The William Hunter Story
A British Soldier’s Son Who Became an Early American
Discover of the Journal
A chance encounter at a dinner party sparked the discovery and identification of the only extant journal or diary written by a child of a British soldier during the American Revolution. Initial examination of the family’s journal indicated a well-written, two-sided document in excellent penmanship that covered the Revolutionary period. Not recorded as a contemporaneous diary but written years afterward by a well-versed author, the journal is a remembrance for family and friends of the author’s childhood and young adult experiences. Remarkably, the diary is written from an American perspective, espousing sympathy for the Rebel cause.
With a few weeks of William Hunter’s arrival in Philadelphia from Britain, he published his first book, a Spanish Grammar textbook. Sensing opportunity on the western frontier, he moved to Washington, PA to start the second newspaper west of the Alleghenies in Pennsylvania. Later William moved to Kentucky where he edited three newspapers. He penned the first editorial contesting the Alien and Sedition Acts and published the first account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. His newspapers circulated throughout the west with articles reprinted in eastern papers.
Follow His Journey
William travelled throughout the Atlantic world. During his childhood he experienced the American Revolutionary War on campaign with his father a prisoner of war in Lancaster, PA. On his way back to Britain, a French privateer captured William and his family and incarcerated them in Le Havre de Grace, France for a year. Later freed, William journeyed throughout Britain following his father’s army deployments. After completing a printer apprenticeship, he moves to the United States and founds four newspapers. Finally, he moves to Washington DC to serve in the Andrew Jackson administration to oversee military pensions.
Views on Slavery and Abolition
William Hunter’s views on slavery and abolition represented both enlightenment thinking and societal conformity. Early in his career, he published stridently anti-slavery editorials which called for the immediate emancipation of slavery. Later, he conformed to the predominate practice of purchasing and employing enslaved people in his businesses and his household. Hunter is an example of deeply conflicted early nineteenth century business leader who intellectually was against slavery but practiced slavery in their economic lives.
In a touching will, William Hunter’s wife, Ann, leaves a portion of her estate to erect a marble obelisk to commemorate the life of her husband. The resulting memorial is in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC. Prominently, William is buried, along side his wife and family among senators, congressional members and other prominent politicians. His grave site is in Section 1 of the cemetery.
“Using an array of sources including a recently-discovered memoir, Gene Procknow introduces us to William Hunter, a man whose life as at the same time unique and typical of those who built the new American nation.”
Don Hagist, Editor – Journal of the American Revolution