Samuel Ward – Continental Congressman – Rhode Island


Samuel Ward (1725–1776) was a farmer, politician, Supreme Court Justice, Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and a delegate to the Continental Congress. The son of an earlier Rhode Island Governor, Richard Ward, he was well educated as he grew up in a large Newport, Rhode Island family. After marrying, he and his new wife received property in Westerly, Rhode Island from his father-in-law, and upon settling there he took up farming. Entering politics as a fairly young man, he soon took sides in the hard money/paper money controversy, favoring hard money, or specie. His primary rival over the money issue was Providence politician Stephen Hopkins, and the two men became bitter rivals, alternating as governors of the colony for several terms.

During this time of political activity, Ward became a founder and trustee of Rhode Island’s first college, Brown University. The most contentious issue he faced during his three years as governor involved the Stamp Act which had been passed by the British Parliament just before he took office for the second time. This act, putting a tax on all official documents and newspapers, infuriated the American colonists, being done without their consent. Representatives of the colonies met to discuss the unpopular act, but when it came time for the colonial governors to take a position in regards to the act, Ward was the only one who refused it, threatening his position, but bringing him recognition as a great patriot.

After last serving as governor in 1767, Ward retired to his farm in Westerly, but in 1774 he was called back into service as a delegate to the Continental Congress. War was looming with the mother country, and to this end he devoted all of his energy. After hostilities began, Ward made his famous statement, ending with “Heaven save my country, is my first, my last, and almost my only prayer.” During a meeting of the Congress in Philadelphia, slightly more than three months before the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, he died of smallpox, and was buried in a local cemetery. His remains were later re-interred in the Common Burying Ground in Newport.

== Ancestry and early life ==

Born in Newport in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1725, Ward was the son of an earlier Rhode Island colonial governor, Richard Ward. Samuel Ward’s mother, Mary Tillinghast, was a daughter of John Tillinghast and Isabel Sayles, and a granddaughter of Pardon Tillinghast who had come from Seven Cliffs, Sussex, England.{sfn|Austin|1887|p=202} She was also a granddaughter of John Sayles and Mary Williams, and a great granddaughter of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, making Ward the great great grandson of the colony’s founder.{sfn|Austin|1887|p=370} Ward’s great grandfather, John Ward, came from Gloucester, England, and had been an officer in Cromwell’s Army, but came to the American colonies following the accession of King Charles II to the English throne.{sfn|Austin|1887|p=406}

Ward, the ninth of 14 children,{sfn|Austin|1887|p=407} grew up in a home of liberal tastes and cultivated manners, and was entreated to the discipline and instruction of a celebrated grammar school in his home town.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1073} He may also have been tutored by his older brother, Thomas, who had graduated from Harvard College in 1733.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1073} As a young man Ward married Anne Ray, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer on Block Island, from whom the couple received land in Westerly, and settled there as farmers.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1073} He devoted much effort to improving the breeds of domestic animals, and he raised a breed of racehorse known as the Narraganset pacer.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1073}

== Political life ==

Ward first became active in politics in 1756 when he was elected as a Deputy from Westerly, a position he held for three years.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1074} The divisive political issue of the day was the use of hard money, or specie, versus the use of paper money, and Ward sided with the former group, while his chief rival, Stephen Hopkins of Providence sided with the latter.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1074} So bitter was the animosity between these two men that Hopkins commenced an action for slander against Ward, putting damages at 40,000 pounds.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1074} The case was moved to Massachusetts for a fair trial, and in 1759 the judgment went against Hopkins by default, and he paid the costs.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1074}

For ten years the two men, each at the head of a powerful party, went back and forth as Governor of the colony, until in 1768 Josias Lyndon was elected as a compromise candidate.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1074} In 1758 Hopkins won the election as Governor, and beat Ward again in the following three elections.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1074} In 1761 the Assembly named Ward to the office of Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court,{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1074} but he only served in this capacity for a year, finally being elected Governor in 1762.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075} During this first year in office, the plan of founding a college in the Rhode Island colony was discussed, and received Ward’s hearty support.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075} He took an active part in the establishment of “Rhode island College,” later Brown University, and when the school was incorporated in 1765, he was one of the trustees, and one of its most generous supporters.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075}

While the French and Indian War had ended in North America in 1760, other aspects of this global war, known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War, continued to involve Rhode Island. In the spring of 1762, General Jeffrey Amherst, the commander of British and Colonial forces in North America, ordered that 207 men from Rhode Island be sent as part of an expedition against Cuba.{sfn|Arnold|1859|p=235} In the early summer, Havana was put under siege, the castle of Moro was taken, and the city surrendered in August.{sfn|Arnold|1859|p=237} It was a very costly victory, as only 112 of the Rhode Island men survived the operation, many succumbing to disease.{sfn|Arnold|1859|p=241} The Peace of Paris concluded the war, with France losing all of its territory in North America (other than two small islands near Newfoundland), and Spain ceding Florida to Britain in exchange for having Havana returned.{sfn|Arnold|1859|p=241} Following these events, General Amherst was recalled to England and replaced by General Thomas Gage, who would later play a prominent role in events leading to the American Revolutionary War.{sfn|Arnold|1859|p=247}

=== Stamp Act ===

In 1763 Hopkins once again beat out Ward in the election for Governor, serving for the next two years, but in 1765 Ward, for the second time, won the contest between the two men. During this term one of the most contentious issues of the age arose, uniting the divided elements into a common cause.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075} Two months before Ward’s election the Stamp Act was passed by both houses of the Parliament of Great Britain.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075} This act was a scheme for taxing the colonies, directing that all commercial and legal documents, to be valid in a court of law, must be written on stamped paper sold at fixed prices by governmental officers, and also directing that a duty be applied to newspapers.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075} Parliament, assuming the right to tax the colonies, put additional duties on sugar, coffee and other articles, and required that lumber and iron from the colonies only be exported to England.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075}

The news of the act infuriated the colonists, and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts invited all the colonies to a congress of delegates to meet in New York to discuss relief from the unjust taxes.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075} In August 1765 the Rhode Island General Assembly passed resolutions following the lead of Patrick Henry of Virginia. Rhode Island’s appointed stamp distributor, Attorney General Augustus Johnson, refused to execute his office “against the will of our Sovereign Lord the People.”{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1075} The Rhode Island General Assembly met again at East Greenwich in September 1765, choosing delegates to the New York congress, and appointing a committee to consider the Stamp Act.{sfn|Bicknell |1920| p=1076} The committee reported six resolutions that pointed to the absolution of allegiance to the British Crown unless the grievances were removed.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1076}

The day before the act was to become effective, all of the royal governors took an oath to sustain it, including Thomas Fitch of Connecticut who had strenuously opposed it.{sfn|Bicknell|1920| p=1076} Among the colonial governors only Samuel Ward of Rhode Island refused the act.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1076} In so doing, he forteited his position, and was threatened with a huge fine, but this did not deter him.{sfn|Bicknell|1920| p=1076} Ultimately, the act was repealed, with news reaching the colonies in May 1766 to public rejoicing.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1077} The conflict for independence was delayed, but not abandoned.

=== Continental Congress ===

In the 1767 election Ward once again lost to his nemesis, but Hopkins would not seek re-election after 1768, and friendly relations between the two great rivals was established.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1077} The famous controversy was replaced by a more momentous struggle soon to involve the colony.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1077} Governor Ward retired to his estate in Westerly, but became active again in 1774. At a town meeting in May of that year the freemen of Providence formally proposed a Continental Congress for the union of the colonies, the first such act in favor of this measure, though the idea had already been circulating in several of the colonies.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1077} As plans solidified, the General Assembly met the following month in Newport and elected Samuel Ward and Stephen Hopkins as delegates to the congress.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1077}

Ward served on several important committees, including the Committee on Secrets and frequently sat in the chair when the Congress met as a committee of the whole. He devoted all of his energy to the Continental Congress until his untimely death from smallpox at a meeting of the convention in Philadelphia a little more than three months before the Declaration of Independence was signed.{sfn|Bicknell|1920|p=1077} He was originally buried in Philadelphia, but in 1860 was reinterred in the Common Burying Ground in Newport, Rhode Island.

== Family and legacy ==

Samuel and Anna Ward had eleven children. Their second son Samuel Ward, Jr. served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army. A great-granddaughter was Julia Ward Howe who composed the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Ward’s aunt, Mary Ward, married Sion Arnold, a grandson of Governor Benedict Arnold.{sfn|Austin|1887|p=407}

In 1937, the Town of Westerly, Rhode Island, honored Governor Ward’s memory by dedicating its new high school for him.{Sfn|Westerly High School website} The road that formerly fronted the main building of the current high school campus was also named for his family, Ward Avenue. The large Georgian-style building has served the town’s students faithfully since 1939 and is currently part of a larger high school campus formed in 2005. The school is made up of two buildings, the Ward Building and Babcock Hall (the former junior high school, built at the same time.) In the late 20th century, following the path of other school districts, Ward High School was officially renamed Westerly High School, keeping its letters, WHS.{Sfn|Westerly High School website} But, in keeping with the spirit of the original dedication, the high school’s main auditorium was given the former governor’s name and a large brass plaque now greets visitors at the space’s public entry.