William North

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William North
Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1785
United States Senator
from New York
In office
May 5, 1798 – August 17, 1798
Appointed byJohn Jay
Preceded byJohn Sloss Hobart
Succeeded byJames Watson
Personal details
Pemaquid, Maine
DiedJanuary 3, 1836 (aged 80–81)
New York City
Political partyFederalist
SpouseMary Duane
RelationsJames Duane (father-in-law)
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (adopted father)
George William Featherstonhaugh (brother-in-law)
ProfessionSoldier, Statesman

William North (1755 – January 3, 1836) was an American soldier and politician.

Early life[edit]

William North was born in Pemaquid, Maine, to John North and Elizabeth Pitson in 1755. John was an Irish immigrant and Elizabeth a native of Boston. He had two half-siblings from his father's previous marriage to Elizabeth Lewis, Joseph and Mary North.

His father, Captain John North, was Lieutenant Commander of Fort Frederick between 1744 and 1756, and in charge of Fort St. George from 1756 to 1763. He was also appointed Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the county in 1760.[1]

After the death of his father in 1763, North moved with his mother to Boston, Massachusetts. There he attended the Boston Latin School between 1764 and 1770.[2][3] While in Boston, North worked in a Merchant's office, where he remained until the port was closed by the British in the fall of 1774.[4]


Military career[edit]

He entered the Continental Army in 1775 and served under Benedict Arnold in the unfortunate expedition to Canada in that year. Though he volunteered, he was apparently too sick to participate.[4] On May 9, 1776, he was commissioned second lieutenant in Captain John Gill's company of Colonel Thomas Craft's regiment of train artillery. He was then appointed in May 1777 as captain in Colonel Henry Jackson's 16th Massachusetts Regiment, with which he participated in the Battle of Monmouth. According to his son, the commission "went with my father in his bosom through the War of the Revolution".[5]

In 1778 he met Baron Steuben, and the following year was appointed his aide-de-camp, and greatly assisted him introducing his system of discipline in the Continental Army. Later he accompanied Steuben to Virginia, and was present at the surrender of Cornwallis and the siege of Yorktown. Based on the Baron's recommendation, North was appointed as Inspector of the Troops under General Henry Knox in 1784.[6]

North was appointed by Act of Congress a Major in the 2nd United States Regiment on October 20, 1786. This regiment was added to the army temporarily in response to Daniel Shays' uprising of debtor farmers in Massachusetts.[7]

After the war he settled in Duanesburg, New York, where he married.

He was appointed adjutant general of the United States Army with the rank of brigadier general on July 19, 1798.[8] In March of 1799, after eight months of inactive duty, Congress added the role of assistant inspector general to the position. As inspector general, Alexander Hamilton, who had worked closely with North during the Revolutionary War, subsequently requested him to serve as his chief of staff. There he assisted in Hamilton's attempt at reforming and strengthening the army. North began a revision of the army's general regulations in the winter of 1799–1800 before Congress abolished his and other staff appointments as tensions with France diminished in May. He was discharged in June.[9]

In March 1812, he was again appointed adjutant-general of the Army, but declined. He may have declined due to his party's opposition to the war, which was especially strong in his home state of New York.[10]

George Washington included North "among the most intelligent and active Officers of the late American Army" in a letter suggesting men for military appointment.[11]

Caesar Russell, an African American Private in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, served as North's personal servant while aide-de-camp to Baron Steuben.[12]

Relationship with Baron Steuben[edit]

North and a fellow aide-de-camp, Captain Benjamin Walker, were formally adopted by Steuben and made his heirs.[13] Some historians believe that these 'extraordinary intense emotional relationships'[14] were romantic,[15] and given Steuben's reported earlier behaviour, it has been suggested it would have been out-of-character for him if they were not.[16] However, based on the limited historical record, it is impossible to prove.[17] Following Baron Steuben's death, North divided the property bequeathed to him among his military companions.[18]

North named two of his six children after the Baron, Frederic William Steuben North and William Augustus Steuben North.

Political office[edit]

He was a member of the New York State Assembly from Albany County in 1792, 1794 and 1795, from Albany and Schenectady Counties in 1796, and from Schenectady County in 1810. He was Speaker in 1795, 1796 and 1810. North was appointed as a Federalist to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John Sloss Hobart and served from May 5, 1798, to August 17, 1798, when James Watson was elected and qualified to succeed.

As a strong Federalist, North supported the Aliens and Sedition Acts and other efforts against the Democratic-Republican opposition. Additionally, he supported the establishment of a Provisional army, following the outbreak of the Quasi-war with France.[9]

He was a member of the first Erie Canal Commission, from 1810 to 1816.

North was a commissioner and director of the Great Western Turnpike Company which was established by the New York state legislature March 15, 1799. It was commissioned to build a road from Albany to Cherry Valley.

Personal life[edit]

Gen. William North's house in Duanesburg, built c. 1795

On October 14, 1787, North married Mary Duane (b. 1762), the daughter of James Duane (1733–1797), the 44th Mayor of New York City and U.S. District Judge for the District of New York, appointed by George Washington. Together, they had six children, Frederic William Steuben (1788–1789), Marie (1780–1812), James Duane (1791–1792), Elizabeth (1792–1845), William Augustus Steuben (1793–1845), Adelia (1797–1878).

It has been suggested that North and Benjamin Walker had a romantic relationship, but like with the Baron, this is difficult to be certain of.[19][15] Nevertheless, and despite a falling out between 1811 and 1813, Walker remained North's most intimate friend until their deaths.[20] Walker was named as a sponsor of North's daughter Adelia at her baptism.[21]

The General William North House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.[22]

General North was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati.[23] He died in New York City, and was buried in the crypt under the Christ Episcopal Church in Duanesburg.[8]


  1. ^ North, James W (1870). The History of Augusta, from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. Augusta (Me.): Clapp and North. p. 70.
  2. ^ "Letter from William North to George Featherstonhaugh, undated [c. April 1810]". New York Heritage Digital Collections.
  3. ^ "Notable Alumni". Boston Latin School.
  4. ^ a b North (1870), p. 180
  5. ^ "Hancock, John (1737-1793) [Captain's commission for William North]". The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
  6. ^ "Thomson, Charles (1729-1824) [Appointment of Major William North as Inspector of Troops under General Knox]". The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
  7. ^ William, Skelton (2000). "North, William (1755-1836), army officer and U.S. senator". American National Biography. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0300360. ISBN 978-0-19-860669-7.
  8. ^ a b "NORTH, William - Biographical Information". bioguide.congress.gov. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Skelton (2000).
  10. ^ Strum, Harvey (1980). "New York Federalists and Opposition to the War of 1812". World Affairs. 142 (3): 169–187. JSTOR 20671825.
  11. ^ "Suggestions for Military Appointments, 14 July 1798". Founders Online.
  12. ^ Murphy, Ric (2014). Freedom Road: An American Family Saga from Jamestown to World War. AuthorHouse. pp. 82–85.
  13. ^ Kapp, Friedrich The Life of Frederick William Von Steuben, Major General in the United States Army, Mason Brothers, New York 1859, p. 707.
  14. ^ American National Biography - Volume 16 - Page 513. n.b. Contrary to many online articles, this phrase does not appear in Steuben's final Will.
  15. ^ a b Benemann, William Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships Haworth Press, 2006, ISBN 1-56023-345-1
  16. ^ Quinn, Michael D. Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans, University of Illinois Press, 2001, pp179-180
  17. ^ Benemann, p. 102
  18. ^ White, J.T. (1892). The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Harvard University. p. 7.
  19. ^ Murphy (2014), p. 84-85
  20. ^ Benemann (2006), p. 117-118
  21. ^ "P. 4-5 (second pagination), baptisms in Christ's Church, August 27, 1797: Anstis O'Brien, Dorrides Reightor, and Adelia North. Baptized August 1 (?), 1798: Matthew Reghtor". New York Historical Society Digital Collection. New York Historical Society.
  22. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  23. ^ Metcalf, Bryce (1938). Original Members and Other Officers Eligible to the Society of the Cincinnati, 1783-1938: With the Institution, Rules of Admission, and Lists of the Officers of the General and State Societies. Strasburg, Va.: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Succeeded by
Preceded by Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 1) from New York
Served alongside: John Laurance
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Adjutant General of the U.S. Army
November 5, 1783 – October 28, 1787
Succeeded by
Preceded by Inspectors General of the U.S. Army
April 17, 1784 – October 28, 1787
Succeeded by
Preceded by Adjutant General of the U.S. Army
July 19, 1798 – June 15, 1800
Succeeded by