Why did William Hooper sign the Declaration of Independence?

William Hooper

Continuing series on the signers of the Declaration of Independence

William Hooper( June 28, 1742 – October 14, 1790 ) was a native of Boston. He was born to William and Mary Hooper. His father emigrated from Scotland in 1702, and his mother was the daughter of a well – respected merchant. William’s father wished him to follow in his footsteps as a minister, but he chose law instead – and became a part of history.

William studied at home until about seven years of age, and then entered a public school, where he acquitted himself well. At sixteen, he began study at Harvard, and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree at the top of his class. He then undertook the law, reading at the offices of attorney James Otis. He had belief in God, and allegiance to the Episcopal church, but felt he could help others best through law rather than ecclesiastical study.

In search of his own independence, he left Massachusetts and journeyed to North Carolina. He established his own law practice and became highly esteemed by colleagues. Settling in Wilmington, he met and married Anne Clark in 1767. She was one year his junior, marrying at twenty-four. They had three children.

William began to fight for the colony’s rights to establish its own judicial system, a longstanding issue in North Carolina politics. Quickly he became a leading anti-government spokesman. Hooper organized and then chaired the first provincial congress in North Carolina. He was elected to the colony’s Committee of Correspondence and was a very active leader of the movement for a Continental Congress.  Within a short time, William was appointed deputy attorney general of North Carolina and a member of the North Carolina assembly. Like forty-one other founding fathers, Hooper was a slave owner, but there is no record of him combating the institution or deploring it.

William was elected to represent North Carolina in the First Continental Congress and the Second, leading the delegation. He largely authored North Carolina’s positions on policy relative to England. However, life in North Carolina did not agree with his health, and he suffered bouts of malaria that occasionally interfered with his duties. He served on a committee with Ben Franklin, and correctly predicted that the colonies would separate from Britain, earning him the moniker “Prophet of Independence”.

Hooper was at home with malaria when the vote for independence was taken, but managed to make it back to Philadelphia to sign on August 2 with other late signers. In spite of his vocal opposition at home to the Crown, Jefferson did not trust him, due to his support of the Federalists, labeling him “the biggest Tory in Congress”.

During the war, in 1781, Hooper’s family was forced to flee with a few possessions. The British troops looted his home, stole household articles and books, and set the remainder on fire.

Mrs. Hooper and Mrs. Allen had been seen with their families in wagons . . . moving towards Hillsboro. . . . I then resolved to . . . to secure, if possible, some of my negroes, and to collect what I could from the wreck of my property. I found that Mrs. Hooper had managed . . . to carry off all our household linen, blankets, and all the wearing apparel of herself and children [leaving] behind all her furniture . . . . The British had borne off every article of house and kitchen furniture, knives, forks, plates, and spoons an almost general sweep; nor had they the spared the beds . . . My library, except as to law books, is shamefully injured, and above 100 valuable volumes taken away . . . You know my partiality to my books.”

William Hooper, letter to James Iredell
Nash-Hooper house, Hillsborough, NC

Though re-elected to Congress, he was forced to resign due to health and spent his later years in judicial capacities in North Carolina. He retired to Hillsborough, NC, and died at a relatively young forty-eight years of age.

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