William Pierce (politician)
William Pierce was born in York County, Virginia in 1753, the third and youngest son of Matthew and Elizabeth Pierce. As a young man, he studied art under Charles Willson Peale in Maryland and returned to Williamsburg, Virginia to accept commissions in the Summer of 1775. As tensions with Great Britain turned into armed conflict, Pierce participated in the fighting at Hampton, Virginia, in September 1775. Pierce was commissioned a Captain in the 1st Continental Regiment of Artillery the following year as the new country organized its forces for war. After months of guarding against British incursions in the Hampton Roads, the First Regiment of Continental Artillery was ordered to join the Main Army at Valley Forge in the Spring of 1778. After his regiment arrived in camp, William Pierce's battery was then detached to Major General John Sullivan's command in Rhode Island. Suffering from poor health, Pierce voluntarily suspended his company command and accepted a position as an aide-de-camp to General Sullivan in early 1779. He attended his commander in the punitive expedition in Upstate New York to subdue the British-aligned Iroquois during the summer.
Returning to Williamsburg on furlough in early 1780, he evidently studied at the College of William & Mary and was accepted as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. As the War for American Independence shifted to the southern states, William Pierce was again invited to become an aide-de-camp to a general officer in December 1780, this time to Major General Nathanael Greene. Pierce accepted and joined his new corps on its fighting retreat in North Carolina in early February 1781. William Pierce proved himself valuable to his General over the course of the next two years, not only in his secretarial duties but as a military officer. For example, he assisted in the rallying a contingent of Virginia troops at a critical moment during the Battle of Hobkirk Hill and was also Greene's selection to carry news of the Battle of Eutaw Springs to the Continental Congress.
With the end of the war, Pierce also established himself as a merchant and planter, and then married the daughter of a wealthy South Carolinian. Conditions for business were dim during the Confederation period, so William Pierce sought political office with hopes of improving them and was elected to represent Chatham County in the state legislature on February 1, 1786. That body promptly elected him to the Continental Congress, as well as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In January 1787, he attended Congress in New York and then the convention in Philadelphia in May. He attended the proceedings and spoke on a number of points, but also recorded a series of "Character Sketch¬es" which provide contemporary narrative on the personalities of the members of the Convention. Although he agreed with the end result of the proceedings, he did not sign the Constitution, having left at the end of June to attend to "a piece of business so necessary that it became unavoidable." The business was a duel with merchant John Auldjo, after tempers had flared over mishandled "mercantile dealings." Ironically, Auldjo's second, Alexander Hamilton, intervened and prevented the contest. Returning to Georgia, Pierce continued in the state legislature and, in 1789, received a respectable number of votes for Governor.
Pierce died at his plantation near Savannah on December 10, 1789 after a lingering illness.
- York County, Virginia Records Project, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
- Miller, Lillian B., ed. Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale: Vol. 1, Charles Willson Peale, Artist in Revolutionary America, 1735-1791. (New Haven: Published for the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, by Yale University Press, 1983), p. 135 & Purdie, Virginia Gazette Postscript, Aug. 11, 1775, p. 2.
- Pinkney's, Virginia Gazette, Nov. 9, 1775, p. 3  & Ford, Worthington C., ed Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. VI, 1776. (Washington, [D.C.], Government Printing Office, 1906), p. 995
- Henry Laurens, March 14, 1778, to George Washington. Hoth, David R., ed. Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series; Vol. XIV, 1 March-30 April 1778. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004), p. 176 
- Sep. 28, 1778, Major David Bradish Orderly Book, William L. Clements Library
- General Orders, May 26, 1779, Edward Hand Papers, Vol. 1, p. 86, Historical Society of Pennsylvania & William Pierce, July 4, 1779, to Dwight Foster, Ch.E.7.49  Boston Public Library
- Phi Beta Kappa Minute Book, 177-1781, E. G. Swem Library, College of William & Mary
- Nathanael Greene, 4 Dec. 1780, to William Pierce. Showman, Richard K., ed. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene: Vol. VI, 1 June-25 Dec. 1780. (Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), pp. 522-523 & Nathanael Greene, 4 Dec. 1780, to William Pierce. Showman, Richard K., ed. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene: Vol. VI, 1 June-25 Dec. 1780. (Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), pp. 522-523
- Nathanael Greene, 28 Apr. 1781, to Henry Lee. Conrad, Dennis M., ed. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene: Vol. VIII, 30 Mar.-10 July 1781. (Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), pp. 168-169 & Nathanael Greene, 11 Sep. 1781, to Thomas McKean. Conrad, Dennis M., ed. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene: Vol. IX, 11 July-2 Dec. 1781. (Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), p. 333
- Gazette of the State of Georgia June 12, 1783 & "Marriages & Death Notices from the SC Weekly Gazette," South Carolina Historical & Genealogical Magazine 18, p. 145
- Columbian Herald, Feb. 9, 1786
- Smith, Paul H., ed. Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 24, Nov. 6, 1786-Feb. 29, 1788. (Washington, [D.C.,]: Library of Congress, 1996), p. xx & James Madison, 6 June 1787, to Thomas Jefferson. Julian P. Boyd, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. XI. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 401.
- Leffler, Richard, John P. Kaminski, and Samuel K. Fore, eds. William Pierce on the Constitutional Convention and the Constitution. Dallas, Tex: Harlan Crow Library, 2012.
- Alexander Hamilton, [20-26 July 1787], to William Pierce. Syrett, Harold C., ed. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton: Vol. IV, January 1787 – May 1788. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), pp. 227-228 & Alexander Hamilton, 26 July 1787, to John Auldjo. Syrett, Harold C., ed. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton: Vol. IV, January 1787 – May 1788. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), pp. 233-234 
- Otho Holland Williams, 14 July 1789, to President George Washington. Item 488, Otho Holland Williams Papers, Maryland Historical Society
- Georgia Gazette, Decr 17 & 24, 1789