William Atwood was born in Bloomfield, Essex and died in London. He was educated at Queen's College, Cambridge and the Inner Temple. He was called to the Bar from Gray's Inn in 1674. He successfully helped defend Lord Delamere from treason charges in 1686. In 1692 he was appointed King's Council and successfully defended several powerful clients, including the Earls of Macclesfield and Stamford. Through his continuing connections to these families, he was appointed Chief Justice of New York and Judge of the Admiralty in New York, the Jerseys and New England in 1701. With some misgivings about the low pay (£300 a year) and the vulnerability of an appointment ‘dureing pleasure’ at such a great distance from England, he nonetheless took up the posts. His misgivings proved well founded. He discovered that New York was ‘miserably divided’ and corrupt, and he soon fell victim to both division and corruption. In June 1702, the new governor, Lord Cornbury, dismissed him without a hearing on charges of corruption. Atwood maintained his innocence in The Case of William Atwood (1703) after his return to London, but by then the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations had already upheld Cornbury's action, again without a hearing. It may have been some consolation for Atwood when Cornbury was himself dismissed for embezzlement and imprisoned in 1708. But Atwood remained bitter. His last known publication, A Modern Inscription to the Duke of Marlboroughs Fame (1706), was a vicious verse attack on Matthew Prior, one of the Commissioners who had helped blacken his name and who had signed an order denying Atwood access to the documentary evidence against him.
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.