Hugh Williamson—North Carolina’s Ben Franklin

An image held by the State Archives of the signers of the Constitution from North Carolina. Hugh Williamson is in the top left corner

An image held by the State Archives of the signers of the Constitution from North Carolina. Hugh Williamson is in the top left corner

On March 14, 1787, Dr. Hugh Williamson was appointed as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.  Williamson was born in 1735 in Pennsylvania. After studying medicine in Philadelphia and Europe, he opened a medical practice in Philadelphia and tinkered with astronomy and natural sciences in his spare time.

In 1773, while en route to England, Williamson’s vessel stopped in Boston where he witnessed the turmoil caused by the Stamp Act and the Boston Tea Party. In London Williamson relayed the news to the Privy Council that, if the government did not alter its course, civil war or revolution was imminent.  While in Britain, Williamson also became close friends with Benjamin Franklin and wrote a letter to Britain’s chief justice, entitled “Plea for the Colonies.”

In late 1777 Williamson settled in Edenton. He volunteered his services to Governor Richard Caswell and began vaccinating North Carolina Continental troops for smallpox. He was soon appointed surgeon general of the entire North Carolina militia.

Before becoming Surgeon General, Williamson had pursued a political career and represented the state at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. A strong Federalist, he worked hard for the ratification of the Constitution.  Williamson later wrote A History of North Carolina, the first post-Revolutionary history of the state.

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