Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not fire-breathing radicals seeking to sever relations with mother England for no reason. On the contrary, many of them were famously loyal to the Crown until it became obvious to any freedom-loving colonist that independence was necessary and inevitable.
William Hooper was in the camp of those men who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for independence only as a last straw. In fact, as a lawyer in North Carolina, he had rendered valuable service to the Crown at various times and had openly denounced an insurrectionary movement as late as 1770. Nonetheless, when the time came, as a member of the Continental Congress from North Carolina, he signed the Declaration along with 55 others. He was only 34 years old.
William Hooper – like Witherspoon – was born in Scotland, but moved to Boston when he was very young. After graduating from Harvard (at the age of 18) and being apprenticed in law, he moved to North Carolina, and started his legal career, quickly rising to the top of the profession. He was the first member of the Continental Congress from North Carolina elected in 1774. At tremendous cost to his law practice, he served until 1777 and returned home, where he continued to serve in the North Carolina legislature.
His pledge of life, fortune and sacred honor would be called upon. When the British captured Wilmington, they naturally targeted Hooper – who by signing the Declaration, had invited them to do so. The British troops torched his estate, shelled his beloved house, “Finian” (which he had built himself by hand a few years earlier), and basically destroyed his property. His wife and children fled, finding shelter in the home of a relative in another town. But Hooper had to keep moving, bouncing from house to house to evade capture.
For ten months William Hooper was on the move: destitute, separated from his family, living off of the charity of friends, never remaining in a single place for very long. He became desperately ill at one point, but survived.
Eventually he was able to resume his life and legal practice in Hillsboro, but he never really recovered his health or his finances. After the ratification of the Constitution, Hooper was among the first appointees to the federal judiciary, but his chronic illness caused him step down after a year. He died shortly after that, relatively young.
William Hooper’s family legacy would nonetheless bless North Carolina for decades. Included in his descendants are scores of educators and ministers, including a President of Wake Forest University.
One wonders if men like Hooper ever regretted the fateful day that they laid it all on the line for the cause of American independence.
We should not wonder too long: the verdict of history is clear, even if in silence. No signer of the defiant Declaration ever expressed regret or the wish that he had done differently. Some of them, like Hooper, paid heavily, but never recanted.
May we not take their legacy of courage for granted.
Check out Mark’s book: Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor: The Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence