A signer of the Constitution licensed to preach?
This was Hugh Williamson, born DECEMBER 5, 1735.
In 1754, he attended the newly formed school, College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania), and graduated in the school’s first class.
His father died five days later.
He taught Spanish at Philadelphia Academy (founded by Ben Franklin – now University of Pennsylvania).
At age 24, Hugh Williamson decided to go into the ministry as a Presbyterian preacher.
John Neal recorded in the Trinity College Historical Society Papers (NY: AMS Press, 1915):
“In 1759 he went to Connecticut, where he pursued his theological studies and was licensed to preach. After returning from Connecticut, he was admitted to membership in the Presbytery of Philadelphia (the oldest in America) … (and there) preached nearly two years.”
Hugh Williamson visited and prayed for the sick, and gave sermons, until a chronic chest weakness convinced him he had to pursue a career that did not involve public speaking.
In 1760, Williamson joined the College of Philadelphia faculty as a professor of mathematics.
After four years, he traveled to Europe to study medicine and received a degree from the prestigious University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
After graduation, Williamson practiced medicine in Philadelphia.
In 1773, Williamson sailed for England to raise funds for Newark Academy, but stopped along the way in Boston, where he witnessed the Boston Tea Party.
Upon reaching London, the Privy Council summoned him to testify on the rebellious actions in America.
When the Privy Council began to discuss how to punish Boston for the Tea Party, Dr. Hugh Williamson warned them that continuing their high taxes would provoke the colonies into rebellion.
He argued further that Americans should be entitled to full rights as Englishmen.
Another American in London who heard of Williamson’s patriotic answers was Ben Franklin.
Returning to America in 1777, Dr. Hugh Williamson distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War as a Surgeon General caring for wounded North Carolina troops.
In 1782, North Carolina elected him as a representative to Congress where he helped write the Northwest Territory laws, forbidding slavery and:
“…reserving the central section of every township for the maintenance of public schools and the section immediately to the northward for the support of religion.”
Dr. Hugh Williamson signed the U.S. Constitution and helped convinced North Carolina to ratify it.
Thomas Jefferson described Dr. Hugh Williamson at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: “He was a useful member, of an acute mind, attentive to business, and of an high degree of erudition.”
Dr. Hugh Williamson later became wealthy through investments and land speculations, and wrote extensively for medical and literary societies, winning international acclaim.
He participated with Ben Franklin in conducting electrical experiments.
In 1811, Dr. Hugh Williamson wrote a respected book, Observations of the Climate in Different Parts of America, in which he refuted “higher criticism” of scripture and gave scientific explanation for the credibility of stories in the Bible, such as Noah’s flood and the events of Moses’ exodus.
Dr. Hugh Williamson served as one of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina.
He was buried at Trinity Church.
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
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