William Whipple was the second of the New Hampshire delegation to the Continental Congress of 1776; therefore, he was probably the second person to sign the Declaration of the Independence.
Whipple was born at Kittery in New Hampshire – in the part of New Hampshire that later became the State of Maine – in 1730. He received his early education at a common school in his native town. He went to sea at a young age and stayed in that occupation for several years. He quit the seafaring life when he was twenty-nine and began a career in mercantile pursuits with his brother Joseph in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
William became involved in the affairs of the colonies and became a leader in the opposition to British authority. He was elected in 1775 as a member of the Provincial Congress of New Hampshire; this Congress elected him to be a member of the Committee of Safety. New Hampshire was one of several colonies to organize a Committee of Safety and to make it the executive body to regulate the general concerns of the colony during the war. The people of New Hampshire organized a temporary government in 1775 and chose him to be a member of the Council.
In 1776 Whipple was chosen as a delegate to the Continental Congress and was one of those in attendance there on July 4, 1776, who voted for the Declaration of Independence. He retired from the Congress in 1777 when he was appointed a Brigadier General of the New Hampshire Militia. In that position, he was responsible to call out the troops and equip them for their battle against the English General Burgoyne. Under the direction of General Gates, Whipple commanded one brigade while General Stark commanded the other. He was there when Burgoyne was captured and was among the commissioners that arranged the terms of surrender. He was selected as one of the officers in charge of marching the British prisoners to Cambridge.
Whipple led a large force of New Hampshire Militia in the battle against the British on Rhode Island in 1778. When the expedition failed due to lack of support from the French navy, General Whipple took his brigade back to New Hampshire. Whipple was offered several positions of power in the period of 1780-1782 but either declined them or resigned them.
Whipple was appointed in 1782 to a commission assigned to settle a dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut and then was appointed president of the Court. During that same year he became a side judge of the Superior Court of New Hampshire.
Soon after this appointment, he began having problems with his heart. In 1785 while in the court, he began to experience serious heart problems. He retired to his chamber where he died on November 28, 1785, at the age of 55.
Prior to his death, Whipple requested a post mortem examination. The examination found that part of his heart had become ossified, or bony. “Thus terminated the valuable life of one who rose from the post of a cabin boy, to a rank among the first men of his country. His life and character present one of those bright examples of self-reliance which cannot be too often pressed upon the attention of the young; … the great secret of his success was doubtless a hopeful reliance upon a conscious ability to perform any duty required of him” (Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, 19).