"All American Veterans"
What happened to the signers of our "Declaration of Independance"
On June 17, 1775 when the “shot heard round the world”’ was fired at Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Breed’s Hill, which is also known as the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought in Boston we had not yet declared our independence from Great Britain. The first mention of declaring our independence from the British was June 7, 1776 when Richard Henry Lee proposed to the Second Continental Congress a resolution that read, “That these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved of all allegiance to the British Crown and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
The irony of this act is that Lee felt that there was still time to compromise with the British Government. When the resolution was read the majority of the Congress stood against it. It took four days of passionate persuasion by Samuel and John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and other patriots to get the resolution passed by a majority of one. But that was immediately followed by a South Carolina resolution that postponed the matter until the July 1, 1776. Many men hoped that this would end the matter, but John Adams asked Thomas Jefferson, the best writer in the Congress, to draft a Declaration of Independence. Meanwhile John Adams and John Hancock set to work.
What happened between that day and July 4, 1776 has filled many a book. As John Adams stated many of the quarrels, compromises and backroom conferences will never be told. But, after four days of world shaking debate the Declaration of Independence was adopted without a dissenting vote. John Hancock signed it as President of Congress with Charles Thomson, Secretary, attesting.
The formal signing was set for August 2, 1776 and all 56 members signed the document.
By signing this declaration they each committed an act of treason against the crown. Each of the signers pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” by signing the declaration. Benjamin Franklin was the only really old man among them. Eighteen were under forty and three were still in their twenties. Twenty-four were jurists or lawyers, eleven were merchants, and nine were landowners or farmers. The rest were doctors, ministers or politicians. With only a few exceptions, like Samuel Adams whom well wishers furnished with a new suit so that he might be presentable in Congress, were men of substantial property and wealth.
All but two had families and the vast majority was men of education and prominent standing in their states. As they signed the Declaration of Independence some left us with memorable quotes such as: John Hancock, “His Majesty can now read my name without glasses and can double the reward on my head.”, Benjamin Franklin, “Indeed we must all hang together. Otherwise we shall most assuredly hang separately. ” robust Benjamin Harrison said to tiny Elbridge Gerry, “With me it will all be over in a minute, but you will be dangling on air an hour after I am gone.”, and Stephen Hopkins stated, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”
These men collectively set the wheels in motion to start a new nation through one supreme act of courage. We all know what became of the nation they set in motion that day, but not many of us know what became of these men or even who they were. Some of the signers prospered like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who went on to become Presidents of our country. Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Josiah Bartlett, Oliver Wolcott, Edward Rutledge, Benjamin Harrison and Elbridge Gerry lived to become state governors. Elbridge Gerry died in office as James Monroe’s Vice President. Charles Carroll, who was the richest man in Congress in 1776, founded the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1828.
Other signers were not as fortunate. Four delegates from New York were all men of vast property and as they signed their names they had to know they were signing away all their property. Francis Lewis lost his home and his wife died from brutal treatment by the British. William Floyd’s home was destroyed and his family was homeless for seven years. Phillip Livingston’s business property in New York City was seized and his townhouse was confiscated. His family was driven out becoming homeless. Livingston died in 1778 while still working in Congress for the cause of freedom. The fourth New Yorker, Lewis Morris had his property taken and was also homeless for seven years. During that seven year time span he served as a Brigadier General in the New York Militia.New Jersey signer John Hart tried to go to the bedside of his dying wife only to be chased away by the British. When he finally was able to sneak home he found his wife was dead and buried; and, his 13 children had been taken away. He died in 1779 without ever finding his children. Abraham Clark’s two sons were captured and held on the “hell ship” Jersey where 11,000 captives died. The British offered to exchange them for Clark if he would recant his signing of the Declaration of Independence, but he refused. Dr. John Witherspoon had his college’s library trampled and burned. The college later became known as Princeton. While hiding Judge Richard Stockton was betrayed by the Tories. He was brutally beaten and nearly starved to death. The British released him to his family when it became apparent that he was no longer a threat to the Crown. He died soon after being released and his family had to live off charity. Pennsylvania signer Robert Morris used all his personal wealth and prestige to keep the finances of the Revolution going. He lost 150 ships and almost lost all of his other assets for the cause of freedom. George Clymer and his family lost their home to the British, but were able to escape. Dr. Benjamin Rush and his family managed to escape the British and Dr. Rush later served as a surgeon in the army. John Morton lived in a Loyalist area and when he signed the Declaration his family and friends ostracized him. He was a very sensitive and troubled man and it is believe this contributed to his death. His last words were, “Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service that I ever rendered to my country.” Rhode Island signer William Ellery’s property was destroyed and his home burnt to the ground. South Carolina signers Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward, Jr. all joined the Military and were captured at Charleston. The British destroyed Rutledge and Middleton’s plantations. Thomas Lynch, also, joined the Military, but became ill. His doctor advised him that he should take a rest in Europe. He and his wife were lost at sea on the way to Europe. Georgia signer Button Gwinnett was killed in a duel in 1777. Colonel George Walton was wounded and captured when Savannah fell and he later became a United States Senator from Georgia. Lyman Hall’s home was burned and his rice plantation was seized by the British. However, he later became the 16th Governor of Georgia. North Carolina signer Joseph Hews died in Philadelphia while serving in Congress. William Hooper’s home was occupied by the British and his family went into hiding. Virginia signer Carter Braxton property, mainly ships, was seized by the British. Thomas Nelson’s home was in Yorktown, VA. During the siege of Yorktown he noticed that the artillery was not bombarding his home which was being used by the British. He asked why and was told they did not want to destroy his home. He replied, “Give me the cannon!” The cannon fired and his home was destroyed. But, that did not end his sacrifice for the cause. He had raised 2 million dollars for the Revolution by pledging his own properties. The war ended. The note came due. Congress refused to honor their pledge to him. His property was forfeited.
When the signers of the Declaration of Independence signed that historical document they truly pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” it was not an idle pledge. Of the 56 signers, 9 died of wounds or hardships during the war, 5 were captured and given brutal treatment, several lost wives, sons and/or family. One signer lost 13 children, all signers were hunted down and driven from their homes, 12 had their homes burned and 17 lost everything they owned. However, not one defected or recanted their signing. The Nation they conceived on that July day is still intact.
As we celebrate this Memorial Day, May 30, 2011, may we always remember the sacrifices that these brave men and women made in order that we may enjoy the freedoms we have today and let us be reminded again that: “Freedom is not free.”
May we all remember the military men and women, both past and present that served this great country and especially those that gave the ultimate sacrifice!
God bless each of you and may God bless the United States of America!