Hugh Williamson (1735-1819)

North Carolina

Hugh Williamson was born of Scotch-Irish decent at West Nottingham, PA.on the 5th of December 1735. At the age of sixteen, he entered the College of Philadelphia and received his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1757. In 1759 Hugh Williamson became a licensed Presbyterian preacher, but was never ordained. Around that time, he also took a job as professor mathematics at his alma mater.

To prosecute his medical studies, Williamson left his native country for Europe and resigned his professorship in 1764. After writing an essay on Comets, in which he advanced several original ideas he was awarded his LL.D degree from the University of Leyden. Sailing fro England in 1773 to raise finds for a local educational project, William stopped on route at Boston. There he witnessed the famous Tea Party. When the British Privy Council called on him to testify as to what he had seen, he warned the councilors that the colonies would rebel if the British did not change their policies. Williamson struck up a close friendship with fellow-scientist Benjamin Franklin.

The Plea of the Colonies was published in 1775. He soon sailed back to the United States, settling in Charleston, SC, and then in Edenton, NC. In 1980 he was appointed a surgeon in the army. And soon after the war, Williamson began his political career. In 1982 he was elected as a representative in the House of Commons of North Carolina. Then after four years he was chosen to represent his state at the Annapolis Convention but arrived too late to take a part.

He again served in Congress from 1787 to 1789 and was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Attending faithfully and demonstrating keen debating skill, he served on five committees, notably on the Committee on Postponed Matters, and played a significant part in the proceedings, particularly the major compromise on representation. While in Congress Williamson enjoyed a large share of influence, and was esteemed for the purity of his country. Williamson logged with two of the country’s best-known nationalist leaders, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison while attending conventions.

Shortly after the Convention, Williamson wrote a series of public letters know as the “Letters of Sylvius” in defense of a strong federal system. He also played a major role at the second convention that met in Fayetteville in 1789, and worked for the ratification of the Constitution in North Carolina. In 1789 he married Maria Apthorpe, who bore at least two sons and a year after that he was elected to the first U.S. House of Representative, where he served two terms. In 1793 Williamson moved to New York. In 1811 he published the “Observations on the climate in the different parts of America, compared with the climate in the corresponding parts of the other continent.” And a year later he published the “History of North Carolina.” Over the year he had published many political, educational, economic, historical, and a scientific works. Williamson was a founder of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New York and a prominent member of the New York Historical Society. He dies on the 22nd of May 1819, in the eighty-third year of his life and was buried at the Trinity Church in New York.