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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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William Ellery

ELLERY, William, signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Newport, R. I., 22 December 1727; died there, 15 February 1820. His father, of the same name, was graduated at Harvard in 1722, became a successful merchant in Newport, served successively as judge, senator, and lieutenant governor of the colony, and (lied in 1764. The younger William received his early education mostly from his father, and was graduated at Harvard in 1747. He married in 1750, engaged in business in Newport, and was for some time naval officer of Rhode Island he began the practice of law in Newport in 1770, having served for two years previous as clerk of one of the courts. He was an active patriot, and in May 1776, was chosen the colleague of Stephen Hopkins, as delegate to the Continental congress, and took his seat on the 14th of that month, He became an influential member of that body, serving on the committee to consider the ways and means of establishing expresses between the continental posts, on those on the treasury and on marine affairs, and on the special committee for purchasing clothing for the army. During this session he signed the Declaration of Independence, and he was accustomed in later years to relate with great vivacity the incidents connected with that event. "I was determined," he said, "to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrant. I placed myself beside the secretary, Charles Thomson, and eyed each closely as he affixed his name to the document. Undaunted resolution was displayed in every countenance."

Mr. Ellery continued a member of the congress till 1786, with the exception of the years 1780 and 1782, and, overcoming his natural diffidence, became a ready debater. He was a member of important committees, but did especially good service on the board of admiralty, where he had much influence, and probably originated the plan of fitting out fire ships at Newport. During the British occupation of Rhode Island, Mr. Ellery's house was burned and much of his other property injured.

In 1779 he was a member of a committee to arrange some diplomatic difficulties among the American commissioners to Europe, and was chairman of a committee to consider means of relieving the distress brought upon the Rhode Islanders by the British occupation. In 1782 he presented to congress a plan for organizing a department of foreign affairs. In 1785 he actively supported Rufus King in his effort to abolish slavery throughout the country, seconding King's resolution to that effect. He was appointed commissioner of the continental loan office for Rhode Island in 1786, was for a short period chief justice of the Rhode Island superior court, and from 1790 till his death was collector of Newport, being" retained in the office in spite of frequent and frank avowals of political differences with several administrations.

Mr. Ellery was of moderate stature, with a large head and impressive features. He was fond of study and literature, and was highly esteemed for his social qualities, being intimate with all the distinguished men of his time. He retained the full use of his faculties to the close of his long life, and died holding in his hand a copy of Cicero's " De Ofliciis," which he had been reading. See a biography of Ellery by his grandson, Edward T. Channing, in Sparks's "American Biography," vol. vi., and Goodrich's " Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of lndependence.

"His nephew, Christopher Ellery, senator, born in Newport. R. I., 1 November 1768; died there, 2 December 1840, was graduated at Yale in 1787, studied law, and began to practice in his native City. He was elected to the U. S. Senate as a Democrat, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Ray Green, and served from 7 December 1801, till 3 March 1805. President, Jefferson appointed him commissioner of loans at Providence in 1806, and from 1820 till 1834, when the failure of his health caused him to resign, he was collector of customs at Newport.

Christopher's son, Frank Ellery, naval officer, born in Newport, R. I., 23 July 1794; died in Castleton, Vermont, 24 March 1871, entered the navy as a midshipman on 1 January 1812, and served in the frigate "President" on all her cruises, being Wounded in the action with the " Belvidere" by the bursting of the gun at which he was stationed. He received a sword and the thanks of congress for his services on Lake Champlain, was in the "Constellation" in the Mediterranean in 1815, at the capture of an Algerine frigate and a Turkish flagship, and assisted in expelling McGregor's band of adventurers from Amelia island, Fla., in 1817, capturing one of their privateers with her prize. He became lieutenant, 28 March 1820, commanded the "Cyane," of the Brazil squadron, in 1827, and was on duty at the Boston and New York rendezvous in 1829'37. He commanded the steamer " Enterprise" in 1840, was put on the reserved list, 13 September 1855, commanded the Boston rendezvous again in 1861, and was commissioned commodore on the retired list, 4 April 1867.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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