‘Our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred Honor’. Rediscovering William Whipple, New Hampshire patriot, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. I have found the perfect music to accompany this article. It is called Washington’s March. It is an elegant piece of 18th century music, balanced, refined, symmetrical, as suitable for a drawing room as for an afternoon’s review of the troops.

It reminds us that George Washington and all his officers were gentlemen born and bred, citizens of substance who undertook the pronounced hazard of revolution because that  was the only way open to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They risked everything…

You can find this tune in any search engine. It appears as part of a splendid collection entitled “Music of the American Revolution: The Birth of Liberty.” Sadly the composer of “Washington’s March” is unknown. He deserves recognition, too…

Steps to glory… or the gallows.

It is important to remember one thing about history: at the time it is actually occurring only God Himself knows the outcome. No person present can do anything more than speculate on what may happen. You must remember this, for the people you encounter in this article were each and every one making the most bold, audacious and rash decision of their lives when, on August 2, 1776 most of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), signed the Declaration of Independence. William Whipple, one of the three representatives from New Hampshire, signed that day. We can imagine the scene…

Every man present, as his turn came to sign, would have had, must have had a moment of the utmost sobriety, even dread. He would have thought of  the terrible risk he was taking to bring forth the new nation. His mind would have touched on the people he loved…. the people who loved and trusted him. As he moved up in the queue he could so clearly see the beloved aspects of his life, each and every one of them, now with his own signature in the most perilous danger.

But though there had to be profound reflections and profound anxiety, there was in that place, on that date, emanating from each man present and all the citizens there represented, a deep certainty that what they were doing was profoundly right, proper and necessary…. and as they took pen in hand, they wrote their names, if not so grandiloquently as John Hancock, yet with the same ringing belief…

They did  this for liberty! For freedom! For the chance of some happiness in the shortness of life. And, most of all, to create a nation which would provide a living model, where the good of all would always be the goal, not the good of a few. They stood for a new way of governing men and arranging their affairs… they stood for a nation they insisted be great!

Thus did William Whipple, in sober reflection and invoking God’s will be done, sign the most important document in the short  history of mankind,  and, thus committed, did he resolve to strive, to turn brilliant rhetoric into vital reality.

About William Whipple, Jr., born January 14, 1730.

Whipple was born in Kittery, Maine, now famous for its many factory-outlet stores. He went to the sea, like so many Mainers, having studied in the common school the essentials necessary to become a merchant. He became a Ship’s Master by the age of twenty-three, and in 1759 moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire where he established a merchant partnership with his brother. In either 1770 or 1771 (the record is unclear) he married his first cousin Katherine Moffat; they must have been in love, and adamant, for such matches between those so closely related were not recommended. But, of course, without documentation, we can only speculate and may thereby deduce the wrong conclusion.

The people’s choice.

In 1775 Whipple, a well-established businessman of 45, was elected to represent his town at the Provincial Congress. In 1776 New Hampshire dissolved the Royal government and reorganized with a House of Representatives and an Executive Council. Whipple became a Council member, and a member of the Committee of Safety, and was elected to the Continental Congress, serving through 1779. There he was one of a group of men who worked hard, staying out of sight, achieving results, letting others take the credit. He was chairman of the marine, foreign relations and quartermaster committees and served on the committee which gathered intelligence on the British.  Such a committee at such a time goes only to the most trusted of men.

While still in Congress, Whipple was appointed one of two brigadiers general; John Stark got the other appointment. The appointment came at a time of the utmost danger. The Americans had evacuated vital Fort Ticonderoga, the British having then taken it over. From this key strategic position, General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne meant to wreck havoc. General Whipple meant to ensure he didn’t.

Burgoyne was everything Whipple was not: a braggart, popinjay, condescending man who believed the Americans were there for one reason and one reason  only: to provide him a step ladder to wealth, deference, renown. Whipple just got on with the job of defeating the man who never dreamt his defeat was possible. The result was the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, where the Americans not only defeated Burgoyne (thereby motivating France and Spain to enter the war on the side of the insurgents) but ended the Gentleman’s vainglorious career. He never had another military command; Whipple did. Appropriately, Whipple was accorded the honor of being one of the two American representatives assigned to working out the terms of capitulation.  A victorious Burgoyne would have been contemptuous and insulting on such an occasion. Whipple handled the situation quite differently, although all knew how important the victory just obtained.

One more anecdote about Whipple at this time must be told. Like many officers Whipple had slaves; one in particular, named Prince, went to the war with his master. Before an engagement expected to be difficult, Whipple freed him upon Prince saying that he could only fight for freedom if he himself were free. Whipple felt the full force of this unanswerable argument, and made Prince a free man on the spot.

Whipple’s career both during and after the Revolution flourished, despite the fact that his health was uncertain, his heart  weak. It because of this heart that he died. As Associate Justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire he was required to ride circuit. One day while doing so, he fainted and fell from his horse to his death. Right up to the last moment of life, he worked for the good of the people, quietly, resolutely, obscurely, dying November 28, 1785.

Long overdue.

When it came for his tombstone to be made, his reserve served him poorly. Not even the fact that he had signed the great Declaration was mentioned. Now at last, for him and for 11 other signers, belated recognition has come. This year small bronze plaques will be added to their tombs. It’s little enough and that overdue, for those who gave so much to create and maintain our Great Republic, now imperiled by lesser folk who not only do not know Whipple’s work and legacy, but are doing everything they can to undo it.

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About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also a historian and author of 18 best-selling business books.

Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone

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