William Whipple Biography
William Whipple was the eldest son of William Whipple and was born at Kittery, Maine, in the year 1730. His father was a native of Ipswich, and was bred a maltster; but for several years after his removal to Kittery, he followed the sea. His mother was the daughter of Robert Cutts, a distinguished ship-builder, who established himself at Kittery, where he became wealthy, and at his death left a handsome fortune to his daughter.
The education of young Whipple was limited to a public school, in his native town. It was respectable but did not embrace that variety and extent of learning, which is generally obtained at some higher seminary. On leaving school, he entered on board a merchant vessel, and for several years devoted himself to commercial business, on the sea. His voyages were chiefly confined to the West-Indies, and proving successful, he acquired a considerable fortune.
In 1759, he relinquished a seafaring life, and commenced business with a brother at Portsmouth, where they continued in trade, until within a few years of the revolution.
Mr. Whipple early entered with spirit into the controversy between Great Britain and the colonies, and being distinguished for the general probity of his character, as well as for the force of his genius, was frequently elected by his townsmen to offices of trust and responsibility. In the provincial congress, which met at Exeter, January, 1775, for the purpose of electing delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, he represented the town of Portsmouth. He also represented that town in the provincial congress, which was assembled at Exeter the following May, and by that body was appointed one of the provincial committee of safety. In 1776 he was appointed a delegate to the general congress, of which body he continued a member until the middle of September, 1799.
In this important situation, he was distinguished for great activity, and by his perseverance and application commended himself to the respect of the national assembly, and to his constituents at home. He was particularly active as one of the superintendents of the commissary's and quartermaster's departments, in which he was successful in correcting many abuses, and in giving to those establishments a proper correctness and efficiency.
"The memorable day which gave birth to the declaration of independence afforded, in the case of William Whipple," as a writer observes, "a striking example of the uncertainty of human affairs, and the triumphs of perseverance. The cabin boy, who thirty years before had looked forward to a command of a vessel as the consummation of all his hopes and wishes, now stood amidst the congress of 1776, and looked around upon a conclave of patriots, such as the world had never witnessed. He whose ambition once centered in inscribing his name as commander upon a crew-list, now affixed his signature to a document, which has embalmed it for posterity."
In the year 1777, while Mr. Whipple was a member of Congress, the appointment of brigadier general was bestowed upon him, and the celebrated John Stark, by the assembly of New-Hampshire. Great alarm at this time prevailed in New-Hampshire, in consequence of the evacuation of Ticonderoga by the Americans, its consequent possession by the British, and the progress of General Burgoyne, with a large force, toward the state. The militia of New-Hampshire were expeditiously organized into two brigades, the command of which was given to the above two generals. The intrepid conduct of General Stark, in the ever memorable defence of Bennington, must be only alluded to in this place. The advantage thus gained, laid the foundation of the still more signal victory which was obtained in the October following by General Gates, over the distinguished Burgoyne and his veteran soldiers, at Saratoga; since it was here proved to the militias that the Hessians and Indians, so much dreaded by them, were not invincible. The career of conquest which had before animated the troops of Burgoyne was checked. For the first time, General Burgoyne was sensible of the danger of his situation. He had regarded the men of New Hampshire, and the Green Mountains, with contempt. But the battle of Bennington taught him both to fear and respect them. In a letter addressed about this time to Lord Germaine, he remarks: "The New-Hampshire Grants, till of late but little known, hang like a cloud on my left."
The ill bodings of Burgoyne were realised too soon, for his own reputation. The militia from the neighbouring states hastened to reinforce the army of General Gates, which was now looking forward to an engagement with that of General Burgoyne. This engagement soon after took place, as already noticed, at Saratoga, and ended in the surrender of the royal army to the American troops. In this desperate battle General Whipple commanded the troops of New-Hampshire. On that occasion, his meritorious conduct was rewarded by his being jointly appointed with Colonel Wilkinson, as the representative of General Gates, to meet two officers from General Burgoyne, and settle the articles of capitulation. He was also selected as one of the officers, who were appointed to conduct the surrendered army to their destined encampment, on Winter Hill, in the vicinity of Boston. On this expedition, General Whipple was attended by a faithful negro servant, named Prince, a native of Africa, and whom the general had imported several years before.
"Prince," said the general, one day, as they were proceeding to their place of destination, "we may be called into action, in which case, I trust you will behave like a man of courage, and fight bravely for the country."
"Sir," replied Prince, in a manly tone, "I have no wish to fight and no inducement, but had I my liberty, I would fight in defence of the country to the last drop of my blood."
"Well," said the general, "Prince, from this moment you are free."
In 1778, General Whipple, with a detachment of New-Hampshire militia, was engaged, under General Sullivan, in executing a plan which had for its object the retaking of Rhode Island from the British. By some misunderstanding, the French fleet, under Count D'Estaing, which was destined to co-operate with General Sullivan, failed of rendering the expected assistance, in consequence of which General Sullivan was obliged to retreat. General Sullivan, with his troops, occupied a position on the north end of the island. One morning, while a number of officers were breakfasting in the general's quarters, a detachment of British troops were perceived on an eminence, at the distance of about three quarters of a mile. A field piece was soon after discharged by the enemy, the ball of which, after killing one of the horses at the door, passed through the side of the house, into the room where the officers were sitting, and so shattered the leg of the brigade major of General Whipple, that immediate amputation became necessary.
During the remaining years of Mr. Whipple's life, he filled several important offices. In 1780, he was elected a representative to the general assembly of New-Hampshire, the duties of which office he continued to discharge during several re-elections, with much honour to himself, and to the general acceptance of his constituents.
In 1782, he received the appointment of receiver of public moneys for the state of New-Hampshire, from Mr. Morris, the superintendent of finance. The appointment was accepted by Mr. Whipple, but the duties devolving upon him were both arduous and unpopular. The collection of money was, at that time, extremely difficult. Mr. Whipple experienced many vexations in the exercise of his commission; and at length, in 1784, found it necessary, on account of the infirm state of his health, to relinquish his office. About the same time that he received the above appointment, he was created a judge of the superior court of judicature. He began now, however, to be afflicted with strictures in the breast, which prevented him from engaging in the more active scenes of life. He was able, however, to ride the circuits of the court for two or three years, but owing to an affection of the heart, he was unable to sum up the arguments of council, or state a cause to the jury.
In the fall of 1785, while riding the circuit, this disorder so rapidly increased, that he was obliged to return home. From this time he was confined to his room, until the 28th day of November, when he expired, in the 55th year of his age.
The mind of Mr. Whipple was naturally strong, and his power of discrimination quick. In his manners, he was easy and unassuming; in his habits correct, and in his friendships constant. Although his early education was limited, his subsequent intercourse with the world, united to his natural good sense, enabled him to fill with ability the various offices to which he was appointed.
Few men have exhibited a more honest and persevering ambition to act a worthy part in the community, and few, with his advantages, have been more successful in obtaining the object of their ambition.
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich