Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.
Wales, in Great Britain, was the fatherland of William Floyd. His grandfather came hither from that country in the year 1680, and settled at Setauket, on Long Island. He was distinguished for his wealth, and possessed great influence among his brother agriculturists.
The subject of the memoir was born on the seventeenth day of December, 1734. His wealthy father gave him every opportunity for requiring useful knowledge. He had scarcely closed his studies, before the death of his father called him to the supervision of the estate, and he performed his duties with admirable skill and fidelity. His various excellences of character, united with a pleasing address, made him very popular; and having espoused the republican cause in opposition to the oppressions of the mother country, he was soon called into active public life.
Mr. Floyd was elected a delegate from New York to the first Continental Congress, in 1774, and was one of the most active members of that body. He had previously been appointed commander of the militia of Suffolk County; and early in 1775, after his return from Congress, learning that a naval force threatened an invasion of the Island, and that troops were actually debarking, he placed himself at the head of a division, marched toward the point of intended debarkation, and awed the invaders into a retreat to their ships. He was again returned to the General Congress, in l775, and the numerous committees of which he was a member, attest his great activity. He ably supported the resolutions of Mr. Lee, and cheerfully voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence.
While attending faithfully to his public duties in Congress, he suffered greatly in the destruction of his property and the exile of his family from their home. After the battle of Long Island, in August, 1776, and the retreat of the American anny across to York Island, his line estate was exposed to the rude uses of the British soldiery, and his family were obliged to seek shelter and protection in Connecticut. His mansion was the rendezvous for a party of cavalry, his cattle and sheep were used as provision for the British army, and for seven years he derived not a dollar of income from his property. Yet he abated not a jot in his zeal for the cause, and labored on hopefully, alternately in Congress and in the Legislature of New York. Through his skilful management, in connection with one or two others, the State of New York was placed, in 1779, in a very prosperous financial condition, at a time when it seemed to be on the verge of bankruptcy. The depreciation of the continental paper money had produced alarm and distress wide-spread, and the speculations in bread-stuffs threatened a famine; yet William Floyd and his associates ably steered the bark of state clear of the Scylla and Charybdis.
On account of impaired health, General Floyd asked for and obtained leave of absence from Congress, in April, 1779, and in May he returned to New York. He was at once called to his seat in the Senate, and placed upon the most important of those committees of that body, who were charged with the delicate relations with the General Congress.
In 1780 he was again elected to Congress, and he continued a member of that body until 1783, when peace was declared. He then returned joyfully, with his family, to the home from which they had been exiled for seven years, and now miserably dilapidated. He declined a re-election to Congress, but served in the Legislature of his State until l778, when, after the newly adopted Constitution was ratitied, he was elected a member of the first Congress that convened under that charter in the city of New York, in 1789. He declined an election the second time, and retired from public life.
In 1784 General Floyd purchased some wild land upon the Mohawk, and when he retired to private life, he commenced the clearing up and cultivation of those lands. So productive was the soil, and so attractive was the beauty of that country, that in 1803 he moved thither, although then sixty-nine years old. He directed his attention to the cultivation of his domain, and in a few years, the “wilderness blossomed as the rose,” and productive farms spread out on every side.
In 1800 he was chosen a Presidential Elector; and in 180l he was a delegate in the Convention that revised the Constitution of the State of New York. He was subsequently chosen a member of the State Senate, and was several times a Presidential Elector. The last time that he served in that capacity was a year before his death, which occurred on the fourth day of August, l82I, when he was eighty-seven years of age. Mr. Floyd had always enjoyed robust health, and he retained his mental faculties in their wonted vigor, until the last. His life was a long and active one; and, as a thorough business man, his services proved of great public utility during the stormy times of the Revolution, and the no less tempestuous and dangerous period when our government was settling down upon its present steadfast basis. Decision was a leading feature in his character, and trifling obstacles never thwarted his purposes when his opinion and determination were fixed. And let it be remembered that this noble characteristic, decision, was a prominent one with all of that sacred band who signed the charter of our emancipation, and that without this, men cannot be truly great or eminently useful. 1
Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.
William Floyd, who was the first delegate from New York that signed the Declaration of Independence, was born on Long Island, on the 17th of December, 1734. His father was Nicoll Floyd, an opulent and respectable landholder, whose ancestors came to America from Wales, about the year 1680, and settled on Long Island. The father of William died while his son was young, and left him heir to a large estate.
The early education of young Floyd, by no means corresponded to the wealth and ability of his father. His studies were limited to a few of the useful branches of knowledge, and these were left unfinished, in consequence of the death of that gentleman. The native powers of Floyd were, however, respectable, and his house being the resort of an extensive circle of connections and acquaintance, which included many intelligent and distinguished families, his mind, by the intercourse which he thus enjoyed with those who were enlightened and improved, became stored with rich and varied knowledge. His wealth enabled him to practice a generous hospitality, and few enjoyed the society of friends with more pleasure.
At an early period in the controversy between Great Britain and the colonies, the feelings of Mr. Floyd were strongly enlisted in the cause of the latter. He was a friend to the people; and, with zeal and ardor, entered into every measure which seemed calculated to ensure to them their just rights. These sentiments on his part excited a reciprocal confidence on the part of the people, and led to his appointment as a delegate from New-York to the first Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia on the fifth of September, 1774. In the measures adopted by that body, so justly eulogized by the advocates of freedom, from that day to the present, Mr. Floyd most heartily concurred.
In the following year, he was again elected a delegate to congress, and continued a member of that body until after the Declaration of American Independence. On that occasion, he assisted in dissolving the political bonds which had united the colonies to the British government; and in consequence of which, they had suffered numberless oppressions for years. Into other measures of congress, Mr. Floyd entered with zeal. He served on numerous important committees, and by his fidelity rendered essential service to the patriotic cause.
It was the lot of not a few, while thus devoted to the public good, to experience the destructive effects of the war upon their property, or the serious inconveniences arising from it in relation to their families. In both these respects Mr. Floyd suffered severely. While at Philadelphia, attending upon congress, the American troops evacuated Long Island, which was taken possession of by the British army. On this latter event, the family of Mr. Floyd were obliged to flee for safety to Connecticut. His house was occupied by a company of horsemen, which made it the place of their rendezvous during the remainder of the war. Thus, for nearly seven years, Mr. Floyd and his family were refugees from their habitation, nor did he, during this long period, derive any benefit from his landed estate.
In the year 1777, General Floyd (we give him this military appellation, from the circumstance of his having some time before been appointed to the command of the militia on Long Island) was appointed a senator of the state of New York, under the new constitution. In this body, he assisted to organize the government, and to accommodate the code of laws to the changes which had recently been effected in the political condition of the state.
In October, 1778, he was again elected to represent the state of New York in the Continental Congress. From this time, until the expiration of the first congress, under the federal constitution, General Floyd was either a member of the national assembly, or a member of the senate of New York. In this latter body, he maintained a distinguished rank, and was often called to preside over its deliberations, when the lieutenant governor left the chair.
In 1784, he purchased an uninhabited tract of land upon the Mohawk River. To the clearing and subduing of this tract, he devoted the leisure of several successive summers. Under his skilful management, and persevering labors, a considerable portion of the tract was converted into a well cultivated farm; and hither, in 1803, he removed his residence. Although, at this time, he was advanced in life, his bodily strength and activity were much greater than often pertain to men of fewer years. He enjoyed unusual health, until a year or two before his death. The faculties of his mind continued unimpaired to the last. A little previous to his death, he appeared to be affected with a general debility, which continuing to increase, the lamp of life was at length extinguished. This event occurred on the 4th of August, 1821, and when he had attained to the extraordinary age of eighty-seven years.
In his person, General Floyd was of a middle stature. He possessed a natural dignity, which seldom failed to impress those into whose company he was thrown. He appeared to enjoy the pleasures of private life, yet in his manners he was less familiar, and in his disposition less affable, than most men. Few men, however, were more respected. He was eminently a practical man. The projects to which he gave his sanction, or which he attempted, were those which judgment could approve. When his purposes were once formed, he seldom found reason to alter them. His firmness and resolution were not often equaled.
In his political character, there was much to admire. He was uniform and independent. He manifested great candor and sincerity towards those from whom he happened to differ; and such was his well known integrity, that his motives were rarely, if ever, impeached. He seldom took part in the public discussion of a subject, nor was he dependent upon others for the opinions which he adopted. His views were his own, and his opinions the result of reason and reflection. If the public estimation of a man be a just criterion by which to judge of him, General Floyd was excelled by few of his contemporaries, since, for more than fifty years he was honored with offices of trust and responsibility by his fellow citizens. 2