History In Ink®  Historical Autographs






William Ellery

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

War-dated receipt written and signed by Ellery

William Ellery, 1727–1820.  Signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.  Partial Autograph Document Signed, William Ellery, 1¾” x 2½”, [no place], October 28, 1780.

This small piece, cut from a larger document, is a receipt that Ellery has written to acknowledge that he [re]cd payment in full.”  He has dated the piece “Oct. 28th 1780” in his hand.  Handwriting on the back, in another hand, suggests that this small receipt has been clipped from the original promissory note, or perhaps a handwritten copy of the original.  By its truncated reference to “late One of the Dele,” it seems to refer to Ellery as formerly a delegate to the Continental Congress.

Ellery took his seat in the Continental Congress on May 14, 1776, to replace the deceased Samuel Ward in the Rhode Island delegation.  Previously, Ellery, a lawyer who practiced law in Newport, had been active in Rhode Islandʼs patriotic movement and a member of the Sons of Liberty.  As a member of the Rhode Island assembly, in May 1776 he voted in favor of Rhode Islandʼs declaration that it was free of British rule—the first colony to do so.  In the Continental Congress, Ellery then forcefully advocated that all of the colonies declare their independence.

Ellery was devoted to the notion of American independence.  When one of his children died while he was serving in the Continental Congress, Ellery wrote to a friend, “He that loveth father or mother, he that loveth son or daughter more than liberty, is not worthy of her.”

In 1778, Ellery voted for and signed the Articles of Confederation, the forerunner of the current United States Constitution.  He left the Continental Congress in 1779 but returned again in 1781, serving until 1785.  During his second stint in the Congress, he seconded and strongly supported legislation that forbade slavery in the states that would be formed in the Northwest Territory.

This is a very nice document, small as it is.  Elleryʼs signature is large and bold.  A bit of the first stroke in the “W” in “William” has been trimmed away.  There is some brushing to the first three numbers of the year 1780, and the piece is slightly stained, likely from prior mounting, which has left a very small patch of mounting traces on the back.  Overall the piece is in fine condition.




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