William Hooper was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1742. He was named after his father, a minister born in Ednam, Scotland in 1702. Mr. Hooper, the elder, graduated from the University of Edinburgh and in 1734 emigrated to America where he settled in Boston. He married Mary Dennie, the daughter of Mr. John Dennie, a local merchant, and was appointed pastor of West Congregational Church in Boston where he pastored from May 18, 1737, until 1740. At this time, Mr. Hooper, the elder, became an Episcopalian and returned to London where he studied and was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He returned and was appointed the second rector of Trinity Church in Boston, where he served until his death in 1764. He published several sermons, including one with the title "The Apostles, Neither Imposters Nor Enthusiasts" in 1742.
William studied under James Otis until 1764. Once he had qualified for
the bar, he moved to Wilmington, North Carolina for greater
opportunity, and established a highly successful law practice in 1764.
William's health was already poor at this time and his father urged him
to return to Boston, but William declined. Later that year, William's
father died and left to him all of his books and manuscripts. William
decided to stay in North Carolina where he became the circuit court
lawyer for Cape Fear, traveling hundreds of miles on his circuit.
William endeared himself to his Cape Fear neighbors and he was
unanimously elected Recorder for the borough in 1766.
William fixed his residence permanently in Wilmington and married Miss Anne Clark of Wilmington, who was the daughter of the late sheriff of New Hanover County, on August 7, 1767. Anne was also the sister of Thomas Clark, Jr. who eventually became a Brigadier General in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. William and Anne had three children who survived, William, born in 1768, Elizabeth, born in 1770 and Thomas, born in 1772. They also had three children who died in infancy. The Clark family's wealth helped William and Anne get through the precarious years of the Revolutionary War.
William Hooper was a supporter of the British Crown at this time.
He received his first government appointment as Deputy
Attorney for the Salisbury district in 1769, from Royal Governor
William Tryon. In 1770, Hooper was appointed Attorney General of North
Carolina under the British Crown. While he was serving as Attorney
General, a local rebellion took place against the government. As
Attorney General, Mr. Hooper recommended that the provincial militia be
called out against the rebels, who were called "The Regulators." The
Regulators were a group of Piedmont farmers who were upset with heavy
taxation and government corruption. They were especially angry about
taxation to build a new lavish governor's mansion for Governor Tryon.
The conflict was so fierce that Hooper was dragged through the streets
of Hillsboro during a riot and his home was burned down. Eventually
some 2,000 rebels fought with the governor's royal troops at the Battle
of Alamance in 1771. William Hooper accompanied Governor Tryon's troops
in this battle which helped squash the Regulators' rebellion. The
Battle of Alamance is often referred to as the first battle of the
Revolutionary War. These events may have taken a part in leading Hooper
to switch from being a British Loyalist to an American revolutionist.
Mr. Hooper began to change his allegiance and slowly supported the colonists views toward Great Britain, but he was not quickly received by other North Carolina patriots because of his previous support for the British government. Eventually, he was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1773 as a representative from Campbellton (later called Fayetteville) where he was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry. William Hooper's eldest son, also named William, also served in the colonial legislature at this time, as a representative from Wilmington. He served in this position from 1773-1775. In 1773, William Hooper, senior, also purchased land on Masonboro Sound, eight miles south of Wilmington. He built his lavish beachfront home, called Finian, in 1774.
During this time, the laws establishing the existing North Carolina courts were about to expire. The colonial legislature had to pass a new bill empowering new courts soon or North Carolina's court system would come to a halt. As part of the new bill, the legislature included a provision empowering the courts to confiscate the property of foreign debtors, including British debtors. This bill was vetoed by Governor Tryon and the British government authored a tyrannical bill that exempted foreigners from any such confiscation. The laws establishing the existing courts were due to expire and new ones had to be passed. The laws finally expired and the court system ground to a halt. The Governor's actions and the legislature's uproar over his actions caused North Carolina to be without any functioning courts for more than a year. Mr. Hooper increased his credibility in the eyes of North Carolina patriots during this time by leading the opposition against the Governor and his bill. This circumstance was very difficult on Mr. Hooper's personal finances since he was a lawyer, but he led the opposition anyway on grounds of principle. He published a series of successful essays under the signature "Hampden," now lost, challenging the bill and was even disbarred from practicing the law for challenging the government so strenuously. Mr. Hooper remained in the North Carolina Colonial Legislature from 1773-76.
In 1774, Mr. Hooper was the first member of the colonial legislature to move to form a new government for the state of North Carolina. He wrote a famous letter at this time to his friend James Iredell, who was later appointed by George Washington to become one of the justices of the first Supreme Court. This letter earned William Hooper the nickname "Prophet of Independence," because it is the first known prediction that America would break away totally from Great Britain. In the letter, Hooper said to his friend:
"The Colonies are striding fast to independence, and ere long will build an empire upon the ruins of Great Britain; will adopt its Constitution, purged of its impurities, and from an experience of its defects, will guard against those evils which have wasted its vigor."
can read the complete letter from William Hooper to James Iredell here.
On August 25, 1774, along with John Penn and Joseph Hewes, William Hooper
was elected by North Carolina's Provincial Legislature to attend the
Continental Congress in Philadelphia. None of the three were North
Carolina natives. Hooper and Joseph Hewes traveled together over 450
miles on horseback and arrived in Philadelphia on September 12, 1774,
where he took his seat in Congress the next day. In the first
Continental Congress, Mr. Hooper served on various committees, the two
most important being one that drew up a statement of colonial rights
and the other being one that reported on the statutes affecting trade
and manufacturing. Hooper took such a prominent role in Congress that
future President and fellow member of Congress, John Adams, called
William Hooper, along with Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, the
"Orators of Congress," though Hooper was only 32 years old and one of
the youngest members of Congress. This epitaph appears on William
After returning from Congress, William Hooper was elected one of eight Wilmington citizens to a group called the Wilmington Committee of Safety. Committees of Safety were being established all over the colonies. Their job was to carry out the resolutions passed by the local rebel legislatures and the Continental Congress. Hooper served in this position until the committee was disbanded in 1776.
Mr. Hooper was re-elected to Congress in 1775. He left North Carolina
for Philadelphia aboard the schooner Polly on April 26,
1775. He took his seat in the Second Continental Congress at
Philadelphia on May 10, 1775. During this session of Congress, Mr.
Hooper was named chairman of a committee to draft an address to the
people of Jamaica, which he himself wrote. Jamaica, as well as other
British Caribbean colonies, was very concerned with the American
embargo on British goods. In this address, Hooper attempted to explain
the Americans' position, appealing to the Jamaicans' sense of freedom
can read the Address to the Assembly of Jamaica here. William
Hooper also chaired a committee that prepared a resolution to encourage
people all over the colonies to participate in a day of fasting and
prayer for their cause. In January 1776, Mr. Hooper was appointed with
Benjamin Franklin and Robert Livingston to report on the proper method
of honoring General Richard Montgomery who had just been killed in
Quebec. Their recommendation was to erect a monument to his memory,
which was done by Congress in New York City.
The monument was created during the war, but it sat in a warehouse until the war was over! It was the first official monument created by Congress. In 2011 a full scale renovation of the monument was begun, which you can read more about here - General Richard Montgomery Monument restoration.
Fellow North Carolina delegate Joseph Hewes was elected head of the Marine committee in Congress. This committee's duty was to build the Continental Army's navy. William Hooper served on the Marine committee's powerful committee of secret intelligence, along with Benjamin Franklin. The committee of secret intelligence had broad authority to hire spies overseas, sign agreements and even to hide sensitive information from the Congress itself.
During the war, William Hooper's two brothers, Thomas and George, were successful merchants in Wilmington, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina. Thomas became suspected of helping the British cause and both brothers were accused of being Loyalists and some of their goods were confiscated. They were not completely free from legal trouble until the Definitive Treaty of 1786-87 was singed that assured former Loyalists they would not be banished or have all their property confiscated.
North Carolina was the first state to instruct its members to vote for independence, as long as the other colonies made the first move. On April 12, 1776, the North Carolina Provincial Assembly passed the Halifax Resolves, which the three North Carolina delegates carried with them to Philadelphia.
Later in the spring of 1776, William Hooper left Congress to attend to his personal financial situation at home. Mr. Hooper was actually absent from Congress on the day of the vote for independence, July 2. He had returned though by the time the familiar parchment was signed on August 2, and thus, was permitted to add his signature to the Declaration of Independence. Over the next several months William Hooper served on committees to regulate the treasury, the post office and secret correspondence, and laws relating to captures and appeals from the admiralty courts.
On December 20, 1776, he was elected to Congress a third time. The
Third Congress met in Baltimore because it had fled from British troops
that were approaching Philadelphia. During this time, William Hooper
was extremely busy, serving on committees dealing with the post office,
treasury, admiralty courts and others. In addition to this, Hooper was appointed on December 22 to chair committee charged
with creating a Great Seal for the state of North Carolina. By the end
of 1776, William Hooper had served in three sessions of the Continental
Congress, five Provincial Congresses and four Provincial assemblies. He
was frequently chosen to head important committees, especially those
charged with writing important resolutions or addresses, due to the
eloquence of his pen.
Political life and its responsibilities began to wear on William Hooper. His absence from North Carolina had created disorder in his personal financial situation and he finally resigned from Congress in April, 1777 after contracting malaria. After reinvigorating his business, Mr. Hooper was elected to the State Assembly continuously each year from 1777 through 1781. He resided at his country estate called Finian on Masonboro Sound in the Cape Fear area, about eight miles from Wilmington. He returned to his duties as a circuit court lawyer, traveling the circuit with his friend James Iredell as he had done before the Revolutionary War.
When Lord Cornwallis invaded North Carolina in 1781, near the end of the war, Mr. Hooper was forced to flee his estate. As British men-of-war filled Masonboro Sound, he sent his wife and children into Wilmington, thinking they would be safer there than on the run. As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Hooper became a fugitive, hiding from house to house with friends in the Windsor and Edenton areas. Wilmington was captured by the British on January 29, 1781. Mrs. Hooper and two of their children fled by wagon to Hillsboro, where her brother, Brigadier General Thomas Clark found refuge for them.
The Hooper's estate on Masonboro Sound was shelled by the British and their home in Wilmington was burned to the ground. Mr. Hooper returned in November, 1781, but due to the destruction of his property, he moved to Hillsboro shortly thereafter. On April 10, 1782, he purchased the former home of General Francis Nash on Tryon Street. He lived in this house until his death. This house still stands and became a National Historic Landmark in 1972. General Nash had built the home in 1772, but was killed at the Battle of Germantown in 1777.
After the Revolutionary War, Mr. Hooper resumed his law practice. He remained busy in his profession due to all of the post-Revolution suits regarding confiscation of Loyalists' property and treason. Hooper advocated mild treatment of Loyalists and those who had fled to England during the war. This put him at odds with many of his friends who demanded harsher treatment of these traitors. In 1786, he was named by Congress as one of the judges of a special federal court set up to resolve a land dispute between the states of New York and Massachusetts. The court never sat because the states resolved the conflict through their own appointed commissioners.
In 1789, Mr. Hooper was appointed a judge on the Federal Bench. He
served only one year due to his failing health. Mr. Hooper passed away
in Hillsboro, North Carolina on October 14, 1790, at the age of 48. He
left his widow with one remaining child still at home. He died the day
before the scheduled wedding of his daughter Elizabeth. He was buried
behind a small Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro. In 1894, his body was
removed, along with the body of fellow Declaration signer John Penn, to
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park near Greensboro on the site
of Guilford Courthouse Battleground. The grave was topped with
a nineteen foot statue of William Hooper dressed in colonial garb in an
orator's pose which still stands. Mr. Hooper's last known home
is still standing at 118 West Tryon Street in Hillsboro, North
Carolina. Several members of his family are buried under a monument at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Do the William Hooper online crossword puzzle here. All of the answers are found in the biography above.
Other North Carolina signers:
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