Fate of Signers of the Declaration of Independence
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress agreed to formally declare independence from the British Crown. The final vote was unanimous, 13-0. Prior to the vote there were dissensions among the various delegations but 56 delegates agreed to sign a finished document. A formal Declaration of Independence was delayed as the paper had to be hand scribed and required time for preparation.
On August 2 the 56 members began affixing their signatures.
• Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
• Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
• Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
• Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll
• Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
• New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
• New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
• New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
• North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
• Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
• Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
• South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr, Thomas Lynch, Jr, Arthur Middleton
• Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
The Price They Paid:
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the revolutionary war.
Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKean of Delaware was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals, soldiers, or both, looted the properties of Ellery of Rhode Island, Clymer of Pennsylvania, Hall of Georgia, Walton of Georgia, Gwinnett of Georgia, Heyward of South Carolina, Ruttledge of South Carolina, and Middleton of South Carolina.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., of Virginia, noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis of New York had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.
John Hart of New Jersey was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his grist mill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Lewis Morris of New York and Philip Livingston of New York suffered similar fates.
Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were among prominent Americans well known in England. Yet both signed enthusiastically knowing they would be hanged if caught and even if they escaped, Jefferson was risking Monticello and Franklin his wealth and world prestige if independence was not secured.
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged:
"For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
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