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Who is the Wilmington man who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Ben Steelman

William Hooper, who opened a law practice in Wilmington in 1763, was one of three North Carolina signers of the Declaration, along with Joseph Hewes and John Penn.

Born June 17, 1742, in Marblehead, Mass., he graduated from Harvard in 1760 and studied law under the Boston patriot leader James Otis. In June 1766, he served as recorder for Cape Fear borough. In 1767, he married Anne Clark, the daughter of a wealthy former high sheriff of New Hanover County. In 1770 he was appointed deputy attorney general for the colony.

Hooper sided with the Crown and with Gov. William Tryon during the “Regulator” uprising in the Piedmont, and in 1770, he was roughly dragged through the streets of Hillsborough by settlers protesting colonial taxes. In 1771, he was present on the Crown’s side in the Battle of Alamance, which crushed the Regulators.

In January 1773, he represented the Scots settlement at Campbelltown (modern-day Fayetteville) in the Provincial Assembly, but in 1774, he built his home, “Finian” about 8 miles below Wilmington on Masonboro Sound.

In December 1773, he was re-elected to the Provincial Assembly from New Hanover County and soon joined the Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry. As early as 1774, in a letter to his friend James Iredell, he predicted that the American colonies would break away from Britain — earning him the title “Prophet of Independence.”

The First Provincial Congress elected Hooper to the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia on Sept. 20, 1774. John Adams, in his diary, identified Hooper as one of the three top orators of the Congress, along with Patrick Henry and Henry Lee of Virgina. Hooper soon returned to Wilmington to serve on the local Committee of Safety. By April 1775, however, he was back in Congress and served on Thomas Jefferson’s committee to draft the Declaration. Hooper, however, was actually absent for the official signing on July 4. (He signed his name to the amended Declaration of Independence on Aug. 2, 1776.)

In 1777, Hooper caught yellow fever, and he resigned his seat in Congress in April of that year.

Hooper represented Wilmington in the General Assembly from 1777-1781. He was forced to flee the town with the arrival of the British, despite suffering from malaria and a swollen right arm. Finian was shelled, and another house that belonged to Hooper outside Wilmington was burned.

After the war, Hooper remained in Hillsborough, where his family had resettled, and there he died on Oct. 4, 1790. He was buried in Hillsborough’s Old Town Cemetery, but in 1894, his remains were exhumed and reburied by patriotic groups (along with those of Hewes and Penn) on the grounds of the new Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

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