He was born at Newport, Rhode Island, and graduated Harvard College at the age of 15. He worked successively as a merchant, a customs collector, and Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. He started the practice of law in 1770. He was active in the Rhode Island Sons of Liberty, and replaced Samuel Ward, who had died, in the Continental Congress in 1776, and served on the Marine committee and the committee for foreign relations. He became judge of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. By 1785 he had become an abolitionist. He was the first customs collector of the port of Newport under the Constitution, serving there until his death.