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Biographical Sketches

New York
William Floyd
William Floyd

William Floyd, a wealthy landowner-farmer, belongs to the category of signers who played only a peripheral part in the Revolution. Nevertheless, he suffered anguish when British troops and Loyalists ravaged his estate during the war and drove his family into a 7-year exile in Connecticut. He also climbed to the rank of major general in the State militia, and served in the U.S. First Congress.

Floyd was born in 1734 at present Mastic, Long Island, N.Y., in Brookhaven Township. He was the second child and eldest of two sons in a family of nine. His father, a prosperous farmer of Welsh ancestry, kept the youth busy with chores. As a result, his education consisted only of informal instruction at home. When Floyd reached his 20th year, his father and mother died within 2 months of each other, and he inherited a large estate along with the responsibility of caring for his brothers and sisters. Six years later, he married. His bride helped care for the family and assisted in managing the farm, for which slaves supplied most of the labor. A community stalwart, Floyd also devoted considerable time to the affairs of the Brookhaven church, occupied the position of town trustee (1769-71), and moved up in the ranks of the Suffolk County militia to a colonelcy in 1775.

The Revolutionary movement in New York was much less fervent and started later than that in the other Colonies. The spirited Massachusetts opposition to the Tea Act in the later half of 1773 and in 1774 created the first major ferment in New York. One of the scattered focal points was eastern Long Island, where Floyd lived. He and many of his neighbors attended meetings that extended sympathy and aid to Massachusetts and protested the closing of the port of Boston by the British. Despite such local outbursts, by the end of 1774 New York was one of only two Colonies, Georgia being the other, in which the patriots did not control the government. For this reason, the Revolutionaries operated mainly on a county basis.

In 1774 Suffolk County sent Floyd to the Continental Congress. He remained there until 1777, returned in the period 1779-83, and in the interim served in the State senate and on the council of safety. Yielding the floor of Congress to the other New York Delegates, he labored without special distinction on a few committees. But worry about the welfare of his family presented a major distraction. In 1776, when British forces occupied Long Island, his wife, son, and two daughters fled northward across the sound and took refuge in Middletown, Conn. His wife died there in 1781. To make matters worse, the redcoats used his home at Mastic for a barracks, and Loyalists plundered his lands and belongings. When he brought his children back in 1783, he found the fields and timber stripped, the fences destroyed, and the house damaged.

After the war, Floyd sat for several terms in the State senate, attended the constitutional convention of 1801, supported the Federal Constitution, won election in the years 1789-91 as a Representative in the First Congress, served as presidential elector on four occasions, and became a major general in the New York militia. His second wife, whom he had married in 1784, bore him two daughters.

About this time, Floyd acquired an interest in western lands. The year of his marriage, he purchased a tract in central New York at the headwaters of the Mohawk River in the environs of present Rome; he supplemented this 3 years later by obtaining a State grant of more than 10,000 acres in the area. He spent most of his summers visiting and developing the acreage.

In 1803, in his late sixties, at a time when most men possess lesser ambitions, Floyd deeded his Long Island home and farm to his son Nicoll, and set out with the rest of his family to make a new life on the frontier. During the first year, he built a home at present Westernville, N.Y. There he succumbed, at the age of 86 in 1821, and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

Drawing: Oil, 1874, by Edward L. Henry, after Ralph Earl (Earle), Indpendence National Historical Park.

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Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004