Person:Hugh Williamson (2)

Hugh Williamson
Facts and Events
Name Hugh Williamson
Gender Male
Birth? 5 Dec 1735 West Nottingham, Chester County


HUGH WILLIAMSON was born, of Scotch-Irish parents, in the township of West Nottingham, Chester Co., Dec. 5, 1735. These Scotch-Irish immigrants have been remarkable in our country for their enterprise, and for the intellectual development of their descendants. His father, John Williamson (who had been a clothier in Dublin), came to Chester County about the year 1730. His mother, Mary Davidson, was a native of Derry; came hither with her father, George Davison, while a child about three years of age. She died about 1804, in her ninetieth year. The parents of Hugh Williamson were married in 1731. They had ten children,— six sons and four daughters. Hugh was their eldest son. Being slender and delicate, his father resolved to give him a liberal education. After the common preparatory instruction, he was sent at an early age to learn the languages, at the academy at New London Cross-roads, under Rev. Francis Alison, the Busby of the Western hemisphere. Among the pupils of that seminary may be mentioned Charles Thomson, Dr. John Ewing, Thomas McKean, Benjamin Rush, etc. After Dr. Alison’s transfer to Philadelphia, Hugh Williamson went to the academy at Newark, Del., where he prepared for college. He entered the Philadelphia College in 1753, remained there about four years, and graduated A.B. May 17, 1757. He was fond of mathematics, and became a proficient in Euclid. His father (who had, shortly before this, removed to Shippensburg, Cumberland Co., Pa.) died the year Hugh graduated, as above; whereupon he became sole executor, and resided with his mother about two years, settling his father’s estate. He became early impressed with a sense of religion, and while with his mother devoted much time to the study of divinity, under the auspices of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, with a view to the clerical profession. In 1759, Hugh went to Connecticut, where he still pursued his theological studies, and was licensed to preach the gospel. He preached but a short time, not exceeding two years, when he found that his health and strength of lungs would not permit the duties of the office, and he was never ordained. Moreover, the memorable controversy in the Presbyterian Church between the adherents of Whitefield and the old Orthodox party proved a source of disgust to him, which induced him to withdraw from theological pursuits, to which he was sincerely attached. He accordingly left the pulpit, and entered upon the study of medicine.

In 1760 he received the degree of A.M. in Philadelphia College, and soon after was appointed Professor of Mathematics in that institution, but continued his medical studies.

Oct. 8, 1763, he gave notice of his intended resignation of the professorship, and in 1764 he went to prosecute his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. He afterwards spent a year in London at his studies, and from thence crossed over to Holland, and completed his medical education at Utrecht. Having passed the usual examination, and submitted a Latin thesis, he obtained the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Having spent some time in traveling on the continent of Europe, he bent his course towards his native country.

Upon his return, Dr. Williamson practiced medicine in Philadelphia for a few years. In 1768 he was chosen a member of the American Philosophical Society. His health failing, he resolved to try mercantile pursuits, but meanwhile for a time devoted himself to literary and philosophical investigations. In January, 1769, he was appointed by the Philosophical Society on a committee, with the Rev. Dr. Ewing, David Rittenhouse, and Charles Thomson, to observe the transit of Venus, which occurred on June 3d in that year; and soon after to observe the transit of Mercury, which took place Nov. 9, 1769. In that year, also, he philosophized on the comet. In 1770 he published observations on climate in the American Philosophical Transactions. In 1772 he visited the West Indies to collect contributions in aid of the Newark Academy. In 1773, Governor John Penn certified to the "good credit and reputation" of Rev. John Ewing and Dr. Hugh Williamson, who were authorized to proceed to Europe and solicit further aid for said academy. They persevered under difficulties until the autumn of 1775, when hostilities with the colonies commenced. Dr. Ewing returned home, but Dr. Williamson resolved to remain and make further efforts for the academy. Dr. Williamson was the first to report the destruction of the tea at Boston. On that occasion he ventured to declare his opinion that coercive measures by Parliament would result in civil war. Lord North himself declared that Dr. Williamson was the first person who, in his hearing, intimated the probability of such an event. Dr. Williamson, while in London, was the man (probably with the aid or at the suggestion of Mr., afterwards Sir John Temple) who procured the letters of Hutchinson, Oliver, etc., and caused them to be delivered to Dr. Franklin, who sent them to Boston, for which Wedderburne, before the Privy Council, called Franklin a thief,— or, in other words, Homo trium Literarum (F U R).

After causing the Hutchinson correspondence to reach Dr. Franklin, it was deemed expedient by Dr. Williamson to take an early conveyance next day for Holland. It was supposed by John Adams that Mr. David Hartley, a member of Parliament, and a good friend of the Americans, was the person through whom the letters reached Dr. Franklin.

On the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Williamson returned to the United States, and engaged for a time with a brother in trade with the West Indies. His residence then was at Edenton, N.C. In 1779–80, when the British took possession of Charleston, S.C., a large draft of militia from North Carolina was ordered for the relief of South Carolina; on which occasion the commander, Governor Caswell, placed Dr. Williamson at the head of the medical department. After the battle of Camden, Aug. 18, 1780, which the doctor witnessed, he requested Gen. Caswell to give him a flag, that he might go and attend to the wounded North Carolina prisoners. The general advised him to send some of the regimental surgeons, inasmuch as his duty did not require him to go. Dr. Williamson replied that such of the regimental surgeons as he had seen refused to go, afraid of the consequences. "But," said he, "if I have lived until a flag will not protect me, I have outlived my country, and in that case have lived a day too long." He went, and remained two months in the enemy’s camp, rendering good service to the sick of both armies, where his skill was highly esteemed. At the close of the war Dr. Williamson served as a representative of Edenton in the House of Commons of North Carolina.

He was next sent to Congress from the "old North State," where he continued for three years. Writing to President Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, from New York, while in Congress, Jan. 14, 1785, about John Franklin and the other Connecticut intruders at Wyoming, Dr. Williamson says, in the conclusion of a letter, "I have taken the liberty of giving you the above information, as I cannot cease to feel myself interested in the peace and reputation of a State which gave me birth." In the year 1786 he was one of the few delegates sent to Annapolis to revise and amend the Articles of Confederation of the Union; and in 1787 he was a delegate from North Carolina to the Convention which formed the Constitution of the United States. Dr. Williamson was a zealous advocate of the new Constitution, and was a member of the State Convention, in 1789, which adopted it. He served in the First and Second Congresses, and then declined a re-election.

In January, 1789, he married Miss Maria Apthorpe, of New York, where he came to reside, and had two sons, who both died young. He continued industriously to write on various philosophical subjects; was an early advocate of the great New York Canal system; an active promoter of philanthropic, literary, and scientific institutions; and in 1812 gave to the world his "History of North Carolina." After a long life, devoted to the best interests of humanity, Dr. Hugh Williamson died suddenly at New York on May 22, 1819, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. Of him it may be safely predicated that he was an ornament of our common country, and one of the most eminent and useful men which the ancient county of Chester has yet produced. For an interesting account of Dr. Williamson, see Dr. Hosack’s memoir, in the Transactions of the New York Historical Society.

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