This article is based on an Urban Legend - but the
facts have been corrected.
|"I am well aware of the toil and blood and
treasure it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support
and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I see the rays
of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth all
the means. This is our day of deliverance."
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the
Declaration of Independence? British subjects at the time, they
advocated the overthrow of the government for a free and independent
America. It was, in fact, our first Civil War. These rebels signed the
Declaration of Independence and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and
their sacred honor to their new country.
Seventeen fought in the ensuing war. Thomas Nelson was a colonel
in the Second Virginia Regiment and William Whipple served with the New
Hampshire militia. Oliver Wolcott led the Connecticut regiments sent for
the defense of New York and commanded a brigade of militia that took
part in the defeat of General Burgoyne. Caesar Rodney was a Major
General in the Delaware militia and John Hancock was the same in the
Five of the signers were captured by the British during the war
although only Richard Stockton of New Jersey is said to have been
imprisoned solely for having signed the Declaration of Independence. He
died after a year after he was released. Colonel George Walton was
wounded and captured at the Battle of Savannah and was exchanged for a
British naval captain. Captains Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, and
Arthur Middleton were all captured during the siege of Charleston in
1780 and exchanged a year later, too late to protect their property
which had been looted as had the properties of Hall, Clymer, Walton,
Hooper and Gwinnett. Gwinnett later died in a duel with a political
rival in Georgia in 1777.
Thomas Lynch of South Carolina was arrested in 1780 and held on
board a British prison ship for a year. During his imprisonment, his
plantation was sacked and his slaves (more than 130) were taken and
believed sold to sugar plantations in Jamaica. Twelve others had their
homes ransacked and burned. Most of the homes that were destroyed were
in the South at a time when the British had adopted a "scorched
earth" policy against the colonies in an effort to gain the support
of southern loyalists.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his
ships swept from the seas by the British Navy and, after making several
bad investments, was forced to sell his home and properties to pay his
debts. Colonel 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.
Legend has it when Thomas Nelson Jr was told the British General
Cornwallis had taken over his home for British headquarters, he replied,
"Blow the damn thing down." Nelson's house is still standing
at Yorktown and there are cannonballs embedded in its east wall.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. His home on
Long Island was destroyed by British calvary in the fall of 1776. Mrs.
Lewis was captured by the British but was eventually released in
exchange for a British officer's wife. Mrs. Lewis died two years after
her release. Altoghether, eleven signers had their homes and property
John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying.
Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill
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 of exhaustion and a broken heart. Morris and
Livingston suffered similar fates.
Abraham Clark of New Jersey had two of his sons captured by the
British during the war. The son of John Witherspoon was killed at the
Battle of Germantown.
What kind of men were these 56 rebels who signed the Declaration
of Independence? Twenty-two were lawyers and nine were judges. Stephen
Hopkins had been Governor of Rhode Island. Eighteen of the signers were
merchants or businessmen, 14 were farmers, and four were doctors.
Although two others had been clergy previously, John Witherspoon of New
Jersey was the only active clergyman to attend. He wore his pontifical
to the sessions.
These were men of means, interested in the well being of their
fellow countrymen. 42 had served in their States legislature. They were
well educated men. Seven had attended Harvard, four each at Yale and
William & Mary, and three at Princeton. John Witherspoon was the
president of Princeton and George Wythe was a professor at William &
Mary. Nine of the signers were immigrants, two were brothers, two were
cousins, and one was an orphan. They were slave owners and duelists, men
who were good in business and men who were not. In short, they were
ordinary human beings, thrust into an extraordinary situation. They put
their lives on the line to preserve the country they loved.
After the Revolution, 13 of the signers went on to become
governors, and 18 served in their state legislatures. Sixteen became
state and federal judges. Seven became members of the United States
House of Representatives, and six became United States Senators. James
Wilson and Samuel Chase became Justices of the United States Supreme
Court.Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Elbridge Gerry each became Vice
President, and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became President. The
sons of signers John Adams and Benjamin Harrison also became Presidents.
Oddly enough, two of the men who signed the Declaration
of Independence died on July 4th? U.S. Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died 50 years after the signing, to the day.
President James Monroe also died on the 4th, but in 1831. On July 4, 1872, President Calvin Coolidge was born.
July 4th became a legal holiday until 1941.
Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer,
James Wilson, and George Reed later signed the United States
Constitution. The Declaration of Independence, along with the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is on public display at the Rotunda
of the National Archives. So, take a few minutes while enjoying your 4th of
Holiday and silently thank these patriots. It's not much to
ask for the price they paid. Remember Freedom is never
The signers of the Declaration of Independence
knew they could have been targeted by the British as traitors. They
showed tremendous courage and bravery by willingly putting their names
on a document that could bring about their deaths. Here are the signers
of the Declaration (which, incidentally, wasn't signed until August 2,
1776) in the order it was signed. Click
here for a biography of all the signers.