-He nominated George Washington as commander of the Continental Army.
-He introduced the resolution for construction of the first ships that would become the US Navy.
-He died of smallpox.
He was born on May 25, 1725, in Newport, Rhode Island, and was the second son born to his parents, Richard and Mary Tillinghast Ward. His parents were merchants in Newport, and his father became Governor of Rhode Island in 1741 and 1742. While not much is known about Samuel Ward’s childhood, it is known that he had a private, tutored education. Samuel would marry in 1745 to Anna Ray, and would settle in Westerly, where he would farm and open a store. He would start his public careen at the age of thirty-one, when he was elected to represent the town of Westerly in the Rhode Island General Assembly, serving from 1756 to 1759. He also was one of the founders of the College of Rhode Island (now Brown University) in 1756, and served as a member of its board of trustees from 1764 to 1776.
In 1761 the Assembly would name him Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island, a position in which he served in 1761 – 1762. Samuel was also the Governor of Rhode Island under its royal charter in 1762, 1763, and 1765 – 1767. He would be the only royal governor to refuse to enforce the Stamp Act, and he was active in organizing committees of intelligence in Rhode Island to resist British authority.
As he became firmly convinced of the need to oppose England in her increasingly oppressive laws – as evidenced in neighboring Massachusetts – Samuel began organizing town meetings throughout Rhode Island to promote and unite the opposition to the Crown. As a result of his efforts and these meetings, a general congress of all of the colonies was first proposed at a town meeting in Providence on May 17, 1774. During a session of the Rhode Island General Assembly on June 15, 1773, Rhode Island became the first colony to elect delegates to the Continental Congress. Samuel Ward and Stephen Hopkins were elected to the proposed Continental Congress – which subsequently met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
While at the Continental Congress, he was a friend and ally of Samuel Adams and John Adams – both of Massachusetts. He was also a friend and ally of Benjamin Franklin, and is the man who nominated George Washington of Virginia as the commander of the Continental Army. This occurred because Samuel was also the presiding officer over the Continental Congress when it was meeting as a Committee of the Whole. This Committee would recommend "...that a general be appointed to command all the Continental forces raised, or to be raised, for the defence of American liberty." This was passed and George Washington was chosen by ballot to take command of American forces.
Samuel also was an advocate in the Congress for an American navy, and is the man who introduced the resolution authorizing the construction of the first thirteen vessels that would make up what was to become the American Navy. He was also a friend to General Nathanael Greene.
His activities during this trying time – all of it prior to Independence – took an increasing toll on Samuel’s health. He wrote in October 1775:
"I am almost worn out with attention to business. I am upon a standing committee of claims, which meets every morning before Congress, and upon the secret committee which meets almost every afternoon; and these, with close attendance upon Congress, and writing many letters, make my duty very hard, and I cannot get time to ride or take other exercise. But I hope the business will not be so pressing very long"Samuel Ward would serve in the Continental Congress until his death due to smallpox in 1776. Since 18th century smallpox inoculations usually resulted in the individual becoming deathly ill for up to two weeks. Although the inoculations proved to be the best way to avoid or lessen the impact of smallpox, Samuel had delayed inoculation out of the concern that it might incapacitate him while important work had to be done in the Congress during this critical time.
Samuel was presiding over the Congress when he was taken ill on March 15, 1776. He died in Philadelphia on March 26th - just three months before he would have signed the Declaration of Independence.
His death was a shock to the other delegates to the Continental Congress. They quickly passed a resolution stating that all the delegates would attend the funeral.
It was through the desire to follow his conscience – regardless of political consequences – as well as he ability to negotiate, influence, and persuade his fellow citizens on a course of action that places Samuel Ward above many of his contemporaries. While he is not a widely know historical figure today, if he would have lived another twenty years his influence and contributions would be more widely known and emulated.
LOCAL LIBRARY RESOURCES:
Famous and Notable Wards
Find A Grave
Good News Newsletter
One Eternal Day
01. Portrait of Samuel Ward: Wikipedia
02. Gravesite: Find A Grave, photo by Jen Snoots