wife, Ann Remington, bore him seven before she died – just six months after his father’s death. But his second wife, Abigail Carey, a distant cousin, either bore him eight ir ten children, and only two or four of them lived to maturity. In any event, whether it was his fatherly compassion through the lives and deaths of his own family, William learned about steadfastness in human relations. Outside of the 2
  3. 3. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 rigors of his family life, he eventually settled on the life of a lawyer but became more closely entwined in selective relationships of political life. Once the Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly, he moved on to the Rhode Island Sons of Liberty, and then was sent to the First Congressional Congress in 1776 to replace Samuel Ward, who had died. He was then immediately appointed to the Marine Committee and others. He was also Rhode Island’s Supreme Court Justice. (Compare: Vinci, J. 2004, William Ellery; Ann Remington Ellery; Abigail Carey Ellery, with the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, Newport, Rhode Island, William Ellery Rhode Island Co-signer of the Declaration of Independence.) Ellery ended his political life fulfilling the commission of First [Customs] Collector of Newport by order of George Washington. Seemingly in contrast to his family man ways in particular, was his choice to work as a Sons of Liberty adherent. This group was not out-and-out, favorably looked upon by the majority of the populace during William’s time. However, it became this and other grassroots groups of spirited men that became the core cause of the slowing of the Stamp Act’s success and its subsequent repeal in 1766 (Sons of Liberty, According to, under Colonial America Stamp Act 1765, the following misconception about the Stamp Act still looms in minds of Americans today: The 18th century use of the word stamp is often confusing to modern readers, whose minds usually conjure images of postage stamps that were not used until the 19th century. The word originally referred to what today is called embossing — the use of pressure on a “stamp” to imprint a raised design on paper, fabric or metal. The use of stamped paper for legal documents had been common for decades in England and, according to law, those agreements made on unstamped paper were not enforceable. 3
  4. 4. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 It was the embossing and taxes by virtue of a British law that the people were outraged over. It was to appear on all “legal documents, diplomas, almanacs, broadsides, newspapers and playing cards (” to raise money for the economic duress of the militia and government of the U.S. Colonies at that time. It was unfairly required because the same Act was 1/5 the cost in Britain and was outrageous to the Colonists who were already under social, economic hardship (Stamp Act 1765, Watching William Ellery’s involvement with the Sons of Liberty would have found him actively protesting this Act, but without the violence Britain was slanderously claiming about the Sons. At the opening of the Second Congress, he announced boldly: quot;You must exert yourself. To be ruled by Tories, when we may be ruled by Sons of Liberty – how debasing. You must rouse up all that is Roman in Providence. There is liberty and fire enough; it only requires the application of the bellows. Blow, then, a blast that will shake this country. (Klos, 2006)” These men simply stood against the signs and portents of a continued monarchial reign that unjustly insisted on viewing America as a rebel son. The Stamp Act was virtually stamped out just as quickly as it had set foot into America and only lasted by virtue of its existence for about one year. Of the more noteworthy tasks Ellery is remembered for, the stance he took while the delegates were signing he Declaration of Independence as they were readying themselves, both amused and intrigued Ellery. He was able to later report that he noted them all with “undaunted resolution” as they took their turns. Several accounts relate that Benjamin Harrison [delegate from Virginia], a large man, said to Ellery, a small man, “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Ellery, when 4
  5. 5. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body, I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air for an hour or two before you are dead. (Klos, 2006)” Ellery was highly regarded by his townsfolk and countrymen, being very loyally interested in their needs as an accountable person before them. When the British came into Newport, Rhode Island in 1777, and took up fortifying themselves there, Ellery was among many property owners forced to succumb to the counterproductive, destructive crusade of the British troops. Though his, like so many others’, home was burned and property severely damaged, he did not give up his Congressional fight for his countrymen, their supporters and the cause for liberty from Great Britain. Having lost so much of his own, it was no wonder that he was able to keep going; he had earned the fortitude to do so. (Vinci, 2004) During and after this time, William vocally advocated the abolition of slavery. This was another seeming contradiction in his life because Rhode Island was one of the smallest of the Colonies, yet it had the greatest share of the Atlantic slave trade, and industries that contributed to it. The distilling of molasses into rum and the sale thereof reaped no less than “5,767,020 gallons,” from about 30 distilleries, sent to Africa between 1784-1807 (Rawley, J. A., Behrendt, S. D., 2005). This became a tremendous argument in favor of the economic stability of Rhode Island. Rhode Island’s distilleries employed forces that could not otherwise have been afforded so lucratively. It also paid import and trading costs between Britain that helped strengthen the naval powers of Great Britain, something a 5
  6. 6. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 contentious country should have appreciated. Still, and continuing on, the slavery became a sore spot and was one that Ellery was not afraid to affront. Though he was not one of the most notable players in the war on slavery in his day, he did live with the people that had to live that life and, again, his family life and its workings had to have had an impact on his judgments in this regard. When looking at the history of William Ellery, he is not one of the most written about Founding Fathers. His role seems less “important” than that of George Washington, for instance. He was never a President, but he did stand up for the work the presiding men did aspire to in favor of peace, prosperity and longevity. His family was well-reputed and wealthy, though torn by sorrow and destruction. When a person discovers the life of one that comes from that type of background, it should elicit respect and admiration for the success of that person’s endeavors. William Ellery had several discussed herein. The most he could do with his circumstances was the most he could do, but it was expected of him as well. He had to have done just so because there does not seem to be much – if any – discussion of him in a negative light. When William Ellery was finally through with his work and thought to be dead at the age of 92, a “draught of wine and water quickened [him] into life, [but] the lamp of life, in a moment of which his friends were ignorant, was extinguished. (Vinci, 2004)” Thus a humble servant was laid to rest with the rest of the “creatures” he associated with. References: 6
  7. 7. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 Colonial America stamp act 1765. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from Online Highways, Klos, S. (2006). William Ellery: Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Museum of history: Hall of USA: Declaration of independence: William Ellery. Retrieved March 5, 2007 from Rawley, J. A., Behrendt, S. D. (2005). The trans-Atlantic slave trade: A history, revised edition. University of Nebraska Press. Online source retrieved March 5, 2007 from Sons of Liberty. Retrieved March 5, 2007 from Stamp Act 1765. Retrieved March 8, 2007 from Vinci, J (2004). Biography of Abigail Carey Ellery 1742-1793, wife of William Ellery Retrieved March 9, 2007, from Vinci, J (2004). Colonial hall: Biography of Ann Remington Ellery 1724-1764, wife of William Ellery. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from Vinci, J. (2004). Colonial hall: Biography of William Ellery - 1727-1820. ColonialHallcom.. Retrieved March 9, 2007, from 7
  8. 8. Tanya Hogan – Final Project March 9, 2007 William Eller y: Rhode Island co-signer of the Declaration of Independence. National society daughters of the American revolution, Newport, Rhode Island. Retrieved from 8