Hon. William Prescott

The son of Col. William Prescott, also William, was known during his life, which was devoted to the law, as Hon. William Prescott. Here is a brief biography.



Hon. William Prescott, painted by Gilbert Stuart


from the Prescott Memorial, pp.75-76.


Hon. William b. at Pepperell, Aug. 19, 1762. In 1776, at the age of fourteen, he was placed under the instruction of “Master Moody,” the then celebrated teacher of Dummer Academy in Newbury, Essex Co., Mass. Here he remained three years, when he entered Harvard College, where he graduated in 1783, with high honors. His father, partaking largely of that liberality so common among the officers of the Revolutionary army, had accumulated hut a small estate, and young Mr. Prescott found it necessary to be earning something to help him finish his professional education, upon which he was about to enter; accordingly he took charge of an academy at Beverly, where he continued two years, and where he studied his procession, (that of law,) with the Hon. Nathan Dane, an able and learned jurist and statesman. While here he received an invitation to become a member of Gen. Washington’s household, to act as a private teacher while he was prosecuting his legal studies, but. previous engagements compelled him to decline the proffered boon, and his classmate in college, Mr. Tobias Lear, obtained it.

Prescott began the practice of law in Beverly, upon being admitted to the bar in 1787, where he remained but two years, that place not offering a field wide enough for his purposes. He removed, in 1789, to the adjoining town of Salem, where he remained 19 years and where his children were born. Here he soon rose to distinction. He devoted himself almost exclusively to his profession, in which his talents, his integrity and his industry gained for him a high rank. In 1793, on the 18th of Dec., Mr. Prescott was married to Catharine Green Hickling, a dau. of Thomas Hickling, Esq., earlier a merchant of Boston, but then and subsequently, until his death at the age of 91, Consul of the U. S. in the Island of St. Michael. It proved a happy union, full of blessing to him and his house during the fitly-one years of its continuance. They had seven children, all b. between 1795 and 1806, but four of them died under one year, the others will be recorded in the VI. Gen. Mr. Prescott had no relish for political distinction, and when he consented to any situation it was to gratify his numerous friends. From 1798 he represented Salem four years in the general court, and senator for Essex Co., in 1805, but declined a reelection. He removed to Boston in 1808, and represented that town several years in the general court. He was twice invited to a seat on the bench of the supreme court; once while in Salem in 1806, and once when in Boston in 1813; each of which be declined. He was of the executive council for several years under Gov. C. Gore and Gov. Strong. In 1818 he was appointed a judge of the court of common pleas for the city of Boston, which he resigned in about a year. In 1820 he was elected as one of the delegates from Boston to the convention for revising and amending the Constitution of Massachusetts.

In 1824 Harvard College conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1828 he retired from the bar after more than forty years’ service. In 1814, during apparently the darkest period of the war, then raging between the United States and Great Britain, the Federal Party, who had vehemently opposed the war and the prosecution of it, appointed a convention, to consist of delegates from the New England States, to meet at Hartford, Ct. Of that convention, Mr. Prescott was elected by the legislature of Massachusetts as one of the delegates from that State. It is alleged that, as the excitement was great throughout the country, he was induced to accept the appointment, mostly through fear that rash measures tending to affect the integrity of the Union, might be suggested and urged. But he always declared that no such measures were proposed. Whatever opinions were entertained by different individuals in regard to the original design of the movers of the measure, no one ever doubted the patriotism of Mr. Prescott. Yet it is a historical fact, that cannot be gainsayed or denied, that the “Hartford Convention” proved to be a very unpopular assemblage, and had a damaging effect upon the Federal Party.

In 1843, 28th of Oct., while at Pepperell, he had a slight attack of paralysis, but from which lie apparently soon recovered. But about the last of Nov., 1844, he felt more unwell, and on Sunday, Dec. 8, he had another attack and died without a struggle, aged 82 years 3 months and 19 days. and on Wednesday following his remains were deposited in the family crypt, under St. Paul’s Church, Boston. Daniel Webster, when he announced Mr. Prescott’s death to the supreme court, then in session in Boston, said of him that, “at the moment of his retirement from the bar of Massachusetts he stood at its head for legal learning and attainments.”

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