Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Monday, November 19, 2012

William Few

                    William Few, signer of the Constitution of the United States, was a farmer, businessman, and politician.  He was born on June 8, 1748, in Maryland into "a poor yeoman farming family but achieved both social prominence and political power later in life.  He was also known as Will Russell Few.  He was a descendant of Richard Few, a Quaker shoemaker from Wiltshire County, England, and his son Isaac Few, a cooper who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1680s.  His family lived in Maryland making "a modest living raising tobacco on small holdings" among an "extended family" of cousins and distant relatives.  After several droughts in the area in the 1750s, the entire group decided to abandon their farms in Maryland and move to "more fertile lands on the southern frontier."

                    The family group settled new home sites along the banks of the Eno River about one mile from Hillsborough.  Will Few learned farming skills but had "little time for formal schooling" in spite of the fact that the community briefly hired an itinerant teacher.  Few developed a lifelong love of reading and became a self-educated man.  He also studied law and qualified as an attorney even though he was committed to the life of a farmer.  In an early history of Orange County, Francis Nash wrote the following about Will Few's father:  "His father belonged to the better class of farmers, had more means and a better education than the average settler."

                    Few developed enough self-reliance skills to survive on the American frontier, but he was also intimate with both the military elite and the political leaders of the nation.  "The idea of a rude frontiersman providing the democratic leaven within an association of the rich and powerful has always excited the American imagination, nurtured on stories of Davy Crockett.  In the case of the self-educated Few, that image was largely accurate."  The Few family eventually "achieved a measure of prosperity" and became political leaders in the county; however, the family became involved with the Regulators and eventually fled to Wrightsboro, Georgia.  Will Few was left behind to sell their property and settle their affairs.

                    The local problems became secondary to the increasing governmental control over their lives.  The planters in the eastern part of the state and the settlers in the western frontier became patriots united in their fight against new taxes and restrictions on expansion.  Will Few was one of the first men to enlist in the "minute men" company in Hillsborough, and his unit was trained by a former British corporal who had been hired as a drill sergeant.  Few was offered the rank of captain in a North Carolina unit of the Continental Army in 1775, but he rejected it in order to settle his family's accounts. 

After he moved to Georgia and opened a law office, Few used his military knowledge in serving the Patriot cause in Georgia.  He joined the Richmond County Regiment under the command of his brother Benjamin.  He spent the next two years teaching his friends and neighbors in the military skills learned in North Carolina.  He was caused to active duty when Georgia faced a British invasion and was part of the successful victory over the British.

                    Will Few exhibited leadership and organizational skills - "inherent gifts" - that were greatly needed as the southern colonies struggled against the British invasion.  His "dedication to the common good and his natural military acumen quickly brought him to the attention of the leaders of the Patriot cause," and he was "invested" with "important political responsibilities as well."

                    The Revolutionary War had a profound affect on Few's "attitude toward the political future of the new nation, transforming the rugged frontier individualist into a forceful exponent of a permanent union of the states."  He was only one of many men who realized during the war that "the rights of the individual … could be nurtured and protected only by a strong central government accountable to the people," and he continued this belief throughout his long years of public service.

                    In the late 1770s Will Few was elected to the House of Representatives in the Georgia General Assembly.  He "sat on the state's Executive Council, acted as state surveyor-general, represented Georgia in negotiations with the Indians that succeeded in minimizing the danger of frontier attacks, and served as Richmond County's senior magistrate."  His "growing political prominence and undisputed talent for leadership prompted the state legislature in 1780 to appoint him to represent Georgia in the Continental Congress.

                    Less than a year after this appointment, Few was sent back to Georgia to "help reassemble Georgia's scattered government" after the British were driven out.  He return to Congress in 1782 and served there for several more years.  While serving as a member of Congress, he was also appointed to represent Georgia in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia.  Because he was required to "split his time" between the two appointments, he missed part of the discussions for the Constitution.  This did not change that fact that he strongly supported the idea of a strong national government.  He labored to obtain the approval of the new Constitution by the Continental Congress and Georgia's ratification of the document.

                    Under the new Constitution, Will Few was elected as one of Georgia's original United States senators.  Even though he planned to retire from politics in 1793 when his term expired in the U.S. Senate, his neighbors convinced him to serve another term in the Georgia legislature.  Georgia appointed him as a circuit court judge in 1796 and served for three years.  During this service, "he not only consolidated his reputation as a practical, fair jurist but became a prominent supporter of public education," and he "was a founding trustee of the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens in 1785.  His "efforts to establish UGA as the first state-chartered university in the United States indicated the importance this self-educated man gave to formal instruction."

                    Few moved to Manhattan in 1799 at the urging of his wife, a native New Yorker; there he supported his family through banking and infrequent practice of law.  He "embarked on yet another career of public service" when his neighbors elected him to the New York State Assembly and later as a city alderman.    He also served as New York's inspector of prisons for nine years and as federal commissioner of loans for one year. 

Will Few then retired to his country home in Dutchess County, New York.  He died on July 16, 1828, at age 80 in Fishkill-on-Hudson and was buried in the yard of the Reformed Dutch Church of Fishkill Landing.  His body was later re-interred at Saint Paul's Church in Augusta, Georgia.  He was survived by his wife Catherine Nicholson and three daughters.  Few Street in Madison, Wisconsin, is named in his honor.

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