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Hugh Williamson

Birthplace: Nottingham Township, PA
Death: May 22, 1819 (83)
New York, New York, United States (stabbed to death)
Place of Burial: Trinity Churchyard Manhattan New York County (Manhattan) New York, USA Plot: Interred in the Apthorp family vault
Immediate Family:

Son of John W. Williamson, Sr. and Mary Williamson
Husband of Maria Apthorp Williamson
Father of David Williamson; Charles Apthorp Williamson and John Williamson
Brother of John Cary Williamson; Margaret Reynolds and Samuel Williamson

Managed by: Peter Christian Washburn
Last Updated:

About Hugh Williamson

Hugh Williamson, educator, physician, legislator, merchant, scientist, scholar, and signer of the U.S. Constitution for North Carolina.

Hugh was the oldest of ten children—four girls and six boys—growing up under the influence of a typical Scots-Irish home, which taught thrift, industry, resourcefulness, self-reliance, and a deep Presbyterian devotion to the church.

These various activities brought Williamson to the attention of North Carolina's political leaders. Facing the threat of a British invasion of the region from the sea and bases in Florida, the state legislature voted to raise a force of 4,000 men to assist South Carolina. When Governor Richard Caswell, with the rank of major general, took to the field at the head of these citizen-soldiers, he named Williamson to serve as the state's Physician and Surgeon General, a post Williamson held until the end of the war.



Birth: Dec. 5, 1735 Death: May 22, 1819

Congressman, Signer of US Constitution. A member of the first graduating class of what is now the University of Pennsylvania; he left college to lead a life full of diverse career experiences including being a licensed clergyman, a professor of mathematics, a physician, a merchant and an author. As a member of the American Philosophical Society he was commissioned to observe the movements of Mercury and Venus. Although he was a native New Englander he returned from a trip to England, in 1776, to settle in North Carolina. It was there that he became involved in politics. From 1779 to 1782 he was the surgeon-general for the North Carolina militia. From 1782 to 1785 and from 1787 to 1788 he served in the Continental Congress. It was in 1787 that he was sent as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia. He was a vocal participant pushing for representation, in the new nation's legislative branch, to be based on population, a position that would benefit the larger states. After the new government was established the Federalist was elected to the First and Second Congresses representing his North Carolina district from 1790 to 1793. As a Congressman he opposed the Jay Treaty, the whiskey tax and the establishment of the Bank of the United States. After serving two terms he moved to New York City where he once again assumed his writing career. In the latter stages of his life he published works on North Carolina history, the lightening rod, and the affects of the climate on the health of humans. ALthough out of politics, the Pennsylvania native continued to demonstrate concern for his fellow man by volunteering in an orphanage, a New York City hospital and for the humane society. He remained active in his scientific, literary and community service pursuits until his death. (bio by: Bigwoo)

Burial: Trinity Churchyard Manhattan New York County (Manhattan) New York, USA Plot: Interred in the Apthorp family vault

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Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: Mar 15, 1999 Find A Grave Memorial# 4722


Trinity Church, which is located While thousands flock each year
in Manhattan's financial district. to the graves of Ben Franklin

                                                                                                            and George Washington, hardly
                                                                                                            anyone visits the burial site of
                                                                                                            fellow Constitution signer Hugh

Hugh Williamson is interred in the Because his name is not on his Apthorp family vault, the Apthorps grave, most of those who stroll being his wife's family. Their last past the marker at Trinity do name is inscribed on the slab not know about the important above the vault, but Williamson figure buried beneath them. receives no mention.

                                      *** Interesting Facts ***

* Hugh Williamson was born on December 5, 1735 in Chester County, Pennsylvania to his parents, John and Mary. Their eldest son was the recipient of a good education, attending several private academies before enrolling at the College of Philadelphia. He graduated from that establishment in 1757. Williamson intended to become a Presbyterian minister afterward, but he eventually abandoned that dream and returned to the College of Philadelphia.

  • Williamson earned his masters degree in 1760 and secured a position teaching mathematics at his alma mater, which is now the University of Pennsylvania. Four years later, he departed for Scotland. In Edinburgh, Williamson studied in the field of medicine. He also spent time in London and in the Netherlands, and it was in the latter place that he received his medical degree. The Pennsylvanian returned home in 1768.
  • After his arrival in Philadelphia, Williamson became a member of the American Philosophical Society and opened his own medical practice. He remained an advocate for education, and was on his way to England in 1773 to do some fundraising for Newark Academy when the ship he was riding aboard stopped in Boston. While he was there, Williamson witnessed the Boston Tea Party. It was at this point that he became interested in politics and the battle between Britain and its colonies.
  • During his stay in England, which lasted several years, Williamson became acquainted with Benjamin Franklin and other colonists overseas that were for freedom. In 1776, after he caught wind of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Williamson set sail for home. He was captured during his voyage, but the colonist managed to escape. The following year, he settled in Edenton, North Carolina, where he opened several businesses and established a medical practice. Subsequently, he served as a military physician during the American Revolution.
  • In 1782, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons, as well as Continental Congress. Williamson was also an attendee of the Annapolis Convention and the Constitutional Convention, being one of thirty-nine people to sign the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, he was elected to two terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1789, Williamson wed Maria Apthorp, with whom he had two sons. Not long after giving birth to their second child, Maria passed away. Hugh Williamson subsequently retired from public service and lived with his wife's family in New York City. He was buried there after his death in 1819.

Spouse: Maria Apthorp Williamson ( -1790)

Political Party: Federalist Party

Last Words: Unknown


Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Hugh Williamson was a physician and polymath who served as one of North Carolina’s delegates to the Federal Constitutional Convention. Active in the debates at the Convention, Williamson was a leading intellectual in Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary America.
Williamson’s parents were devout Presbyterians, and his father enrolled Williamson in a Presbyterian school, where he studied the liberal arts. Upon graduation from this school, Williamson matriculated at the new College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). At the college, Williamson not only studied mathematics but also taught Latin and English to secondary school students, and he graduated in May 1757 with a bachelor’s in mathematics. Williamson then left Philadelphia to study theology, first in Pennsylvania and later in Connecticut. He soon decided to abandon these studies, returning to the College of Philadelphia to study medicine. Earning a master’s degree in 1760, he taught at the college while pursuing doctoral studies. In 1763, his studies took him to Britain. He finally earned an M.D. from Utrecht University in Holland and in 1768 returned to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, Williamson not only practiced medicine but also became a renowned independent scholar. Within months of his arrival in Philadelphia, he was inducted into the American Philosophical Society, which had been founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1763. Led by luminaries such as Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and Thomas Jefferson, the members of this organization studied not philosophy as we know it today but, rather, natural philosophy – to wit, natural science, with an emphasis on practical knowledge. Though a physician by profession, Williamson, as a member of the Philosophical Society, soon began writing on subjects as diverse as climatology, marine biology, and astronomy. His “Attempt to Account for the Change of Climate” is perhaps his most famous scientific work; far from being the work of an amateur, it reveals a strong grasp of causal logic and the scientific method. In the early 1770s, Williamson became widely recognized as a scholar not only in America but also in Britain and the Netherlands. Traveling widely, he happened to be in Boston when the Tea Party occurred. Immediately after witnessing the event, Williamson sailed from Boston to England on the first ship to depart the city. Because Williamson had left Boston so soon after the Tea Party, the English Privy Council questioned him about the Tea Party. While in Britain, Williamson penned an open letter to Lord Mansfield, the longtime chief justice of the King’s Bench, in which he explicated the grievances of the colonies. Published in both London and America, this open letter, titled The Plea of the Colonies on the Charges Brought Against Them by Lord Mansfield, and Others, in a Letter to His Lordship, became a classic pamphlet of the American Revolution. At the outset of the Revolution, Williamson traveled to the Netherlands, though he left the Continent for Philadelphia when the Declaration of Independence was signed. He attempted to assist the war effort by joining the Continentals as a military physician, but they did not desire his assistance. He thus resumed the practice of medicine around Philadelphia. The British occupation of Philadelphia drove Williamson, and thousands of others, out of the city. He briefly moved to Charleston to work as a merchant. As Williamson was sailing from Charleston to Baltimore, the movements of British forces left him with no safe option but to drop anchor at Edenton, North Carolina. He stayed in the city indefinitely, working as tanner, shipbuilder, and physician. Already a prominent figure in America, Williamson attracted the attention of Governor Richard Caswell, who welcomed Williamson’s medical expertise. After performing such services as inoculating North Carolinian soldiers against smallpox, Williamson was named the state’s surgeon general. In 1782, Edenton elected Williamson to the General Assembly, and within months, he joined the Continental Congress, where he made himself an expert on all matters of concern to North Carolina. After completing three terms in the Congress, he returned to Edenton and again was elected to the General Assembly. In 1787, Williamson was named a delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention. Appointed to five committees (the second most of any delegate to the convention) and giving more than seventy speeches, Williamson was one of the most active delegates in Philadelphia. He had a particularly strong interest in economic questions, serving on committees to consider questions such as state debts and the slave trade. While considering these questions of immediate import to the young republic, Williamson also made a large number of smaller contributions to the Constitution. After other delegates proposed that Federal senators serve seven-year terms, Williamson suggested the six-year term stipulated in the Constitution. Moreover, his comments on the procedure for trying the president after impeachment affected the outcome of that debate – though granting the Supreme Court the power to try the president had been considered, delegates deemed trial by the Senate a more desirable option. After the convention, Williamson wrote a number of essays in support of the new Constitution, and he attended the Fayetteville Convention of 1789. He was elected to the House of Representatives from North Carolina after ratification, and, as in the Constitutional Convention, was especially active on economic issues. He nonetheless declined to run for reelection due to the early death of his wife. Upon his departure from Congress, Williamson retired from political life, moving to New York to resume intellectual pursuits. During the decades he spent in New York, he wrote numerous scholarly works, including an authoritative history of North Carolina, before his death in 1819. Sources: Bruce R. Dain, A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2003); John L. Humber, “Hugh Williamson,” in Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell (Chapel Hill, 1996); John R. Vile, The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America’s Founding (Santa Barbara, 2005); Hugh Williamson, The History of North Carolina (Philadelphia, 1812) See Also: Related Categories: Ratification Debates, Federalist, Early America, Revolution Era Related Encyclopedia Entries: William Hooper (1742-1790), Federalist Party, Francis Oliver (1740-1808), William Richardson Davie (1756-1820), William Blount (1749-1800), James Iredell, Sr. (1751-1799), Alfred Moore (1755-1810), Principles of an American Whig, Hillsborough Convention of 1788, Ratification Debates, An Address to the Freemen of North Carolina (Publicola), A Speech at Edenton, Archibald Maclaine (1728-1790), Person County (1792), Jones County (1779), William Henry Hill (1767-1808) Related Commentary: Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, A Duel to End All Duels: Richard Dobbs Spaight Vs. John Stanly

Timeline: 1664-1775 , 1776-1835 Region: Statewide

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Hugh Williamson's Timeline

December 5, 1735
Nottingham Township, PA
May 22, 1819
Age 83
New York, New York, United States
May 22, 1819
Age 83
Trinity Churchyard Manhattan New York County (Manhattan) New York, USA Plot: Interred in the Apthorp family vault