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forts for the establishment of his favourite academy.-But I must return to some circumstances of importance which here claim our notice.
The vessel in which Dr. Williamson had engaged a passage for Europe, lay in the harbour of Boston, to which place he had proceeded, and was waiting for her sailing at the very time at which that remarkable circumstance took place, the destruction of the tea of the East India company. Upon Dr. Williamson's arrival in England, he was the first to report to the British government that occurrence; and, after a private interview with lord Dartmouth, was examined on the subject before his majesty's privy council: that examination took place on the 19th of February, 1774. On that occasion, Dr. Williamson ventured to declare, that, if the coercive measures of Parliament were persisted in, nothing less than a civil war would be the result. Time soon verified his prediction; but the want of correct information on the part of the British ministry, as to the state of public feeling in this country, seems almost incredible. Lord North himself has been heard to declare, that Dr. Williamson was the first person who, in his hear. ing, had even intimated the probability of such an event.
We now come to an event, memorable by the commotion it excited at the time, and by the magnitude of the consequences which have since arisen from it; I refer to the discovery of the celebrated letters of Hutchinson and Oliver: and here I beg leave to call your notice to a few of the earlier circumstances of the late revolutionary war, in order to communicate a fact hitherto unrevealed.
Although the disturbances which originated in the famous stamp act, had nearly subsided with the repeal of that obnoxious measure, and returning sentiments of friendship were every day becoming more manifest, yet new obstacles to a permanent reconciliation appeared in the attempts of the British administration, to render certain officers of the provincial governments dependant on the crown alone. This measure of the court gave particular offence to the colony of Massachusetts, from the peculiarly obnoxious character of their governor, who at times, impelled by avarice and by the love of dominion, had, in furtherance of his schemes of self-aggrandizement, uniformly manifested the most determined support to the views and measures of the mother country.
However discreditable to his reputation it may be, certain it is, that governor Hutchinson was secretly labouring to subvert the chartered rights of the colony, whose interests he had sworn to protect. His agency in procuring the passage of the stamp act was more than suspected, and apparently upon reasonable grounds.
The illustrious Franklin, who at this period resided in London, as agent for the colonies of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, obtained possession, through the agency of a third person, of certain letters written by governor Hutchinson and other servants of the crown; and sent by them from Boston to Thomas Whately, esquire, member of parliament, and a private secretary of lord Grenville.
In these letters, the character of the people of Massachusetts was painted in the most odious colours, and their grievances and proceedings misrepresented by falsehoods the most glaring and unfounded.
Dr. Franklin lost no time in transmitting these letters to his constituents at Boston. “ The indignation and animosity which were excited, on their perusal, knew no bounds. The house of representatives agreed on a petition, and remonstrance, to his majesty, in which they charged their governor and lieutenant governor with being betrayers of their trust, and of the people they governed; and of giving private, partial, and false information. They also declared them enemies to the colonies, and prayed for justice against them, and for their speedy removal from their places."*
The petition and the remonstrance of the people of Massachusetts were communicated to his majesty's privy council by Dr. Franklin, in person, and after a hearing by that board, the Governor and Lieutenant-governor were acquitted. It was on this occasion that Mr. Wedderburn, (afterwards lord Loughborough, who was employed as counsel on the part of the governor, pronounced his famous philippic against Dr. Franklin; which has always been considered among the most finished specimens of oratory in the English language. In this speech, he charged that venerable person with having procured the letters by unfair means.
* Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Franklin, 4to. p. 183. Londoned. 1818.
But the truth is, these letters could not be considered in anywise as private; they were as public as letters could be. To use the emphatic language of Dr. Franklin himself, “ they were not of the nature of private letters between friends; they were written by public officers to persons in public stations, on public affairs, and intended to procure public measures: they were therefore handed to other public persons, who might be influenced by them to produce those measures. Their tendency was to incense the mother country against her colonies, and by the steps recommended, to widen the breach, which they effected. The chief caution expressed with regard to privacy was, to keep their contents from the colony agents, who, the writers apprehended, might return them, or copies of them, to America. That apprehension was, it seems, well founded; for the first agent who laid his hands on them, thought it his duty to transmit them to his constituents.”**
But it is time that I should declare to you, that this third person from whom Dr. Franklin received these famous letters, (and permit me to add, that this is the first time the fact has been publicly disclosed,) was Dr. HUGH WILLIAMSON.
I have before stated his mission in behalf of the academy. Dr. Williamson had now arrived in London. Feeling a lively interest in the momentous questions then agitated, and suspecting that a clandestine correspondence, hostile to the interest of the colonies, was carried on between Hutchinson and certain leading members of the British cabinet, he determined to ascertain the truth by a bold experiment.
He had learned that governor Hutchinson's letters were deposited in an office different from that in which they ought regularly to have been placed; and having understood that there was little exactness in the transaction of the business of that office, he immediately repaired to it, and addressed himself to the chief clerk, not finding the principal within. Assuming the demeanor of official importance, he peremptorily stated, that he had come for the last letters that had been received from governor Hutchinson and Mr. Oliver, noticing the office in which they ought regularly to have been placed. Without a question being asked, the letters
* Franklin's letter to the printer of the Daily Advertiser.
were delivered. The clerk, doubtless, supposed him to be an authorized person from some other public office. Dr. Williamson immediately carried them to Dr. Franklin, and the next day left London for Holland.
By this daring measure, was detected and put beyond question, the misrepresentations and designs of Hutchinson and his associates; and, perhaps, no event in the previous history of the provinces excited more bitter indignation, or was calculated to call for opposition to the measures of Great Britain, to which these misrepresentations had given rise.
The lively interest, and the conspicuous part which Dr. Williamson took in public affairs, did not prevent him, while in England, from bestowing a portion of his attention upon scientific pursuits. Electricity, whose laws had been recently determined by the discoveries of Dr. Franklin, and by his genius introduced among the sciences, was then a study, which, like chemistry at the present day, largely engrossed the minds of philosophers. In conjunction with Dr. Ingenhouz, Mr Walsh, Mr. John Hunter, and Dr. Franklin, he frequently instituted electrical experiments, to which I have often heard him refer with juvenile feelings, at the same time professing his ardent attachment to this branch of knowledge. The only paper which bears testimony to his investigations on this subject, is that entitled, “ Experiments and Observations on the Gymnotus Electricus, or Electrical Eel,” which was first published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, for the year 1775, and has since been reprinted in the abridgment of that work.*
Dr. Williamson had scarcely made his tour through Holland and the Low Countries, when the news of the declaration of American Independence reached him. He now concluded to return to his native land. He proceeded to France, and after a short time spent in that kingdom, during a great part of which he was confined by sickness, he sailed from Nantz in December, for Philadelphia, at which place he did not arrive before the 15th of March. The ship in which he sailed was captured off the Capes of Delaware, but he, with another passenger, escaped in an open boat
* Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, abridged by Hutton, Shaw, and Pearson, vol. xiii. page 597.
with some very important public despatches, of which Dr. Williamson was the bearer.
The American army, at the period of Dr. Williamson's return from Europe, was, in some measure, organized, and every office in the medical staff, or in the line, that he could with any propriety accept, was filled up. He resolved, therefore, to remain in private life, waiting for opportunities which he trusted would present themselves in the course of a dangerous struggle.
He repaired to Edenton, North Carolina, from which place he traded to neutral islands in the West Indies; but while he was thus engaged in trade, he determined to resume the practice of medicine: this he did with the same success as he had done formerly at Philadelphia, and in a short time acquired the confidence of the people of Edenton.
During the period of his residence there, he was invited to Newbern, for the purpose of communicating the small-pox to such as had not experienced the benefits of inoculation. These circumstances in part contributed to spread the name of Dr. Williamson, and to lay the foundation of that fame and confidence which he afterwards obtained in the state of North Carolina.
The doctor had taken an early opportunity of informing the governor of that province, that if any circumstance should occur in the course of the war, in which he could be of use to the state, he might immediately command his services. It is known that the British troops took possession of Charleston in the winter of 1779 -80, and that the assembly of North Carolina ordered a large draft to be made from their militia, of from four to six thousand men, who should join the regular troops then ordered for the relief of South Carolina. The command of the North Carolina militia was given to their late governor Caswell, with the rank of major General. The general putting Dr. Williamson in mind of a former promise, handed him a commission, by?which he found himself at the head of the medical department, as physician and surgeon.
An occasion now presented itself, in the which doctor had an opportunity of displaying his firmness of character, his humanity, his professional skill, and bis incorruptible adherence to the cause in which he had embarked. On the morning after the battle near Camden, on the 18th of August, 1780 which the doctor witnessed,