Rhode Island Stampless Covers & Letters
Biography of William Ellery


Portrait of William Ellery

Section of Declaration of Independence
With Ellery Signature

William Ellery

William Ellery
was born in Newport, Rhode Island on December 22, 1727 to William Ellery Sr. and Elizabeth Almy. The Ellery's were originally from Bristol, England. William Ellery's Great Grandfather, William Ellery was born in Bristol England in 1643 and emigrated to Glocester, Massachusetts in 1662. William's father, William Ellery Sr. was a noted Newport Merchant and Slave Trader.

William was tutored at home by his father before entering Harvard at the age of 16 and graduating in his twentieth year. He returned to Newport in 1847 and tried his hand at several different commercial enterprises, settling on none, but earning enough to support his family in a modest way. 

William married Ann Remington in 1850. Ann died in 1864 and William married Abigail Carey in 1867. William had 7 children by Ann and 8 children by Abigail. (One of William and Abigail's sons, George Wanton Ellery also served in the position of Collector for the Port of Newport.) William's father died in 1864 leaving him a large inheritance and in 1870 he took up the practice of law at the age of 43.

William was an active member of the "Sons of Liberty" and along with William Vernon and Henry Marchant was a leader in the "Stamp Act Riot" of August 1765. Following the death of Samuel Ward, he was elected as his replacement to the Continental Congress in 1776 and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He served from 1776 to 1781 and again from 1783 to 1785. While serving in the Continental Congress, Ellery's home and property were destroyed by the British during their occupation of Newport. In 1785 he joined the abolitionist movement and was one of the leading advocates of the abolition of slavery.

After the War, Ellery was appointed as Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island and in 1790, he was appointed by President Washington to the position of Collector of the Customs for the Port of Newport, which position he held until his death in 1820

William Ellery's active enforcement of the laws against slave trading infuriated the Rhode Island slave traders and in 1800, the slave trader John Brown, who was elected to congress in 1799 sponsored a bill to create a separate district for Bristol. On February 23, 1800, (pre-dating this letter by one month) Congress created a separate customs district for Bristol, Rhode Island. (Obviously word of this appointment had not reached all parties yet, as it renders the point of this letter moot.) The first collector for Bristol was Jonathan Russell, who continued to actively enforce the slave trading laws. This didn't sit well with the D'Wolfs and the other slave trading families of Bristol and they arranged through their connections and friendship with President Jefferson for his removal and replacement by Charles Collins in 1804. This was certainly putting the Fox in charge of the Hen House, as Collins was formerly a captain on D'Wolf Slave Ships.

NOTE: In 1799 Ellery had the D'Wolf schooner Lucy, (Captain Charles Collins) seized for engaging in the slave trade. The vessel was condemned and placed at auction in Bristol. Ellery appointed the local surveyor, Samuel Bosworth to bid on Lucy for the government. John Brown and several other slavers at first attempted to persuade Bosworth to turn down the assignment and when this didn't work, a gang hired by the D'Wolfs and disguised as Indians kidnapped him and carried him in a small boat several miles up the bay. The D'wolfs, than bought their vessel back for a trifling amount.

William Ellery died on February 20, 1820 in Newport, Rhode Island while still serving as the Collector for Newport. He is buried in the Common Burial Ground on Farewell Street.


Oliver Wolcott Jr. was born in on January 11, 1760 in Litchfield, Connecticut and was the son of Oliver Walcott Sr., (signer of the Declaration of Independence). He graduated from Yale University in 1778 and was admitted to the bar in 1781. He served as Auditor of the Treasury from 1789 to 1791 and Comptroller from 1791 to 1795. He was a protégée of Alexander Hamilton and succeeded him as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795. He was falsely accused by the Republicans in 1800 of misappropriating funds, (he was later cleared) and resigned on December 31, 1800. He served as Governor of Connecticut from 1817 to 1827

Oliver Walcott died on June 1, 1833 in New York City and is interred at the East Cemetery in Litchfield, Connecticut.

Charles A. Goodrich - Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence 
Alexander Boyd Hawes - Off Soundings - Aspects of the Maritime History of Rhode Island 
John Fitzhugh Millar
- Rhode Island: Forgotten Leader of the Revolutionary Era 
Rhode Island Historical Society  

RI Historical Society
Stampless I
Stampless II

Stampless III
Stampless IV
Stampless V
Stampless VI
Brown & Ives Letters
The Hazard Family Letters
Joseph Tillinghast
Free Franked Letters
DeWolf Family Letters

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William Ellery BIO