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William Ellery


William Ellery, the son of a gentleman of the same name, was born at Newport, on the 22d day of December, 1727. His ancestors were originally from Bristol, in England, whence they emigrated to America during the latter part of the seventeenth century, and took up their residence at Newport, in Rhode Island.
   The early education of the subject of this memoir, was received almost exclusively from his father, who was a graduate of Harvard university; and who although extensively engaged in mercantile pursuits, found leisure personally to cultivate the mind of his son. At the age of sixteen, he was qualified for admission to the university, of which his father had been a member before him. In his twentieth year, he left the university, having sustained, during his collegiate course, the character of a faithful and devoted student. In a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages, he is said to have particularly excelled, and through the whole bustle of his active life, until the very hour of dissolution, he retained his fondness for them.
   On his return to Newport, he commenced the study of the law, and after the usual preparatory course, he entered upon the practice, which for twenty years he pursued with great zeal. During this period, no other particulars have been recorded of him, than that he succeeded in acquiring a competent fortune, and receiving the esteem and confidence of his fellow citizens.
    At an early period of the controversy between Great Britain and the colonies, Rhode Island strongly enlisted herself in the patriotic cause. She was not backward in expressing her disapprobation of the arbitrary measures of the parent country. Indeed, it is doubtful whether Rhode Island is not equally entitled, with Virginia and Massachusetts, to the honor which they claim, of being earliest in the measures leading to the revolution. Among the great scenes which led the way to actual resistance, two occurred in Narraganset bay. The first of these was an attack by the people of Rhode Island, upon the armed revenue sloop, Liberty, in the harbor of Newport, June 17th, 1769. The second was the memorable affair of the Gaspee, June 9th, 1772, and in which it may be said, was shed the first blood in the revolution. This latter occurrence excited an unusual alarm among the royal party in the provinces, and gave occasion to Governor Hutchinson to address the following letter to Commodore Gambier: "Our last ships carried you the news of the burning of the Gaspee schooner, at Providence. I hope, if there should be another like attempt, some concerned in it may be taken prisoners, and carried directly to England. A few punished at execution dock, would be the only effectual preventive of any further attempts."

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Last modified January 2, 2004