Speech given by Comrade Joseph Foster, Paymaster U.S. Navy
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, November 20th, 1892
Published in The Presentation of the Portraits of General William Whipple, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and of David Glasgow Farragut, Admiral, United States Navy (Portsmouth, N.H., 1891), pp. 6-14.
(The square brackets [ ] appear in the original.)
"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
"But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present king of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having, in direct object, the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.
* * * * * * * *
"We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
To these eloquent words of Thomas Jefferson, the Magna Charta of American freedom, and the seed, which planted in the hearts of lovers of liberty throughout the world, has brought so many blessings to all mankind, was signed the name of a citizen of Portsmouth, who, carrying out his own patriotic instincts and the earnest desire of our grandfathers, with Josiah Bartlett, of Kingston, and Matthew Thornton, of Londonderry, his fellow-delegates from New Hampshire, united with fifty-three delegates from the other colonies in this the grandest act of all history, and thus forever immortalized his name on the roll of those supporters and protectors of human rights and universal liberty whom we proudly hail as the greatest benefactors of mankind.
The local Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, which is in its very essence an historical society, realizing a few months since that the name of this, our most illustrious citizen, had almost passed from memory among us, appointed a committee to wait upon the City Government and ask that the name of our Portsmouth signer of the Declaration of Independence might be given to the new school house on State street, and in acknowledgement of their courtesy in accepting the suggestion and adopting this name, Storer Post has caused this beautiful oil portrait of William Whipple to be painted for presentation to the city to be placed in the room occupied by the senior class at Whipple school.
History is the most interesting of studies, for truth is always stranger and more impressive than fiction, but to the mind of childhood it must be most difficult to place events in their proper positions on the ladder of time, and Gettysburg, Bunker Hill, Waterloo and Marathon, with a thousand other events in the world's history, must often be confusedly intermingled.
But the history of our own country should be foremost in every thought and the love of Union and Liberty should be planted deep in the heart of childhood, and to this end Storer Post places this portrait in the Whipple school, a portrait presented by Portsmouth men who fought at Antietam, suffered at Andersonville and triumphed at Gettysburg,--battled with Farragut and Porter, and conquered with Winslow on our own "Kearsarge"--that an object lesson should thus be given to the children of Portsmouth, which may, year after year, for many a day to come, be interpreted to them by their teachers as the connecting link with many events of local and national history.
For this portrait will point the way to the birthplace of William Whipple, in Kittery, on the other bank of our noble Piscataqua, to his residence on Market street, where, south of the house, yet stands the magnificent horse-chestnut tree planted by him, and to the grave in the North cemetery where his ashes rest,--and will thus teach, through him, in the most realistic way, the story of the American Revolution.
It is my privilege tonight to first interpret its lesson and to tell the story of the Declaration of Independence, and of the life of William Whipple; and if I seem to choose too frequently the phrases of another who made a study of the lives of the Signers, you will gain in exactness of statement and in eloquence of words what you may lose in originality, and well therefore, I am quite sure, be very willing to pardon my choice in this matter.
"With the commencement of the year 1776, the affairs of the colonies, and certainly the views of their political leaders, began to assume a new aspect, one of more energy, and with motives and objects more decided and apparent. Eighteen months had passed away since the colonists had learned by the intrenchments of Boston, that a resort to arms was an event, not beyond the contemplation of the British ministry.
"Nearly a year had elapsed, since the fields of Concord and Lexington had been stained with hostile blood; during this interval, armies had been raised, vessels of war had been equipped, fortifications had been erected, gallant exploits had been performed, and eventful battles had been lost and won; yet still were the provinces bound to their British brethren, by the ties of a similar allegiance; still did they look upon themselves as members of the same empire, subjects of the same sovereign, and partners in the same constitution and laws.
"Every expedient, however, short of unconditional separation, had now been tried by congress,--but in vain. It appeared worse than useless, longer to pursue measures of open hostility, and yet to hold out the promises of reconciliation. The time had arrived when a more decided stand must be taken,--the circumstances of the nation demanded it, the success of the struggle depended on it. The best and wisest men had become convinced, that no accommodation could take place, and that a course which was not marked by decision, would create dissatisfaction among the resolute, while it would render more uncertain the feeble and the wavering.
"During the spring of 1776, therefore, the question of independence became one of very general interest and reflection among all classes of the nation. It was taken into consideration by some of the colonial legislatures, and in Virginia a resolution was adopted in favor of its immediate declaration.
"Under these circumstances, the subject was brought directly before congress, on Friday, the seventh of June, 1776," when Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, "moved 'that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.'" "It was discussed very fully on the following Saturday and Monday," and "on [Monday] the tenth of June it was resolved, 'that the consideration of the resolution respecting independence be postponed till the first Monday in July next; and in the meanwhile, that no time be lost, in case the congress agree thereto, that a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration to the effect of the said resolution.'"
This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston of New York; Mr. Lee, the original mover of the resolution, being called home by "the dangerous illness of some members of his family;" "and to Mr. Jefferson, the chairman of the committee, was ultimately assigned the important duty of preparing the draught of the document, for the formation of which they had been appointed.
"The task thus devolved upon Mr. Jefferson, was of no ordinary magnitude; and required the exercise of no common judgment and foresight. To frame such a document, was the effort of no common mind. That of Mr. Jefferson proved fully equal to the task. His labors received the immediate approbation and sanction of the committee: and their opinion has been confirmed by the testimony of succeeding years, and of every nation where it has been known.
"On the twenty-eighth of June, the Declaration of Independence was presented to congress, and read. On the first, second, and third of July, it was taken into full consideration; and on the fourth, it was agreed to after several alterations, and considerable omissions had been made in the draught, as it was first framed by the committee."
"When the question of independence was put, in a committee of the whole, on the first of July, ... and the president resumed the chair, the chairman of the committee of the whole made his report, which was not acted upon until Thursday, July 4. Every state, excepting Pennsylvania and Delaware, had voted in favor of the measure, but it was a matter of great importance to procure an unanimous voice." The return of one of the Delaware members, who was in favor of the Declaration, secured the voice of that state on the fourth of July, and "two of the members of the Pennsylvania delegation, adverse to the measure, being absent, that state was also united in the vote, by a majority of one. By these means, the Declaration of Independence became the unanimous act of the thirteen states."
"Speaking of the Declaration of Independence," Thomas Jefferson said, "that 'John Adams was the pillar of its support on the floor of congress; its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.'"
"The transport of his [Mr. Adams'] feelings, the exuberance of his joy, on ... [the adoption of the Declaration,] may be seen most vividly portrayed in the letter which he wrote to Mrs. Adams on the succeeding day--a letter that is memorable, and now embalmed in American history, simply because it is so true and inartificial in effusion of ardent, enlightened, and disinterested patriotism.
"'Yesterday,' he says, 'the greatest question was decided, that was ever debated in America; and greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among men. A resolution was passed, without one dissenting colony, "that these United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." The day is passed. The fourth of July, 1776, will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomps, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward for ever. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states; yet through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means; and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.'"
On the 15th day of June, 1776, the New Hampshire Legislature had instructed the delegates in Congress from New Hampshire, to join with the other colonies in declaring the thirteen United Colonies a free and independent state.
And "on that memorable day, [when] the decisive vote was taken, which resulted in the unanimous declaration of all the states in favor of independence, [New Hampshire spoke first, for] in taking the question the northernmost colony was first called on, and Dr. [Josiah] Bartlett, [of New Hampshire, born 1729, died 1795] had the accidental, but interesting duty of first giving his voice in favor of the resolution."
And William Whipple of Portsmouth, the only other delegate from New Hampshire, then serving in congress, was doubtless the second to give his vote in favor of Independence.
For, "on the twenty-third of January, 1776, a second election for delegates [from New Hampshire] to the continental Congress [had] occurred" and Josiah Bartlett of Kingston, and "his most attached personal friends, William Whipple and John Langdon," of Portsmouth, were chosen. The two former "long served" with each other "in Congress, and their signatures are found together on the charter of Independence. Mr. Langdon, owing to an appointment to another office lost the opportunity of recording his patriotic sentiments in the same conspicuous manner."
"On the twelfth of September, 1776," Matthew Thornton, of Londonderry, born 1714, died 1803 "was appointed, by the house of representatives, a delegate to represent the state of New Hampshire in Congress, during the term of one year. He did not take his seat in that illustrious body until the fourth of November following, being four months after the passage of the Declaration of Independence; but he immediately acceded to it, and was permitted to place his signature on the engrossed copy of the instrument, among those of the fifty-six worthies, who have immortalized their names by that memorable and magnanimous act."
"The Declaration of Independence ... was accompanied in its first publication by the signature of Mr. Hancock alone," and "the manuscript public journal has no names annexed to the Declaration of Independence, nor has the secret journal; but it appears by the latter, that on the nineteenth day of July, 1776, the Congress directed that it should be engrossed on parchment, and signed by every member, and that it was so produced on the second of August, and signed. This is interlined in the secret journal, in the hand of Charles Thomson, the secretary."
"The printed journals of Congress, indeed, make it appear, that the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed on the fourth of July, by the gentlemen whose names are subscribed to it under the head of that date. But this impression is incorrect; because, in fact not one signature was affixed to the Declaration until the second of August. The idea of signing does not appear to have occurred immediately; for not until the nineteenth of July ... did the resolution pass, directing the Declaration to be engrossed on parchment. This was accordingly done; and on the second of August following, when the engrossed copy was prepared, and not before, the Declaration was signed by the members, who on that day were present in congress. ... Those members who were absent on the second of August, subscribed the Declaration as soon after as opportunity offered.
"The engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence was placed on the desk of the secretary of congress, on the second of August, to receive the signatures of the members, and Mr. Hancock, president of congress, during a conversation with Mr. [Charles] Carroll [of Maryland, who had only taken his seat on the eighteenth of the previous month], asked him if he would sign it. 'Most willingly', was the reply, and taking a pen, he at once put his name to the instrument. 'There goes a few millions,' said one of those who stood by; and all present at the time agreed, that in point of fortune, few risked more than Charles Carroll of Carrollton."
The case of Mr. Carroll was not singular, for besides Dr. Thornton of New Hampshire, already mentioned, five of the Pennsylvania delegates who signed the Declaration were not present in congress on the fourth of July, 1776, "not having been chosen delegates by the legislature of Pennsylvania until the twentieth day of that month," "to succeed those members of the Pennsylvania delegation, who had refused their assent to the Declaration of Independence, and abandoned their seats in congress."
William Ellery, one of the Signers from Rhode Island, in after years, "often spoke of the signing of the Declaration; and he spoke of it as an event which many regarded with awe, perhaps with uncertainty, but none with fear. 'I was determined,' he used to say, 'to see how they all looked, as they signed what might be their death warrant. I placed myself beside the secretary, Charles Thomson, and eyed each closely as he affixed his name to the document. Undaunted resolution was displayed in every countenance.'"
"When the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence approached, two only of the committee that prepared that document, and of the Congress that voted its adoption and promulgation, and one more besides of those who inscribed their names upon it, yet survived."
"'Like the books of the Sybil, the living signers of the Declaration of Independence increased in value as they diminished in number.' On the third of July, 1826, three only remained,--John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. On the fourth of July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the day on which they pledged their all to their country, when the ten millions who were indebted to them for liberty, were celebrating the year of jubilee; when the names of the three signers were on every lip, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died, leaving Charles Carroll of Carrollton the last link between the past and" that "generation."
"That such an anniversary should be the day appointed for the departure of the two co-laborers" was a startling coincidence, and "the universal burst of feeling in all parts of this country, showed that the nation recognized something in the dispensation beyond the ordinary laws of human existence."
"They departed cheered by the benedictions of their country, to whom they left the inheritance of their fame, and the memory of their bright example."
"On the fourteenth of November, 1832, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last of the signers, full of years and full of honors, closed his earthly career [aged 95 years]. A nation's tears were shed upon his grave; a nation's gratitude hallows his memory."
"They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor; and not one was false to the pledge--not one! They suffered much; some died from hardships encountered, some were imprisoned, many were impoverished, and all were tempted by promises, and menaced by the wrath of what seemed, for a time, an earthly omnipotence; but all stood firm. There was doubt previous to the declaration--none after. Every name shone brighter as the darkness thickened. Each patriot was a sun that stood fast ... until the battle of independence had been fought and won."
"'They are no more, they are dead. But how little is there of the great and good which can die! To their country they yet live, and live for ever. They live in all that perpetuates the remembrance of men on earth: in the recorded proofs of their own great actions, in the offspring of their intellect, in the deep engraved lines of public gratitude, and in the respect and homage of mankind. They live in their example; and they live, emphatically, and will live, in the influence which their lives and efforts, their principles and opinions, now exercise, and will continue to exercise, on the affairs of men, not only in their own country, but throughout the civilized world.'"
The Declaration of Independence was publicly proclaimed in Portsmouth, on the 18th of July, 1776, from the steps, facing on King street, of the Old State House, built in 1758 upon a ledge of rocks occupying the center of our present Market square, which stood there until removed in 1837; and when the reading was finished, Thomas Manning, a devoted patriot of Portsmouth, some of whose descendants now attend the Whipple school, threw his hat in the air, shouting "Huzza for Congress street," which then and there became its name; a name which in memory of the Congress of 1776 it will, I trust, forever bear. This story of the naming of Congress street is perhaps familiar to every Portsmouth citizen, and doubtless each also knows the locality of Liberty bridge, and I trust its story, too. But while all may know these incidents of our local history, and that the first overt act of the Revolution was the capture on the night of the 13th of December, 1774, at Fort William and Mary, now Fort Constitution, by the patriots of Portsmouth and vicinity, of the powder, which a little later was so bravely expended at Bunker Hill, yet few realize the fact that this William Whipple,--illustrious both in state and field--besides signing the Declaration of Independence, took a prominent part in the capture of Burgoyne, a victory which delivered the American cause from the greatest peril and brought joy without measure to the people, and that in behalf of General Gates he signed the articles of capitulation of the British troops; and afterward was one of the officers under whose charge they were conducted to their place of encampment on Winter hill, near Boston.
Let me tell his story as briefly as I may.
William Whipple was the son of Capt. William Whipple, senior, of Kittery, Me., a native of Ipswich, Mass., (whither his great grandfather, Elder John Whipple, came from Essex, England, in or before 1639) who died the 7th of August, 1751, aged 56 years. William Whipple, the son, was born the 14th of January, 1730, in the "Whipple garrison house" on Whipple's cove, Kittery, his father's house, and previously the home of his maternal grandfather and great grandfather, Robert Cutt, first and second, where Harrison J. Philbrick now resides.
He was educated in the public schools of Kittery, and early went to sea, as did so many Kittery and Portsmouth boys from that time up to the breaking out of the Rebellion, for a "life on the Ocean Wave" was for many years the most promising one here open to an energetic and ambitious boy. He obtained the command of a vessel before he was twenty-one years of age, and engaged in the European, West India and African trade, in one voyage, at least, bringing slaves, it is said, to this country from Africa, for at that time, more than one hundred and thirty years ago, and for thirty or forty hears afterwards, slaves were held in New Hampshire; and, indeed, the constitution of the United States authorized their importation from Africa into this country until the year 1808, fifty years later.
At 1759, at the age of 29, he abandoned the sea entirely, and entered into business in Portsmouth with his brother, under the firm name of William and Joseph Whipple, which connection lasted till about two years previous to the Revolution.
"At an early period of the contest, he took a decided part in favor of the colonies, in their opposition to the claims of Great Britain; and his townsmen, placing the highest confidence in his patriotism and integrity, frequently elected him to offices which required great firmness and moderation. In January, 1775, he was chosen one of the representatives of the town of Portsmouth to the provincial congress, held at Exeter for the purpose of choosing delegates to the general congress, which was to meet in Philadelphia on the tenth of May following.
"When the disputes between the two countries were approaching to a crisis, the provincial committee of safety of New Hampshire recommended that a provincial congress should be formed, for the purpose of directing and managing the public affairs of the state during the term of six months. The delegates from the town of Portsmouth were five in number, among whom was Captain Whipple, He accordingly attended the meeting of the congress, which convened at Exeter in the beginning of May, 1775, and was elected by that body one of the provincial committee of safety, who were to regulate the affairs of government during the war. In the early part of the same year, he was also chosen one of the committee of safety for the town of Portsmouth.
"At the close of the year 1775, the people of New Hampshire assumed a form of government, consisting of a house of representatives and a council of twelve, the president of which was the chief executive officer. Mr. Whipple was chosen one of the council, on the sixth of January, 1776, and on the twenty-third of the same month, a delegate to the general congress; he took his seat on the 29th of February following. He continued to be re-elected to that distinguished situation in the years 1777, 1778, and 1779, and applied himself with diligence and ability to the discharge of its duties, when the military services which he rendered during that period permitted him to be an acting member of the New Hampshire delegation. In the middle of September, 1779, he finally retired from congress, after having attended, without the least intermission, at his post of duty, from the fifth of the preceding month of November.
"Whilst in congress, he was considered a very useful and active member, and discharged the duties of his office in a manner alike honorable to himself and satisfactory to his constituents. In the current and committed business of the house, he displayed equal perseverance, ability, and application. His early pursuits rendered him particularly useful as a member of the committees of marine and of commerce; and, as one of the superintendents of the commissary's and quarter-master's departments, he labored, with much assiduity, to correct the abuses which had prevailed, and to place those establishments upon such a footing as might best conduce to the public service. When the depreciation of the continental currency became excessive, he strongly opposed new emissions of paper, as tending to the utter destruction of public confidence.
"Soon after Mr. Whipple's return to New Hampshire [in 1777], he was called on to exercise his patriotism in scenes and modes yet untried. He had buffeted the waves as a seaman; he had pursued the peaceful occupations of a merchant; and he had distinguished himself as a legislator and a statesman; but he was now called on to undergo the severer personal duties, and to gather the more conspicuous laurels of a soldier. The overwhelming force of Burgoyne having compelled the American troops to evacuate their strong post at Ticonderoga, universal alarm prevailed in the north. The committee of the 'New Hampshire Grants,' which had now formed themselves into a separate state, wrote in the most pressing terms to the committee of safety at Exeter, for assistance. The assembly of New Hampshire was immediately convened, and adopted the most effectual and decisive measures for the defence of the country. They formed the whole militia of the state into two brigades, giving the command of the first to William Whipple, and of the second to General Stark. General Stark was immediately ordered to march, 'to stop the progress of the enemy on our western frontiers', with one-fourth of his brigade, and one-fourth of three regiments belonging to the brigade of General Whipple.
"Burgoyne, presuming that no more effectual opposition would be made, flattered himself that he might advance without much annoyance. To the accomplishments and experience of his officers, was added a formidable train of artillery, with all the apparatus, stores, and equipments, which the nature of the service required. His army was principally composed of veteran corps of the best troops of Britain and Germany, and American loyalists furnished it with spies, scouts, and rangers: a numerous body of savages, in their own dress and with their own weapons, and characteristic ferocity, increased the terrors of its approach.
"Flushed by a confidence in his superior force, and deceived in his opinion of the number of friendly loyalists, the British general dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Baum from Fort Edward, with about fifteen hundred of his German troops, and a body of Indians, to overrun the 'Grants' as far as the Connecticut river, for the purpose of collecting horses to mount the dragoons, and cattle, both for labor and provisions. He was encountered at Bennington by the intrepid Stark, who carried the works which he had constructed, by assault, and killed or captured the greater part of his detachment; a few only escaped into the woods, and saved themselves by flight.
"This victory gave a severe check to the hopes of the enemy, and revived the spirits of the people after a long depression. The courage of the militia increased with their reputation, and they found that neither British nor German regulars were invincible. Burgoyne was weakened and disheartened by the event, and beginning to perceive the danger of his situation, he now considered the men of New Hampshire and the Green Mountains, whom he had viewed with contempt, as dangerous enemies. ...
"The northern army was now reinforced by the militia of all the neighboring states. Brigadier General Whipple marched with a great part of his brigade; and volunteers from all parts of New Hampshire hastened in great numbers to join the standard of General Gates. In the desperate battles of Stillwater and of Saratoga, the troops of New Hampshire gained a large share of the honor due to the American army. The consequence of these engagements was the surrender of General Burgoyne. When the British army capitulated, he was appointed, with Colonel Wilkinson, as the representative of General Gates, to meet two officers from General Burgoyne, for the purpose of propounding, discussing and settling several subordinate articles and regulations springing from the preliminary proposals of the British general, and which required explanation and precision before the definitive treaty could be properly executed. By concert with Major Kingston, a tent was pitched between the advanced guards of the two armies, where they met Lieutenant-Colonel Sutherland, and Captain Craig of the forty-seventh regiment, on the afternoon of the sixteenth of October, 1777. Having produced and exchanged credentials, they proceeded to discuss the objects of their appointment, and in the evening signed the articles of capitulation. After the attainment of this grand object, General Whipple was selected as one of the officers, under whose command the British troops were conducted to their destined encampment on Winter hill, near Boston.
"General Whipple was attended on this expedition by a valuable negro servant named Prince, whom he had imported from Africa many years before. On his way to the army, he told his servant that if they should be called into action, he expected that he would behave like a man of courage, and fight bravely for his country. Prince replied, 'Sir, I have no inducement to fight; but if I had my liberty, I would endeavor to defend it to the last drop of my blood.' The General manumitted him on the spot. ...
"Nor was the expedition against Burgoyne the only military affair that Mr. Whipple was engaged in during his absence from congress.
"It may be recollected that in the latter part of the summer [of 1778], when Count d'Estaing had abandoned his project of attacking the British fleet at New York, a plan was formed for his co-operation with General Sullivan in retaking Rhode Island from the British. To aid in this measure the militia of the adjoining states were called out, and the detachment of New Hampshire was placed under the command of General Whipple. The scheme, owing to some accident, or the neglect of a proper understanding, proved unsuccessful, and General Sullivan was only able to save his army by a judicious retreat.
"During this brief campaign, it is recorded, that one morning [the 29th of August, 1778], whilst a number of officers were at breakfast at the general's quarters, at the position on the north end of the island [on which Newport is situated], the British advanced to an eminence about three quarters of a mile distant; perceiving horses and a guard before the door, they discharged a field piece, which killed one of the horses, and the ball, penetrating the side of the house, passed under the table where the officers were sitting, and shattered the leg of the brigade major of General Whipple's [brigade] in such a manner that amputation was necessary." This officer was Major John Samuel Sherburne, of Portsmouth, nephew of General Whipple's wife, and brother of Governor Langdon's, who was subsequently a member of Congress (1793-1796), and judge of the United States Court for the district of New Hampshire. He was irreverently called "Cork-leg Sherburne" by the boys of long ago, and afterwards resided in the house on Court street next west of the Court house.
"The design for which the militia were called out having thus proved abortive, many of them were discharged, and General Whipple with those under his command returned to New Hampshire. According to the pay-roll for the general and staff of his division of volunteers, it appears that he took the command on the 26th of July, and returned on the 5th of September 1778."
"The high consideration in which his services were held by congress did not cease to accompany Mr. Whipple in his retirement. In the beginning of the year 1780 he was appointed a commissioner of the board of admiralty, which office he declined accepting, owing to the situation of his private affairs."
"In the [same] year, 1780, immediately after his retirement from Congress, he was elected a member of the legislature, to which office he was repeatedly chosen [1780 to 1784] and continued to enjoy the confidence and approbation of his fellow-citizens."
"In May, 1782, the superintendent of finance, confiding in 'his inclination and abilities to promote the interests of the United States,' appointed Mr. Whipple receiver for the state of New Hampshire, a commission at once arduous and unpopular. It was invariably the rule of Mr. [Robert] Morris to grant this appointment only to men of tried integrity and invincible patriotism. The duty of the office was not only to receive and transmit the sums collected in the state, but to expedite that collection by all proper means, and incessantly to urge the local authorities to comply with the requisitions of congress." This position he retained, at Mr. Morris' solicitation, and much against his own wishes, until August, 1784.
In 1782 he was president of a court, organized by Congress, which met at Trenton, New Jersey, to determine the dispute, "between the states of Pennsylvania and Connecticut, relative to certain lands at Wyoming," which resulted in the unanimous decision of the court that Connecticut had "no right to the lands in controversy."
General Whipple resigned his military appointment June 20th, 1782, and his failing health prevented him, after this time, "from engaging in the more active scenes of life."
"On the [same day, the] twentieth of June, 1782, he was appointed a judge of the superior court of judicature" of New Hampshire, and "on the twenty-fifth of December, 1784, ... a justice of the peace and quorum throughout the state."
General Whipple died in Portsmouth, "on the twenty-eighth day of November, 1785, in the fifty-fifth year of his age," and "his body was deposited in the North burying ground in Portsmouth."
William Whipple married his cousin, Catharine [i.e., Katharine] Moffatt, of Portsmouth, who died in 1823, at the very advanced age of 100 years. He left no descendants. It is said he had seven children, all of whom died in infancy, but his son "William Whipple, died April 29th, 1773, aged 1 year," whose stone stands near his own in the North cemetery, is the the only one of whose birth or death we have positive evidence.
How can I, in the time allotted to me, tell you of the many things in which the men and women of Whipple's blood have taken part from the first settlement of the Colonies until now!
It is impossible to do the subject justice; and for information concerning his ancestors and family, I must refer you to the Appendix to "The Presentation of Flags to the Schools of Portsmouth, N.H., October 9th, 1890, by Storer Post," where several letters written by General Whipple during the Revolution, and many details of his life will also be found. [See Addenda]
But now, I must at least pay my tribute, and acknowledge the indebtedness of the Post for his sympathy and generous aid in procuring this portrait to that eminent poet, essayist and statesman, James Russell Lowell, great grandson of General Whipple's sister, Mary (Whipple) Traill, whose recent death, 12th August, 1891, in Cambridge, Mass., the whole English speaking world laments; for he with all his father's family always had a strong interest in Portsmouth, and in the Portsmouth stock from which they sprung.
Scarcely a year has gone by since the day when Storer Post presented the Flags to the Schools of Portsmouth, and yet the comrades who spoke for the Post at both the Whipple and Farragut schools have passed to a better world. Sincerely mourning their deaths, we know that the people of Portsmouth grieve with us for the good citizens and gallant men who have gone,--for the soldier (George E. Hodgdon, Lieut. 10th N.H. Infantry, and Capt. U.S.C.T.)--brave in war, and in peace the earnest student of the history of our city, our mayor, friend, and the protector of the poor and weak, whose nobility of heart won for him the proud title of "counsel for the defence,"--for the sailor (Captain Arthur R. Yates, U.S. Navy)--brave in war, without peer in peace, our Naval Bayard, beloved by all who knew him.
And now, before closing, may I, in behalf of my comrades of the Grand Army and of this meeting, express the hope that before long a marble tablet may be placed on the front of the Whipple school to tell every passer by its name and that Portsmouth here honors her Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Let us trust, also, that before many months a substantial wall, now much needed, may be erected between the land of the Boston and Maine railroad and the south western part of the old North cemetery, where rests not only the ashes of William Whipple, but of many others whose names and fame are very dear to the people of Portsmouth.
"Mr. Whipple was possessed of a strong mind, and quick discernment: he was easy in his manners, courteous in his deportment, correct in his habits, and constant in his friendships. He enjoyed through life a great share of the public confidence, and although his early education was limited, his natural good sense, and accurate observations, enabled him to discharge the duties of the several offices with which he was intrusted, with credit to himself and benefit to the public. In the various scenes of life in which he engaged, he constantly manifested an honest and persevering spirit of emulation, which conducted him with rapid strides to distinction. As a sailor, he speedily attained the highest rank in the profession; as a merchant, he was circumspect and industrious; as a congressman, he was firm and fearless; as a legislator, he was honest and able; as a commander, he was cool and courageous; as a judge, he was dignified and impartial; and as a member of many subordinate public offices, he was alert and persevering. Few men rose more rapidly and worthily in the scale of society, or bore their new honors with more modesty and propriety."
One hundred and fifteen years have passed since William Whipple pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor, in behalf of our National liberty and freedom; but while love of country and the flag shall be cherished among us, let us trust that the teachers and pupils of the Whipple school will keep his memory green, and on each recurring Memorial Day and Fourth of July, will garland his grave with flowers, in perpetual memory of the fact that by his hand the people of Portsmouth signed, and through him claim their share, in the glory of the Declaration of Independence.