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William Ellery


   By other acts did the people of Rhode Island, at an early period, evince their opposition to the royal government. On the arrival in the year 1774 of the royal proclamation prohibiting the importation of fire arms from England, they dismantled the fort at Newport, and took possession of forty pieces of cannon. Again, on the occurrence of the battle of Lexington, they simultaneously roused to the defense of their fellow citizens, in the province of Massachusetts. Within three days after that memorable event, a large number of her militia were in the neighborhood of Boston, ready to cooperate in measures either of hostility or defense. In that same year she sent twelve hundred regular troops into the service, and afterwards furnished three state regiments to serve during the war.
   No sooner was the formation of a continental congress suggested, than Rhode Island took measures to be represented in that body, and elected as delegates two of her most distinguished citizens, Governor Hopkins and Mr. Ward.
   During these movements in Rhode Island, Mr. Ellery, the subject of this notice, was by no means an idle spectator. The particular history of the part which he took in these transactions is, indeed, not recorded; but the tradition is, that he was not behind his contemporaries either in spirit or action.
   In the election for delegates to the congress of 1776, Mr. Ellery was a successful candidate, and in that body took his seat, on the seventeenth of May. Here, he soon became an active and influential member, and rendered important services to his country, by his indefatigable attention to duties assigned him, on several committees. During this session, he had the honor of affixing his name to the declaration of independence. Of this transaction he frequently spoke, and of the notice he took of the members of congress when they signed that instrument. He placed himself beside secretary Thompson, that he might see how they looked, as they put their names to their death warrant. But while all appeared to feel the solemnity of the occasion, and their countenances bespoke their awe, it was unmingled with fear. They recorded their names as patriots, who were ready, should occasion require, to lead the way to martyrdom.
   In the year 1777, the marine committee of congress, of which Mr. Ellery was a member, recommended the plan, and it is supposed, at his suggestion, of preparing fire ships, and sending them out from the state of Rhode Island. Of this plan, the journals of congress speak in the following terms :

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Last modified January 2, 2004