William Ellery

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Founding Fathers
William Ellery
State Rhode Island
Religion Christian- Congregationalist [1]
Founding Documents Declaration of Independence

William Ellery (December 22, 1727 – February 15, 1820) was a Founding Father of America, a lawyer and a Supreme Court judge of Rhode Island. He represented Rhode Island in the Continental Congress in 1776 and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.

Early life

William was born to the prominent Benjamin Ellery, who had immigrated from Bristol, England. He received much education from his father, a Harvard graduate. Like his father, William would also attend Harvard, at age 16. He became fluent in Greek and Latin. At age 20, William returned to his home in Newport and studied law. He worked as merchant, then a collector of customs, and later as the Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly.[2] In 1770, Ellery started his law practice at the age of 43. Around the same time Ellery became active with the Sons of Liberty, which increased his prominence among those holding anti-British sentiments.[3]

Continental Congress

Ellery was successfully elected to the Continental Congress in 1776, replacing Samuel Ward who had died. He was immediately appointed to the Marine committee and served on several committees that dealt with Foreign Relations. In 1777, the British army under General Piggot took possession of Newport. Many of Newport's residents suffered including Ellery. His house was burned down and possessions looted.

Mr. Ellery continued as a member of congress until the year 1785, then retired to Rhode Island. The people of Rhode Island elected Ellery to the office of chief justice of their superior court.[4] When Rufus King was elected to congress in 1785, Ellery joined King in his vocal advocacy for the abolition of slavery.

After leaving Congress, Ellery was appointed by George Washington[5] to be the first customs Collector of the port of Newport, a position he held until his death.[6]

Family and legacy

In 1750 Ellery married Ann Remington and together they had 7 children.[7] Ann passed in 1764, and he remarried in 1767 to Abigail Cary. Together, they had 10 children.[8] His eldest daughter Elizabeth married Francis Dana who also signed the Articles of Confederation.

On the 15th of February, 1820, William died at the age of 92 years old. His tomb is at the Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island.[9] He has several notable descendants, including his grandson, the theologian William Ellery Channing.