The ancestors of William Williams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, emigrated from Wales to America in 1630 and settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Williams' father and grandfather were both ministers. William was only sixteen years old when he entered Harvard College, and he graduated with honorable distinction at age twenty.
William began studying theology with his father but was distracted by the French War. In 1754 he accompanied a relative named Colonel Ephraim Williams on an expedition to Lake George. The colonel was killed during the expedition, and William returned home with a strong dislike for British officers. He felt that the British considered the colonists to be inferior to them and deserved little sympathy.
William married Mary Trumbull, the daughter of Governor Trumbull of Connecticut in 1772, and her family was impressed with his good character.
William stopped studying theology and worked in the mercantile business in Lebanon. He was chosen as town clerk at age twenty-five and held that position for nearly fifty years. He was also chosen as a member of the Connecticut Assembly and held a seat there for about forty-five years. He was elected in 1775 as a delegate to the General Congress, and his presence in the Congress was the only times he missed the sessions in the Connecticut Assembly. William was a strong supporter of the idea of independence, and he "cheerfully" signed the completed Declaration of Independence.
The cause of liberty was dear to William, and he made many personal sacrifices for the good of his country. When the Revolutionary War began, William closed his mercantile business to help fight the war. When confidence in the continental paper money failed, William bought two thousand dollars in it and nearly lost the entire amount. When a French army arrived in Newport in 1780 to help the colonists, Williams moved his family from their home into another house in order that the French officers could have comfortable quarters for the winter.
The following story is from Wives of the Signers - The women behind the Declaration of Independence, pp 102-103: "At a meeting of the Council of Safety in Lebanon, near the close of 1776, when the prospects of our success looked dark, two members of the Council were invited to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Williams, Benjamin Huntington and William Hillhouse. The conversation turned upon the gloomy outlook. `If we fail,' said Mr. Williams, `I know what my fate will be. I have done much to prosecute the war; and one thing I have done which the British will never pardon - I have signed the Declaration of Independence; I shall be hanged.'
"`Well,' said Mr. Huntington, `if we fail I shall be exempt from the gallows, for my name is not attached to the Declaration, nor have I ever written anything against the British Government.'
"`Then, sir,' said Colonel Williams turning upon him, `you deserve to be hanged for not doing your duty.'"
Williams was a colonel in the militia in 1781 when the traitor, Benedict Arnold, attacked New London. Williams rode his horse twenty-three miles in three hours to help his fellow patriots, but he arrived only to see the town in flames.
After the Constitution of the United States was ready to be ratified, William was a member of the Connecticut State Convention and voted in favor of ratification although the people he represented were opposed to it. The people soon discovered their error and expressed gratitude for his "firmness."
Colonel Williams declined reelection to the Connecticut Assembly in 1804 and withdrew from public life. He lost his oldest son in 1810, and this caused his health to fail. He never recovered, and his health continued to decline. He was unconscious for four days when he "suddenly called with a clear voice" for his dead son to guide him to the world of spirits and died on August 2, 1811, at 81 years of age.
Facts and quotes for this post - except as noted above - are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp 56-58.
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