William Ellery

Portrait by Artist to Come

QUICK FACTS
BORN:
22 December 1727 in Newport, Rhode Island
  DIED:
15 February 1820 in Newport
Buried at Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island.

William Ellery, American politician and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1727. He graduated from Harvard in 1747, engaged in trade, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1770. He was a member of the Rhode Island Committee of Safety in 1775 – 76, and was a delegate in Congress in 1776 – 81 and again in 1783 – 85.

Just after his first election to Congress, he was placed on the important Marine Committee, and he was made a member of the Board of Admiralty when it was established in 1779. In April 1786 he was elected Commissioner of the Continental Loan Office for the State of Rhode Island, and from 1790 until his death in 1820 at Newport, he was collector of the customs for the district of Newport.

ADAPTED FROM:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed.

By attacking slavery more fiercely than ever before, Revolutionary Americans freed tens of thousands of slaves. But the Revolution’s libertarian and egalitarian message had perverse consequences. It forced those Southerners who chose to retain slavery to fall back on the alleged racial deficiencies of blacks as a justification for an institution that hitherto they had taken for granted and had never before needed to justify. The anti-slavery movement that arose out of the Revolution inadvertently produced racism in America.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)