William Shirley was a noted British colonial administrator and military leader. He was born in Preston, Surrey. Trained as a lawyer, Shirley practiced in England for 11 years before immigrating to Boston in 1731. His talents were quickly recognized in his new home and he was named an admiralty judge in 1733. In the following year he became an advocate general, a position that enabled him to travel widely throughout New England. During these journeys he became acquainted with the plight of frontiersmen living in the shadow of the French and their Indian allies. From this time forward, he became an implacable foe of the French.
Shirley was named the royal governor of Massachusetts in 1741. He won widespread support for backing currency reform that brought some order in difficult economic times. During King George’s War (1740-48), Shirley was responsible for planning the successful Louisbourg campaign (1745) — the only significant British victory of the conflict.
Shirley was named to succeed Edward Braddock as commander-in-chief of British forces in North America during the French and Indian War. He quickly fell into disfavor, however, after a notable failure to capture Fort Niagara. In 1756, he was recalled to England and faced treason charges stemming from his poor performance. He was later cleared and resumed his career, serving as governor of the Bahamas in the 1760s. He returned to Massachusetts in 1770, where he died.