Reprinted from the Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.
This gentleman was a native of Massachusetts, and was born in Boston on the seventeenth day of June, 1742. He was descended from a Scottish ancestry, and his father, after finishing his classical studies in the university of Edinburgh, left his native land and came to Boston, “in the then province of Massachusetts Bay,” and fixed his residence in that town.
After receiving a careful preparatory education in part from his father, and afterwards from Mr. John Lovell, William Hooper entered Harvard university at the age of fifteen, and left it at the close of the term of three years, with a reputation for industry and application, peculiarly distinguished at that seminary, and highly honorable to his youthful character. His constitution was feeble, even from his birth ; and cannot be supposed to have improved in vigor from his intense application to books, and the sedentary habit invariably connected with a strong desire for scientific acquirements.
After he left college, having manifested a preference for the bar, though contrary to his father’s wishes, he was placed in the office of James Otis, and enjoyed the benefit of his instruction.
As the profession of law was fully supplied with practitioners in Massachusetts, he removed to North Carolina, where he had numerous connections, and commenced his professional career in that province.
There he soon found himself associated with gentlemen of a literary character, polished manners, and distinguished hospitality ; a society in which was combined that style of living, manners, and feelings, which concurred to render his residence peculiarly desirable.
He had at an early age, assumed and sustained his rank, at the head of the bar in that region, and was highly esteemed by the wealthy and fashionable circle in which he moved, and by whom he was deservedly esteemed and respected.
His professional reputation had become so thoroughly established, even while comparatively a young man, that he was employed on behalf of the government in several important trials; and he managed them with so much professional skill, and sound judgment, that his character was established as a barrister of high standing in that community. This he retained to the close of his life. He also took an active and decided part on the side of government, against an insurrection that became somewhat formidable, about the year 1770. They assumed the name of regulators ; and consisted of low and uninformed people, whose jealousy of the better classes of society had been excited, and their passions inflamed by designing men, who were desirous of overturning the existing order of things, that they might gain something in the scramble. It was, however, subdued at the expense of some blood; and in pursuance of measures recommended by Mr. Hooper.
He commenced his legislative course in 1773, in which year he was chosen a representative of the town of Wilmington, where he had been a resident scarcely six years. This fact will evince the rapidity of his advancement in popular esteem, The same respect was again shown him in the year following, being returned a member for the county of Hanover.
He probably derived the tone of his political sentiments from his instructor, while a law student. He uniformly acted in opposition to oppression, and against turbulence, whether in rulers, or a heated populace. In the house of assembly in North Carolina, he was called on in the faithful discharge of his duty, to oppose the court party; and was, though comparatively young both in years and legislation, selected as the leader of the party, who were the most open and decided in their opposition to the arbitrary measures of the British government. In pursuing the course he had thus marked out, uniformly, and often with great zeal and ardor, as might have been expected, he exasperated the adherents of royal power, and rendered himself very obnoxious to the warm partizans of the ministry and the crown in Great Britain.
The scene began to open in which he was destined to take an active and highly important part. The proposal from Massachusetts, for calling a general congress in 1774, to convene in Philadelphia, had spread its influence over North Carolina; and the calling a convention of delegates to act on the subject was the result. This convention met in Newbern; and having passed a resolution approving of the measure, the convention immediately appointed William Hooper their first delegate to that congress.
Mr. Hooper did not reach Philadelphia, so as to take his seat until the twelfth of September, when congress had been a week in session. Young as he was, he was immediately elected a member of two committees, to whom were intrusted business of the most important character. The subjects submitted to their investigation, and their reports, embraced the broad basis of the system of measures of the general government, in their future progress. They may be considered as pioneers, appointed to mark out and clear the path for the after march of congress in that course of legislation, which was pursued in their succeeding sessions. Their business required men of the first talents, wisdom, and experience. Although there was no lack of the two former in that assembly; in the latter respect, they were necessarily deficient.
Mr. Hooper was again elected to a seat in congress in the spring of 1775, and was very active during the whole session. He was employed in many committees, and several of them having in charge interests of the greatest importance. He was chairman of a committee appointed to report an address to the inhabitants of the Island of Jamaica, on the situation of the North American colonies. The address contained a clear statement and delineation of the injuries inflicted on the colonies, by the British government, and an eloquent appeal to the patriotism of the inhabitants of that island. It was from his pen.
He was continued a member of the congress of 1776 , though he was under a necessity for being absent from his seat a considerable part of the spring of that year. The public concerns of North Carolina, as well as his private business, rendered it necessary for him to return to the place of his residence. During his absence in North Carolina, he was called to attend two different conventions in that province—one at Hillsborough, and the other in Halifax. Always ardent, and always active in supporting the cause he iad espoused, he was very influential in rousing the feelings of the colony, and inducing them to come forward resolutely to protect their rights, and maintain the cause of the country, against British invasion. By the convention at Hillsborough, his pen was again put in requisition, to draw up an address to the inhabitants of the British empire, which that body had resolved on.
He returned to congress in the summer, and was present in season to record his vote in favor of declaring the North American colonies independent, in connection with his colleagues, when that question was decided. The measure he advocated with decision, and approved of it with entire cordiality.
Mr. Hooper continued in his seat during the remainder of the session of 1776, and was a member of several committees ; among which were those for regulating the post office, the treasury, secret correspondence, and appeals from the courts of admiralty. These were all trusts of much importance, and requiring sound judgment and deliberation.
He was again chosen a member of congress in December, 1776. But he did not long retain his seat. His private affairs had suffered so materially, by reason of his absence, and consequent inattention to them, while engaged in the service of the public, and also by reason of the situation of the country at that dark and gloomy period; that the security of his family made it indispensably necessary that he should re- tire from congress, and return to North Carolina Consequently, he obtained leave of absence in March, 1777, and returned to his family; and shortly afterwards, on perceiving that he could not resume his seat in that assembly, he resigned and did not again mingle in its labors and discussions.
Like others who voted to dissolve all allegiance to the king and government of Great Britain, Mr. Hooper was peculiarly odious to English troops; who vented their feelings, and gave indulgence to their revenge, on every opportunity they could embrace for exercising it on their persons, property, and families. While he was absent in Philadelphia, attending to his congressional duties, an English sloop of war, then lying in Cape Fear River, fired upon a dwelling house belonging to him, which was near the river, and a few miles from Wilmington. This fact is worthy of being noticed, only because it shows the strong resentment against those who took a leading part in resisting the arbitrary measures of the British government.
After his retirement from congress, he removed his family from Wilmington, to a plantation which he owned a few miles distant from that town ; but the persecuting spirit directed against him personally, did not long suffer him to enjoy his retirement in tranquillity. A Major Craige, an officer in the British service, approached his residence with a considerable force, and compelled him to send his family back to Wilmington, and to seek security for himself in the iute rior
About this time, when the American affairs were overcast with gloom, and the storm was still gathering blackness, and the final issue of the contest was very doubtful, it is said that Mr. Hooper and other members of congress had concerted with the French minister, to take a residence in one of the French West India islands, as a last resort, if the colonies were obliged in the end to submit.
After the enemy evacuated Wilmington, in 1771, Mr. Hooper with his family returned to his own residence. He remained there however but a short time, and then took up his abode in Hillsborough.
It is probable that he now prosecuted the business of his profession, without meeting with any remarkable event worthy of historical record, until the year 1786, when he was appointed by congress one of the judges of a federal court, which was constituted for the special purpose of settling a controversy that had arisen between Massachusetts, and New York, relative to a territory, which was claimed by each of those states. The cause was one of great importance, but it never was brought before that tribunal. It was finally adjusted by commissioners appointed by the states, and settled without farther litigation.
Mr. Hooper had continued to hold a high rank in the legislative council of the state, and he fully sustained his station at the bar, notwithstanding his feeble constitution and impaired health. But while yet in the prime of life, he began in 1787 to relax in his attention to business, and soon after withdrew wholly from all active employment. His life was now drawing to its close. He lived very much within his family until the month of October, 1790 ; when at the age of forty-eight years, his earthly existence was closed in Hillsborough in North Carolina.
At his decease he left a widow, two sons and one daughter the last of whom only survives.
Like many of his fellow laborers in the old congress, although he suffered losses and trials, he never once regretted having engaged in the cause of liberty and his country; and amidst all the gloom with which the prospect before America was from time to time overspread, he never desponded, nor suffered himself to be cast down.
When the afflictive intelligence of the disastrous battle of Germantown reached him, he was seated among a party of friends, on whose feelings the intelligence brought an almost overwhelming distress and discouragement. They seemed ready almost to despair of the cause. But Mr. Hooper, starting from his seat with great animation, repeated the words “we have been disappointed,” in which the intelligence was announced, with vehemence he exclaimed, “We have been disappointed, but no matter, now that we have become the assailants, there can be no doubt of the issue.”