Kittery: The fascinating life of Gen. William Whipple


Lecture Series at the Kittery Naval Museum 9-21-2017. See Below for more info.

KITTERY, Maine – Gen. William Whipple sailed the seas as a ship’s captain, led troops into battle during the Revolutionary War, served alongside future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

But before all that he was a hometown Kittery boy, born and raised in a home just outside the present back gate of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Local writer D. Allan Kerr will discuss highlights from the fascinating life of the Seacoast’s own Founding Father during a presentation Thursday, Sept. 21, at Kittery Historical and Naval Museum. The event is part of Kittery Adult Education’s lecture series.

The Second Continental Congress, which issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776, included some of the best-educated and most brilliant minds of the age. Whipple, however, tended to be a man of action. A former cabin boy, he made his fortune as a Kittery sea captain before settling down across the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

He became a successful merchant, served as one of New Hampshire’s representatives in Congress from 1776 to 1779, and was appointed brigadier general of the state’s militia. He saw action at the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, where he helped negotiate the surrender terms of British Gen. John Burgoyne. He then escorted the defeated commander back to the Boston area, where Burgoyne was shipped back to England.

“War with all its horrors is preferable to an inglorious peace,” Whipple once wrote to fellow Declaration signer Josiah Bartlett.

Born in Kittery in 1730, Whipple grew up in the house still standing at 88 Whipple Road. His father, also named William, was a former brewer from Massachusetts who pursued a career at sea, and his grandfather was the famed local shipbuilder Robert Cutts.

He is the only native Mainer to sign the Declaration of Independence.

And like many of his fellow Founding Fathers, Whipple grappled with the issue of slavery – at one time he even owned a slave ship. Kerr will share a story of the general’s evolving views on the matter, as demonstrated through his relationship with his slave Prince Whipple.

Whipple was riding the circuit on horseback as a justice of New Hampshire’s Superior Court when he died of heart failure in 1785. He is buried in Portsmouth’s North Cemetery.


Kerr is a columnist for the Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Sunday, and author of the book “Silent Strength,” about the loss of USS Thresher in the worst submarine disaster of all time. He is heading the ongoing installation of historical markers throughout Kittery, Maine’s oldest town, including the most recent – a panel about the general on Whipple Road, just down the street from where Whipple was born and raised.

The general’s portrait also now hangs in Kittery’s Town Hall, alongside a copy of the Declaration.

The Sept. 21 event starts at 6 p.m. There is a $10 course fee, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Kittery Historical & Naval Museum. Those interested in attending can call Kittery Adult Education at (207) 439-5896.