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Sunday, July 04, 2004

What happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

with thanks to Mark Dixon and E. Brooke Harlowe
Of the 56, twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, eleven were merchants, nine were farmers or large plantation owners, five were doctors, one a ship builder and one was Benjamin Franklin.

No signer was killed outright by the British. Five were captured but eventually released. Richard Stockton of New Jersey was probably the only one who was captured and imprisoned just for having signed the Declaration of Independence.

At least one lost his son in the Revolutionary Army, and one had two sons captured.

Seventeen held military commissions or did medical duty during the War. Two were wounded (one lost his leg). None died in action.

Josiah Bartlett (NH) [name familiar from the tv series, The West Wing! ~ Yael] was a surgeon with Gen. John Stark's troops at Bennington. He declined national offices, citing fatigue or ill health, but remained active in state affairs and died in 1794.

Button Gwinnett (GA) was in a failed campaign to take St. Augustine. He was killed in a duel precipitated partly by an argument over military strategy in 1777.

George Clymer served with the Pennsylvania militia. He died in 1813.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. (SC) was wounded in 1779 near Port Royal Island, SC., recovered, and served in the siege of Charleston. He died 1809.

Thomas Lynch, Jr. (SC) had his military career cut short by illness in 1775. He then was elected to the Continental Congress. In an attempt to restore his health, he left for the West Indies, but was shipwrecked and killed in 1779.

There were two signers of the Declaration surnamed Morris. LEWIS Morris of New York was Brigadier General of Westchester Co. during the New York invasion. He was forced to flee his home, Morrisania, which was damaged in the British occupation, but was later rebuilt. Morris served in the state government and was active in public affairs. He died in 1798.

ROBERT Morris, of Pennsylvania, generally recognized for his fundraising efforts during the war, was later accused (though vindicated) by Thomas Paine of profiteering. As Superintendent of Finance (1781-1784) he was responsible for keeping the young country afloat financially. In 1789, he declined to serve as Secretary of the Treasury (Alexander Hamilton got the job), but served instead as a Senator from PA. Morris' own financial dealings were not as successful. He speculated on western lands on credit, lived extremely well, and embarked on an ambitious home building project. All of this led to personal bankruptcy and time in debtor's prison in 1798. His wife was granted a pension that sustained the family when he died in 1806.

Fifteen signers had their homes and possessions ransacked and burned. British soldiers looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, Middleton, William Floyd (NY), John Hart (NC), William Hooper (NC), Philip Livingston (NY), and Lewis Morris (NY).

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. His war losses were compounded by other severe commercial setbacks, although he was able to retain his family home, Chericoke, where he was buried in 1797.

Thomas McKeam/M'Kean was hounded by the British and forced to move his family several times. He continued to serve in a number of high ranking political offices, and lived out his life quietly in Philadelphia. He died in 1817 at the age of 83, survived by his second wife and four of the 11 children from his marriages. He left a substantial estate, and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. His wife was jailed by the British for six months and she survived only two years after the ordeal. Lewis essentially retired from public life after his wife's death, and lived to the age of 89. He died in 1802.

John Hart escaped the British by living for more than a year in forests and caves. He returned home to find that his wife had died, his 13 children vanished, and his estate, devasted. He died there in 1779. [I couldn't find out if he ever found his children. That worries me. ~ Yael]

I feel like I should say something clever about the preciousness of our freedom, but you know that. And if you don't, may you never have to learn the hard way.

Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July