William Ellery - Witnessing History

William Ellery - Witnessing History

William Ellery may have been a minor role-player in the American Revolution, but he sat front and center at one of the most important moments in United States history.

Sent to Congress

William Ellery was a Harvard graduate who held careers in Rhode Island which include merchant, lawyer, customs collector and Clerk of the General Assembly.

Other than that, we don’t know too much of his early life. 

We do know that when former Governor and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Ward died, Ellery was elected to take his place in the Continental Congress.

He would arrive in Philadelphia in May of 1776 and remain there until the end of the Revolutionary War.  

Front and Center

Ellery was present for the discussions and debates leading up to the Declaration of Independence.  When it was time for the delegates to sign the famous document, he did something very peculiar. 

According to Founding Father biographer Charles Augustus Goodrich, “He placed himself beside Secretary Thomson, so he might see as they looked, as they put their names to their death warrant.”

In other words, Ellery sat at the table above the Declaration as it was signed so that he could see if each delegate knew the gravity of the situation.  As it turns out, they did.

Public Servant

Later in William Ellery’s stay in the Continental Congress, he was present to sign the Articles of Confederation on behalf of Rhode Island.  This makes him one of the few people to have his autograph on two of America’s Founding Documents.

He would go on to spend a brief time on the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

After the creation of the U.S. Constitution, George Washington appointed Ellery as the first customs collector for the port of Newport.  William Ellery would remain customs collector for most of the next three decades until he passed away at the age of 92.


Be sure to follow Founder of the Day on Instagram as I am traveling to historical sites on Long Island this week and you won't want to miss some of my finds!

Check out some of our favorite books on the signers of the Declaration.  The affiliate links below take you to Amazon.


Britain's First Mistake - The Sugar and Currency Acts

Britain's First Mistake - The Sugar and Currency Acts

Charles Thomson - Secretary of the Revolution

Charles Thomson - Secretary of the Revolution