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William Williams

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

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Perhaps the earliest Williams document available,

Williams, as the town clerk, documents the recording of a deed

William Williams, 1731–1811.  Signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Hampshire.  Autograph Document Signed, Wm Williams, 2" x 6⅜", Lebanon, [Connecticut], February 20, 1753.

This is by far the earliest document signed by Williams that we have found, and it may be the earliest piece ever available on the autograph market.  The records of American Book Prices Current show that, since 1975, the earliest Williams piece sold at auction was dated June 21, 1763—more than ten years after Williams wrote and signed this document.  Our search located only one earlier Williams document, a deed dated January 13, 1762.

In his capacity as the town clerk of Lebanon, Connecticut, Williams penned and signed this entry on the back of a deed to note its recordation in the land records the year after he became the clerk at age 21.  He notes:  “This Deed was Recorded Febry 20. 1753  /  in Lebn 8th Book of Records page 99  /  By Wm Williams Registr."

Williams graduated from Harvard with a degree in law in 1751.  The next year, he was elected the Lebanon town clerk, a position that he held some 44 years, until 1796.

Williams, who later became the son-in-law of Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, was a merchant who likewise had a long political career.  He served 27 years as a selectman in Lebanon and 43 years in the Connecticut Assembly, 20 in the Lower House, where he served as Speaker, and 23 in the Upper House.  He also served 35 years as a judge of the Windham County Court and probate judge for the Windham District.

Williams was vocal in his opposition to British colonial treatment, particularly the Townshend Duties and the subsequent Coercive Acts, also known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts, that Parliament passed to punish Boston.  He wrote newspaper articles advancing the colonial viewpoint, and he drafted revolutionary documents for Trumbull, who at the time was the royal governor of Connecticut.  In 1775, Williams was part of a group that took money from the treasury, in exchange for their promissory notes, to finance the surprise attack on Fort Ticonderoga.  He was a member of the Sons of Liberty and served on both Connecticutʼs Committee of Correspondence and its Council of Safety. 

In June 1776, the Connecticut Assembly appointed Williams to take the place of Oliver Wolcott, who had become ill, in the Connecticut delegation to the Second Continental Congress.  Williams did not arrive in time to vote on the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, but he was present and signed it when the delegates signed the document on August 4, 1776.  He also served on the committee to draft the Articles of Confederation and later served as a member of the Connecticut state convention of 1787 that helped to ratify the United States Constitution.

This is a very nice piece.  Williams has penned and signed it in brown ink.  The paper is trimmed diagonally at the bottom.  A portion of the handwritten deed appears on the back side and bleeds through slightly in a few spots.  There are a couple of foxing spots, one of which affects the first name in Williamsʼs signature.  There is also a small, ¼" tear at the right margin, but it affects nothing.  The piece is in fine condition.



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