William Johnson, Signer of US Constitution, Had Stratford Roots

In 1787, William Samuel Johnson of Stratford, son of the Rev. Samuel Johnson of Christ Episcopal Church, was appointed to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, Penn. He was one of less than twelve men who created the Constitution that now governs the citizens of the United States.On May 27, 1787, Dr. Johnson left Stratford for the Convention. He stopped for a few days in New York, where he had just been chosen first president of the new Columbia College. He then took the ferry to Elizabethtown and rode on to Philadelphia to be seated at the Convention on June 2.

Johnson was born in Stratford in 1727 and entered Yale University in 1740, a month before his thirteenth birthday. Theological studies were undertaken in 1745, and in 1747 he entered Harvard University to study law. In 1749, Johnson established a law practice in Stratford.

After three terms in Connecticut's General Assembly, in May of 1766 he became the only Anglican ever to be asked to sit on the twelve-man Governor's Council. His legal acumen led to his appointment by Governor Pitkin to represent Connecticut in a case being heard by the King's Privy Council in London.

Johnson spent four and a half years representing the colony while in the center of the British Empire. It was here that he worked with Benjamin Franklin, who was Pennsylvania's agent in London, and the two men developed great respect for each other.

When William Samuel Johnson sailed for home in August 1771 he recognized that there was little hope for reconciliation between the colonies and England, but dreaded the alternative as a descent into anarchy.

William Samuel Johnson took no part in the Revolution, retiring quietly to Stratford. He was arrested in 1779 by overzealous patriots, then freed by his friend Governor Jonathan Trumbull.

In January 1785 Johnson was elected to a seat in the Congress of the new United States of America. The 1787 convention was called to improve the Articles of Confederation and was conducted in secrecy. The documentation is sparse, but examination of Johnson's contributions were much more important than history relates. The Connecticut Compromise, spoken by Johnson on June 29, 1787, brought about the combination of two ideas — in one branch of the government the people ought to be represented, in the other, the states.

William Samuel Johnson was head of the committee on style. He was, in fact the editor of the Constitution. In 1800 Johnson came home to Stratford to die, but lived another nineteen years.

He is buried in the Christ Church Burying Grounds at the foot of Academy Hill.

To honor the 375th Anniversary of the town of Stratford, the book In Pursuit of Paradise by Lewis G. Knapp, former town historian, is available at the Stratford Historical Society for $25. Call 203-378-0630 for information.

Hamlethub Editorial Note:  Photo provided by US Library of Congress


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