William Floyd

1734–1821

William Floyd was a Founding Father and Signer of the Declaration of Independence, as a delegate from New York. He enjoyed a long career in national and local politics and has the distinction of being the only delegate elected by a county to the First Continental Congress.

William Floyd, Founding Father, New York, Portrait

William Floyd. Image Source: National Park Service.

Essential Facts

  • Born in 1734 in Brookhaven, Long Island, New York.
  • Served in the Continental Congress from 1774-1777 and 1779-1783.
  • Participated in the New York State Senate and the Council of Safety.
  • Faced property destruction and family exile during the Revolutionary War.
  • Served in the U.S. First Congress from 1789-1791.
  • Was a Presidential Elector on four occasions.
  • Became a major general in the New York militia.
  • Acquired and developed significant land holdings in central New York.
  • Moved to Westernville, New York, in 1803.
  • Died in 1821 and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Westernville.

Significance to American History

William Floyd is important to American History because he signed the Articles of Association and the Declaration of Independence, making him one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. Floyd contributed to the First Continental Congress, the Second Continental Congress, and the First Congress of the United States.

Life and Career of the Founding Father

William Floyd was prominent in New York during the American Revolution and early years of the United States. Although he was not as well-known as some other Signers, he suffered hardship due to his commitment to the Patriot Cause when British troops and Loyalists devastated his estate during the war, forcing his family into a seven-year exile in Connecticut. Floyd also attained the rank of Major General in the New York Militia.

Childhood and Early Responsibilities

William Floyd was born on December 17, 1734, in Brookhaven, Long Island, New York. He was the son of Nicholl Floyd and Tabitha Smith. Floyd was their second child and the eldest of two sons in a family of nine. 

His family, having immigrated to America from Wales in 1654, was well-established and affluent by the time of his birth. His father kept him busy with various farm chores, limiting his education to informal instruction at home. By the time he was 20 years old, both of his parents had died, leaving him to manage the farm, which relied on slave labor, and to care for his sibling.

Prominent Member of the Community

Six years later, in 1760, Floyd married Hannah Jones who helped him manage the farm and other responsibilities. He was a respected community member, actively involved in the Brookhaven church, and served as a town trustee from 1769 to 1771. He was a member of the Suffolk County Militia and achieved the rank of Major General. 

Support for Boston

Support for the Patriot Cause in New York was less intense and started later compared to other colonies. Opposition to the Tea Act in Massachusetts during late 1773 and 1774 led to unrest in eastern Long Island, where Floyd lived. He and his neighbors attended meetings to support Massachusetts and protest the closure of the Port of Boston due to the Boston Port Act (1774).

By the end of 1774, the Province of New York and the Province of Georgia were the only colonies where the Patriots did not control the government. Because of this, supporters of the Patriot Cause in New York operated mainly on a county level.

Continental Congress

Floyd was selected to represent Suffolk County at the First Continental Congress. While he was away, British forces occupied Long Island, forcing his family to flee to Middletown, Connecticut, for safety. Sadly, his wife died there in 1781. Meanwhile, British troops used Floyd’s home in Mastic as a barracks, and Loyalists looted his property. When Floyd returned with his children in 1783, he found his estate in ruins.

New York Constitutional Convention

Following the war, Floyd continued his public service. He served multiple terms in the New York State Senate and participated in the New York Constitutional Convention, where he supported the United States Constitution. 

Second Marriage and Western Lands

In 1784, Floyd married his second wife, Joanna Strong, who later gave birth to two daughters.

Around this same time, Floyd developed an interest in western lands. He bought a tract of land in central New York, near the headwaters of the Mohawk River, in the area that is now Rome. 

Three years later, in 1787, he expanded his holdings by obtaining a state grant of more than 10,000 acres in the vicinity. Floyd dedicated much of his time, especially during the summers, to visiting and developing this land.

Early Republic and State Politics

In 1789, Floyd was elected to the First Congress under the new Constitution, serving until 1791. In 1792, he participated as a presidential elector, casting his vote for George Washington’s re-election. He further served New York as a State Senator until 1803, when he retired from politics. 

Retirement

After leaving politics, in his late sixties — a time when most men would retire — Floyd instead transferred ownership of his Long Island home and farm to his son, Nicoll, and moved with the rest of his family on his frontier property. During their first year there, Floyd built a home in what is now Westernville, New York.

Death of William Floyd

Floyd lived there for the rest of his life, passing away at the age of 86 on August 4, 1821. He was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Westernville.

Timeline

  • 1734 — Born in Brookhaven, Long Island, New York.
  • 1774–1777 — Served in the Continental Congress.
  • 1776 — British forces occupied Long Island; his family fled to Connecticut.
  • 1779-1783 — Returned to serve in the Continental Congress.
  • 1781 — His wife died in Connecticut.
  • 1783 — Returned to a devastated estate in Long Island.
  • 1784 — Married his second wife and purchased land in central New York.
  • 1789–1791 — Served as a Representative in the First Congress.
  • 1801 — Attended the New York Constitutional Convention.
  • 1803 — Moved to Westernville, New York.
  • 1821 — Died in Westernville and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

William Floyd, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

This longer biography of William Floyd is taken from Robert Taylor Conrad’s book Signers of the Declaration of Independence, which was published in 1884. We have made corrections, additions, and updates to clarify the text, and added section headings. This has been included to provide a more in-depth look at the character and reputation of this important Founding Father.

Early Years on Long Island

The first delegate of New York, whose name appears on the Declaration of Independence, is that of William Floyd. He was the son of an opulent and respectable landholder in the county of Suffolk, upon Long Island, who left him, at an early age, the principal inheritor of his estate. 

Floyd was born on December 17, 1734. His education, although liberal for the times, was chiefly confined to the useful branches of knowledge, and was hardly completed, when he was called, by the death of his father, to assume the management of his patrimonial estate. 

His early life was principally spent in the circle of an extensive family connection, which comprised the most respectable families in the county. The country in which he lived, at that time abounded with game of every variety, and having little to occupy his attention, much of his time was devoted to hunting, an amusement to which he was passionately addicted. His hospitality corresponded with his means of indulging in it, and his house became the perpetual resort of an extensive acquaintance, and the frequent scene of social festivity.

Patriot Cause in New York

He embarked, at an early period, in the controversy between Great Britain and the colonies, and as it grew more animated, became conspicuous for the zeal and ardor with which he espoused the popular cause. 

There was in his conduct, both in public and private life, a characteristic sincerity which never failed to inspire confidence; and which, combined with the warmth and spirit with which lie opposed the usurpations of the British government, had acquired for him an extensive popularity. 

Delegate to the First Continental Congress

It was doubtless from these considerations, that he was appointed one of the delegates from New York to the first continental congress, which met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. In that patriotic and venerable assembly, he was associated with men whose names are identified with their country’s birth, and will long be cherished in grateful remembrance.

Delegate to the Second Continental Congress

In April, 1775, having been again chosen, by the Provincial Assembly of New York, a delegate to the general congress of the colonies, he took his seat in the Second Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, and continued a constant attendant for more than two years. 

Naval Raids in Long Island Sound

By the time Congress met, the American Revolutionary War had started with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the New England Army of Observation had surrounded British forces in Boston. 

During the Siege of Boston, British forces needed food and supplies. General Thomas Gage issued orders for British ships to carry out raids on the islands in Long Island Sound in July and August of 1775.

Floyd returned to his home on Long Island during this time. Before his attendance in Congress, Floyd had been appointed to the command of the Suffolk County Militia, and upon his return, he found Long Island menaced with an invasion from a British naval force assembled in Gardiner’s Bay, with the avowed object of gathering supplies.

When he learned the British had landed, he assembled the force under his command and marched to the point of attack. It was, perhaps, fortunate for his little army, composed of raw and undisciplined militia, that the terror of their approach left nothing for their arms to accomplish. The activity displayed, however, had an important effect in inducing the enemy to abandon their design.

Floyd’s Work in Congress and Support for Independence

As a member of Congress, Floyd united with his associates in dissolving the political bonds that connected the colonies to the British crown and co-operated in the arduous and responsible task of arraying them in hostility to the British empire. 

Under circumstances of danger and distress, with difficulties almost insurmountable, and embarrassments the most complicated, they were raised from the posture of supplication, and clothed in the armor of war.

During this interesting and protracted session, Floyd was constantly employed in the discharge of his public duties, to which he bestowed the most unremitting attention. 

He was chosen on numerous and important committees, the details of which were complicated, difficult, and, in many cases, extremely laborious. 

In procuring supplies for the army, in forwarding the expedition ordered against Canada (see Invasion of Quebec), and particularly in introducing an efficient organization of the militia, (which may be said to have been the mother of the regular army,) as well as in many other matters to which his attention was particularly directed by congress, he was enabled, by his experience and habits of business, to render essential service.

British Occupation of Long Island

Following the Battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776), Long Island was evacuated by the Americans, and occupied by British forces. His family was forced to flee from their home and went to live with friends in Connecticut. 

Floyd’s estate was seized by the British, and the mansion-house was selected as a rendezvous for a party of horse (cavalry), which occupied it for the remainder of the war. This kept Floyd from receiving any benefit from his landed property for nearly seven years and left him without a house for himself and his family.

Political Service in 1777

On May 8, 1777, Floyd was appointed a Senator of New York, under the first New York Constitution. 

The Provincial Convention passed a resolution, on May 13 that the thanks of the convention be given to him and his colleagues, “delegates of the state of New York in the honourable the continental congress, for their long and faithful services rendered to the colony of New York and to the said state.”

Floyd took his seat in the New York Senate on September 9, at its first session under the new Constitution. He was a leading and influential member, and attended most of the sessions, until the sixth of November, 1778, when the Senate adjourned.

Return to the Continental Congress

On October 15, 1778, he was unanimously re-elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, by a joint ballot of the senate and assembly, and on January 2, 1779, resumed his seat in that body, where he soon became actively employed on numerous committees, and continued in attendance until June 9, when he obtained leave of absence.

On August 24, 1779, the New York Senate convened, and he continued to meet with them until the following December.

Floyd was unanimously reelected as a delegate to the Continental Congress on October 11, 1779, and returned to Philadelphia. On December 3, he was elected a member of the Board of Admiralty, and on December 13 he was chosen as a member of the Treasury Board. 

Unfortunately, his health started to fail. On March 1, 1780, he asked to be excused from the Treasury Board, and on April 1, he obtained a leave of absence.

On May 23, 1780, the New York Senate again convened. On the 27th, they ordered the clerk to write to Floyd and request his attendance in his place without delay. Despite his health issues, Floyd took his seat on June 20 and was appointed to a joint committee to discuss certain resolutions of Congress, dealing with the relations between the state and general government.

Floyd was elected again as a delegate to Congress on September 12, 1780. However, continued his attendance in the New York Senate, until it adjourned on October 10, and on December 4 he resumed his seat in Congress.

He was continued a delegate to Congress by several successive appointments, and remained, with some short intermissions, a constant attendant until April 16, 1783, when, having seen his country safely through a long and perilous war, he returned to his home after an exile of seven years. 

Floyd Returns to Long Island

Floyd’s return to Long Island was celebrated with great demonstrations of joy; many, through his influence, had remained faithful to the Patriot Cause under every trial; nor would they credit the restoration of peace, until they beheld him safely returned. 

He found his estate in ruins due to the actions of British troops and Loyalists. His private concerns now demanding more of his attention than comported with his duties as a delegate to Congress, he declined a re-election. 

First Congress of the United States

He was, however, by several successive elections, continued a member of the New York Senate until the year 1788, when, upon the adoption of the United States Constitution, he was elected a member of the First Congress, which met in New York on March 4, 1789. At the expiration of his term of service, he again declined re-election.

During his long attendance in the New York Senate, he was highly regarded and generally presided in that body when the Lieutenant Governor left the chair. Under the administration of Governor George Clinton, he contributed his influence to the adoption of a code of laws, which placed the rights of persons and of property upon the most substantial and permanent basis.

The Character of William Floyd

Floyd was not of that number who astonish by the splendour of their conceptions, or amuse and interest us by the brilliancy of their fancy, and the ingenuity of their speculations. 

His thoughts were the representations of real existences, and his plans were regulated by a full view of their practicability; his reasoning was the logic of nature, and his conclusions, the demonstrations of experience. 

Hence it arose, that in the accomplishment of his purposes, he seemed insensible to every difficulty; obstructions wasted away before his perseverance, and his resolution and firmness triumphed over every obstacle. He was remarkable for the justness of his observations, and the accuracy of his judgment.

Floyd was of a middle stature, with nothing particularly striking. But there was a natural dignity in his deportment, which never failed to impress beholders. 

As a politician, his integrity was unblemished, nor is it known that, during the height of party animosity, his motives were ever impeached. He seldom participated in debate; his opinions were the result of his own reflections, and he left others to the same resource. 

He pursued his object openly and fearlessly; and disdained to resort to artifice to secure its accomplishment. His political course was uniform and independent and marked with a candor and sincerity which attracted the approbation of those who differed from him in opinion. The most flattering commentary upon his public life will be found in the frequent and constant proofs of popular favor that he received for more than 50 years.

Presidential Elector

In the year 1800, he was chosen as one of the electors of the President and Vice President of the United States. His feelings had been excited by the conduct of the Adams Presidency, endangering, as he thought, the permanency of our institutions, and neither the precarious state of his health, the remonstrances of his friends, nor a journey of two hundred miles, in December, could prevent him from attending to support his early political friend and associate, Thomas Jefferson.

Politics in His Later Years

  • In 1801, he was elected a member of the convention to revise the New York Constitution.
  • He served twice as Presidential Elector. 
  • At the earnest solicitation of his friends, he was once more elected a Senator from the senatorial district into which he had removed, but, from the advanced period of his life, he was unable to bestow much attention to his public duties. 
  • In 1820, although he was unable, from the infirmities of age, to leave his home, he was again complimented with being named to the Electoral College.

Retirement and Death

His bodily strength and activity were remarkable for his years; and he enjoyed an almost uninterrupted state of health until a year or two before his death: his mental vigor remained unimpaired to the last. 

A short time previous to his demise, he complained of an unusual debility: on August 1, 1821, he was affected with a partial stagnation in the current of the blood, and died on the 4th, at the age of 87, meeting death with the characteristic firmness which distinguished him through life.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title William Floyd
  • Date 1734–1821
  • Author
  • Keywords William Floyd, Who was William Floyd, What did William Floyd do, When did William Floyd live, Where was William Floyd from, Why did William Floyd support the American Revolution, How did William Floyd become a Founding Father
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 8, 2024

Taxonomies