2764Reflections on Independence Day
- Jul 3, 2004
On July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress voted to accept the declaration of Independence in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. On August 2, fifty-six men signed their names to the historic document, giving birth to a new nation as they declared their independence from Great Britain.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Who were these "super-patriots"? Most were well-educated, prosperous businessmen and professionals. Two dozen were lawyers or judges; nine were farmers or plantation owners; eleven were merchants. Among them were also physicians, politicians, educators, and a minister; several were sons of pastors.
Here is the documented fate of that gallant fifty-six.
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 Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, raised $2 million to supply our French allies by offering his property as collateral. Because he was never reimbursed by the struggling new government, he was unable to repay the note when it came due – wiping out his entire estate. In the final battle of Yorktown, Nelson urged George Washington to fire on his home as it was occupied by British General Cornwallis. Nelson’s home was destroyed, leaving him bankrupt when he died.
Thomas McKeam 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 and enemy soldiers looted the properties of Bartlett, Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Gwinnet, Walton, Heward, Rutledge, and Middleton; the latter four captured and imprisoned. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.
After signing the Declaration, Richard Stockton, a State Supreme Court Justice, rushed back to his estate near Princeton in an effort to save his wife and children. Although he and his family found refuge with friends, a Tory betrayed him. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and beaten by British soldiers. Then he was jailed and deliberately starved. After his release, with his home burned and all of his possessions destroyed, he and his family were forced to live on charity.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen 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 from exhaustion and a broken heart
Lewis Morris and Philip Livingston suffered fates similar to Hart’s.
John Hancock, one of the wealthiest men in New England, stood outside Boston one terrible evening of the war and said, "Burn, Boston, though it makes John Hancock a beggar, if the public good requires it." He lost most of his fortune during the war, having given over $100,000 to the cause of freedom.
Caesar Rodney, Delaware statesman, was gravely ill with facial cancer. Unless he returned to England for treatment, his life would end. Yet Rodney sealed his fate by signing the Declaration of Independence. He was one of several who fulfilled their pledge with their lives.
In all, five of the fifty-six were captured by the British and tortured. Twelve had their homes ransacked, looted, confiscated by the enemy, or burned to the ground. Seventeen lost their fortunes. Two lost their sons in the army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six lost their lives in the war, from wounds or hardships inflicted by the enemy.
It is important to remember that despite the hardships, not a single one of them defected or failed to honor his pledge. They paid their price... and freedom was born.
*******I saw this circulating a few years ago, and as an educator I think it gives a little reality to Independence Day.
- Next post in topic >>