He was the son of William Ropes, Sr. and his first wife. He married Ellen Harriet Hall, daugher of D. Hall of Scarborough, and had nine children.
He moved to Russia in 1833, and became partner in the firm W. Ropes and Co. in 1836. They had offices in London, New York, Boston and St Petersburg. The firm started as an import - export business (mainly rice and cotton), and expanded to shipping. W. H. Ropes became United States Consul at St Petersburg from 24 September 1850 to 1854. He spent most of his life abroad. He was fluent in several languages and was liked by the Russians.
See Boston Evening Transcript, 18 November 1891, no. 18,744, p. 5; Harriet Ropes Cabot, 'The Early Years of William Ropes and Company in St. Petersburg,' American Neptune, MA, April 1963, vol.13, no. 2, pp. 131-39.