Few was born in 1748. His father's family had emigrated from England to Pennsylvania in the 1680's, but the father had subsequently moved to Maryland, where he married and settled on a farm near Baltimore. William was born there. He encountered much hardship and received minimal schooling. When he was 10 years of age, his father, seeking better opportunity, moved his brood to North Carolina.
In 1771 William, his father, and a brother associated themselves with the "Regulators," a group of frontiersmen who opposed the Royal Governor. As a result, the brother was hanged, the Few family farm was destroyed, and the father was forced to move once again, this time to Georgia. William remained behind, helping to settle his father's affairs, until 1776 when he joined his family near Wrightsboro, Ga. About this time, he won admittance to the bar, based on earlier informal study, and set up practice in Augusta.
When the War for Independence began, William enthusiastically alined himself with the Whig cause. Although largely self-educated, he soon proved his capacity for leadership and won a lieutenant-colonelcy in the dragoons. In addition, he entered politics. He was elected to the Georgia provincial congress of 1776, and during the war twice served in the assembly, in 1777 and 1779. During the same period, he also sat on the State Executive Council, besides holding the positions of surveyor-general and Indian commissioner. He also served in the Continental Congress (1780-88), during which time he was reelected to the Georgia assembly (1783).
Four years later, Few was appointed as one of six State delegates to the Constitutional Convention, two of whom never attended and two others of whom did not stay for the duration. Few himself missed large segments of the proceedings, being absent during all of July and part of August because of congressional service, and never made a speech. Nonetheless, he contributed nationalist votes at critical times. Furthermore as a Delegate to the last sessions of the Continental Congress, he helped steer the Constitution past its first obstacle, approval by Congress. And he attended the State ratifying convention.
Few became one of his State's first U.S. Senators (1789-93). When his term ended, he headed back home and served again in the assembly. In 1796 he received an appointment as a Federal judge for the Georgia circuit. At 52 years of age in 1799, for some reason he resigned his judgeship and moved to New York City.
Few's career continued to blossom. He served 4 years in the legislature (1802-5) and then as inspector of prisons (1802-10), alderman (1813-14), and U.S. commissioner of loans (1804). From 1804 to 1814 he held a directorship at the Manhattan Bank, and later the presidency of City Bank. A devout Methodist, he also donated generously to philanthropic causes.
When Few died in 1828 at the age of 80 in Fishkill-on-the-Hudson (present Beacon), he was survived by his wife (born Catherine Nicholson) and three daughters. Originally buried in the yard of the local Reformed Dutch Church, his body was later reinterred at St. Paul's Church, Augusta, Ga.
Drawing: Oil (undated) by Carl L. Brandt, after John Paradise. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Last Updated: 29-Jul-2004