Hugh Williamson

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Founding Fathers
Williamson, H.jpg
Hugh Williamson
State North Carolina
Religion Presbyterian[1]
Founding Documents United States Constitution

Hugh Williamson (December 5, 1735 - May 22, 1819) was a surgeon, historian, author, preacher, and signer of the U.S. Constitution. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from North Carolina. He also helped draft the Northwest Territory laws.

Williamson was a gifted scholar who was well-known internationally,[2] and in 1811 he gave a scientific explanation for the Great Flood and also for Moses’ exodus in his book "Observations of the Climate in Different Parts of America."

Early life

Williamson was born in West Nottingham, Pennsylvania, on the 5th of December, 1735, to John and Mary Davidson Williamson.[3][4] At the age of sixteen, he entered the first class in the College of Philadelphia, and at the first commencement held in that college he received the degree of bachelor of arts. He afterward commenced the study of divinity with Dr. Samuel Finley, and prosecuted it with such success that in 1759 he was licensed to preach.[5] During this time his father passed, and Hugh was appointed sole executor of his fathers estate and spent two years with his mother at Shippensburg.[6]


In 1760 he received the degree of master of arts; and was soon after appointed professor of mathematics in that institution. In 1764, Mr. Williamson resigned his professorship and left his native country for Europe, to prosecute his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. After enjoying the medical lectures of that institution for several years, he went to London, where he remained twelve months diligently pursuing his studies. From London he crossed over to Holland, and completed his medical education at Utrecht. After his return to this country, he commenced the practice of medicine in Philadelphia, and met with great success. In 1769, in conjunction with several of the American astronomers, Mr. Williamson was employed in making observations on the transit of Venus, which happened in that year; and which were afterward referred to with peculiar notice and approbation by the astronomers of Europe.

In 1770 he published "Observations upon the change of the climate of the United States." In consideration of these valuable papers, he was elected honorary member of the Holland Society of Sciences; of the Society of Arts and Sciences of Utrecht; and as a further reward of his literary labours, the degree of doctor of laws was conferred upon him by the University of Leyden. In 1773, Mr. Williamson was appointed, in conjunction with Dr. John Ewing, to make a tour through England, Scotland, and Ireland, to solicit benefactions for the college at Newark. Sailing north, they stopped in Boston in mid December, where Williamson was present during the Boston Tea Party.[7]

During his stay in London, he procured the celebrated letters of Hutchinson and Oliver, in which they had secretly laboured to paint, in the most odious colours, the character of the people of Massachusetts. He lost no time in delivering them into the hands of Dr. Franklin, who afterward transmitted them to his constituents in Boston. "The indignation and animosity, which were excited on their perusal, roused the people to a greater opposition to the measures of Great Britain."

Mr. Williamson then passed into Holland, where he heard the news of the Declaration of Independence. As soon as he could arrange his affairs, he sailed for America, and arrived at Philadelphia in March, 1779. Shortly after, he settled in North Carolina, and commenced the practice of physic at Edenton, and afterward removed to Newbern. In 1780, he was appointed a surgeon in the army.


In 1782 he took his seat as a representative in the House of Commons of North Carolina; from thence he was sent to the general Congress; and in 1786 he was appointed a member to revise and amend the constitution of the United States.

In 1787, Mr. Williamson was appointed a delegate from North Carolina, in the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia who formed and signed the federal constitution of the United States. He was one of a group of three physicians (The other two were James McClurg and James McHenry) at the convention. Other members of the North Carolina delegation to the Convention were Richard Dobbs Spaight, William Richardson Davie, Alexander Martin, and William Blount. While in Congress, he enjoyed a large share of influence, and was esteemed for the purity of his intentions and his inflexible devotedness to the interests of his country.

Later life

In 1789, he married Maria Apthorpe, and together they had two sons.[8] In 1814, Mr. Williamson took an active part in the formation of the “Literary and Philosophical Society of New York.” His intellectual faculties remained to the last period of his life unbroken and in their full vigour. He died on the 22d of May, 1819, in the eighty-fifth year of his age.

He is buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan, New York.[9]



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