Know Your Signers: Part 7 – John Penn to George Walton

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So we’re on the final segment of my post series about the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, I hope you enjoy reading it as I relished in spending a week compiling research from various websites and using Google Images for pictures. At least the portraits are public domain as far as I’m concerned. Still, all too often we tend to model the Founding Fathers in our own image. One group might say that the Founding Fathers were strong Christians and founded this country on Christian principles while another group might say that they were Deist secularists who founded this country on Enlightenment principles. However, as a progressive Catholic history buff, I have to say that the truth is that while all the Founding Fathers were Christians at least in the nominal sense, their practices and devotion varied among individuals as it always has among Christian Americans. Jefferson and Franklin may not have been fans of organized religion while Samuel Adams was a staunch Puritan, Charles Carroll of Carrollton had to be a strong Catholic to put up with religious discrimination in Maryland, Benjamin Rush thought all kids should learn Christianity in schools, and John Witherspoon was a clergyman (but he also diversified Princeton’s curriculum considerably and purchased scientific equipment). But as far as religion and science are concerned, it’s pretty clear that most of them didn’t see much of a conflict or at least tried to see a way both can coexist. But, let’s just say in terms of what they believed about medicine and sanitation, you might not want to know. In this final installment, we wrap up the North Carolina signer delegation with John Penn as well as cover those of South Carolina and Georgia. First, there’s John Penn who was instrumental in opening communications between North Carolina and Nathaniel Green. Second, it’s off to South Carolina with Edward Rutledge who was the youngest signer of the lot as well as brother of a crazy Supreme Court Justice followed by Thomas Heyward Jr. After them comes Thomas Lynch Jr. who was sent to the Continental Congress to replace his ailing father but later went off on a seafaring voyage and never returned. Rounding out the South Carolina delegation is Arthur Middleton a scion of a patriot family who liked fine art, classical literature, music, and traveling Europe. Finally it’s off to Georgia with Button Gwinnett who got killed in a duel by a political rival, Lyman Hall a failed minister turned physician, and George Walton who got in trouble over the Gwinnett duel. So for your flag waving reading delights, we come to the final set of our signers who declared this country’s independence.

49. John Penn

Though he didn't have much formal education, John Penn managed to establish communications between Nathaniel Greene and the North Carolina Board of War.  Mostly retired to his law practice after the war though.

Though he didn’t have much formal education, John Penn managed to establish communications between Nathaniel Greene and the North Carolina Board of War. Mostly retired to his law practice after the war though.

Lived: (1741-1788) He was 35 at the signing and 47 at his death.

Family: Son of Moses Penn and Catherine Taylor. Was an only child. Married Susannah Lyme in 1763 and had 2 children.

State: North Carolina

Occupation: Lawyer

Early Life: Born in Port Royal, Virginia. Attended a common school for 2 years because his dad didn’t think education was important. At 18, he started studying law with his uncle and entered the bar in 1762. Moved to Williamsborough, North Carolina where he practiced law (possibly over being brought to court for some malicious slander against British policy). Was elected to the North Carolina Provincial Congress in 1774 who sent him to the Continental Congress that same year.

Significant Roles: Signed the Articles of Confederation and served on the Board of War. Also signed the Halifax Resolves (which was North Carolina’s constitution). Might’ve been challenged to a duel with Henry Laurens but the two ended up buddies in 1777-1778. On the North Carolina Board of War (where he was the only guy doing anything as his two colleagues were incompetent), he established effective communication with General Nathaniel Greene in Hillsborough in 1780 where they raised recruits, found funding for the military, provided transportation and supplies, disarmed Tories, and generally spurred the people into action.

Ultimate Fate: After the war, he retired to practice law though he had a stint as a receiver of taxes in 1784. Currently buried at Guildford Courthouse.

Trivia: Has a ship named after him. An historical highway marker honoring him was the first one erected by the State of North Carolina (January 10, 1936). Was a proponent for free speech.

50. Edward Rutledge

Though you wouldn't tell by this picture, Edward Rutledge was actually the youngest Declaration of Independence signer. He was also a notable politician in South Carolina though he didn't live long.

Though you wouldn’t tell by this picture, Edward Rutledge was actually the youngest Declaration of Independence signer. He was also a notable politician in South Carolina though he didn’t live long.

Lived: (1749-1800) He was 26 at the signing and 50 at his death.

Family: Son of Dr. John Rutledge and Sarah Hext. Father was a Scots-Irish physician. Youngest of 7 children. Married Henrietta Middleton and Mary Shubrick Eveleigh and had 3 children.

State: South Carolina

Occupation: Lawyer, planter, soldier, and landowner

Early Life: Born in Charleston. Followed his brothers John and Hugh into studying law in London and was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1772, before returning to Charleston to practice with his partner Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Owned more than 50 slaves. Along with brother John he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774.

Significant Roles: Worked to have African Americans expelled from the Continental Army (but was unsuccessful). Voted how he was instructed to, (explaining why Adams thought him a waste of political space). Was elected to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1776. Served as captain in the South Carolina militia where he fought the Battle of Beaufort in 1779. Was captured by the British in the fall of Charleston and held prisoner in Florida until 1781.

Ultimate Fate: After his release, he returned to the state assembly and served until 1796. Was known as an active legislator and an advocate for the confiscation of Loyalist property. Was opposed to the African slave trade. Served in the state senate for 2 years and was elected governor in 1798. While attending an important meeting in Columbia, he was sent home due to gout. He died before the end of his term, presumably of apoplexy resulting from hearing the news of George Washington’s death. Buried at Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Charleston.

Trivia: Youngest delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence. Brother of Supreme Court Justice John Rutledge who went nuts. Brother-in-law of Thomas Lynch Jr. and Arthur Middleton. Said to be an uncommonly benevolent guy except if you were a Loyalist or black.

51. Thomas Heyward Jr.

Aside to being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward Jr. was also involved in defending Charleston from the British. And he was taken prisoner in St. Augustine, Florida until 1781.

Aside to being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward Jr. was also involved in defending Charleston from the British. And he was taken prisoner in St. Augustine, Florida until 1781.

Lived: (1746-1809) He was 29 at the signing and 62 at his death.

Family: Son of Daniel Heyward and Maria Miles. Married Elizabeth Matthews and Elizabeth Savage (later Parker) and had 9 children with 4 surviving to adulthood.

State: South Carolina

Occupation: Lawyer, soldier, planter, and landowner

Early Life: Born in what is now Jasper County, South Carolina. Educated at home and studied law in England where he was a member of the Honorable Society of the Middle Temple. But saw that the Brits looked down on Americans though. Established his White Hall sugar plantation in 1772. Elected to the South Carolina General Assembly the same year. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1775.

Significant Roles: Was a signer for the Articles of Confederation. Returned to South Carolina in 1778 to serve as a judge and command a militia force. Taken prisoner by the British during the siege of Charleston where his plantation was burned and his 130 slaves were taken to Jamaica. Held in Florida until 1781.

Ultimate Fate: Continued to serve as judge after the war and retired in 1798. Buried at Old House Plantation.

Trivia: Named after his older brother so not a “Jr.” in the strictest sense. Ancestor of Dubose Heyward whose play “Porgy” was adapted into “Porgy and Bess.”

52. Thomas Lynch Jr.

Thomas Lynch Jr. was selected for the Continental Congress to replace his ailing father. But ailing himself, he and his wife decided to go on a Caribbean vacation but were caught in a storm after setting sail. They were never seen again.

Thomas Lynch Jr. was selected for the Continental Congress to replace his ailing father. But ailing himself, he and his wife decided to go on a Caribbean vacation but were caught in a storm after setting sail. They were never seen again.

Lived: (1749-1779) He was 26 at the signing and 29-30 at his death (most definitely).

Family: Son of Thomas Lynch and Elizabeth Allston (later Moultrie). Was the 3rd Thomas Lynch in his line so he should be Thomas Lynch III. Married Elizabeth Shubrick and had no children.

State: South Carolina

Occupation: Planter, landowner, soldier, and lawyer

Early Life: Born in what is now Georgetown, South Carolina, where he was educated at the Indigo Society School. Attended Eton and graduated from Cambridge University in England. Studied law in London’s Middle Temple before returning to America in 1772. Elected to the South Carolina Provincial Congress in 1774. Was a company commander of the 1st South Carolina regiment in 1775 and elected to the Continental Congress to replace his father who had recently died from a stroke.

Significant Roles: Became severely ill from malaria and would become a semi-invalid for the rest of his life.  In 1779, he and his wife set out on an ocean voyage to St. Eustatius to improve his health. But the ship disappeared in a storm and they were never seen again. Plantation Hopseewee still stands though.

Ultimate Fate: Lynch most likely didn’t survive the American Revolution.

Trivia: Before the voyage prior to disappearance, he made a will, stipulating that heirs of his female relatives must change their surname to Lynch in order to inherit the family estate, a rice plantation (an apparently, one of his nephews actually did). He and his dad were the only father and son pair to serve at the same time in the Continental Congress. Youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence to die. Brother-in-law to Edward Rutledge.

53. Arthur Middleton

Now this picture of Arthur Middleton is taken from a family portrait with his wife and first child during their 3 year tour of Europe. Nevertheless, he was a more radical thinker than his dad and would soon be a trustee of Charleston College.

Now this picture of Arthur Middleton is taken from a family portrait with his wife and first child during their 3 year tour of Europe. Nevertheless, he was a more radical thinker than his dad and would soon be a trustee of Charleston College.

Lived: (1742-1787) He was 34 at the signing and 44 at his death.

Family: Son of Henry Middleton and Mary Baker Williams. Father owned approximately 20 plantations consisting in all of 50,000 acres and 800 slaves. He was also a leader of British opposition in South Carolina as well. Married Mary Izard in 1764 and had 9 children. Eldest son Henry would become a US Representative, an ambassador to Russia, and Governor of South Carolina.

State: South Carolina

Occupation: Planter, landowner, soldier, lawyer, and college trustee

Early Life: Born in Charleston. Educated in England at the Harrow School and graduated from Cambridge University in 1760. Studied law at the Middle Temple and traveled across Europe before returning to America in 1764 to get married (they’d later go on a 3 year tour of Europe in 1770). Was a leader of the American Party in South Carolina and one of the boldest members of the Council of Safety and its Secret Committee. Elected to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1765. As a Patriot, he was more of a radical thinker than his dad and his attitude toward Loyalists was said to be ruthless (and yes, he did think tarring and feathering them was a good idea). In 1776, he was elected to succeed his dad in the Continental Congress.

Significant Roles: After signing the Declaration of Independence, he became an officer in the local militia that participated in the defense of Charleston and was taken prisoner during the siege by the British. Held in St. Augustine, Florida until 1781. Plantation Middleton Place was plundered and devastated. Was appointed to the State Senate in 1782.

Ultimate Fate: Was one of the original trustees of Charleston College. Buried in his family mausoleum at Middleton Place in his beloved 18th century garden. Home is a National Historic Landmark.

Trivia: Died on New Year’s Day. 3rd great nephew was Baldur von Schirach, a onetime leader of the Hitler Youth who was governor of the Reichsgau Vienna and was convicted of “crimes against humanity” during the Nuremberg trials. Has a ship named after him. Had a refined taste in music, literature, music, and art. Brother-in-law of Edward Rutledge.

54. Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett has the distinction of being the Declaration of Independence signer with the most valuable signature. Of course, he was a rather obscure guy before the Revolution and got himself killed in a duel with longtime rival Lachlan McIntosh not long after. And it was mostly his fault since he challenged the guy. Yeah, kids, dueling isn't a good idea.

Button Gwinnett has the distinction of being the Declaration of Independence signer with the most valuable signature. Of course, he was a rather obscure guy before the Revolution and got himself killed in a duel with longtime rival Lachlan McIntosh not long after. And it was mostly his fault since he challenged the guy. Yeah, kids, dueling isn’t a good idea.

Lived: (1735-1777) He was 40-41 at the signing and 41-42 at his death.

Family: Son of the Reverend Samuel Gwinnett and Anne Eames. Was third of 7 children. Married Anne Bourne in 1757 and had 4 daughters but none of them left any descendants.

State: Georgia

Occupation: Merchant, planter, shopkeeper, businessman and landowner

Early Life: Born in England. Not much is known about his life there except that he became a merchant and got married. Came to America in 1762 and arrived in Georgia in 1765. There, he abandoned his mercantile pursuits and bought a tract of land to start a plantation where he prospered. Was elected to the Georgia Provincial Assembly in 1769, where he met Lyman Hall one of his closest allies and Lachlan McIntosh one of his most bitter enemies. Wasn’t a strong advocate for colonial rights until 1775 when St. John’s Parish, which encompassed his lands, threatened to secede from Georgia due to the colony’s conservative response to the events of the times.

Significant Roles: After voting for independence, he accompanied Carter Braxton to as far as Virginia carrying a proposed state constitution drawn up by John Adams. Was a candidate for Brigadier General in the 1st Regiment in the Continental Army during his time in the Continental Congress, but he lost out to Lachlan McIntosh which made him super pissed. Later in 1776, he returned to Georgia to serve in the state legislature where he wrote the original draft to Georgia’s first state constitution. He later became Georgia Assembly Speaker and later Governor. However, his rivalry with Lachlan McIntosh would soon get nasty when he ordered the latter to arrest his own brother for treason in irons as well as lead in what turned out to be a poorly planned and poorly led military expedition in East Florida. In May 1, 1777, McIntosh would denounce Gwinnett in front of the state legislature in the harshest of terms, calling him “a scoundrel and a lying rascal.” Gwinnett called on McIntosh and demanded an apology but the latter refused so he challenged the guy to a duel. So just outside of Savannah in Sir James Wright’s pasture, the two shot each other, fell wounded, and Gwinnett died from a gangrene infection a few days later. Though McIntosh would be acquitted with his murder, he was ordered by George Washington to Continental Army headquarters where he spent the winter in Valley Forge. Buried in Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetery (though we don’t know where) and has a large monument in its downtown cemetery.

Ultimate Fate: Gwinnett didn’t survive the Revolution (and it was mostly his fault).

Trivia: Has the most sought after signature by autograph collectors wishing to gather a complete set of the 56 signers (and people have paid as much as $250,000 for it). 51 examples are known to exist since he was so obscure prior to the signing and died shortly afterward. Only 10 of those are in private hands. Has a county named after him in Georgia.

55. Lyman Hall

Dr. Lyman Hall was a failed minister turned physician who helped made sure that his little community in Georgia would be represented in the Continental Congress. So they had them send him.

Dr. Lyman Hall was a failed minister turned physician who helped made sure that his little community in Georgia would be represented in the Continental Congress. So they had them send him.

Lived: (1724-1790) He was 52 at the signing and 66 at his death.

Family: Son of John Hall and Mary Street. Married Abigail Burr and Mary Osbourne and had a son who died without issue.

State: Georgia

Occupation: Minister, teacher, physician, planter, and landowner

Early Life: Born in Wallingford, Connecticut. Graduated from Yale in 1747 and was called to the pulpit of present day Bridgeport in 1749 but the congregation hated him so much that he was fired in 1751 on charges against his moral character. Though he’d continue preaching for 2 more years, he decided to become a doctor instead. In 1757, he moved to Dorcester, South Carolina to establish himself as a physician, which was community founded by Congregationalist migrants from Massachusetts decades earlier. And when these settlers moved to what is now Liberty County, Georgia, he went with them and became a leading citizen of the newly formed town of Sunbury as well as operated a rice plantation. Now this place was in St. John’s Parish which was a radical hotbed in predominantly loyalist Georgia in the years leading up to the Revolution. Still, Georgia wasn’t represented at all in the First Continental Congress but through Hall’s influence, he got St. John’s Parish to send a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, himself.

Significant Roles: Well, his efforts in the Continental Congress led Georgia to send its own delegation. In 1779, Sunbury was burned by the British which led him and his family to head north until the British evacuation in 1782. But his home, plantation, and slaves were confiscated. For Hall, this resulted in great financial loss.

Ultimate Fate: After the war, he returned to Georgia where he settled in Savannah. In 1783, he was elected Governor of Georgia in which he advocated the chartering a state university since he believed that education, particularly religious education would result in a more virtuous citizenry. This would lead to the chartering of the University of Georgia in 1785 which was one of the first state universities in the nation. When his term was up, he resumed his medical practice and bought a plantation in Burke County, where he died and is currently buried.

Trivia: Has a county named after him in Georgia.

56. George Walton

Though apprenticed as a carpenter, George Walton decided to pursue law as soon as he was legally able. He would soon damage his political career for his clashes with Button Gwinnett as result in his expulsion and indictment for various criminal activities. But he also helped defend Savannah and was held as a POW by the British for 2 years.

Though apprenticed as a carpenter, George Walton decided to pursue law as soon as he was legally able. He would soon damage his political career for his clashes with Button Gwinnett as result in his expulsion and indictment for various criminal activities. But he also helped defend Savannah and was held as a POW by the British for 2 years.

Lived: (ca. 1749-1804) He was at least 26-27 at the signing and at least 54-55 at his death. We’re actually not sure when he was born since his birth year has been listed to as early as 1740.

Family: Son of Robert Walton and Mary Hughes. Was orphaned by the time he was 12 and raised by his uncle. Brother John also served in the Continental Congress. Married Dorothy Camber in 1778 and had 2 sons. But since his great-grandson’s death in 1925, he currently has no living descendants.

State: Georgia

Occupation: Carpenter, lawyer, soldier, and college trustee

Early Life: Born in Cumberland County, Virginia. Was apprenticed to his carpenter uncle at 12 who thought his nephew’s reading would contribute to laziness. Thus, it’s no surprise that he left his uncle as soon as he could as well as far away as possibly like Savannah, Georgia in 1769. There he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1774. Was elected Secretary to the Provincial Congress and president of the Council of Safety. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1776-1778.

Significant Roles: His passionate political battles with Button Gwinnett would lead to his expulsion from office and indictment for various criminal activities. He would also be censured over his involvement the Gwinnett and McIntosh duel. Was commissioned Colonel of the 1st Regiment of the Georgia militia and in the Battalion of General Robert Howe. Fought in the Battle of Savannah where he was wounded by a cannonball in the leg while he was on his horse as well as captured by the British. He was held captive for 2 years and exchanged in 1779 for a British naval officer. Later he was appointed Governor of Georgia that same year and would only serve 2 months since he was just there to fill a vacancy until someone else was elected.

Ultimate Fate: In 1783-1789, he would become Chief Justice of Georgia before being elected governor in 1789 helping to set up a state government in Augusta and making peace with the Creek Indians. In 1795, he became a US Senator but retired after a year. In 1799 he was appointed to Georgia’s Superior Court where he’d serve for the rest of his life. Died at College Hill in Augusta after long bouts with gout. Currently buried in the Signers Monument in Augusta.

Trivia: Has a county in Georgia named after him (ironically near Gwinnett since the two men hated each other). Was a trustee for the University of Georgia and Richmond Academy.

Know Your Signers: Part 6 – Richard Henry Lee to Joseph Hewes

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Other than the number slaves, as you go further along the list of Declaration of Independence signers, you start to notice how they keep getting younger. Most the northern delegates seem to be middle aged or elderly while many of the southern delegates tend to be either in their 30s or younger. Of course, this isn’t hard to explain why. After all, a significant majority of signatories south of the Mason-Dixon Line grew up plantations owned by notable and wealthy families. Many of them tend to be sent to best schools, sometimes abroad and have been groomed for political office and southern aristocracy from day one. Besides, the southern delegates have all the slaves on their plantation to do all the fieldwork and other manual labor for them. On the other hand, the delegates from New England had to work for a living to actually get anywhere or wait until the old man dies to inherit their property (possibly a combination of the two). Many of them also seemed to have longer political careers. Add to the fact that the New England colonies had been settled longer than say, places like North Carolina and Georgia. Then again, it could also be due to the fact that the older southern politicians simply didn’t feel like making the journey to Philadelphia while the northern politicians wanted to send their most notable guys in the legislatures. In this section, it’s on to the other 6 delegates of Virginia as well as two of the delegates from North Carolina. First, of the gentlemen from Virginia sans George Wythe, there’s Richard Henry Lee who was an early advocate for independence as who put forth the motion to declare independence from Great Britain. Second, you have Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence as well as became a US president. Following him is Benjamin Harrison V who’s better known for being an ancestor of 2 US Presidents, one of them being his son William Henry who caught pneumonia at his inauguration and was dead within a month. After him is Thomas Nelson Jr. who personally led the Virginia Militia at the Battle of Yorktown as well as Francis Lightfoot Lee who was Richard Henry Lee’s brother. Rounding up the Virginia delegation is Carter Braxton a planter and merchant who also invested heavily in the Revolutionary War effort. Finally, from the North Carolina delegation, you have William Hooper and Joseph Hewes. So for your Founders nostalgia pleasure, here are some more Declaration of Independence signers to get acquainted with.

41. Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee is best known for his motion during the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' to declare their independence from Great Britain. His famous Lee Resolution helped moved the 13 colonies toward independence.  He also led the movement to oppose the US Constitution, however.

Richard Henry Lee is best known for his motion during the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies’ to declare their independence from Great Britain. His famous Lee Resolution helped moved the 13 colonies toward independence. He also led the movement to oppose the US Constitution, however.

Lived: (1732-1794) He was 44 at the signing and 62 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Lee and Hannah Harrison Ludwell. Came from a line of military officers, diplomats, and legislators. Father was Governor of Virginia before his death in 1750. Married Anne Aylett and Anne Gaskins Pinckard and had 13 children. Daughter married a nephew of George Washington.

State: Virginia

Occupation: Planter, lawyer, soldier, and landowner

Early Life: Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia and spent most of his childhood at his parents’ Stratford Hall. Was groomed for a political career by his dad from day one who sent him to neighboring planters to associate him with neighboring men of prominence (a very common practice at the time). In 1748, he attended the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in England but had to return in 1753 to settle his family estate because his parents died 3 years earlier. Formed and led a militia in the French and Indian War and marched them to Alexandria to join General Edward Braddock but were rebuffed. Was appointed justice of the peace in 1757 and elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses the next year. Was an early advocate of independence and helped create one of the early Committees of Correspondence among many independence-minded Americans in various colonies. Is credited with authoring the Westmoreland Resolution which was publicly signed by prominent landowners including four brothers of George Washington as well as threatened “danger and disgrace” to those who paid the stamp tax. Was chosen as a delegate for the Continental Congress in 1774.

Significant Roles: Was an early advocate for independence and it was he put forth the motion to declare independence from Great Britain. Didn’t vote during the adoption of the Declaration of Independence but signed it anyway when he returned from Virginia.

Ultimate Fate: In 1784, he was elected President of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. In 1785, he was very active in passing numerous legislation such as the establishment of the US Dollar for the national currency but wasn’t a fan of federal taxes and supported the Ordinances of 1784 and 1785 so the US government can have revenue from land sales. Opposed the Constitution and was a proponent on states’ rights. In 1789, he was elected a US Senator and served as President pro tempore in 1792. Was one of the strongest advocates for the Bill of Rights. Died at his Chantilly Plantation. Buried at Burnt House Fields.

Trivia: Brother of Francis Lightfoot Lee which makes them the only pair of brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. Home Chantilly is now a National Historic Site and an archaeological dig. Was known for his great oratory skills as well as his fiery, rebellious spirit, which brought him many enemies.

42. Thomas Jefferson

It's always been Thomas Jefferson's words that appear on the Declaration of Independence. And while he's certainly a major American icon of republicanism,  liberty, and democracy, he's not a man without controversy. Sure he's a highly rated president but his term wasn't all bed and roses. And then there's him owning hundreds of slaves and fathering children with one of them.

It’s always been Thomas Jefferson’s words that appear on the Declaration of Independence. And while he’s certainly a major American icon of republicanism, liberty, and democracy, he’s not a man without controversy. Sure he’s a highly rated president but his term wasn’t all bed and roses. And then there’s him owning hundreds of slaves and fathering children with one of them.

Lived: (1743-1826) Was 33 at the signing and 83 at his death.

Family: Son of Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph. Father was a planter, estate manager, and surveyor who died when he was 14. Was the 3rd of 10 children. Married Martha Wayles Skelton (his third cousin as well as in a lavish ceremony that lasted for several days at her family home) in 1772 and had 6 children with only 2 daughters surviving to adulthood. Was so distraught over his wife’s death that he shut himself in his room for 3 weeks pacing back and forth nearly exhausted. He would never remarry. Had at least one child with his slave Sally Hemings (which was confirmed by DNA evidence).

State: Virginia

Occupation: Planter, landowner, inventor, farmer, philosopher, diplomat, author, lawyer, architect, musician, political theorist, and polymath

Early Life: Born in Shadwell near Charlottesville and the Virginia Wilderness. Grew up in Tuckahoe Plantation with his maternal relatives. Inherited Monticello at 21, 7 years after his father’s death, which consisted of 5,000 acres and 150 slaves (he’d later inherit 11,000 acres from his father-in-law as well as 135 slaves and considerable debts, which would contribute to his financial problems {along with a lack of interest in economics}). Entered the College of William and Mary at 16 and studied under law professor George Wythe as well as graduated in 1762. Studied law and worked as a law clerk for Wythe before being admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767 as well as practicing law as a circuit lawyer (for many of Virginia’s elite families). Began construction of Monticello in 1768 (which he will never finish). Elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1775.

Significant Roles: In 1776, he was appointed to the Committee of Five along with John Adams, Robert R. Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Benjamin Franklin. Wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in 17 days drawing from his own proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution and George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights as well as other sources. Final draft was presented in June 28, 1776. It would be considered one of his major achievements. After the colonies declared their independence, he returned to Virginia where he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, often helping to write laws for the new state. He was especially proud of the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. In 1779, he was elected Governor of Virginia in which he transferred the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond. In 1780, he prepared Richmond for attack by moving all military supplies to a foundry located 5 miles out of town, which was captured by Benedict Arnold in 1781. He was then forced to evacuate the city as the British burned the new fledgling capital. That June, General Cornwallis sent Banastre Tarleton to capture him at Monticello but he escaped to Poplar Forest after being warned. The General Assembly considered an inquiry of his actions, thinking he had failed as governor and thus, wasn’t reelected. Started writing Notes on the State of Virginia in 1780 (which would be first published in 1785).

Ultimate Fate: In 1783, he was selected as a delegate to the Confederation Congress where he recommended that American currency should be based on the decimal system. He also played a central role and advancing policy for the settlement of western territories as well as the principal author of the Land Ordinance of 1784. Later that year he was sent as a minister of France to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. He’d also become a companion to the Marquis de Layfayette and allowed him to use his residence as a meeting place with other republicans. Was in France at the start of the French Revolution, including the storming of the Bastille, but got the hell out in the nick of time. When he returned to the US, he was appointed Secretary of State by George Washington where he repeatedly with Alexander Hamilton, which led to the political two party system. His political actions to form a party and efforts to undermine Hamilton led Washington to dismiss him but he resigned voluntarily in 1793. Washington never forgave him for his actions and never spoke to him again. However, the two did compromise when it came to designating a capital in Washington D.C. In 1796, he was elected vice-president to John Adams. He had a more hands-off approach but he wrote a manual called his Parliamentary Pocket Book. During this time, he advocated nullification and drafted a threat for Kentucky to secede. It’s said that had his actions been known, he might’ve been impeached for treason. But these actions made Washington appalled, but influenced the idea of states’ rights up to the Civil War and beyond. He also attacked Adams in private, predicted he’d only serve one term, and encouraged France to invade England. Was elected president in 1800 after being chosen by the House of Representatives when he and Aaron Burr were in a tie (thankfully Hamilton hated Burr more than him). His administration saw the First Barbary War, the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition (which was a huge success with only one unpreventable fatality), and the establishment of West Point. However, his Indian policy consisted forcibly moving Cherokee and Shawnee tribes to lands west of the Mississippi which violated a treaty between the US Government and the Cherokee Nation. He refused to recognize Haiti, calling it a “slave republic.” Tried to get Secretary of State James Madison to remove John Adams’ “midnight judges” which resulted in the case Marbury vs. Madison. Also tried to annex Florida. During his second term, there was the embargo against Britain. Oh, and he segregated the US postal system which didn’t allow blacks to carry mail. Retired from the presidency in 1809 and founded the University of Virginia in 1819, which was the first public college in America (if not, the world). Was visited by Lafayette in 1824. Final years and days were plagued by health problems and financial difficulties and died thousands of dollars in debt (explaining why he never freed many of his slaves). Had a quiet funeral as he wanted and is buried at Monticello.

Trivia: As a lifelong bibliophile, his library would soon extend to over 6,500 books by 1815 which he offered to sell 6,000 for $23,950 to the government after the British burned the Library of Congress in 1814 (he’d buy more books though). Had an on-again, off-again friendship with John Adams that would last for the rest of their lives. Was a very close friend and mentor of James Madison. Was accomplished on the violin and cello. Was a member of the American Philosophical Society for 35 years and served as its president in 1797. Was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1787 and the American Antiquarian Society in 1814. Died on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on the same day as John Adams. Invented the dumbwaiter, revolving book stand, cipher wheel, “Great Clock,” and swivel chair. Believed in universal white male suffrage as well as public education but hated central banks (until the Louisiana Purchase). Was a strong supporter of the French Revolution (except its bloodier and violent aspects). Was a Christian Deist and cut and pasted his Bible (though he was also a practicing Episcopalian). Was a big time slave owner and slavery apologist (owned over 300 slaves in his lifetime. But to be fair, he also handled a number of freedom suits for slaves as well. No wonder this guy was conflicted). As president, he’s said to greet dignitaries at the White House in his bathrobe and slippers (then again, he had a tendency to greet visitors while still in his pajamas). Spoke numerous languages. Is commended on Mount Rushmore and the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. Received an honorary doctorate in law from Harvard University. Initiated a program at the Federal Armories to develop interchangeable parts for firearms. Wrote the Declaration of Independence on the first swivel chair. Had his whole family inoculated with smallpox and publicly ate a tomato to prove it wasn’t poisonous. Had a slave trained as a French chef. Believed that Indians should give up their own cultures, religions, and lifestyles to assimilate into Western European-style agriculture. Designed the buildings for the University of Virginia as well as planned its curriculum and served as its first rector. Said to write over 18,000 letters during his life. Despite his volume of writings, he was said to be socially awkward and a poor public speaker who had difficulty maintaining close personal relationships (which is probably why he got along so well with John Adams and James Madison as well as said to be on the autism spectrum). Had a reputation for wearing wacky, mismatched outfits. Said not to like being president. Had red hair.

43. Benjamin Harrison V

Benjamin Harrison V was a Chairman of the Committee of the Whole during the independence debates of 1776. He'd also have a son and a great-grandson who'd later become US Presidents.

Benjamin Harrison V was a Chairman of the Committee of the Whole during the independence debates of 1776. He’d also have a son and a great-grandson who’d later become US Presidents. This miniature is the only surviving life portrait of him that exists.

Lived: (1726-1791) He was 50 at the signing and 65 at his death.

Family: Son of Benjamin Harrison IV and Ann Carter. First Benjamin might have arrived to Virginia in 1630. One of 10 children (well, white children as far as we know since there were a number of mixed race slaves on the plantation by the time Benny V inherited the estate). Youngest brother Charles was a Brigadier General in the Continental Army. Father and 2 of his sisters were killed in 1745 after being struck by lightning while trying to shut a window. Married Elizabeth Bassett in 1748 and had 8 children including US President William Henry Harrison.

State: Virginia

Occupation: Planter, landowner, and merchant

Early Life: Born on Berkeley Plantation and inherited the bulk of the estate at his father’s death in 1745. Was a graduate of William and Mary. Was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1756 as well as served as a county justice. Participated in a boycott with other colony lawmakers in 1770 over the British tax on tea. Also co-sponsored a bill that declared certain laws passed by Parliament affecting Virginia to be illegal without the consent of colonists in Virginia. Selected for the Continental Congress in 1774.

Significant Roles: Served as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole which presided over the final debates on the independence resolution presented by Richard Henry Lee as well as amended and adopted the final form of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. He also delivered the final reading of the Declaration to the Continental Congress. Later in 1776, he joined some delegates to meet with George Washington in Cambridge Massachusetts to plan the continuing, supporting, and regulating the Continental Army. Returned to Virginia in 1777 and was Speaker of the House of Burgesses until 1780. In 1781, he relocated his family from Berkeley Plantation before heading to Philadelphia to rally for military support due to the threat of Benedict Arnold’s position at the James River with 1,600 men. He succeeded in getting increased gunpowder, supplies, and troops but only on a delayed basis. Though he and his family avoided capture in Arnold’s January 1781 raid, most of his house and possessions were destroyed. Still, he managed to rebuild his home, correspond with Washington, and continued rallying for support for the war effort on behalf of the southern states. Was elected Governor of Virginia around the time of Yorktown.

Ultimate Fate: Since Virginia’s financial resources were drained when he assumed governorship, he opposed any offensive action toward Native Americans and tried to retain diplomatic relations with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and the Creek tribes. He also had to deal with Continental Army mutinies as well as the release of British POWs. But he was never able to relieve the state debts. In 1788, he was a member of the Virginia Ratifying Convention for the US Constitution which he opposed on the absence of a Bill of Rights. Remained in the Virginia legislature until his death after a dinner party celebrating his final electoral success. Buried at Berkeley Plantation.

Trivia: Father William Henry Harrison and great-grandfather (and namesake) of Benjamin Harrison. Was defeated in an electoral race by a man named John Tyler Sr. (father of his son’s running mate who’d declare himself president after his boss died of pneumonia after 30 days in office). Was a well-known enemy of John Adams (which was mostly due to their lifestyles and personalities. Adams called him, “another Sir John Falstaff”). Known for his sense of humor as well as rotund that he told Elbridge Gerry after the signing: “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes and be with the angels, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.” Was 6ft 4in and weighed 240 lbs. Wife was a niece of Martha Washington.

44. Thomas Nelson Jr.

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Nelson Jr. was an active revolutionary in Yorktown where he staged a

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Nelson Jr. was an active revolutionary in Yorktown where he staged a “tea party” and led the Virginia Militia during the siege and battle. It’s said he ordered artillery to fire at the house occupied by Charles Cornwallis. Yet, there are 3 cannonballs lodged inside the house’s outer walls.

Lived: (1738-1789) He was 37 at the signing and 50 at his death.

Family: Son of William Nelson and Elizabeth Burwell. But was named after his grandfather Thomas “Scotch Tom” Nelson who was from England. Married Lucy Grymes in 1762 and had 11 children including a son Hugh who’d become a US Congressman.

State: Virginia

Occupation: Planter, landowner, and soldier

Early Life: Born in Yorktown and was educated in England, attending Newcome’s School, Eton, and graduating from Cambridge University in 1760. Was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1761. In 1774, he spent some of his personal fortune to send needed supplies to Boston after its port was closed, arranged a Yorktown tea party, and threw 2 half-chests into the York River. Was appointed Colonel of a Virginia infantry regiment in 1775 but he resigned to serve in the Second Continental Congress in 1776.

Significant Roles: Left the Continental Congress in 1777 after experiencing a severe bout with asthma. Was elected Governor of Virginia in 1781. In October of that year, he personally led the Virginia Militia in the siege and battle of Yorktown and was said to order his artillery to fire on a house occupied by General Cornwallis (as well as offering five guineas to the first man who hit the house). This house still has 3 cannonballs lodged in its outer walls.

Ultimate Fate: Ill health forced him to resign the governorship after Yorktown and his personal fortune was ruined. Despite raising a substantial amount of money for the French fleet on his own credit, he was never compensated, even his personal loan of $2 million. Had to move into his son’s home “Mont Air” in Hanover County due to living on the edge of poverty with asthma, where he died. Buried at Grace churchyard in Yorktown. However, he was given a beautiful eulogy at his funeral by his friend Colonel Innes. Still, when asked on whether he felt embittered about his treatment, he said, “I would do it all over again.” Though his home experienced damage during Yorktown, it still stands to this day.

Trivia: Has a county named after him in Virginia and Kentucky. Named after his uncle Thomas and wasn’t really a “Jr.” in the strictest sense.

45. Francis Lightfoot Lee

Like any plantation son, Francis Lightfoot Lee was groomed for politics. But unlike his brother, he saw public office as nothing more than a duty. But he was the Chairman of a Committee charged with supporting the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

Like any plantation son, Francis Lightfoot Lee was groomed for politics. But unlike his brother, he saw public office as nothing more than a duty. But he was the Chairman of a Committee charged with supporting the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

Lived: (1734-1797) He was 31 at the signing and 62 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Lee and Hannah Harrison Ludwell. Came from a line of military officers, diplomats, and legislators. Father was Governor of Virginia before his death in 1750. Parents died when he was 16. Married Rebecca Plater Tayloe in 1769 and had no children.

State: Virginia

Occupation: Activist, planter, and landowner

Early Life: Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia and spent most of his childhood at his parents’ Stratford Hall. Was mostly educated at home and spent a lot time studying in his parents’ library, unlike his brothers. Formal education ended at 16 when his parents died and his oldest brother Philip assumed guardianship. He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 but never saw politics as anything more than a duty. And basically preferred library discussions and back-room strategy to public debate. Was an active protestor of the Stamp Act. Wrote the Virginia Resolutions in 1766. Joined Virginia’s Committee of Correspondence in 1773. In 1775, he was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress where he served until 1779.

Significant Roles: Served in the Virginia State Senate in 1778-1782. Signed the Articles of Confederation. Said to be chair on a special committee to support the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

Ultimate Fate: Retired to his Richmond County, Menokin estate to raise his infirm brother William’s daughters, which he willed to his nephew. He and wife died 10 days apart. Buried with his in-laws at Mount Airy Plantation. Not as well-known as his brother.

Trivia: Brother of Richard Henry Lee, which makes them the only pair of brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. Was friends with Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.

46. Carter Braxton

As a Virginia planter and merchant, Carter Braxton  was one of the richest men in the colony said to own as many as 12,000 acres and 165 slaves by the 1760s. He's also said to father as many as 16 children and may be the signer with the most descendants with some of them being black.

As a Virginia planter and merchant, Carter Braxton was one of the richest men in the colony said to own as many as 12,000 acres and 165 slaves by the 1760s. He’s also said to father as many as 16 children and may be the signer with the most descendants with some of them being black.

Lived: (1736-1797) He was 39 at the signing and 61 at his death.

Family: Son of George Braxton Jr. and Mary Carter. Grandfather Robert “King” Carter was one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners and slave owners in Virginia. Father died when he was 17. Married Judith Robinson and Elizabeth Corbin (both heiresses) and may have had as many as 18 children. May have had children with slaves since most people with the name of Carter Braxton since the Civil War have been African American.

State: Virginia

Occupation: Merchant, planter, soldier, and landowner

Early Life: Born on Newington Plantation in King and Queen County, Virginia. Attended the College of William and Mary. After his second marriage, he bought a boat and turned his energies to trade in the West Indies and American colonies establishing relations with various firms including Willing & Morris of Philadelphia. Was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1761. Also served as sheriff of King and Queen County, colonel of its militia, and vestryman at his church. Though a more right of center guy, he signed the First Virginia Association to protest the Townshend duties as well as the fourth one which authorized local committees of safety as well as a volunteer militia. In 1774, when the colony’s gunpowder and flintlocks were seized, he negotiated a compromise between Patrick Henry and his own father-in-law and averted a crisis. Was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775 after the death of Peyton Randolph.

Significant Roles: Though he initially opposed the Declaration of Independence as premature, but eventually signed it. Attracted criticism from the revolutionaries with his pamphlet, Address to the Convention, which was a reply to John Adams’s Thoughts on Government. His Chericoke House would burn down in 1776 shortly before Christmas and would move to the Grove House of West Point, Virginia. Invested a great deal of his wealth in the American Revolution such as loaning money as well as funding shipping and privateering (losing about half of his 14 ships). Was censured in 1777 for the Phoenix Affair in which one of his ships seized a neutral Portuguese vessel from Brazil. Sold corned meat and tobacco for weapons, ammunition, salt, wheat, cloth, and other trade goods. Had some of his plantations destroyed by the British during the war. In addition to the debts of his brother and father as well as through his poor agricultural business practices, he also accumulated war debts from the Continental Congress as well as Robert Morris.

Ultimate Fate: In 1786, he sold his plantation and settled in a smaller house in Richmond. Sued Robert Morris for 28,257 pounds in 1787 (which he won, but wouldn’t get the payout as we know about the land speculating Robert Morris). In 1791, he purchased Strawberry Hill for his wife which he conveyed to his sons. Served 2 terms in Virginia’s Council of State in 1785 and 1793. Died at his Richmond Home. May have been buried in Chericoke.

Trivia: Owned at least 12,000 acres and 165 slaves by the 1760s. Has a county in West Virginia named after him. May be the signer with the most descendants. Great-grandson was a Governor of Kentucky, US Senator, and president of the American Bar Association.

47. William Hooper

As a Declaration of Independence signer, William Hooper had the makings of an unlikely patriot since he once worked as an attorney for the colonial government and was dragged in the streets by an angry mob. But as a patriot, he went through a lot since the British burned his homes in Wilmington and Finian which led him to depend on friends for food, shelter, and medical care, especially after contracting malaria.

As a Declaration of Independence signer, William Hooper had the makings of an unlikely patriot since he once worked as an attorney for the colonial government and was dragged in the streets by an angry mob. But as a patriot, he went through a lot since the British burned his homes in Wilmington and Finian which led him to depend on friends for food, shelter, and medical care, especially after contracting malaria.

Lived: (1742-1790) He was 34 at the signing and 48 at his death.

Family: Son of the Reverend William Hooper and Mary Dennie. Father was a Scottish minister. Married Anne Clark in 1767 and had 3 children.

State: North Carolina

Occupation: Lawyer, planter, and landowner

Early Life: Born in Boston. Educated in the Boston Latin School and Harvard University where he graduated with honors in 1760. Studied law under James Otis and was admitted to the bar in 1764. Decided to move to Wilmington, North Carolina because Massachusetts had too many lawyers. Once he was there, he worked as a circuit lawyer for Cape Fear and built a highly respected reputation among the wealthy farmers and fellow lawyers in the area. Represented the colonial government in several cases. In 1770, he was appointed the Deputy Attorney General of North Carolina. Initially supported the British colonial government as well as worked with the colonial governor to suppress a rebellious group known as the Regulators. It was reported that these guys dragged him through the streets of Hillsborough during a riot in 1770. He then advised to send as much force as necessary to stamp out the rebels and eve accompanied the troops at the Battle of Alamance in 1771. But soon his support for the colonial government began to erode even though the Patriots found him harder to accept and even called him a Loyalist. In 1773, he was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly where he became an opponent to colonial attempts to pass laws regulating the provincial courts. In 1774, he was appointed to North Carolina’s Committee of Correspondence. That same year, he was appointed delegate to the Continental Congress.

Significant Roles: Though he missed the vote for independence divvying his time between Philadelphia and setting up a new government in North Carolina, he signed the Declaration of Independence anyway. While the British attempted to capture him during the Revolution, he and his family moved to Wilmington since his estate at Finian was vulnerable to attacks. However, in 1781, the British captured Wilmington where General Cornwallis and his troops fell back after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Hooper found himself separated from his family. In addition, the British burned down both of his estates and he was forced to rely on friends for food and shelter as well as being nursed back to health after contracting malaria. When reunited, he settled with his family in Hillsborough.

Ultimate Fate: After the Revolution, he returned to his law practice but lost favor in politics due to his Federalist stance due to his influential connections, his mistrust of the lower class, and his widely criticized soft dealings with Loyalists. Appointed federal judge in 1786 to mediate a border dispute between New York and Massachusetts. In 1787-1788, he campaigned heavily for North Carolina to ratify the US Constitution but he became quite ill. Currently interred at Guilford Courthouse National Military Ground. Hillsborough home still stands as a National Historic Site.

Trivia: Has an impressive 19 ft monument with his own statue at his final resting place.

48. Joseph Hewes

A Quaker merchant who didn't mind war and owned slaves, Joseph Hewes also contributed significantly to the Continental Navy where he lent his fleet of ships that he outfitted as well as recruited the captains. John Paul Jones was one of his picks.

A Quaker merchant who didn’t mind war and owned slaves, Joseph Hewes also contributed significantly to the Continental Navy where he lent his fleet of ships that he outfitted as well as recruited the captains. John Paul Jones was one of his picks.

Lived: (1730-1779) He was 46 at the signing and 49 at his death.

Family: Son of Aaron Hewes and Providence Worth Hewes. Parents were Quakers who immigrated to New Jersey. Never married or had any children because his fiancée died days before their wedding and wrote that he was a sad and lonely man who never wanted to remain a bachelor.

State: North Carolina

Occupation: Merchant

Early Life: Born in Princeton, New Jersey. Though he attended what is now Princeton there is no evidence he graduated. But he did apprentice under a merchant as well as became a successful one with a good name and strong reputation. Moved to Edenton, North Carolina at 30 and quickly won over the populace with his charm and honorable businesslike character. Elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1763. Was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774 because of his activism for the cause of American independence, which he had to be talked into by his constituents. Consequently, his state was among the early independence supporters.

Significant Roles: Though he knew that the majority of North Carolina wanted independence, he found it hard to convey his opinion in Congress without being laughed or scolded at. He was also constantly interrupted by those who disagreed with him, especially in the days leading up to the American Revolution. In 1776, he was appointed Secretary of the Naval Affairs Committee where John Adams said he, “laid the foundation, the cornerstone of the American Navy.” He also provided his extensive fleet of ships, outfitted them, and chose the most capable captains with John Paul Jones being one of them. In 1779, he retreated to New Jersey due to ailing health. Everyone in the Continental Congress attended his funeral and is buried in Philadelphia’s Christ Church Burial Ground.

Ultimate Fate: Hewes didn’t survive the Revolution.

Trivia: Kept a diary the last few years of his life. Despite not quite conforming to his Quaker beliefs (like advocating war and owning slaves), he still maintained a relationship with his family. In fact, he left sizable requests to his folks as well as to several Quaker institutions.

Know Your Signers: Part 5 – George Read to George Wythe

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Heading out of Pennsylvania, we now cross the Mason-Dixon line which would soon separate the slave states from the free states. Of course, while slavery was endemic in the South (I mean they had those big plantations and ignited a war by seceding from the union over this), the North wasn’t completely slavery free either. They just didn’t practice it as much. But even in the American Revolution, it was entirely legal throughout all of the 13 colonies so it shouldn’t be a surprise that even a significant number of delegates from as far as New England owned slaves. They just didn’t own as many as their southern counterparts. However, this didn’t mean they were exactly comfortable about the whole slavery thing (or at least in a way John C. Calhoun was since he absolutely had no shame about subjugating black people for a lifetime of involuntary servitude). In fact, many of the slave delegates themselves were rather uncomfortable about it but they tend to rationalize why it shouldn’t be abolished. And it doesn’t help at all that some of the slaves they owned were their own children (again, I’m talking to you, Jefferson). But even in the most benevolent plantations, slavery was still a dehumanizing institution which treated people as property, divided families, and gave rise to the pervasive racism against African Americans that plagues our white citizens, systems, and institutions to this day. However, compared to how American slaves had it in the South during the antebellum years, slaves living during the American Revolution didn’t have it so bad (because the cotton gin wasn’t invented yet, which basically triggered a demand for slavery in the cotton industry, especially in the Deep South). In this section, we’ll cover the delegates from Delaware and Maryland as well as George Wythe of Virginia. First, from Delaware there’s George Read who actually voted against independence but decided to put his old John Hancock there anyway. Second, you have Caesar Rodney who rode 70 miles on horseback through a thunderstorm to cast his vote for American independence in order to break a tie between Read and our next guy Thomas McKean. Then it’s on to Maryland with Samuel Chase a fiery orator who’d be best known for ruining his career in the Continental Congress by insider trading and being the only Supreme Court Justice in history to be impeached. After him is his friend William Paca, a gentle giant who’d write speeches for him as well as become a federal judge. Next is Thomas Stone who would later quit his political career after his wife fell ill while visiting him in Philadelphia. And rounding out the Maryland delegation is Charles Carroll of Carrollton who spent most of his pre-Revolutionary life barred from practicing law, voting, or public office because of his Catholicism. Finally, you have Virginia’s George Wythe who was a well noted law professor at William and Mary whose pupils included Henry Clay, John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson. So to satisfy your patriotic fever this 4th of July weekend, here are more of your Declaration of Independence signers.

33. George Read

While George Read actually voted against independence, he was no Loyalist by any means. Because if he was, he wouldn't have signed the Declaration of Independence in the first place. Was also a proponent of the New Jersey Plan, by the way.

While George Read actually voted against independence, he was no Loyalist by any means. Because if he was, he wouldn’t have signed the Declaration of Independence in the first place. Was also a proponent of the New Jersey Plan, by the way.

Lived: (1733-1798) He was 43 at the signing and 65 at his death.

Family: Son of John Read and Mary Howell. Father was a founder of Charlestown, Maryland and an original proprietor of that city. Had 2 brothers who were officers in the Continental Army and Navy. Had a sister who married a Governor of Delaware. Married his pastor’s daughter, Gertrude Ross Till in 1753 and had 5 children including a son who served as the first US Attorney in Delaware and another son who was a prominent lawyer and banker in Philadelphia. Great-granddaughter was a sister-in-law to Franklin Pierce.

State: Delaware

Occupation: Lawyer

Early Life: Born in Cecil County, Maryland but family moved to New Castle, Delaware while he was still an infant, settling near the village of Christiana. Attended the Reverend Francis Allison’s Academy in New London, Pennsylvania. Studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland and admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1753. He then returned to Delaware to establish a practice. Appointed Crown Attorney General for Delaware in 1763 as well as served 12 years in the Delaware Assembly. During the 1760s, he was very much in favor of reconciling differences with Great Britain but led the Delaware Committee of Correspondence. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1774.

Significant Roles: When Congress actually voted for the Declaration of Independence, he surprised many by voting against it compelling Caesar Rodney to ride overnight to break the deadlock between Delaware’s delegation. But once he signed it anyway, he was committed to the cause (at least technically). Was president of the Delaware Constitutional Convention in 1776. In 1777, he narrowly escaped capture while returning home from Philadelphia during British occupation. But in light of the Delaware governor’s capture, he assumed office that year serving until March 1778 which left him completely exhausted. During these months, he tried mostly in vain to recruit additional soldiers and protect the state from raiders from Philadelphia and off ships in the Delaware River. This led the Delaware Assembly being moved to Dover and one county wasn’t seated due to a disruption at the polls negating the results. After being replaced by Caesar Rodney, he returned to the Assembly. In 1782, he would be appointed Judge of the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture.

Ultimate Fate: Represented Delaware in the 1786 Annapolis Convention and the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Was a proponent of the New Jersey Plan as well as giving Congress the right to vote state laws, and electing senators to 9 year terms or during good behavior. Oh, and he threatened to leave the Delaware delegation if the rights of small states weren’t guaranteed by the Constitution. Yet, once they were assured, he led the ratification movement and as a result of his efforts, Delaware became the first state. In 1789, he was elected a US Senator where he’d serve until 1793 to accept an appointment as Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court (as well as his seat vacant for 2 years). Is buried in the Immanuel Episcopal Church Cemetery. Home is now an historic landmark.

Trivia: Brother-in-law to George Ross. Neighbor to Thomas McKean. Was described by a delegate at the Constitutional Convention as “his legal abilities are said to be very great, but his powers of oratory are fatiguing and tiresome to the last degree; his voice is feeble and his articulation so bad that few can have patience to attend him.”

34. Caesar Rodney

Because he was missing half his face due to skin cancer and bad 18th century medicine, no contemporary portraits of Caesar Rodney exist. But even dying of skin cancer didn't stop him from traveling 70 miles overnight on horseback during a thunderstorm. It's even more impressive that he lived for 8 more years.

Because he was missing half his face due to skin cancer and bad 18th century medicine, no contemporary portraits of Caesar Rodney exist. But even dying of skin cancer didn’t stop him from traveling 70 miles overnight on horseback during a thunderstorm. It’s even more impressive that he lived for 8 more years.

Lived: (1728-1784) He was 47 at the signing and 55 at his death.

Family: Son of Caesar Rodney and Elizabeth Crawford. Lost his dad at 17 and was placed under a guardian. Grandfather William Rodney was speaker of Delaware’s Colonial Assembly. Never married.

State: Delaware

Occupation: Lawyer, landowner, and soldier

Early Life: Born on his family’s 800 acre “Byfield” farm in Kent County, Delaware. Orphaned at 17 and taken in by a man named Nicholas Ridgely. In 1755, he was elected Kent County sheriff and served the maximum 3 years. After this post, he was appointed to a series of positions including Register of Wills, Recorder of Deeds, Clerk of the Orphan’s Court, Justice of the Peace, and judge in the lower courts. Commissioned as Captain in the Dover Hundred Company of Colonel John Vining’s Delaware militia during the French and Indian War but never saw combat service. Served in the Delaware Assembly in 1761-1776, serving as speaker several times. In 1769-1777, he was Associate Supreme Court Justice of the Lower Counties. Was a Stamp Act delegate in 1765 and a leader in the Delaware Committee of Correspondence. In June 15, 1775, he and Thomas McKean led the effort for the Assembly to sever ties with Britain and the King. Served in the Continental Congress 1774-1776.

Significant Roles: For his military experience, he was named Brigadier General of the Delaware militia where he was frequently charged with suppress Loyalist insurrections with some being arrested or jailed. And he was on the lookout for Loyalist activity in Dover when he received word from Thomas McKean that he and George Read were deadlocked on the vote for independence. To break it, he rode 70 miles on horseback through a thunderstorm on the night of July 1, 1776, arriving in Philadelphia “in his boots and spurs” the next morning (all while suffering skin cancer with literally half his face missing. Seriously, I’m sure as hell not making this up). However, after he signed it, he suffered electoral defeat in the Delaware Constitutional Convention and in the Delaware Assembly. After hearing about a friend’s death in the Battle of Princeton, he went to join General George Washington in 1777 but Washington soon returned him to Delaware as a Major General of the Delaware militia. There he protected the state from British military intrusions and controlled continued Loyalist activity. Later that year, he was reelected back in the Delaware Assembly. In 1778, with one governor in captivity and another one exhausted, he assumed the governorship of Delaware which didn’t have as much power as a modern governor does today but he was really popular among the Delaware Assembly which was the real power as well as with the Delaware militia. During his time he scoured the state for money, supplies, and soldiers to support the national war effort with the Delaware Continentals fighting well in the Battle of Long Island and the Battle of Monmouth. But the regiment was nearly destroyed that the remnant can only fight with a Maryland regiment for the remainder of the war and he had done much to stabilize the situation. But ill health forced him to resign in 1781, just after Yorktown.

Ultimate Fate: Returned to the Delaware Assembly where he was sent to the US Congress under the Articles of Confederation. He was then elected to the Legislative Council and elected him Speaker as well as met in his home as his health rapidly declined. Buried at the Christ Church Cemetery in Dover.

Trivia: Said to have a great sense of humor and be quite witty. No contemporary portrait of him exists because half of his face was scarred by skin cancer and primitive cauterization/surgery techniques (which would later kill him). Usually kept the afflicted area hidden under a green kerchief wrapped around his head.

35. Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean was an outspoken advocate for American independence who was instrumental in persuading others to vote for a split from Great Britain. He was also well over 6ft tall, wore a cocked hat, walked with a gold headed cane but had a quick temper and vigorous personality. His time as Governor of Pennsylvania was frequently the center of controversy, however.

Thomas McKean was an outspoken advocate for American independence who was instrumental in persuading others to vote for a split from Great Britain. He was also well over 6ft tall, wore a cocked hat, walked with a gold headed cane but had a quick temper and vigorous personality. His time as Governor of Pennsylvania was frequently the center of controversy, however.

Lived: (1734-1817) He was 42 at the signing and 83 at his death.

Family: Son of William McKean and Letitia Finney. Father was a tavern-keeper. Married Mary Borden and Sarah Armitage and had 10 children. Daughter married a Spanish diplomat.

State: Delaware

Occupation: Lawyer, soldier, investor, and civil servant

Early Life: Born in New London Township, Delaware. Attended Reverend Francis Allison’s school. At 16, he began studying law under his cousin David Finney and was admitted to the Bar of the Lower Counties in 1755. The next year he was appointed deputy Attorney General for Sussex County (a colonial equivalent to an Assistant District Attorney). In 1762-1776, he was a member of the Delaware Assembly, serving as speaker in 1772-1773. In 1765, he was appointed judge to Court of Common Pleas as well as became a customs collector in New Castle in 1771. Represented Delaware in the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, proposing the voting procedure that the Continental Congress later adopted in which each colony should have one vote regardless of size (which would later be adopted in the Articles of Confederation). This led him to be among the Stamp Act Congress’s most influential members and was also on the committee to up the memorial rights and grievances. When the president of the body refused to sign, well, McKean really let him have it. Despite his primary residence being in Philadelphia, he’d represent Delaware in the First and Second Continental Congress in 1774-1776.

Significant Roles: Was an outspoken advocate for independence and was a key voice in persuading others to split with Great Britain. And it was he who insisted that Caesar Rodney ride all night to break the tie between him and George Read. After the voting for independence, he left Congress to serve as colonel in command of the Fourth Battalion of the Pennsylvania Associators who joined George Washington’s defense of New York City at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. But he returned to Delaware when elected to the special convention to draft a new state constitution, making a long ride from Philadelphia to Dover in a single day and drafting the document virtually by himself. Returned to the Continental Congress in 1777 where he served until 1783. He would also help draft the Articles of Confederation. In 1781, he was elected President of the Continental Congress after Samuel Huntington resigned due to ill health. And he would be in this post during the Battle of Yorktown (as well as Governor of Delaware). Oh, and from 1777 to 1799, he also served as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania where he largely set up the rules of justice in that state (as well as helped set precedent of how the US judicial system operates in the US Supreme Court).

Ultimate Fate: Was a member of the convention of Pennsylvania which ratified the US Constitution. Played a key role in the Whiskey Rebellion, arguing to Washington and his Cabinet that it should be left up to the courts to prosecute and punish the rebels. Later, he and General William Irvine also wrote to Governor Thomas Mifflin where they discussed the mission of federal committees to negotiate with the rebels but both felt that government must suppress the insurrection in order to prevent it from spreading to nearby counties. In 1799, he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania serving until 1808. First thing he’s said to do was kicking Federalist employees from state government positions becoming the father of the spoils system (he’d do the same with his fellow Democratic-Republicans when they disagreed with him). He also filed a partially successful libel suit against a newspaper calling for his impeachment in which he was by the US House of Representatives in 1807, but his friends intervened. Still, he wasn’t all bad since he was for protecting defendants, penal reform, and expanding free education to all. When he was 80, he led a Philadelphia citizens group to organize a strong defense in Philadelphia during the War of 1812. Spent his retirement in Pennsylvania writing, discussing politics, and enjoying the considerable wealth he had earned through investments and real estate. Currently buried in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Trivia: Neighbor to George Read. Received an honorary L.L.D. from Dartmouth, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania. Was over 6ft tall. Frequently wore a large cocked hat and carried a gold-headed cane. Was known for his quick temper and vigorous personality. Has a county in Pennsylvania named after him. May have signed the Declaration of Independence as late as 1781.

36. Samuel Chase

While the men signing the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, Samuel Chase used his position in the Continental Congress to corner the flour market through insider trading. This greatly damaged his reputation. Also became the only US Supreme Court Justice in history to be impeached.

While the men signing the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, Samuel Chase used his position in the Continental Congress to corner the flour market through insider trading. This greatly damaged his reputation. Also became the only US Supreme Court Justice in history to be impeached.

Lived: (1741-1811) He was 35 at the signing and 70 at his death.

Family: Son of the Reverend Thomas Chase and Matilda Walker. Was an only child. Married Ann Baldwin and Hannah Kilty and had 9 children.

State: Maryland

Occupation: Lawyer

Early Life: Born near Princess Anne, Maryland and educated at home. At 18, he left for Annapolis to study law under John Hall. Admitted to the bar in 1761 and started his own law practice in Annapolis. In 1764, he was elected to the Maryland General Assembly, an office he’d hold for 20 years. In 1766, he became embroiled in a war with words against loyalist members of the Maryland political establishment who thought him “a busy, reckless incendiary, a ringleader of mobs, a foul-mouthed and inflaming son of discord and faction, a common disturber of the public tranquility.” And he in turn though they were brought into power by “proprietary influence, court favour, and the wealth and influence of the tools and favourites who infest this city.” Helped co-found the Anne Arundel Sons of Liberty chapter with William Paca in opposition to the Stamp Act. In 1769, he began construction on his mansion of what would become known as the Chase-Lloyd House (which is a National Historic Landmark), which he sold in 1771. Was a member of the Continental Congress in 1774-1778.

Significant Roles: Was a states rights, “firebrand” revolutionary. Remained in the Continental Congress until 1778 when he was found involved in an attempt to corner the flour market using inside information gained through his position in Congress. This resulted in him not returning the next year and damaging his reputation (hey, I didn’t necessarily say that these signers had to be saints).

Ultimate Fate: Moved to Baltimore in 1786 which remained his home for the rest of his life. In 1788-1796, he was Chief justice of the District Criminal Court in Baltimore. In 1791-1796, he was Chief Justice of the Maryland General Court. Appointed as an associate justice on the Supreme Court by George Washington in 1796 where he served until his death. However, in 1804-1805, he was impeached for allegedly letting his partisan leanings affect his court decisions. Though acquitted (on bipartisan margins), his trial raised constitutional questions over the nature of the judiciary and was at the end of a series of efforts to define the appropriate extent of judicial independence under the Constitution. Also set limits on impeachment power, fixed the concept that the judiciary was prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, defined the role of a judge in a criminal jury, and clarified jurisprudence. Died of a heart attack in Washington D.C. and is buried in what is now Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery.

Trivia: Was nicknamed “Old Bacon Face.” In 1762, he was expelled from the Forensic Club, an Annapolis debating society for, “extremely irregular and indecent” behavior. Has been the only US Supreme Court Justice to be impeached.

37. William Paca

This is a 7 and a half foot portrait of William Paca who was well over 6ft tall by any stretch of the imagination. Of course, he was said to be rather refined and cultured. He also knew how to dress.

This is a 7 and a half foot portrait of William Paca who was well over 6ft tall by any stretch of the imagination. Of course, he was said to be rather refined and cultured. He also knew how to dress.

Lived: (1740-1799) He was 35 at the signing and 58 at his death.

Family: Son of John Paca and Elizabeth Smith. Father was a wealthy planter. Was the second son and had 5 sisters. Married Mary Chew and Anne Harrison had 4 legitimate children but only son John Philemon would survive into adulthood. Both wives would die before they’d reach 40. Also had 2 daughters outside marriage (one who was black) and acknowledged them both.

State: Maryland

Occupation: Lawyer, planter, pundit, and landowner

Early Life: Born in Abington, Maryland. Attended the Philadelphia Academy and Charity School and what is now the University of Pennsylvania graduating in 1759 and earning a master’s degree in 1762. Studied law under Stephen Bordley in Annapolis and entered the bar in 1761. After that, he established a practice in Annapolis. In 1765, he and Samuel Chase would establish the Anne Arundel chapter of the Sons of Liberty in opposition to the Stamp Act. He’d also write a lot of Chase’s speeches as well. Elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1771 where he served until 1779. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1774-1779.

Significant Roles: Wrote letters and newspaper articles supporting independence. In 1779, he became Chief Justice of the state of Maryland. In 1780, he was elected to serve as a federal judge on the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture. In 1782, he was elected Governor of Maryland serving for 3 years.

Ultimate Fate: Was an author and complier of several provisions of what became the Bill of Rights. In 1789, he was appointed by George Washington as a federal judge on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. His opinion on the Betsey case was the first District Court opinion to be published. Died on his estate at Wye Hall where he’s buried in the family cemetery. It is now a National Historic Site. House was destroyed in 1879 along with his papers and diaries. So we don’t really have a lot to go on about him.

Trivia: Born on Halloween. Older brother’s name was Aquila. Despite being a classic well-mannered introvert who preferred to write, he was over 6 feet tall and was portly built.

38. Thomas Stone

Though he signed the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Stone was initially a pacifist who would favor reconciliation with Britain than start a gruesome war. However, while working on the committee that formed the Articles of Confederation, his wife fell ill with smallpox while visiting him during a smallpox epidemic. He later gave up public life to take care of his wife and kids. It's said he died of a broken heart over what followed.

Though he signed the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Stone was initially a pacifist who would favor reconciliation with Britain than start a gruesome war. However, while working on the committee that formed the Articles of Confederation, his wife fell ill with smallpox while visiting him during a smallpox epidemic. He later gave up public life to take care of his wife and kids. It’s said he died of a broken heart over her death.

Lived: (1743-1787) He was 32-33 at the signing and 43-44 at his death.

Family: Son of David Stone and Elizabeth Jenifer (who were probably cousins). Came from a prominent and was the second son in a large family. Brothers Michael and John also had important political careers. Married Margaret Brown in 1768 and had 3 children.

State: Maryland

Occupation: Planter, lawyer, and landowner

Early Life: Born at Poynton Manor in Charles County, Maryland. Studied law under Thomas Johnson in Annapolis and was admitted to the bar in 1764. Established a practice in Frederick Maryland. During the 1760s, he joined the Committee of Correspondence for Charles County and was a member of the Annapolis Convention in 1774-1776 where he was sent to the Continental Congress.

Significant Roles: Though he voted in favor of drafting a declaration of independence in 1776, he was previously a pacifist in favor of opening diplomatic relations with Britain as well as reluctant to start a gruesome war. Was assigned to the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. But was beset by tragedy when his wife fell ill from smallpox after an inoculation gone wrong and her health would continue for the rest of her life. After signing, he took her home and declined any future appointment to Congress except in 1784 when the meetings were in Annapolis.

Ultimate Fate: Though he accepted election to the Maryland Senate in 1779-1785, he gave up his law practice to take care of Margaret and their kids. And as her health continued to decline, he gradually withdrew from public life. When she died in 1787, he became depressed and died less than 4 months later in Alexandria, Virginia, reportedly of a “broken heart.” Buried at his plantation home which remained in his family for 5 generations until it was sold privately in 1936.

Trivia: Purchased 400 acres from his brother-in-law and built an estate called Habre de Venture, in which the construction was overseen by his brother Michael. It still stands today as a National Historic Site.

39. Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Though trained as a lawyer, Charles Carroll of Carrollton could not vote, run for office, or practice law in Maryland due to his Catholicism. Nevertheless, he managed to become one of the wealthiest men in the colony, engage in debates with Loyalists through newspapers, and managed to outlive all his fellow signers as well as die at the ripe old age of 95.

Though trained as a lawyer, Charles Carroll of Carrollton could not vote, run for office, or practice law in Maryland due to his Catholicism. Nevertheless, he managed to become one of the wealthiest men in the colony, engage in debates with Loyalists through newspapers, breaking the Catholic ban through getting elected to Maryland’s Provincial Congress, and managed to outlive all his fellow signers as well as die at the ripe old age of 95.

Lived: (1737-1832) He was 38 at the signing and 95 at his death.

Family: Son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis and Elizabeth Brooke. Grandfather came from Ireland and served as Attorney General to the 3rd Lord Baltimore. Was the only child and born when his parents weren’t married until he was about 20. Was one of several Carroll family members named Charles. Married Mary Darnall and had 7 children with 3 surviving to adulthood.

State: Maryland

Occupation: Planter, lawyer, pundit, activist, businessman, investor, diplomat, and landowner

Early Life: Born in Annapolis. Educated in Jesuit preparatory schools such as Bohemian Manor in Cecil County and the College of St. Omer in Belgium. He’d later graduate from the Lycee Louis-le-Grand in Paris in 1755. Studied law in London before returning to Annapolis in 1755. Because Roman Catholics had been barred from voting, political office, or practicing law in Maryland since 1704, he focused on being a landed aristocrat instead particularly after he inherited Carrollton Manor. He would soon own extensive agricultural estates like Doughoregan and its large manor, Hockley Forge and Mill as well as financing new enterprises on Maryland’s Western Shore. All these would soon make him one of the wealthiest men in the colonies. As the dispute between the colonies and the Crown intensified, he engaged in a debate with loyalist lawyer and politician Daniel Dulany the Younger through a series of anonymous newspaper letters maintaining the right of the colonies to control their own taxation. In these debates, he argued that the government of Maryland had long been the monopoly of four families, the Ogles, the Taskers, the Bladens and the Dulanys. Eventually word spread of their true identities as his fame and his notoriety grew. Dulany soon attacked him personally but he answered each one in statesmanlike fashion and considerable restraint, arguing when Dulany engaged in “virulent invective and illiberal abuse, we may fairly presume, that arguments are either wanting, or that ignorance or incapacity know not how to apply them.” Was a leading opponent of British rule and served on various committees of correspondence. Played an important role in the burning of the Annapolis harbor of the Peggy Stewart which was destroyed in 1774. Also believed that only violence could break the impasse with Great Britain. Was a member of the Annapolis Convention of 1774-1776 as well as the Continental Congress in 1776-1778.

Significant Roles: In 1776, he went on a 3 man mission to Canada in order to seek French Canadian assistance in the war with Britain (since he was a Catholic who spoke French). Though he was joined by Samuel Chase, Benjamin Franklin, and his cousin Father John Carroll, the commission failed to accomplish anything due to a failed invasion in Canada by the Continental Army. Was an early and strong supporter for independence but arrived too late for the Declaration of Independence vote (but he still signed). Returned to Maryland in 1778 to assist the formation of a new state government there. Elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1781 where he served until 1800. In 1779, he was against the confiscation of Loyalist property feeling it unjust, but such measures passed anyway.

Ultimate Fate: Was elected to the first US Senate in 1789. But in 1792 he resigned to stay in the Maryland Senate when a law prohibited anyone from serving in the state and national legislatures at the same time. Retired from public life in 1801 and wasn’t sympathetic to the War of 1812. Came out of retirement to help create the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1827 with his last public act laying the cornerstone. In may 1832, he was asked to appear at the Democratic National Convention but declined due to ill health. Funeral was held at what is now the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Buried at his Doughoregan Manor Chapel at Ellicott City, Maryland. Home is still owned and lived in by his descendants to this day and is a National Historic Landmark.

Trivia: Only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was also the longest lived and the last surviving signer as well. Funded Homewood House as a wedding present for his alcoholic son which is now the main campus for Johns Hopkins University. Cousin John Carroll was the first American Catholic Bishop. Has a university in Wisconsin named after him as well as counties in various states. Great-grandson was Governor of Maryland. Contrary to popular legend, he always signed his name as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton” to distinguish himself from his father and grandfather (seriously, other signers had very commonplace names). Was a slave owner and slavery apologist. Fluent in French. Has a statue in the crypt of the US Capitol. His Baltimore mansion was the largest and most expensive house in town at the time.

40. George Wythe

George Wythe was a noted classics scholar and judge who as a law professor at William and Mary be a mentor to a lot of America's future leaders. The most famous being Thomas Jefferson whom he willed his whole library to at his death.

George Wythe was a noted classics scholar and judge who as a law professor at William and Mary be a mentor to a lot of America’s future leaders. The most famous being Thomas Jefferson whom he willed his whole library to at his death.

Lived: (1726-1806) He was 49-50 at the signing and 79-80 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Wythe and Margaret Walker. Plantation was owned and operated by family for 3 generations prior. Father died when he was a kid. Married Ann Lewis and Elizabeth Taliafererro. Had no surviving children.

State: Virginia

Occupation: Lawyer, professor, planter, civil servant, and landowner

Early Life: Born on his family’s plantation Chesterville. Probably attended grammar school in Williamsburg before studying law in his uncle’s office. Was admitted to the bar in 1746 and moved to Spotsylvania County to start his legal practice but returned to Williamsburg after his wife Ann suddenly died 8 months after their Christmas season marriage. There, he’d make law and scholarship his life. Secured his first government job in 1748 as a clerk for 2 committees for the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1750, he was elected an alderman of Williamsburg and served as the king’s attorney general in 1754-1755. Was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1754 and inherited Chesterville from his deceased yet childless older brother in 1755. In 1761, he began his teaching career at William and Mary where he taught students and legal apprentices alike (and would be the first US law professor in 1779). This career would span for nearly 30 years. Though known for his modesty and quiet dignity, he’d soon gain a radical reputation for his opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765 (and did a lot of stuff in the 1760s and 1770s that I can’t even describe save that he was trying to stave off the colonial governors and their clerks). In 1774, he witnessed Patrick Henry’s speech at St. John’s Episcopal Church. In 1775, he was elected to the Continental Congress as a delegate to replace George Washington who was off serving as commander of Continental forces. Also served in various courts and became a high profile judge.

Significant Roles: During the Revolution, he was a respected member of the Continental Congress and held to such esteem that the Virginia delegates basically left the first space open for him when he signed the Declaration of Independence (even John Adams liked him). He then hurried back to Virginia to help establish its new state government in which he helped establish a new state court system. However, when he returned to Virginia, he found out that the guy he leased his Chesterville plantation to was a British spy who invited British raiding parties to not just damage neighboring plantations but also Williamsburg and other settlements along the James River. In 1777, he was appointed to the High Court of Chancery, a post he’d hold for the rest of his life. In 1780, he was said to scare a British raiding party back in a ship while hunting partridge.  But when neighbors attacked his overseer at Hog Island, he was forced to flee to Chesterville and ultimately to New York and England. French allies used his Williamsburg home with Count Rochambeau occupying it during the Yorktown Campaign. As law professor, he introduced a lecture system based on the Commentaries published by William Blackstone, as well as Matthew Bacon’s New Abridgement of the Law, and Acts of Virginia’s Assembly. He also developed experiential tools, including moot courts and mock legislative sessions, which are still used today.

Ultimate Fate: In 1787, he became a delegate to the Constitutional Convention who was considered “one of the most learned legal Characters of the present age” and known for his “exemplary life,” but “no great politician” because he had “too favorable opinion of Men.” But he left early to tend to his ailing wife Elizabeth who was dying. In 1788, he was elected to the Virginia Ratifying Convention which he spoke in favor. That same year he resigned as law professor of William and Mary and moved to Richmond to concentrate more on his judicial duties. Was probably poisoned by his dissolute great-nephew when he tried to deny him an inheritance (since he had been stealing money from him) in favor of his free biracial personal assistant. But the guy was acquitted because the only eyewitness was black and barred from testimony. Buried at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. Is very well known in Virginia and American legal circles but not much anywhere else.

Trivia: Was Thomas Jefferson’s law professor and political mentor at William and Mary. Also taught Henry Clay and John Marshall. Was a prominent opponent on slavery (though he owned slaves). Known for his outdated Quaker dress as well as gentle manner which would cause even a surly dog to “unbend and wag his tail.” Left his large book collection to Thomas Jefferson (with whom he was the closest). Has a university in Utah named after him. Motto was “Secundis dubiisque rectus”, translated as “Upright in prosperity and perils.” His 1782 decision in Commonwealth v. Caton would become a predecessor in John Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison years later.

Know Your Signers: Part 4 – Benjamin Rush to George Ross

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As I now approach the midpoint of this series, you might’ve noticed how many of these signers tend to hold more than one political office at the same time. All I have to say is that this practice wasn’t uncommon at the time for many reasons. For one, politics in the 1700s was more a civic duty for the landed upper and middle classes which didn’t consist of a high number. Not to mention, we should understand that suffrage and electoral eligibility was restricted to mostly white male property owners in the colonies who were over 21. In some cases, the eligibility guidelines went even further such as religious tests disqualifying Catholics, Jews, and Quakers and even property owners can be ineligible if they didn’t make the colony’s property requirements. And we’ll meet at least one Declaration of Independence signer who was unable to participate in colonial politics prior to the Revolution simply due to provincial voting restrictions. Still, such small franchises would leave relatively few eligible voters to participate in elections so it’s not unusual that you might have guys holding more than one political office since most of them would’ve been fairly well off. Not to mention, many highborn colonists considered political office as more of a civic duty than a career. Also, many of the colonial public offices weren’t technically full time jobs either and legislatures usually met a few times each year. Then there’s the fact that most of the elected higher offices usually came from the legislature as well. In this section, we’ll cover the rest of the Pennsylvania delegation since 9 of its signers came from there. Unfortunately for me, none of them came from where I live since Western Pennsylvania very much frontier country at the time with small towns and farmland. Pittsburgh might’ve been a city but it wasn’t much of one by any stretch of the imagination (it will have its own university in the 1780s though). So in 1776 Pennsylvania, almost everything revolves around Philadelphia, which was the bustling colonial American metropolis and a halfway point between the 13 colonies. This is why the Continental Congress typically met there and Pennsylvania is called “the Keystone State.” I mean you couldn’t have an American Revolution without it. But all the Pennsylvania signers usually resided in either Philadelphia or somewhere in the eastern part of the state. First, you have noted physician Benjamin Rush who was a noted Enlightenment thinker you probably haven’t heard of. But despite that he had some great ideas, you wouldn’t really want him as your doctor. Second, there’s Benjamin Franklin a man so famous in American history that he needs no introduction. Third, you have John Morton whose family came to the colonies from Finland and is the first signer to die. After that is George Clymer, perhaps the only guy in this bunch who actually had any connection to my local region. Next is James Smith who doesn’t have much significance among this lot followed by George Taylor, a former indentured servant turned businessman who almost gets screwed over. Then there’s James Wilson, a Founding Father who later became a Supreme Court Justice but doesn’t get the recognition he deserves in the history books. Finally, there’s George Ross who presided over a case that would spark a states’ rights controversy. So for your American history reading pleasure, I bring you the rest of the Pennsylvania delegation among the Declaration of Independence signers, sans Robert Morris of course.

25. Benjamin Rush

Dr. Benjamin Rush was a leading physician in early America whose ideas had a major impact on the medical profession and prepare the way for later medical research. Unfortunately, he was a firm proponent of certain medical practices like bloodletting and purging, seen as outdated even in his own day. Then again, even the best medicine in the 18th century wasn't anything to write home about. And let's just leave it at that.

Dr. Benjamin Rush was a leading physician in early America whose ideas had a major impact on the medical profession and prepare the way for later medical research. Unfortunately, he was a firm proponent of certain medical practices like bloodletting and purging, seen as outdated even in his own day. Then again, even the best medicine in the 18th century wasn’t anything to write home about. And let’s just leave it at that.

Lived: (1746-1813) He was 30 at the signing and 67 at his death.

Family: Son of John Rush and Susanna Hall. Fourth of 7 children. Lost his dad when he was six. Mother ran a country store. Was a remote relative of William Penn. Married Julia Stockton in 1776 and had 13 children. Son John suffered from depression after serving a tour of duty in the US Navy and was placed in a mental ward for 30 years. Son Richard served the cabinets of James Madison and James Monroe.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Physician, social reformer, educator, professor, scientist, writer, and humanitarian

Early Life: Born just outside Philadelphia on his family’s plantation. Was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Philadelphia at 8, to receive a more proper education. Attended the Reverend Samuel Findley’s academy in Maryland. Graduated from what is now Princeton in 1760. Apprenticed under Dr. John Redman in Philadelphia before furthering his studies at the University of Edinburgh where he earned his M.D. in 1768. A year later, he returned to colonies and set up his practice in Philadelphia as well as became professor of chemistry in what is now the University of Pennsylvania. Was active in the Sons of Liberty as well as sent to the Continental Congress.

Significant Roles: Represented Philadelphia during Pennsylvania’s own Constitutional Convention in 1776 and got into trouble when he criticized the final product. Besides serving on the medical committee, he accompanied the Philadelphia militia during the British occupations of Philadelphia and New Jersey, specifically the Battle of Princeton. Soon became the Continental Army Surgeon General until 1778 over reporting some other doctor’s misappropriation of food and wine supplies. Also known for bashing George Washington.

Ultimate Fate: After the war, he was appointed to the staff of Pennsylvania Hospital in 1783 where he remained until his death. Was a delegate for the Pennsylvania delegation that adopted the US Constitution. Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1788. Appointed treasurer of the US Mint 1797-1813. Later became professor of medical practice and clinical theory at the University of Pennsylvania in 1791, though the quality of his medicine was quite primitive, even for the time. Supplied the Corps of Discovery with medicine during the Lewis and Clark Expedition (of course, they had these mercury containing laxatives known as “Rush’s Thunderbolts” but they didn’t kill anybody during the trip and provided an excellent tracer for archaeologists. As for fatalities, Lewis and Clark only lost one guy to Peritonitis was couldn’t be treated with even the most advanced medicine at the time). Died of typhus and is buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

Trivia: Son-in-law to Richard Stockton. Founded Dickinson College. Thought all youth should be instructed in the Christian religion. Christian Universalists deem him their religion’s founder (though Rush was a very religious man, he was Presbyterian). Opposed slavery and was friends with the Reverend Richard Allen and helped him found the African Methodist Episcopal Church (though he was pretty racist and though that blackness was a skin disease and discouraged interracial marriage. Oh, and he owned a slave even when he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1784). Helped reconcile the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1812. Formulated the idea of Republican motherhood and thought that women should be educated in singing, dances, sciences, bookkeeping, history, and moral philosophy (but not metaphysics, mathematics, logic, or advanced science). But he was instrumental in founding the Young Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia which was the city’s first women’s college (but he opposed to coeducational classrooms). Opposed capital punishment except in first-degree murder and wasn’t a fan of public punishments either. Educated over 3000 medical students. Has a medical school in Chicago named after him. Called, “The Father of American Psychiatry” for his advocacy that the mentally ill should be treated like human beings. Established a public dispensary for low income patients as well as a public works associating with draining and rerouting Dock Creek, which kept the mosquitoes out of Philadelphia. While he actively sought new explanations and new approaches to treatment, he was very much a doctor of his time who advocated bloodletting and purges as well as was accused of killing more patients than he had saved. Fluent in French, Italian, and Spanish. Published the first American chemistry textbook as well as wrote several volumes on medical education and influential patriotic essays. Thomas Paine consulted him when writing Common Sense. Elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1794. Was a founding member for what is now the

26. Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous and influential Founding Fathers to date as well as the closest thing America has to a Renaissance man. Even before the American Revolution, he was considered an international celebrity as well as prolific self-made man. Nevertheless, his own set of accomplishments didn't stop John Adams from resenting him.

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous and influential Founding Fathers to date as well as the closest thing America has to a Renaissance man. Even before the American Revolution, he was considered an international celebrity as well as prolific self-made man. Nevertheless, his own set of accomplishments didn’t stop John Adams from resenting him for his dissolute ways, even in France.

Lived: (1706-1790) Was 70 at the signing and 84 at his death.

Family: Son of Josiah Franklin and his second wife Abiah Folger. Father was a candle maker and businessman. Came from a family of 17 children and was the youngest son. Brother James founded The New England Courant which was the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. Had a common law marriage with Deborah Read and had 3 children. Son William was a prominent Loyalist and the last governor of New Jersey (whom Franklin raised his illegitimate son).

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Author, candle maker, printer, composer, political theorist, editor, journalist, bookseller, postmaster, publisher, accountant, businessman, scientist, inventor, civic activist, diplomat, newspaperman, satirist, and pundit

Early Life: Born in Boston. Father wanted him to be a clergyman but could only send him to the Boston Latin School for 2 years and his schooling ended at 10. But he was a voracious reader who continued his education. At 12 after spending 2 years working with his father before being apprenticed to his older brother James, a printer. When denied a chance to write a letter to his brother’s paper for publication, he wrote a series of letters under the name “Silence Dogood” which became a subject of conversation around town with his brother and the paper unaware of the ruse (for a time). Ran the Courant when his brother was in jail for 3 weeks in 1722 for publishing unflattering material about the governor. Became a fugitive by leaving James’s apprenticeship without permission and ran away to Philadelphia at 17. After working at various printer shops in Philadelphia and London, he worked for a merchant as a shopkeeper, clerk, and bookkeeper. When his boss died, he returned to his former trade and founded a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette, which was a very unique newspaper of its time which contributed to a broader culture in Pennsylvania. Saw the press as a public service duty, but he was already writing for papers long before setting up his own and continued to contribute to other publications. In 1733-1758, he published Poor Richard’s Almanack which sold about 10,000 copies per year. Began his autobiography in 1771. Wrote The Way to Wealth in 1758. Retired from printing in 1747 and created a partnership with his foreman. In 1751, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly and was later appointed postmaster-general (his most notable reform in domestic politics with mail sent out every week). Headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the Albany Congress in 1754 and proposed a Plan of Union for the colonies (which wasn’t adopted). In 1756, he organized the Pennsylvania Militia where he was elected “Colonel” but declined the honor. Became a member of the Royal Society of the Arts the same year (which instituted the Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1956). In 1757, he was sent to Great Britain for 5 years by the Pennsylvania Assembly as a colonial agent to protest the influence of the Penn family where he became involved in radical politics. When he returned, he was made Pennsylvania Assembly Speaker but soon lost his seat. He spent most of the 1760s and early 1770s traveling around Europe and engaging resisting British policies, often acting as a spokesman of American interests in England and writing popular essays on behalf of the colonies as well as hobnobbed with various great minds and celebrities of the day like Joseph Priestly, David Hume, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, James Watt, and more. In 1773, he obtained letters between Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson and tax collector Andrew Oliver which led to the British regarding him as a fomenter of serious trouble. In 1774, his sympathies for the rebel cause led to his dismissal as a colonial postmaster general.

Significant Roles: Well, he provided an early response to British surveillance through his own network of counter-surveillance and manipulation. After returning to Philadelphia in 1775, he was chosen unanimously as a Pennsylvania delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He was also chosen as the Unite States Postmaster General in the newly formed United States Postal Office. In June 1776, he was appointed as a member to the Committee of Five with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. Though he didn’t attend most of the meetings due to gout, he’s said to make several small but important changes to the Declaration of Independence, of which he was the oldest delegate to sign. In December that year, he was dispatched to France as a commissioner for the United States where he helped secure an alliance with the French, led to King Louis XVI to sign an edict for religious tolerance, and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Ultimate Fate: Was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1781. When he returned home, he occupied a position as the champion of American independence second to only George Washington. From 1785-1788, he was governor of Pennsylvania. In 1787, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention where he mostly held an honorable position. Plagued with gout and obesity since middle age, his health worsened. And after signing the US Constitution in 1787, he was rarely appeared in public until his death. Died of pleurisy attack at his Philadelphia home. Approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral. Buried at Christ Church burial ground. Will specifically lists no less than nine houses, over ten thousand pounds of specific distributions of cash and cash-denominated assets (worth in excess of a million pounds in today’s money, taking inflation into account), three thousand acres of land he was granted in Georgia, additional land holdings near the Ohio river and in Philadelphia, and two different businesses (both a printshop adjacent to his home and a type foundry elsewhere). A giant statue of him was erected in Philadelphia in 1976. Still, his lasting fame is inconsequential and is perhaps the first international celebrity from America.

Trivia: Was an advocate of free speech since he was a teenager. Developed a phonetic alphabet that didn’t take. Employed one of the colonial era’s first woman printers. Discovered that lightning was electricity, was a pioneer in population studies, and studied Atlantic Ocean currents. Other disciplines include meteorology, thermodynamics, and oceanography. Invented bifocals, the Franklin stove, glass armonica, newspaper chain, catheter, volunteer fire department, anti-counterfeiting techniques on currency (which he printed for New Jersey), the monthly news magazine, and lightning rod. Help found the Library Company of Philadelphia and hired the first American librarian (it was also headquartered at Independence Hall and is now a major scholarly and research library with 500,000 rare books, pamphlets, and broadsides, 160,000 manuscripts, and 75,000 graphic items). Facilitated many civic organizations including Philadelphia’s fire department and played a major role in establishing the University of Pennsylvania as well as Pennsylvania Hospital. Help set up a new model for higher education during the 1750s such a college focusing on the professions with courses taught in English by professors as well as no religious test for admissions. Set up the first national communication network. Elected first president of the American Philosophical Society. Called, “The First American.” Defined the American ethos as a as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. Printed for the Moravians at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where he visited many times. Was a ladies’ man and prolific adulterer as well as wrote about everything from having sex with older women to farting. Freed his own slaves toward the end of his life and became a prominent abolitionist. Is on the $100 bill. Things named after him include warships, towns, counties, educational institutions, and corporations. Pen names include Silence Dogood and Richard Saunders. Said to play the harp and the violin as well as composed music. Was an avid chess player. Took “air baths” which makes him a nudist or perhaps exhibitionist. Awarded honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale in 1753, an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Saint Andrews in 1759, and an honorary doctorate in scientific accomplishments at Oxford University in 1762. Bequeathed $4,400 to Boston and Philadelphia in hopes to gather interest for 200 years (which resulted in $2,000,000 for Philadelphia and $5,000,000 for Boston). Witnessed the world’s first hydrogen balloon flight. Known to take naps during meetings and often came late to meetings. Had 50 different epithets for being drunk (so yes, he really loved to party which is no surprise). And when he went out drinking during the Revolution, he always had a platoon of soldiers to guard him because the other Founding Father’s were afraid that he’d leak out military secrets while on a binge. Had a wicked sense of humor. Never patented any of his inventions so people can use them for free. Was a Deist who doubted the divinity of Christ and wasn’t much of a fan of organized religion.

27. John Morton

It's popularly said that Pennsylvania wouldn't be the "Keystone State" if it wasn't for John Morton being the swing vote delegate for American Independence. Was also in charge of drafting the Articles of Confederation. But he would die from tuberculosis.

It’s popularly said that Pennsylvania wouldn’t be the “Keystone State” if it wasn’t for John Morton being the swing vote delegate for American Independence. Was also in charge of drafting the Articles of Confederation. But he would die from tuberculosis.

Lived: (1725-1777) He was 48-49 at the signing and 51-52 at his death.

Family: Son of John Morton Sr. and Mary Archer, both of Finnish descent. Great-grandfather immigrated to New Sweden in 1654. Father died before he was born and mother remarried a guy named Sketchley when he was 7. Married Ann Justis in 1748 and had 9 children. Son was a surgeon who died on a British ship as a prisoner of war.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Farmer and surveyor

Early Life: Born in Ridley Township, Pennsylvania. Educated by his stepfather. Elected to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly in 1756 and was appointed justice of the peace the next year which he held until 1764.  Resigned from the Assembly in 1766 to become sheriff of Chester County but returned as Speaker in 1769. Appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1774. Elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775.

Significant Roles: In 1776, he was the swing delegate that allowed Pennsylvania to vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence. But he opposed the radical Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 as well. Chaired the committee that wrote the Articles of Confederation but died (presumably of tuberculosis) before they were ratified. Buried in St. Paul’s Burial Ground in Chester, Pennsylvania. Was the first Declaration of Independence signer to die. His wife Anne had to flee Philadelphia to New Jersey during the Battle of Brandywine a year later which resulted in much of his papers being destroyed. So we don’t know much about him.

Ultimate Fate: Morton didn’t survive the Revolution.

Trivia: Original family name was Märtensson.

28. George Clymer

George Clymer was an early advocate for independence as well as was one of the few Continental Congress delegates to remain in Philadelphia in the interest of maintaining congressional business. Was also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Became a noted philanthropist later in life who donated the land that would become Indiana  Pennsylvania.

George Clymer was an early advocate for independence as well as was one of the few Continental Congress delegates to remain in Philadelphia in the interest of maintaining congressional business. Was also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Became a noted philanthropist later in life who donated the land that would become Indiana Pennsylvania.

Lived: (1739-1813) He was 37 at the signing and 73 at his death.

Family: Was orphaned when he was only a year old so he was by his maternal aunt and uncle Hannah and William Coleman. Grandfather was one of the original settlers of the Penn colony. Married Elizabeth Meredith in 1765 and had 9 children with only 5 surviving infancy. Son John Meredith died in 1787 at 18.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Merchant, businessman, diplomat, pundit, and philanthropist

Early Life: Born in Philadelphia. Was orphaned at only a year old and raised by his maternal aunt and uncle. Uncle apprenticed him as a merchant. Was a patriot and leader in the Philadelphia demonstrations resulting from the Stamp Act and Tea Act. Member of the Continental Congress in 1776-1780.

Significant Roles: Was one of the first patriots to advocate complete independence from Great Britain. Served as a treasurer in the Continental Congress. Was sent with Sampson Matthews to inspect the northern army on behalf of Congress in 1776. Stayed with Robert Morris and George Walton in Philadelphia during British occupation while the British vandalized his home (but his family managed to hide in the woods nearby). Was instrumental in chartering a bank to raise money for supplies for the Continental Army, which is said to save it from dissolution. In 1779-1780 he and son engaged in a lucrative trade deal with the island of St. Eustatius. In 1780, was elected to the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Wrote many political letters and articles.

Ultimate Fate: In 1782, he was sent on the tour of the southern states in a vain attempt to get the legislatures to pay their subscriptions due to the central government. Represented his state in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and elected to the first US Congress in 1789. Was first president of the Philadelphia Bank and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as well as vice-president of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society. Was in charge with enforcing the excise tax in Pennsylvania which gave rise to the Whiskey Rebellion. Was one of the commissioners to negotiate a treaty with the Creek Indian confederacy in Coleraine, Georgia. Buried in Trenton, New Jersey’s Friends Burying Ground. Summerseat, his Morrisville home still stands.

Trivia: Had at least one other child before his marriage that has previously gone unnoticed by previous historians (well, at least one that he knew about which he wrote in a letter to the rector of Christ Church, his pastor, but it also hints to the possibility of more). So Clymer wasn’t exactly the most wholesome Founding Father out there. Donated the property for Indiana, Pennsylvania county seat and is considered the borough’s benefactor. Has a ship named after him. Believed in rights for all people.

29. James Smith

Prior to signing the Declaration of Independence, James Smith raised the first volunteer revolutionary militia in 1774. Other than that, he doesn't really seem to lead an exciting life. Also, most of his papers were destroyed in an office fire so we don't know much about him.

Prior to signing the Declaration of Independence, James Smith raised the first volunteer revolutionary militia in 1774. Other than that, he doesn’t really seem to lead an exciting life. Also, most of his papers were destroyed in an office fire so we don’t know much about him.

Lived: (ca. 1720 – 1806) He was about 55-56 at the signing and about 85-86 at his death.

Family: Son of John Smith. Married Eleanor Armor and had 5 children. Has no living descendants.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Lawyer, businessman, surveyor, and soldier

Early Life: Born in Ulster, Ireland. Immigrated to Chester County, Pennsylvania as a boy. Practiced law in Shippensburg and York, where he was a militia captain. Went into the ironmaking business in the 1760s but lost a small fortune. Raised the first revolutionary volunteer militia company in 1774, but deferred to the younger men. Appointed to the Provincial convention in Philadelphia and elected to the Continental Congress in 1776-1778.

Significant Roles: Actively supported the cause for American independence. Attended the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1776.  Elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1780. Became a brigadier general in the state militia.

Ultimate Fate: Declined political office in 1785 due to advanced age and resumed practicing law until he was 80. In 1805, it’s said a fire occurred in his office which destroyed most of his papers so there’s little about him we know. Buried in York, Pennsylvania.

Trivia: Has a dorm named after him at the University of Delaware. Said to be quite a prankster and loved having people guess his exact age.

30. George Taylor

Though he started out as a former indentured servant, George Taylor be greatly involved in the production of artillery ammunition for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Unfortunately the ironworks was sitting on land owned by Loyalist Joseph Galloway. So let's just say that things didn't turn out well for him after Galloway fled Philadelphia.

Though he started out as a former indentured servant, George Taylor be greatly involved in the production of artillery ammunition for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Unfortunately the ironworks was sitting on land owned by Loyalist Joseph Galloway. So let’s just say that things didn’t turn out well for him after Galloway fled Philadelphia.

Lived: (1716-1781) He was 59-60 at the signing and 64-65 at his death.

Family: Father was said to be a Protestant clergyman. Married Ann Taylor Savage in 1742 who was his master’s widow (a typical practice in those days) and had 2 children neither of whom survived him (but son did marry and have 5 children). Also had 5 kids with his housekeeper Naomi Smith.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Indentured servant, laborer, ironmaster, bookkeeper, tavernkeeper, businessman, landowner, and soldier

Early Life: Born in Ireland and immigrated at 20 where he landed in Philadelphia. Was indentured to Samuel Savage, Jr. Ironmaster at Warwick furnace and started as a laborer. But Savage discovered he had some degree of education so he promoted him to bookkeeper. After Savage’s death, he married his widow and managed his two ironworks for the next 10 years until his stepson came of legal age in 1752. In 1755, he formed a partnership to lease the Durham Furnace in Upper Bucks County. Served as Bucks County justice of the peace in 1757-1763. Moved to Easton, Pennsylvania after the Durham lease expired and where he obtained Bachmann’s Tavern (now the Easton House in 1761. In 1764, he became the justice of the peace in Northampton County and was elected to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. During this time he purchased 331 acres of land near Allentown’s Biery Port where he built an impression two-story stone Georgian mansion on a bluff overlooking the Lehigh River, which was completed in 1768 (now known as the George Taylor House and is now a National Historic Landmark). He leased half the property to farming and sold the estate in 1776, 2 years after moving back to Durham. There in 1774, he arranged to lease the Durham Iron Works which was acquired by Joseph Galloway who later resigned from the First Continental Congress when his plan to avert a break from England. In 1775, he was commissioned as colonel in the Third Battalion of the Pennsylvania militia.

Significant Roles: His Durham Iron Works was one of the first in Pennsylvania to supply cannon shot and shells the Continental Army. Was elected to the Second Continental Congress late in 1776, which was an appointment that lasted over 7 months. In 1777, he was appointed to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council but later retired due to ill health. During the war, he continued to oversee production of cannon shot and shells for the Continental Army and Navy. But when the Loyalist Joseph Galloway fled Philadelphia, the Durham mill was seized. Taylor filed an appeal but the Durham Furnace was sold to a new owner but was able to continue production (even though he sold some of his estates). He then leased the Greenwich Forge in what is today Warren County and moved back to Easton in 1780, where he died.

Ultimate Fate: Currently buried in the Easton Cemetery and the final house he lived in is considered the city’s oldest surviving house. Though he wanted his estate to be divided equally between his love children and grandchildren, this request was denied. He was engulfed in financial difficulties and legal entanglements over the Durham Furnace and Greenwich Forge which dragged out until 1799. But at that point, his estate was insolvent. Still, outside of Lehigh County who basically adore the man, he’s seldom known anywhere else.

Trivia: Only ironmaster and indentured servant to sign the Declaration of Independence.

31. James Wilson

Though a firm advocate for independence, James Wilson didn't cast his vote until he was given the go ahead by his constituents. Also had his home besieged by a drunken mob in 1779, an event known as the Fort Wilson Riot. He was also a prominent legal theorist who was quite active in the Constitutional Convention and later became a Supreme Court Justice. Unfortunately, he's barely remembered today.

Though a firm advocate for independence, James Wilson didn’t cast his vote until he was given the go ahead by his constituents. Also had his home besieged by a drunken mob in 1779, an event known as the Fort Wilson Riot. He was also a prominent legal theorist who was quite active in the Constitutional Convention and later became a Supreme Court Justice. Unfortunately, he’s barely remembered today.

Lived: (1742-1798) He was 33 at the signing and 55 at his death.

Family: Son of William Wilson and Alison Landall. Father was a Scottish farmer. Married Rachel Bird and Hannah Gray (later Bartlett) and had 7 children.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Professor, legal theorist, lawyer, businessman, investor, soldier, and college trustee

Early Life: Born in Scotland and studied at the Universities of St. Andrews, Edinburgh, and Glasgow but never obtained a degree, though he was influenced by the leading Scottish Enlightenment figures of the day. This led him to move to Philadelphia in 1766 where he began teaching and tutoring at what is now the University of Pennsylvania where he earned an honorary Master of Arts. Studied law under James Dickinson for 2 years before the bar. After that, he set up a successful practice in Reading as well as had a small farm in Carlisle. Published  “Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament” in 1774 (but wrote in 1768), which argued that Parliament had no authority to tax the colonies because they had no representation in Parliament. Also presented his views that power came from the people. Was commissioned Colonel of the 4th Cumberland County Battalion and would soon rise to the rank of Brigadier General in the Pennsylvania State Militia.

Significant Roles: As a member of the Continental Congress of 1776, he was a firm advocate for independence but refused to vote until he heard back to see if it was okay with his constituents. He was also one of the leaders in the formation of French policy. He also served on the Committee of Spies where he helped define treason. After defending 23 from property seizure and exile in 1779, he and 35 colleagues were forced to barricade their homes from a drunken angry mob before being rescued by soldiers. Called “the Fort Wilson Riot” this resulted in 6 killed as well as 17-19 wounded. Engaged in land speculation and investing.

Ultimate Fate: As a delegate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, he was one of the most learned Framers of the Constitution. Was on the committee that produced the first draft of the US Constitution as well as proposed the 3/5ths Compromise as well as understood the implications of dual sovereignty. Addressed the convention 168 times. And at the ratification convention, he stumped hard which lead Pennsylvania to become the second state in the Union. His 1787 “speech in the statehouse yard” was second in influence to The Federalist Papers, which was printed and widely distributed. In 1789, he was appointed by George Washington as one of the 6 original members of the United States Supreme Court. Was first professor of law at what is now the University of Pennsylvania in 1790 and delivered a couple series of lectures some of which were later compiled by his son Bird for an edition in 1804.  Final years were marked by financial failures which resulted in a brief imprisonment at a debtor’s prison in New Jersey while his debt was paid off by his son.  He then escaped to North Carolina to escape other creditors but was again briefly imprisoned.  Died after suffering malaria and a stroke while visiting a friend in Edenton, North Carolina. Currently buried at Christ Churchyard in Philadelphia.

Trivia: Was a founding trustee of Dickinson College. Considered one of the most underrated Founding Fathers by American legal scholars. Supported the popular election of senators. Viewed legal study as a branch of general cultured education.

32. George Ross

Though George Ross spent 12 years as a Crown prosecutor, he would later side with the patriots and help draft Pennsylvania's constitution in 1776. Presided on a case that would cause a states' rights controversy just before his early death.

Though George Ross spent 12 years as a Crown prosecutor, he would later side with the patriots and help draft Pennsylvania’s constitution in 1776. Presided on a case that would cause a states’ rights controversy just before his early death.

Lived: (1730-1779) He was 46 at the signing and 49 at his death.

Family: Son of a Scottish Anglican clergyman. Had at least a half-brother John and a sister named Gertrude. Possibly oldest son of his dad’s second wife. Married Anne Lawler in 1751 and had 2 sons and a daughter.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Lawyer and soldier

Early Life: Born in New Castle, Delaware and educated at home. Studied law at his half-brother John’s office and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in Philadelphia in 1750. In addition to being a member of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly in 1768, he was also a Tory Crown Prosecutor for 12 years. But he later changed his mind and became a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774-1777.  Was Colonel in the Pennsylvania militia in 1775-1776.

Significant Roles: Was the last of the Pennsylvania delegation to sign the Declaration of Independence. Though reelected to the Continental Congress in 1777, he resigned due to poor health. Was vice president at the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1776 and appointed Judge of the Admiralty Court in Pennsylvania in shortly after. One of his cases during this time sparked the states’ rights controversy which wouldn’t be resolved until 1809. Died in office. Buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

Ultimate Fate: Ross didn’t survive the American Revolution.

Trivia: Brother-in-law to George Read.

Know Your Signers: Part 3 – Francis Lewis to Robert Morris

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Now while the second group of guys aren’t nearly as interesting as the first bunch, you wouldn’t say the same with these men. You might not know some of these people but quite of few of them made some significant contributions to the American Revolution as well as the nation. In many ways, this kind of makes since because many of the Declaration of Independence signers were sent to Philadelphia by their legislators and were notable men in their communities. A lot of them also had land as well as plenty of disposable income. In this section, I wrap up the rest of the New York signatory delegation, the 5 signers from New Jersey a bunch I really found interesting, and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania who I know because he has a Division II university named after him in Pittsburgh. First, you have the last 2 New York signatories Francis Lewis and Lewis Morris (no relation to Robert but he was the half-brother to Gouveneur Morris, who played a key role in the Constitutional Convention). Second, it’s on to New Jersey with a delegation, I call the 5 Revolutionary Jersey Boys who were selected to replace the entire New Jersey delegation from the First Continental Congress who opposed it. There’s Richard Stockton who would later be taken prisoner by the British in the dead of night, be subject to torture, irons, and other inhumane conditions, and lost almost everything, including his beloved library (known to be among the finest in the colonies). Then there’s the Reverend John Witherspoon a Scottish Presbyterian minister who became the president of what is now Princeton and would achieve great things in American higher education. Next up is Francis Hopkinson who contrary to the stupid Betsy Ross bullshit, actually designed the first American flag as well as was involved in the design of the Great Seal of the United States. After that is John Hart who left land to some Baptists so they could build a church as well as let the Continental Army camp on his farm and had lunch with General George Washington prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Then there’s Abraham Clark a poor man’s lawyer whose sons were captured by the British as well as treated appallingly as prisoners of war. Finally, there’s Robert Morris of Pennsylvania best known for being a major source of funds for the American Revolution and whose financial contributions were crucial to the Continental Army’s success. However, he wasn’t the best authority when it came to spending his own money. Now for all you fans of 1776 and everything pertaining to men in tights and fluffy wigs, here are some more profiles of the Declaration of Independence signers.

17. Francis Lewis

Sure he was a man of reasonable means, but it would certainly suck to be Francis Lewis. I mean he was taken as a POW for 7 years while serving as a contractor in the French and Indian War. During the Revolution, his home was Long Island home burned to the ground by the British, his wife was taken prisoner and kept in appalling conditions for 2 years until she got sick and died, and his daughter married a British Naval Officer, moved to England, and basically disowned her parents. Didn't help that he spent most of his life savings on  supplying the Continental Army.

Sure he was a man of reasonable means, but it would certainly suck to be Francis Lewis. I mean he was taken as a POW for 7 years while serving as a contractor in the French and Indian War. During the Revolution, his home was Long Island home burned to the ground by the British, his wife was taken prisoner and kept in appalling conditions for 2 years until she got sick and died, and his daughter married a British Naval Officer, moved to England, and basically disowned her parents. Didn’t help that he spent most of his life savings on supplying the Continental Army.

Lived: (1713-1802) Was 63 at the signing and 89 at his death.

Family: Son of Morgan Lewis and Anne Pettingale. Married Elizabeth Annesley and had 7 children with 3 surviving infancy. Son Morgan Lewis served in the army during the Revolutionary War and eventually became governor.

State: New York

Occupation: Merchant, farmer, landowner, and mercantile agent

Early Life: Born in Wales. Educated in Scotland and attended the Westminster School in London, before entering into the mercantile business. Moved to Whitestone, New York in 1734. In 1756, he was taken prisoner and shipped in a box to France while serving as a British mercantile agent while a clothing contractor at Fort Oswego. In 1763, he returned and was granted 5,000 acres to compensate for the 7 lost years of his life. Was a member of the Committee of Sixty and the New York Provincial Congress. Was a delegate of the Continental Congress in 1775.

Significant Roles: Signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778 as well as served as Chairman of the Continental Board of Admiralty. Home in Whitestone was burned to the ground during the American Revolution by British soldiers and his wife spent 2 years in captivity denied a change of clothes or adequate food as well as in dirty, damp, and cold conditions. She’d eventually get sick and die, unsurprisingly. Even worse his only daughter would marry a British Naval Officer and move to England, refusing to see or correspond with her parents. Would spend almost all his life savings purchasing supplies for the Continental Army.

Ultimate Fate: Basically retired from public service after the Revolution and resided with his 2 sons for the rest of his life. Buried at Trinity Church Cemetery.

Trivia: Ancestor of Hollywood director William Wellman. Has many descendants stretching all the way to Idaho. Died on New Year’s Eve. Had a great-grandson who died in the Battle of Gettysburg.

18. Lewis Morris

While Lewis Morris was a strong supporter of American Independence, he's paid the price with his beloved family home Morrisania burned and looted by the British during the occupation of New York. But compared to Francis Lewis and Richard Stockton, he got off easy. Still, can't help but wonder whether he's an ancestor to the late Tim Russert. Wonder why.

While Lewis Morris was a strong supporter of American Independence, he’s paid the price with his beloved family home Morrisania burned and looted by the British during the occupation of New York. But compared to Francis Lewis and Richard Stockton, he got off easy. Still, can’t help but wonder whether he’s an ancestor to the late Tim Russert. Seriously, the guy looks as if he could be the guy’s 4th or 5th great-grandfather.

Lived: (1726-1798) He was 50 at the signing and 71 at his death.

Family: Son of Lewis Morris and Catherine Staats. He was the third guy to be named Lewis (there’s a very interesting story about his family but I won’t divulge). Married Mary Walton in 1749 and had 10 children. His 3 eldest sons served in the Revolutionary War with distinction.

State: New York

Occupation: Landowner and developer

Early Life: Born on his family estate of Morrisania, (now a neighborhood in the Bronx). Inherited the estate upon his father’s death in 1762. Appointed judge of the colony’s Admiralty Court in 1760 and elected to the New York Assembly in 1769 but resigned in 1774. Member of the New York Provincial Congress 1775-1777 and was sent to the Continental Congress these same years.

Significant Roles: He was an active supporter for independence that it’s said when his half-brother Gouveneur allegedly warned him about what he was doing, he stated, “Damn the consequences. Give me the pen.” Served two nonconsecutive times in the New York State Senate (1777-1781 and 1783-1790). Home was looted and burned by the British during the occupation of New York.

Ultimate Fate: Aside from politics, Morris spent some time after the Revolution to rebuild his family estate. Was a delegate for the New York Convention to ratify the US Constitution in 1788. In 1790, he offered Morrisania as the site of the US capital (which was refused). Died on his estate and is buried in the family vault beneath St. Ann’s Church in the Bronx.

Trivia: Half-brother of Gouverneur Morris. Great-grandson was a pioneering astrophotographer. Aside from the US, has descendants in Australia and the Netherlands.

19. Richard Stockton

Few signers had more tragic stories than New Jersey's Richard Stockton. Months after signing the Declaration of Independence, he was kidnapped by a band of Loyalists as well as placed in a complete hell of a prison for 5 weeks, and emerged on parole with his health so destroyed that he never recovered. He also had his furniture, belongings, crops, and livestock either taken or destroyed. His estate was occupied by General Cornwallis. And his library, one of the finest in the colonies was burned. But he never lost his faith and he refused to take any loyalty oath to his British captors that would've given him a pardon from General Howe. Which is why he has a statue in the US Capitol today.

Few signers had more tragic stories than New Jersey’s Richard Stockton. Months after signing the Declaration of Independence, he was kidnapped by a band of Loyalists as well as placed in a complete hell of a prison for 5 weeks, and emerged on parole with his health so destroyed that he never recovered. He also had his furniture, belongings, crops, and livestock either taken or destroyed. His estate was occupied by General Cornwallis. And his library, one of the finest in the colonies was burned. But he never lost his faith and he refused to take any loyalty oath to his British captors that would’ve given him a pardon from General Howe. Which is why he has a statue in the US Capitol today.

Lived: (1730-1781) He was 45 at the signing and 50 at his death.

Family: Son of John Stockton and Abigail Philips who were first cousins. Father was a wealthy landowner who donated some property for what is now known as Princeton University. Married Annis Boudinot and had 6 children, including a son who became an eminent lawyer and Federalist leader.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Lawyer, landowner, and college trustee

Early Life: Born at the family home in Princeton called Morven. Attended Samuel Finley’s Academy in Nottingham and graduated from Princeton in 1748. Studied law in Newark under David Ogden and admitted to the bar in 1748 rising to great distinction. Received the degree of sergeant at law in 1763 (highest degree at the time). Was a trustee of Princeton for 26 years. In 1766 to 1767, he gave up his law practice to travel to England, Scotland, and Ireland, personally presenting King George III an address from the Princeton trustees, acknowledging the repeal of the Stamp Act. In Scotland, his and Benjamin Rush’s personal efforts resulted in the Princeton presidency by the Reverend John Witherspoon. After he returned to America, he was elevated to the New Jersey Provincial Council in 1768 and appointed to the Provincial Supreme Court in 1774. He was more of the moderate on the colonial troubles with Great Britain and drafted a Commonwealth approach to the colonial secretary which was rejected. Was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776.

Significant Roles: He was the first person from New Jersey to sign the Declaration of Independence. Sent by Congress with George Clymer on an exhausting 2 month journey to Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and Albany to assist the Continental Army during the American Revolution. When he returned to Princeton, he traveled 30 miles east to the home of a friend named John Covenhoven, to evacuate his family to safety and away from the British Army. But they were captured in the middle of the night, dragged from their beds by Loyalists, stripped of their property, and marched to Perth Amboy to be turned in by the British. Though General William Howe offered him a pardon if he remained in peaceable obedience with the King, but he never did. So he was put in irons and brutally treated as a common criminal. He was then moved to Provost Prison in New York, where he was intentionally starved and subjected to the freezing cold weather. He was released on parole 5 weeks later on January 13, 1777 and his health was ruined. He found Morven occupied by General Cornwallis as well as his furniture, household belongings, as well as crops and livestock confiscated and destroyed. His library, one of the finest in the colonies was burned.  But his treatment in the New York prison prompted the Continental Congress to pass a resolution directing General Washington to inquire into the circumstances. However, though he took an oath swearing loyalty to the United States, he had to resign Congress due to a promise he made not to meddle in American affairs during the war. Though there were rumors that he recanted, there was nothing written about doubts of Stockton’s loyalty in any of the papers of members of Congress or in any books or newspapers at the time. Nor did he deliver any protection papers which he would’ve done if Howe gave him a pardon.

Ultimate Fate: Stockton would try to rebuild his life by reopening his law practice and teaching new students. However, he developed cancer of the lip that spread to his throat. He was never free of pain until he died at Morven. He had a large funeral on the campus of Princeton University with a large audience of citizens, friends, and students of the college were in attendance. Buried in Princeton’s Stony Brook Meeting House Cemetery. Is barely remembered by anyone outside of New Jersey which is kind of a shame.

Trivia: Father-in-law to Benjamin Rush. Wife was one of America’s first published female poets. Was a close friend of George Washington. Grandson was a hero in the War of 1812, Military Governor of California, and US Senator from New Jersey. Has a university named after him and a statue in the US Capitol (one of 6 to be so honored).

20. John Witherspoon

The Reverend John Witherspoon was a Scottish Presbyterian minister who arrived to America to become the president of what is now Princeton University. There, he transformed a broke and ill-equipped college whose purpose was to train ministers to an Ivy League and intellectual powerhouse akin to Harvard and Yale. However, he was also a staunch Protestant and nationalist who formulated a type of Protestant American Exceptionalism, embraced by a number conservative Evangelicals in the Bible Belt.

The Reverend John Witherspoon was a Scottish Presbyterian minister who arrived to America to become the president of what is now Princeton University. There, he transformed a broke and ill-equipped college whose purpose was to train ministers to an Ivy League and intellectual powerhouse akin to Harvard and Yale. However, he was also a staunch Protestant and nationalist who formulated a type of Protestant American Exceptionalism, embraced by a number of conservative Evangelical Christians in the Bible Belt today.

Lived: (1723-1794) Was 53 at the signing and 71 at his death.

Family: Son of the Reverend James Witherspoon and Anne Walker. Married Elizabeth Montgomery and Anne Marshal Dill and had a total of 12 children.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Minister, theologian, professor, philosopher, and college president

Early Life: Born in Scotland. Attended Haddington Grammar School and graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1739 but remained to study divinity. Was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Saint Andrews in 1764. Was a staunch Protestant, nationalist, and supporter of republicanism who basically formulated an early form of American Protestant exceptionalism. Was naturally opposed to the Catholic Legitimist Jacobite Rising of 1745-1746 and was briefly imprisoned at Doune Castle after the Battle of Falkirk, which has long term effects on his health. After 2 pastorates as a Presbyterian minister and three well-known works on theology, he was recruited by Richard Stockton and Benjamin Rush to become president and head professor of what is now known as Princeton University. Though he initially turned them down, he eventually accepted, leaving Scotland for New Jersey in 1768. Upon his arrival, he found the school in debt with weak instruction and a library collection which clearly failed to meet the students’ needs. He immediately began fundraising both there and his native Scotland, added 300 of his own books to the library, and purchased science equipment. He also instituted a number of reforms like modeling a syllabus and university structure that used the University of Edinburgh and other Scottish universities, firmed up entrance requirements, helping the school compete with Yale and Harvard. Personally taught courses in Eloquence, Chronology (history), Divinity, and Moral Philosophy. All in all, he transformed a college designed to predominantly train clergymen into a school that would equip the leaders of a new nation. Also helped organize the Nassau Presbyterian Church. A staunch critic of British policies, he embraced his new home, joined New Jersey’s Committee of Correspondence, gave a high profile sermon, and was elected to the Continental Congress serving from 1776-1782.

Significant Roles: Well, he was appointed the Congressional Chaplain by John Hancock and voted to adopt the Virginia Resolution for Independence. He was also one of the most influential members as well, serving in 100 committees. Helped draft the Articles of Confederation, helped organize executive departments, played a major role in shaping foreign policy, and drew up instructions for peace commissioners. Lost as son in the Battle of Germantown. Had to close and evacuate the college in 1778 which resulted in the main building Nassau Hall being badly damaged and his papers and personal notes lost. He was responsible for Nassau’s rebuilding after the war.

Ultimate Fate: Served twice in the New Jersey State Legislature and strongly supported the adoption of the US Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates. Went blind in 1792. Died at his home and is buried in the Princeton Cemetery. Has a statue at Princeton University as well as in his native Scotland. Still, outside Princeton and New Jersey, most Americans don’t seem to remember him.

Trivia: Only college president and clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence (well, working clergyman anyway). Has a think tank, a lay religious society, and a college in South Dakota named after him. Former students consisted of James Madison, Aaron Burr, Hugh Henry Brackenridge (who founded the University of Pittsburgh), 37 judges (including 3 Supreme Court justices), 10 cabinet members, 12 members of the Continental Congress, 28 US Senators, and 49 US Congressmen. Early life was subject to a Scottish documentary.

21. Francis Hopkinson

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Francis Hopkinson is also known for designing the first American flag, a claim which is supported by the journals of the Continental Congress. He also assisted in the design of the Great Seal of the United States as well as was an amateur author and songwriter. Most of his stuff revolved around popular airs and political satire. Not only that but he was also said to be a rather talented musician on the harpsicord and invented the Bellarmonic.

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Francis Hopkinson is also known for designing the first American flag, a claim which is supported by the journals of the Continental Congress. He also assisted in the design of the Great Seal of the United States as well as was an amateur author and songwriter. Most of his stuff revolved around popular airs and political satire. Not only that but he was also said to be a rather talented musician on the harpsicord and invented the Bellarmonic.

Lived: (1737-1791) He was 38 at the signing and 53 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Hopkinson and Mary Johnson. Married Ann Borden in 1768 and had 5 children. Son Joseph was a US Congressman and federal judge.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Lawyer, diplomat, civil servant, businessman, author, songwriter, composer, musician, and satirist

Early Life: Born in Philadelphia. Member of the first class of what is now known as the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1757, received his master’s degree in 1760, and an honorary doctorate of laws in 1790. Was secretary to a Provincial Council of Pennsylvania Indian commission in 1761 that made a treaty with the Delaware and several Iroquois tribes. In 1763, he was appointed customs collector for Salem, New Jersey. Spent from May 1766 to August 1767 in England in hopes of becoming commissioner of customs for North America but was unsuccessful. In 1768, he returned to Philadelphia to run a dry goods business. Was appointed customs collector of New Castle, Delaware in 1772. Moved to Bordentown, New Jersey in 1774 and became a member of the New Jersey Provincial council while he resigned his crown-appointed position in 1776.

Significant Roles: Although you’ve heard the story of Betsy Ross (which was cooked up by her grandson), it was definitely him who designed the first American flag and the Continental Congress journals support this. And though he asked for cask of wine and some cash for these, he received absolutely no compensation (and it sucks even more that so many people accept the bogus Betsy Ross legend as historical fact). He also helped design the Great Seal of the United States. He departed Congress in November of 1776 to serve on the Navy Board of Philadelphia and later became its chairman. In 1778, he was treasurer of the Continental Loan Office. In 1779, he was appointed judge of the Admiralty Court, a position he’d hold in 1780 and 1787.

Ultimate Fate: In 1789, he was nominated and confirmed as a federal judge in Philadelphia. However, a few years in, he suddenly died of an apoplectic seizure. He’s buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

Trivia: As an amateur author, he wrote popular airs and political satires in the form of poems and pamphlets (some which were widely circulated). Started playing harpsicord at 17 while he hand-copied arias, songs, and instrumental pieces by many European composers. Also, said to be the first American born composer to commit a composition to paper. Was an organist at Philadelphia’s Christ Church where he composed and edited a number of hymns and psalms. Invented the Bellarmonic (a glass harmonica combined with a keyboard). In 1788, he published a collection of 8 songs which he dedicated to his friend George Washington as well as his daughter.

22. John Hart

Though he had little formal education, John Hart was a successful farmer and businessman. Had George Washington and his Continental Army camp on his land and had lunch with the commander himself, prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Also donated land to a group of Baptists to build a church where he's buried. And the thing is, he wasn't even a Baptist.

Though he had little formal education, John Hart was a successful farmer and businessman. Had George Washington and his Continental Army camp on his land and had lunch with the commander himself, prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Also donated land to a group of Baptists to build a church where he’s buried. And the thing is, he wasn’t even a Baptist.

Lived: (bt. 1706 and 1713-1779) He was around 67-70 at the signing and about 70-73 at his death (we’re not sure when he was born).

Family: Son of Captain Edward Hart who was a farmer, public assessor, justice of the peace, and leader of a local militia unit during the French and Indian War. Grandfather was a carpenter from New York. Married Deborah Scudder in 1741 and had 13 children.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Landowner, farmer, businessman, and philanthropist

Early Life: Either born in Stonington Connecticut or Hopewell Township, New Jersey. Had very little formal education and was mostly self-taught. In 1747, he donated a piece of his land to local Baptists who had been seeking a place to build their church which became the Old Baptist Meeting House. Was elected to the Hunterdon Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1750 and to the New Jersey Colonial Assembly in 1761 where he served until 1771. In 1773, he’d buy a substantial mill enterprise with his son-in-law John Polhemus. Was a Court of Common Pleas Judge and on New Jersey’s Committee of Correspondence. Elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776.

Significant Roles: However, Hart was only in the Continental Congress until August of that year because he had return to New Jersey to be speaker of its General Assembly. He’d also take on additional duties. In 1776, he was obliged to escape and hide for a short time in the nearby Sourland Mountains as his farm was raided by British and Hessian troops who damaged but didn’t completely destroy the property (this after his wife just died that October. His mills were destroyed though). He only returned home after Washington crossed the Delaware to capture Trenton as well as the Battle of Princeton.  But having to survive the winter weather in the wilderness ruined his health. In June 22-24 1778, he invited the Continental Army to camp on his farm (numbering 12,000) and had lunch with George Washington. Left for Hopewell from Trenton that November due to his kidney stone affliction which killed him 6 months later in a slow and painful death.

Ultimate Fate: Hart didn’t survive the American Revolution. But he’s buried at the church he helped make possible.

Trivia: Often called, “Honest John.” Son-in-law was an officer in the Continental Army. Owned 4 slaves. Said to ride 30 miles to see his wife while they were dating.

23. Abraham Clark

Though we think about the signers as a bunch of rich guys in powered wigs and ruffles, Abraham Clark  didn't fit the mold since he equated such fashion statements with extravagant wealth. He also didn't believe in using public office for personal favors. But he made an exception when he mentioned his sons being held in a British prison ship under appalling conditions. Though the British offered their release if he recanted, he refused.

Though we think about the signers as a bunch of rich guys in powered wigs and ruffles, Abraham Clark didn’t fit the mold since he equated such fashion statements with extravagant wealth. Known as “the poor man’s counselor” because he gave advice for little or no fee. He also didn’t believe in using public office for personal favors. But he made an exception when he mentioned his sons being held in a British prison ship under appalling conditions. Though the British offered their release if he recanted, he refused.

Lived: (1726-1794) He was 50 at the signing and 68 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Clark and Hannah Winans. Said to be an only child. Married Sarah Hatfield in 1748 and had 10 children. Two of his sons were officers in the Continental Army.

State: New Jersey

Occupation: Surveyor and lawyer

Early Life: Born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Showed an aptitude in mathematics at a young age that his dad hired a tutor to teach him surveying. Too frail for heavy farm work, he taught himself law while working as a surveyor before going into practice (we’re not sure if he was admitted to the bar but it probably didn’t matter as much then). As a lawyer he became quite popular and became known as the “poor man’s lawyer” since he offered to defend the poor if they couldn’t afford one. Entered politics as a clerk in the New Jersey Provincial Assembly and later became High Sheriff of Essex County.

Significant Roles: Was a highly vocal advocate for independence, he was appointed to the Continental Congress in 1776. Refused to speak of his 2 sons in Congress even after they were both captured, tortured, and beaten. But he did bring them up when they were put on a prison ship called the Jersey, known for its brutality.  One was thrown into a dungeon and given no food except what could be pushed through a keyhole as well as lay in his own blood, urine, and feces. However, the British offered the lives of his sons in exchange for him to recant but he refused. Remained in Congress until 1778 where he was elected to the New Jersey Legislative Council but he served two more terms. Buried at Rahway Cemetery.

Ultimate Fate: Served in the US House of Representatives from 1791-1794. Retired before New Jersey’s Constitutional Convention in 1794. Died of sunstroke at home.

Trivia: Has a township and high school named after him. Never wore a wig or ruffles because he hated elitism. Nor did he believe in using political office for personal favors. It’s popularly said that he was the signer who was probably closest to the typical American citizen. Said to own 3 slaves. Would rather have the words, “liberty” on American currency than a portrait of a US President.

24. Robert Morris

As "Financier of the American Revolution" Robert Morris's played a very pivotal role in the American war for independence that can in no way be overstated. Without his financial backing, George Washington could not effectively rage war against the British. Without his fleet of ships, there would be no Continental Navy to speak of. He also had a lot of good ideas about economics which were taken by his disciple Alexander Hamilton. However, his habit of land speculation would soon catch up on him and he'd be put in a debtor's prison. This led Congress to make the first bankruptcy laws just to get him out of there.

As “Financier of the American Revolution” Robert Morris’s played a very pivotal role in the American war for independence that can in no way be overstated. Without his financial backing, George Washington could not effectively rage war against the British. Without his fleet of ships, there would be no Continental Navy to speak of. He also had a lot of good ideas about economics which were taken by his disciple Alexander Hamilton. However, his habit of land speculation would soon catch up on him and he’d be put in a debtor’s prison. This led Congress to make the first bankruptcy laws just to get him out of there.

Lived: (1734-1806) He was 42 at the signing and 72 at his death.

Family: Son of Robert Morris Sr. and Elizabeth Murphet. Father would become a tobacco agent in Maryland and died by being accidentally hit by a ship’s gun when his son was a teenager. Married Mary White in 1769 and had 7 children.

State: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Merchant, financier, banker, businessman, relator, philanthropist, and investor

Early Life: Born in Liverpool, England. Immigrated to Oxford, Maryland to join his father at 13. Educated by a private tutor and was a quick learner. Later in his teens, he was sent to Philadelphia to study as well as stay with a family friend who arranged that him to become an apprentice to a shipping and banking firm of Charles Willing. When he died, Morris entered a partnership with his son Thomas called Willing, Morris, & Co. which would last until 1779. Their firm’s interests consisted of shipping, real estate, and other lines of business like slave trading (even though they both supported non-importation agreements as well as free trade). Their ships traded with places like India, the Levant, the West Indies, Cuba, Spain, and Italy and quickly became one of the most prosperous businesses in Pennsylvania. Began his public career in 1765 by serving on a local committee of merchants organized to protest the Stamp Act mostly as a mediator between the protestors and the British agents. He would later serve in the Pennsylvania Committee of Correspondence and the Provincial Assembly. Served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress from 1775-1778.

Significant Roles: In 1775, the Continental Congress contracted with his company to work with the Secret Committee of Trade. Devised a system to smuggle war supplies from France the same year as well as handling much of the financial transactions. Served with John Adams on the committee that wrote the Model Treaty which incorporated his long held belief of free trade and acted the basis of the 1778 treaty with France. Gave his best ship The Black Prince to the Continental Congress. Used his extensive international trading network as a spy network and gathered intelligence on British troop movements. Actually voted against independence yet abstained the following day (which was said to be pivotal) and signed anyway saying, “I am not one of those politicians that run testy when my own plans are not adopted. I think it is the duty of a good citizen to follow when he cannot lead.” Personally paid £10,000 to pay the Continental Army which kept it together since US currency had no value but his “Morris Notes” did. Owned privateers that stole cargo from English ships and engaged in profiteering. Supplied 80% of the Continental bullets fired and almost 75% of the revenue for all other expenses of the fledgling government. Served in the Pennsylvania State Legislature from 1776-1781 in which he worked on the state constitution to restore checks and balances as well as overturn religious test laws that disenfranchised 40% of the male citizenry. Was called to restore the Pennsylvania economy in 1780 when it went bankrupt. From 1781-1784, he was appointed Superintendent of Finance of the United States where he proposed to establish a national bank and chartered the Bank of North America in which he personally contributed $74 million during the war and immediately thereafter while the citizens contributed $800,000. Instituted a lot of reforms like reducing the civil lists, using competitive bidding for contracts, tightening accounting procedures, and demanding the federal government’s full share of support from the states. With Gouveneur Morris (no relation), he also proposed a national economic system in a document called, “On Public Credit as well as managed to make the US currency a decimal currency, a very progressive idea at the time. Took an active role to help move Washington and his army from New York to Yorktown, Virginia where he acted as quartermaster and supplied over $14 million of his own credit as well as coordinated with the French Navy. In 1782, he proposed and presented to Congress to recommend the establishment of a national mint and decimal coinage, which wasn’t fulfilled until a decade later.

Ultimate Fate: In 1781, he purchased a home which he rebuilt. He would later have John Adams and George Washington occupy the house during their presidencies. It would also be the place where Washington would stay during the Constitutional Convention. In 1787, he was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and arranged to have Gouveneur Morris appointed as well.  Though he had a lot of influence behind the scenes his most significant role was nominating George Washington as president. Though he declined to be Secretary of the Treasury, he did recommend Alexander Hamilton who was his economic disciple. Served as a US Senator from 1789-1795 and supported not just Hamilton’s economic system but internal improvements as well. Founded several canal companies and a steam engine company. Invested in a considerable portion of Western New York real estate in 1791 and soon became deeply involved in land speculation that he overextended himself financially. Due to the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and Panic of 1796-1797, Morris would be left “land rich but cash poor” since he owned large tracts of land but didn’t have money to pay the collectors. He also tried to avoid creditors and was sued by a former business partner who had been in a debtor’s prison for fraud. Morris would later be arrested and imprisoned for debt as well as hurt US economy and the fortunes of many prominent Federalists. But this led to the US Congress to pass its first bankruptcy legislation in 1800 just to get him out of prison. After his release, he spent the rest of his life in retirement in poor health and assisted by his saintly wife. He’s buried in the family vault of his brother-in-law Bishop William White at Christ Church. Has a monument in Philadelphia.

Trivia: Called, “the Financier of the American Revolution” and was considered the second most powerful man in America next to George Washington. Has a university named after him in Pittsburgh and in Illinois. Brother-in-law was an Episcopalian bishop. Underwrote the Empress of China voyage which was the first American ship to visit the Chinese mainland. During the American Revolution, he had one of the largest private navies in the world (saying that his firm had 250 ships). Was the first American to use the dollar sign on official documents and in official communication. Launched a hot air balloon from his garden. His icehouse was the model of one Washington installed at Mount Vernon. Backed the Chestnut Street Theater. Buddies with Gouveneur Morris.

Know Your Signers: Part 2 – Stephen Hopkins to Philip Livingston

reading-the-declaration-of-independence-to-the-troops

So we’re off to a good start. Okay, there’s a good chance you might know some of these Declaration of Independence signers. I mean the delegation of Massachusetts certainly has names you most likely would’ve heard of in history class since Boston was a big hots spot of radical colonial activity and rioting during the lead up to the American Revolution. I mean you have the Boston Massacre as well as the Boston Tea Party. Of course, you probably don’t know who the hell those guys from New Hampshire are. And if you recognize Josiah Bartlett, you’re probably a fan of The West Wing. Most of the guys in this installment you probably won’t have any idea unless they’re very notable in your home state. Which means you’re probably from New England and not from Massachusetts or New Hampshire. This section, we’ll meet the Declaration of Independence signers from Connecticut and Rhode Island as a couple from New York (the other two will be in the next post along with Robert Morris and the 5 Revolutionary Jersey Boys). First, we have Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery from Rhode Island who may be well known in the state. But outside Rhode Island, hardly anyone has any idea who either of them were. Yet, one of them is an ancestor to the woman who’d marry Kevin Bacon. Second, it’s off to Connecticut where we have Roger Sherman best known for presenting the Connecticut Compromise during the Constitutional Convention and is why Connecticut is called the “Constitution State.” He was also on the Committee of Five that actually drafted the Declaration of Independence as well. After him are fellow Connecticut Yankees Samuel Huntington, William Williams, and Oliver Wolcott. Finally, it’s on to the first two guys of New York William Floyd and Philip Livingston who are the ancestors of David Crosby from the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Eleanor Roosevelt. So for your American history reading enjoyment, feel free to read my second installment of the Declaration of Independence signers who were much more than just boring white guys. Well, at least some of them anyway.

9. Stephen Hopkins

Prior to this project, I had no idea of who Stephen Hopkins was but I couldn't believe how long his Wikipedia entry was. Seriously, this guy might as well be the Ben Franklin of Rhode Island with his kind of credentials. Because I sure as hell doubt that anyone in Western Pennsylvania even knows who he was.

Prior to this project, I had no idea of who Stephen Hopkins was but I couldn’t believe how long his Wikipedia entry was. Seriously, this guy might as well be the Ben Franklin of Rhode Island with his kind of credentials. Because I sure as hell doubt that anyone in Western Pennsylvania even knows who he was. “Greatest Statesman of Rhode Island” he certainly was. Good God.

Lived: (1707-1785) He was 69 at the signing and 78 at his death.

Family: Son of William Hopkins and Ruth Wilkinson. Second of 9 children. Grandfather William Hopkins served the Rhode Island colony for 40 years as Major, Deputy, Assistant, and Speaker of the House of Deputies. Great-Grandfather Thomas Hopkins was an original settler of Providence and first cousin of royal governor Benedict Arnold (no, not that guy). Younger brother Esek was first commander in chief of the Continental Navy (though he really sucked). Married Sarah Scott at 19 and had 7 kids. Second wife was Anne Smith, who converted him to Quakerism but they had no children (but her daughter married his youngest son).

State: Rhode Island

Occupation: Surveyor, astronomer, merchant, college administrator, manufacturer, and businessman

Early Life: Born in Providence but spent his childhood Chopmist Hill (now Scituate). Despite being from a prominent and wealthy family (he inherited 160 acres of land at a young age which he’d later sell), he received almost no formal education since there were no schools in the area. But he made up for it by voraciously reading books in his family library where he developed an interest in science, mathematics, and literature. Learned surveying skills from his maternal grandfather which he put to good use to create maps of Scituate and Providence. Held his first public office as justice of the peace at 23 as well as a judge on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas in 1736. Other offices he held during this time were President of the Town Council, Deputy, and Speaker of the House of Deputies. In 1742, he moved to Providence and established himself as a merchant, manufacturer, and businessman. In 1751, he would become Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court for the first time (he’d serve 2 more nonconsecutive times). In 1755, he was elected Governor of Rhode Island for the first time (he’d serve 3 more nonconsecutive times). However, during his governorship, he got into a major rivalry with Samuel Ward whom he later sued for 40,000 pounds, which he lost. Their rivalry would become a serious distraction for the colonial government that they both agreed not to run for office in 1768 and opted for a compromise candidate instead. ). In 1764, he published an anti-Stamp Act pamphlet called “The Rights of the Colonies Examined” which gave him name recognition throughout the 13 colonies. As Chief Justice, he was a principal player in the Gaspee Affair when a group of angry Rhode Islanders bombarded a British revenue vessel and burned it to the waterline. In 1774, he was selected as a delegate for the First Continental Congress and served until 1776 when ill health forced him to resign.

Significant Roles: Co-owned Hope Furnace which produced pig iron and cannons during the Revolutionary War, which would be managed by his son Rufus for 4 decades. Signed the Declaration of Independence saying, “my hand trembles but my heart does not” as worsening palsy compelled him to use his left hand to steady his right. His knowledge of the shipping business was particularly useful as a member of the naval committee that helped Congress purchase, outfit, man and operate the first ships of the new Continental Navy. He was even instrumental in framing naval legislation and drafting the rules and regulations necessary to govern the fledgling organization.

Ultimate Fate: Remained an active member of the Rhode Island Assembly between 1777-1779. Died at his home and is buried in the North Burial Ground in Providence. Though known as “the greatest statesmen of Rhode Island,” he’s hardly known anywhere else.

Trivia: Was an ardent supporter, founding trustee, and served as the first chancellor of what is now Brown University from 1764-1785. In 1769, he was involved in the observation of the transit of Venus across the face of the sun, a rare astronomical event. Founded the Providence Library Company in 1753 and was member of the Philosophical Society of Newport. Depicted dozing at a tavern table in John Greenwood’s Captains Carousing in Surinam. First wife was the third great niece of Anne Hutchinson.  Had very interesting views on slavery and probably wouldn’t have introduce an anti-slavery importation bill (or free any of his 5 slaves) without significant pressure from Rhode Island’s large Quaker population. Had a liberty ship named after him which was the first to sink a German surface warship during WWII.

10. William Ellery

William Ellery is best associated with being involved in a dispute between the Baptists and the Congregationalists during the founding of what's known today as Brown University. Also, the British burned his house in Newport in December 1776, which was perhaps his worst Christmas ever. Not to mention, he had 19 kids and is an ancestor to the woman who'd marry Kevin Bacon.

William Ellery is best associated with being involved in a dispute between the Baptists and the Congregationalists during the founding of what’s known today as Brown University. Also, the British burned his house in Newport in December 1776, which was perhaps his worst Christmas ever. Not to mention, he had 19 kids and is an ancestor to the woman who’d marry Kevin Bacon.

Lived: (1727-1820) He was 48 at the signing and 92 at his death.

Family: Second son of William Ellery Sr. and Elizabeth Almy. Father was a merchant and Harvard graduate. Married Ann Remington and Abigail Carey as well as had a total of 19 children.

State: Rhode Island

Occupation: Merchant, customs collector, and lawyer

Early Life: Born in Newport and received his early education from his father. Graduated from Harvard in 1747 where he excelled in Latin and Greek. He then returned to Newport where he worked as a merchant and customs collector. With the Reverend Ezra Stiles, he was sought consultation by the Baptists on writing a charter for a college which would later be known as Brown University. However, being the staunch Congregationalists they were, they wanted to give college control to their group but the Baptists withdrew their petition until it was rewritten to assure Baptist control. This led to him and Stiles refusing their board of trustees seats. Started practicing law at 43 in 1770 and became active in the Sons of Liberty.

Significant Roles: All his term in the Second Continental Congress is significant is that he was chosen as a delegate in 1776 to replace somebody who died. However, he’s the reason why the British seized the town of Newport and burned his home to the ground in December of 1776. This led him to borrow money from his friends to pay his expenses.

Ultimate Fate: All he does after the Revolution is serve a year as the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, became an abolitionist, and resumed his old job as a customs collector until his death. Buried in Newport’s Common Burial Ground. The Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the Revolution and the William Ellery Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution make an annual commemoration at his grave on July 4.

Trivia: Has the second biggest signature on the Declaration of Independence. Ancestor of Edie and Kyra Sedgwick (the latter also known as Mrs. Kevin Bacon). Preferred to travel by horse over carriage and was known as the “Congressman on Horseback” when he came to meet his constituents. Loved to grow flowers and vegetables in his spare time. Said to be a kind and gentle man.

11. Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman is often described as a "terse, ineloquent speaker leaving few memorable quotes." But Thomas Jefferson would reply, "That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life." Still, he's the reason why Connecticut is known as "the Constitution State" because he came up with the Connecticut Compromise. This Ralph Earl portrait of him is said to be "one of the most striking portraits of the age."

Roger Sherman is often described as a “terse, ineloquent speaker leaving few memorable quotes.” But Thomas Jefferson would reply, “That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.” Still, he’s the reason why Connecticut is known as “the Constitution State” because he came up with the Connecticut Compromise. This Ralph Earl portrait of him is said to be “one of the most striking portraits of the age.”

Lived: (1721-1793) He was 54 at the signing and 72 at his death.

Family: Son of William Sherman and Mehetabel Wellington. Born into a not-so-well-off Massachusetts farm family that later moved to Connecticut. Married to Elizabeth Hartwell and Rebecca Minot Prescott and had 15 children between the two of them. He would start a political dynasty with 3 US Senators, 2 US Attorney Generals, a Secretary of State, a state governor, and a founding trustee of a university.

State: Connecticut

Occupation: Lawyer, shoemaker, shopkeeper, clerk, surveyor, astronomer, professor, theologian, and philanthropist

Early Life: Born in Newton, Massachusetts before his family moved to Connecticut very early in his childhood. Education didn’t extend beyond grammar school or his father’s library but he had a high aptitude for learning to make up for it. He was also taken under the wing of his parish minister, Reverend Samuel Dunbar. Started out as a shoemaker before moving to New Mitford to open a shop with his brother. There he soon became a leading citizen where he served as town clerk and was county surveyor in 1745. In 1759, he started providing astronomical calculations for almanacs. Was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1754 despite no formal legal training as well as wrote A Caveat Against Injustice the same year. Represented New Mitford by serving two nonconsecutive terms in the Connecticut House of Representatives. Elected justice of the peace in 1762 and common pleas judge in 1765. Was elected to the Governor’s Council in 1766, a position he’d serve until 1785. In 1768, he became a Superior Court Justice, a position he’d serve until 1789.

Significant Roles: As a member of the Continental Congress he served on the Committee of Five with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert R. Livingston. In 1776, he was on a committee with John Adams which was responsible for establishing guidelines for US embassy officials in Canada with instructions including, “You are to declare that we hold sacred the rights of conscience, and may promise to the whole people, solemnly in our name, the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion. And…that all civil rights and the rights to hold office were to be extended to persons of any Christian denomination.”

Ultimate Fate: In 1784, he was elected the first mayor of New Haven, a position he’d serve until his death. Was one of the oldest delegates in the Constitutional Convention but was very active and influential. Though he initially supported a unicameral legislature, he decided that was unattainable. Thus, he and Oliver Ellsworth decided to formulate the Great Compromise in which every state would have two senators and state representation would be determined by population. He was elected to the US Congress and was elected US Senator two years later. In 1790, he and Richard Law were appointed to revise the confused and archaic Connecticut statutes, which they accomplished with great success. Died after a two month bout with typhoid and is buried in Grove Street Cemetery. He’s probably the best known New England signer outside Massachusetts.

Trivia: Best known for being the only person to sign all 4 great state papers of the United States such as the US Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution. Ancestor of Solicitor General and Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Was a treasurer and major benefactor of Yale where he taught religion for many years and engaged in lengthy correspondences with some of the greatest theologians at the time, promoted the construction of a campus chapel, as well as received an honorary Master of Arts degree.

12. Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1779 for his calm manner  that earned the respect of his fellow delegates. His term saw the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Not well known outside of Connecticut where some historians call him the First President of the United States, but I think that's pushing it.

Samuel Huntington was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1779 for his calm manner that earned the respect of his fellow delegates. His term saw the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Not well known outside of Connecticut where some historians call him the First President of the United States, but I think that’s pushing it.

Lived: (1731-1796) Was 44 at the signing and 64 at his death.

Family: Son of Nathaniel and Mehetabel Huntington. Was fourth of 10 children but oldest son. Father was a farmer. Married his pastor’s daughter and possible childhood sweetheart Martha Devotion in 1761. They had no children but raised his brother Joseph’s kids as their own. His nephew Samuel would become Governor of Ohio.

State: Connecticut

Occupation: Cooper, farmer, and lawyer

Early Life: Born in Windham (now Scotland), Connecticut. Had limited education in the common schools and mostly educated himself with the help of the Reverend Ebenezer Devotion’s library and books borrowed from local lawyers. Apprenticed to a cooper at 16 but helped his dad on the farm. Admitted to the bar in 1754 and moved to Norwich to practice law. After briefly serving as a selectman, he began his 20 year career in the Connecticut Assembly. He was also appointed King’s Attorney for Connecticut in 1768 and the Superior Court in 1773 eventually rising to Chief Justice in 1784. Was such an outspoken critic of the Coercive Acts that the assembly sent him to the Second Continental Congress in 1775.

Significant Roles: Was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1779 for his hard work and calm manner that earned the respect of his fellow delegates. It was mostly a ceremonial position with no real authority, but he had to handle a great deal of correspondence and sign official documents. Mostly spent these two years urging the states and their legislatures to support the levies for men, supplies, and money needed to fight the Revolutionary War. His term also saw the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Resigned in 1781 due to ill health. Yet, he returned to Congress in 1783 to see the success of the Revolution embodied in the Treaty of Paris.

Ultimate Fate: Was elected lieutenant governor in Connecticut in 1785 and became governor the next year, a post he held until his death. Supported the Northwest Ordinance. In 1788, he presided over the Connecticut Convention called to ratify the US Constitution as well as saw Connecticut’s transition to a US state. Resolved the issue of a permanent capital in Hartford and saw the construction of the state house. Died at his home. Buried in the Old Norwichtown Cemetery (behind his mansion) where his tomb underwent extensive restoration and renovation in 2003. Not well known outside of Connecticut.

Trivia: Has a town in Pennsylvania and a county in Indiana named after him.

13. William Williams

Though ordained a deacon as teenager, William Williams would soon have his divinity studies interrupted by his service in the French and Indian War. Soon decided that preaching wasn't for him and decided to be a merchant. Still, he was a rather prolific supporter in the Revolutionary War effort.

Though ordained a deacon as teenager, William Williams would soon have his divinity studies interrupted by his service in the French and Indian War. Soon decided that preaching wasn’t for him and decided to be a merchant. Still, he was a rather prolific supporter in the Revolutionary War effort.

Lived: (1731-1811) He was 45 at the signing and 80 at his death.

Family: Son of Reverend Tom Solomon Williams and Mary Porter. Married Mary Trumbull in 1771 and had 3 children.

State: Connecticut

Occupation: Lay minister, merchant, soldier, businessman, pundit, and shopkeeper

Early Life: Born in Lebanon, Connecticut. Said to profess a religious vocation at an early age and might’ve been ordained a deacon as a teenager. Studied theology and law at Harvard though he took a break to fight in the French and Indian War. Afterwards, opened a store called The Williams Inc. Was a successful merchant and pastor of Lebanon’s First Congregational Church (though he decided that a church career wasn’t for him). Member of the Connecticut Assembly for over 40 years and served as a judge for 35 years. Wrote letters to newspapers on British policies during the lead up to the Revolution and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776.

Significant Roles: He didn’t technically vote for independence and was basically elected to replace Oliver Wolcott but he signed a formal copy. Signed the Articles of Confederation. Opened his home to American soldiers and their allies. Purchased supplies with his own money and went from door to door raising funds and collecting blankets.

Ultimate Fate: Spent his later years as a county judge. Was a delegate for the ratifying convention in Connecticut for the US Constitution. Buried in Trumbull Cemetery. Home still survives.

Trivia: Father-in-law was a Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Brother-in-law to John Trumbull, best known for his American Revolution paintings. Mostly self-controlled unless he was passionate about something then his language could be described as, “violent.”

14. Oliver Wolcott

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Oliver Wolcott was also involved in the American Revolution as a commander of 14 regiments at the rank of Major General. Had a town named after him while he was still alive.

Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Oliver Wolcott was also involved in the American Revolution as a commander of 14 regiments at the rank of Major General. Had a town named after him while he was still alive.

Lived: (1726-1797) He was 49 at the signing and 71 at his death.

Family: Son of Roger Wolcott who was a royal governor of Connecticut. Youngest of 14 children. Married Lorraine “Laura” Collins in 1755 and had 5 children.

State: Connecticut

Occupation: Physician, diplomat, and soldier

Early Life: Born in Windsor, Connecticut. Graduated from Yale in 1747. Raised his own militia company to fight in the French and Indian War, serving as Captain on the northern frontier. After the war, he studied medicine with his brother Alexander and was appointed sheriff of the newly created Litchfield County, which he served from 1751-1771. Also represented Litchfield in the Connecticut Assembly as well as Council. In 1775, he served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department.

Significant Roles: Aside from signing the Declaration of Independence, he commanded 14 regiments and was made at least a Brigadier General in 1777. Attended the Congress in Yorktown in 1778. Was said to be consulted on important military movements and listened to with great confidence and respect.

Ultimate Fate: Said to help make peace with the Six Nations in In 1786, he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, a position he’d hold for 10 years. In 1787, he was a member of the Connecticut State Convention to ratify the US Constitution. Elected governor in 1796 but died in office the next year.

Trivia: Had a town in Connecticut named after him while he was still alive when he cast the deciding vote in the state legislature to incorporate it. His town of Litchfield was a site for bullet manufacturing during the American Revolution.

15. William Floyd

Now William Floyd is said to be the ancestor of noted rock legend and lesbian sperm donor David Crosby who was in the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. However, you wouldn't know it from the expression of his face in this painting. Then again, he probably drank a lot.

Now William Floyd is said to be the ancestor of noted rock legend and lesbian sperm donor David Crosby who was in the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. However, you wouldn’t know it from the expression of his face in this painting. Then again, he probably drank a lot.

Lived: (1734-1821) He was 41 at the signing and 86 at his death.

Family: Born into a family of Welsh origins and had been in New York for 4 generations. Married Hannah Jones and Joanna Strong and had 5 children.

State: New York

Occupation: Farmer, landowner, and soldier

Early Life: Born in Brookhaven, New York on Long Island. Took over the family farm when his father died. Was a delegate in the First Continental Congress in 1774-1776.

Significant Roles: Was a member of the Suffolk County Militia early in the American Revolution and rose to the rank of Major General. Member of the New York State Senate from 1777-1788. When the British were marching on Long Island he had fisherman take his family to Long Island Sound to Middletown Connecticut for safety. When he came home after the 7 year British occupation, he found his home turned into a stable and ruined. He spent a year rebuilding it and getting rid of the horseshit all over the place.

Ultimate Fate: In 1784, he purchased a track of land in central New York near the headwaters of the Mohawk River receiving a grant of 10,000 acres. In 1789, he was elected to the US Congress. Buried in a town in Oneida County that bears his name. His house still stands as part of the Fire Island National Seashore.

Trivia: Is an ancestor of cinematographer Floyd Crosby and rock musician David Crosby (Floyd is also David’s dad by the way). Was listed as largest slaveholder in New York in 1820 who owned 6 while his household also included 2 free blacks.

16. Philip Livingston

Though Philip Livingston's dad was an English lord with a title, he was the fourth son so he had to work for a living as a merchant. Still, he was a strong supporter of independence even though he didn't quite survive the Revolution. Was an ancestor of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Though Philip Livingston’s dad was an English lord with a title, he was the fourth son so he had to work for a living as a merchant. Still, he was a strong supporter of independence even though he didn’t quite survive the Revolution. Was an ancestor of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Lived: (1716-1778) He was 60 at the signing and 62 at his death.

Family: Son of Philip Livingston, 2nd Lord of the Manor. He was the fourth son so he didn’t get anything and had to work for a living. Mother was a daughter of a Dutch mayor of Albany. Married Christina Ten Broeck in 1740 and had 9 children. Part of the famous American Livingston family.

State: New York

Occupation: Merchant, diplomat, and philanthropist

Early Life: Born in Albany. Graduated from Yale in 1737 and settled in New York City to pursue a mercantile career. Served as alderman 1754-1763. Became a delegate to the Albany Congress in 1754 as well. There, he joined delegates from several other colonies to negotiate with Indians to discuss common plans for dealing with the French and Indian War as well as developed a Plan of Union which was rejected by King George II. He was also an active promoter of efforts to raise funds for this war as well. Served in the New York Assembly from 1759-1769, including a stint as speaker in 1768. Attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and became strongly aligned with the radical block as well as joined New York City’s Committee of Correspondence and Committee of Sixty. Was president of the New York Provincial Congress in 1775 and delegate to the Continental Congress that year.

Significant Roles: Strongly supported separation from Great Britain and used a lot of his assets to assist the Continental Army. Was appointed to the New York State Senate in 1777. Died suddenly during a Continental Congress session in York, Pennsylvania and is buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery there. Both his homes were seized during the British occupation of New York City which they turned into a military hospital and barracks. Family fled to Kingston.

Ultimate Fate: Livingston didn’t survive the American Revolution.

Trivia: Was an original promoter of what is now Columbia University. Ancestor of Eleanor Roosevelt (on her mother’s side).

Know Your Signers: Part 1 – John Hancock to Elbridge Gerry

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For those wondering why I haven’t been posting anything since last Tuesday, you might be pleased to know that I have been working some unique project for a blog series during this 4th of July weekend. Now since the only common traditions on this 4th of July consist mostly of flags, fireworks, and food, I instead decided to do a series on the white and fairly well-off men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I did this because mainly because while Americans all have different ways of celebrating the holiday, we all share a common reason why we celebrate it. I mean these 56 men pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor when they put their name on this document in which thirteen colonies declared themselves independent from the British Empire where all men are created equal, endowed by by their Creator certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, these guys weren’t concerned with civil rights, feminism, outlawing slavery, or marriage equality. And contrary to popular belief, July 4th was the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted, not when it was signed (the delegates added on their signatures later). And let’s just say that the story of the Declaration of Independence is a bit more complicated than what most Americans are accustomed to in their American history class, the media, books, or what not. Still, while Americans tend to have a rather idealized portrait of the Founding Fathers, all guys of noble character who stood for traditional values or noble principles, most of them have no idea of who they actually were. This is mainly the reason why I decided to do a series on the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. We must understand that the Founding Fathers were just as human as we are and lived in a very different time from our own. Sure they may have believed that all men were created equal, but many of them participated in a horrible institution that subjugated black people to a lifetime of involuntary servitude with some of those individuals being their own children (I’m talking to you, Jefferson). Then there’s the fact that while they were big on their property rights except when it came to some sweet Native American owned real estate. Also, many of them tended to believe that working class men are too stupid to participate in the political process and that women were too weak and feeble minded even to vote (Abigail Adams called John out on this). Yes, they might’ve believed in the right to bear arms but they were living at a time that simply didn’t have guns with repeating ammunition (which made firearms technology advance by leaps and bounds since the mid-1800s, explaining why guns are so dangerous today and why we need gun control). And as with marriage? Well, many of these guys didn’t even believe in marrying for love. Well, a lot of them did love their wives, it’s just that when it came to marriage, people in the 1700s weren’t really looking for someone to love than perhaps a hot young trophy wife or a sugar daddy with an abundance of disposable assets. And sometimes your marriage partner was picked for you by your parents and there was nothing you can do about it. Well, there was pregnancy through premarital sex, but sometimes being in the family way meant shame for the woman if her baby daddy wasn’t willing to go through with it, even if her daddy threatened him with a musket.

In this section, I turn my focus on the signers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. First, you have John Hancock a merchant and probably smuggler who was the President of the Continental Congress at the time. You probably know him for signing his name real big on the document. Second, you have Josiah Bartlett, a New Hampshire doctor whose descendant would eventually become President of the United States. Well, in the Aaron Sorkin universe and played by Martin Sheen. He’s joined by former sea captain William Whipple and Irish born physician Matthew Thornton. Next you have Sam Adams, a revolutionary firebrand who now has a beer brand named after him as well as his cousin John Adams who became a US President as well as subject of a David McCullough book that was made into an HBO miniseries starring Paul Giamatti. Finally, you have Robert Treat Paine or the guy on the Massachusetts delegation you most likely haven’t heard of and Elbridge Gerry, a man who’s name will live in infamy because of the term, “gerrymandering.” And they still made him Madison’s runningmate in the 1812 election despite that. So for your patriotic reading pleasure, I introduce you to the first batch of Founding Fathers who put their old John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence, including John Hancock.

  1. John Hancock
John Hancock was the President of the Continental Congress during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Was known for his wealth as a merchant, his notoriety as a smuggler, and his taste in expensive clothes and aristocratic living. Oh, and he signed flamboyantly big. Still, he was very popular in Boston during his lifetime.

John Hancock was the President of the Continental Congress during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Was known for his wealth as a merchant, his notoriety as a smuggler, and his taste in expensive clothes and aristocratic living. Also, loved to party and make it rain. Oh, and he signed flamboyantly big. Still, he was very popular in Boston during his lifetime.

Lived: (1737-1793) He was 39 at the signing and 56 at his death.

Family: Son of Reverend John Hancock Jr. and Mary Hawke Thaxter (later Perkins). Second of 3 children and oldest son. Grandfather John Hancock Sr. was also a minister. Father died when he was 7. Was sent to live with his paternal grandfather and later his uncle Thomas Hancock and his wife Lydia who raised him from the age of 13 (didn’t hurt that Uncle Thomas was one of the richest and well-known men in Boston). Married to Dorothy Quincy (later Scott) in 1776 and had 2 children, neither of whom survived childhood (daughter died in infancy and son died from a fall at 9 while ice skating).

State: Massachusetts

Occupation: Merchant, philanthropist, and smuggler (but we’re not sure to which degree but Hancock’s Uncle Thomas certainly was).

Early Life: Born in Braintree (now Quincy). Graduated from the Boston Latin School in 1750 and from Harvard in 1754. Joined his uncle’s business that same year known as House of Hancock and would soon rise to partner after a year in England. Upon his uncle’s death in 1764, he inherited the business, Hancock Manor estate on Beacon Hill, and thousands of acres of land (he also got a few slaves but they were eventually freed as Thomas specified. However, there’s no evidence that Hancock bought or sold slaves). Was elected one of Boston’s 5 selectmen in 1765, a position his uncle had for many years. Was among the early resisters to the Stamp Act and though he was an advocate for boycotting, he didn’t approve of mob violence as well as hated the presence of the British troops in Boston. In 1766, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. During this time he became a protégé of Samuel Adams who was a clerk and political party leader. In 1768, his crew on his brig the Lydia got in a physical fight with a couple of customs officials on an unwarranted search, which let him off scot free. Later that year, his sloop the Liberty was seized by the HMS Romney after customs officials found 20 barrels of tar and 200 barrels of oil (while it officially carried 25 pipes of Madeira wine a 1/4th of the ship’s carrying capacity). This, combined with previous impressment of colonists by the Romney’s captain led to a riot breaking out which led the Romney having to flee. Afterwards, British customs would file 2 lawsuits against Hancock and confiscate his Liberty ship, which was later burned by angry Rhode Islanders the following year. He was also charged with smuggling but it was soon dropped after 5 months in a vice admiralty court without explanation. But this led to the colonial secretary ordering 4 British Army regiments to Boston. Following the Boston Massacre in 1770, he led a committee demanding the removal of British troops in Boston and told the new governor that if the redcoats didn’t leave, 10,000 armed colonists were ready to march into the city (this was a bluff though). Was a moderator at the Boston town meeting on the Tea Act in 1773, which would later lead to the Boston Tea Party which he didn’t take part. In 1774, he was elected president of the Provincial Congress and later sent as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress to replace James Bowdoin. In 1775, he and Samuel Adams would leave Concord for his old grandfather’s home in Lexington in order to avoid possible arrest by the British Crown. But they were warned by Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott of British troops so they escaped to Philadelphia.

Significant Roles: In 1775, Hancock was unanimously elected President of the Continental Congress due to his experience, wealth and distinction, and his association with Boston radicals. But his role was ambiguous and not truly defined other than being the presiding officer and handling a great deal of official correspondence, which led him to personally hire his own clerks. Still, his term would see much of the critical moments of the American Revolution such as appointment of George Washington (of whom he was a great admirer by the way, even named his son after him), the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the driving of Washington to New York, and the British occupation of Philadelphia. Used much of his wealth and influence to support the colonial cause from the 1760s and throughout the war.

Ultimate Fate: In 1777, he would leave the Continental Congress and return to Massachusetts. He would soon become estranged from Samuel Adams due to his vanity and extravagance and the other’s somber Puritanism. Rejoined the Continental Congress in 1778 and signed the Articles of Confederation. Charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780 and was elected Governor of Massachusetts the same year. He would go on to serve 2 nonconsecutive terms. Best known action was pardoning the guys responsible for Shays Rebellion. Was president of the Continental Congress from 1785-1786. Was present of the Massachusetts ratifying convention for the US Constitution in 1788 but had misgivings about the document’s lack of a Bill of Rights but supported ratification anyway with Samuel Adams, which was probably a deciding factor for the state. Died of lingering gout at 56 and was buried at the Granary Burial ground in Boston after a lavish funeral (which would be unmarked until the 1870s). However, despite being hugely popular in his lifetime, he faded from popular memory and his Beacon Hill residence was torn down.

Trivia: Best known for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence (though it kind of describes his personality but he remained popular even though he and Samuel Adams didn’t always get along. But it’s said that he presumably signed first). Still, he left few personal writings and most of what depictions rely on him comes from the voluminous works of his opponents and let’s just say it’s pretty scathingly critical. Was a casual childhood acquaintance of John Adams who lived in the same hometown of Braintree and attended the same church. He’d later be Hancock’s lawyer during the Liberty affair. Wife’s aunt was the subject of an Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. poem called, “Dorothy Q.” Was worth $350,000 at the time of his death which consisted of about 1/714th of the nation’s GNP at the time. Had a fondness for expensive clothes and extravagant aristocratic living.

  1. Josiah Bartlett
Dr. Josiah Bartlett may be best known for being an ancestor to a fictional president played by Martin Sheen. But while his descendant was a fictional creation of Aaron Sorkin, Dr. Bartlett was a real guy who does have real descendants to this day. It's just that none of them became President, that we know of.

Dr. Josiah Bartlett may be best known for being an ancestor to a fictional president played by Martin Sheen. But while his descendant was a fictional creation of Aaron Sorkin, Dr. Bartlett was a real guy who does have real descendants to this day. It’s just that none of them became President, that we know of.

Lived: (1729-1795) He was 46 at the signing and 65 at his death.

Family: Son of Stephen Bartlett and Hannah Mary Webster. Was their fifth child and fourth son. Married his first cousin Mary in 1754 and had 10 children with 8 surviving to adulthood. All three sons and 7 grandsons would follow him into the medical profession.

State: New Hampshire

Occupation: Physician

Early Life: Born in Amesbury, Massachusetts. After learning some Latin and Greek was apprenticed to a Dr. Ordway in medicine and became a doctor at 20. At 21, he moved to Kingston, New Hampshire where he started his medical practice. He would practice medicine for 45 years. In 1754, he helped stave off an epidemic of throat in Kingston after discovering that Peruvian bark would relieve symptoms long enough to allow recovery. Elected to the colonial assembly in 1765. Became militia colonel and justice of the peace in 1767. Joined New Hampshire’s Committee of Correspondence in 1774 and lost his house to a fire that same year (which might’ve been politically motivated arson). Declined his appointment to the First Continental Congress to spend more time with his family (well, wouldn’t you?). After being stripped of his political offices, he was selected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1775, which he attended.

Significant Roles: From 1775 to early 1776, he was the only delegate from New Hampshire. And since the most important committees required a delegate from each state, he was on all of them. Was the first New Hampshire delegate to give the affirmative for independence and was the second to sign. Declined to serve in 1777 citing fatigue but served as a physician at the Battle of Bennington. Returned to Congress in 1778 where he helped draft the Articles of Confederation but returned to New Hampshire permanently once they were adopted. This was the last of his federal service.

Ultimate Fate: Returned to his roles as a judge serving in the Court of Common Pleas in 1779 and was appointed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1782 despite not being a lawyer and would soon become Chief Justice in 1788. That year he was selected as delegate to the New Hampshire convention to ratify the US Constitution. Was elected as US Senator but declined the offer. Founded and was first president of the New Hampshire Medical Society in 1790 (guess he had enough of federal politics).  That same year he was elected Governor of New Hampshire where he served a 4 year term. Is buried next to his wife in Plains Cemetery. Relatives still live in his home to this day and give tours throughout the year but it’s said to be up for sale since 2014. Is pretty well known in New Hampshire but nowhere else save for one thing.

Trivia: Best known for being a direct ancestor of a fictional US president from The West Wing (that is outside New Hampshire). Delivered the commencement address at Dartmouth when his son Ezra graduated where they were both awarded MDs.

  1. William Whipple
After spending his late teenage years and young adulthood at sea, William Whipple settled down in Portsmouth where he went into the merchant business and married his cousin. Was also a Revolutionary War general who fought at Saratoga.

After spending his late teenage years and young adulthood at sea, William Whipple settled down in Portsmouth where he went into the merchant business and married his cousin. Was also a Revolutionary War general who fought at Saratoga.

Lived: (1731-1785) He was 45 at the signing and 55 at his death.

Family: Son of William Whipple and Mary Curtis. Married his first cousin Catherine Moffat in 1767 and had a child who died in infancy.

State: New Hampshire

Occupation: Ship’s captain, soldier, and merchant

Early Life: Born in Kittery in southern Maine (then part of Massachusetts). Was educated at a common school until he went off to sea as a teenager, becoming a ship’s master at 21. Earned his fortune participating in the Triangle Trade dealing cargo such as wood, rum, and slaves (though he totally believed in racial equality, ironically). Settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and established himself as a merchant with his brother. Was elected to the colony’s Provincial Congress in 1775 prior to being elected to the Continental Congress where he served through 1779.

Significant Roles: As far as the Declaration of Independence goes, he didn’t really do much. However, in 1777, he was made Brigadier General as well as participated in a successful expedition against Burgoyne in the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga. Also led his brigade in the Battle of Rhode Island.

Ultimate Fate: After the Revolution, he became an Associate Justice of New Hampshire’s Superior Court before dying of a heart attack after fainting from atop his horse while traveling his court circuit. He was buried in the Old North Burial Ground in Portsmouth where his headstone was replaced with a memorial by a local historical association in 1976.

Trivia: Freed his closest slave in 1781 because he believed owning one disqualified him as a freedom fighter.

  1. Matthew Thornton
Matthew Thornton was an Irish born physician who was head of the 5 man committee that drafted the New Hampshire state constitution, the first of such in the US adopted since the Revolutionary War. Also operated a ferry and spent his retirement writing political articles for newspapers.

Matthew Thornton was an Irish born physician who was head of the 5 man committee that drafted the New Hampshire state constitution, the first of such in the US adopted since the Revolutionary War. Also operated a ferry and spent his retirement writing political articles for newspapers. He was also an older guy around 1776 than this portrait would inquire.

Lived: (1714-1803) He was 62 at the signing and 89 at his death.

Family: Son of James Thornton and Elizabeth Jenkins who were Ulster Scots. Married Hannah Jack in 1760 and had 5 children.

State: New Hampshire

Occupation: Physician, military surgeon, farmer, ferry operator, pundit and political essayist

Early Life: Born in Limerick, Ireland. Family moved to North America in 1716 and settled in Brunswick, Maine. But in 1722, the community was attacked by Native Americans so his family was forced to flee to Worcester, Massachusetts. Completed his medical studies in Leicester and established a practice in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Would be elected selectman as well as representative and president of the Provincial Assembly where he helped draft the state’s new constitution, which was the first adopted after the start of hostilities in England.

Significant Roles: Elected to the Continental Congress only after the debates occurred and arrived so late in Philadelphia that he was granted permission to sign. Served as Associate Justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire from 1777 to 1784.

Ultimate Fate: Retired from medicine in 1780. Became a New Hampshire state senator from 1784-1786. Spent later years writing for newspapers, farming, and operating a ferry with his family. Died in Massachusetts while visiting his daughter.

Trivia: Grave reads, “An Honest Man.” Nephew was a suspected Loyalist and shared the same name who was tried for treason but “honorably acquitted” (he would later flee to Canada). Has a town and elementary school named after him. Descendants live all over the country and even Paris, France.

  1. Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was one of the most active and controversial figures in the events leading up to the Revolution. However, contrary to his portrayal in Sons of Liberty, the real Sam Adams at the time was middle age, overweight, and a somber Puritan.  Not a guy you'd want to sleep with despite what the History Channel implies.

Samuel Adams was one of the most active and controversial figures in the events leading up to the Revolution. However, contrary to his portrayal in Sons of Liberty, the real Sam Adams at the time was middle age, overweight, and a somber Puritan. Not a guy you’d want to sleep with despite what the History Channel implies.

Lived: (1722-1803) He was 54 at the signing and 81 at his death.

Family: Son of Samuel Adams Sr. and Mary Fifield. One of 12 children though only him and 2 of his siblings would only live past their third birthday. Father was a prosperous church deacon and merchant as well as a leading figure in Boston politics that would lead him to become justice of the peace, selectman, and member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (but he was basically a man almost just like Sam but not as interested in politics). The elder Sam would later get into some banking controversy which led to lawsuits and the younger Sam to defend the family estate for years (even after his dad’s death in 1748). Married Elizabeth Checkley in 1749 (his pastor’s daughter) and had 6 children over the next 7 years but only a son and daughter would survive to adulthood (but his Samuel wouldn’t survive him and die at 37 who was a Revolutionary War surgeon). Elizabeth would die in childbirth in 1757. Married Elizabeth Wells in 1764 but had no children with her.

State: Massachusetts

Occupation: Businessman, maltster, tax collector, newspaperman, activist, and political pundit

Early Life: Born in Boston and was raised in a devout Puritan family (a fact he was most proud of). Attended the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1740, though he disappointed his parents for opting for politics over the ministry. But he earned a master’s degree in 1743 leaving a thesis that indicated some of his early political views. Elected to his first political office in 1747 as a clerk in the Boston Market. Launched his own newspaper with friends in 1748. Elected tax collector in 1756 but did his job poorly which had no effect on his popularity with the populace though his opponents took him to court. Was very much against British policy after the French and Indian War and wasn’t afraid to show it. This led to a lot of violence in Massachusetts associated with the Stamp was blamed on him for years (though he was more of an advocate for non-violent resistance and hated mob violence). In 1765, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and wrote instructions for the Boston delegation during the town meeting. He was the primary author of a series of many anti-Stamp Act resolutions there, more radical than those passed by the Stamp Act Congress. He’d also be the first to argue that mankind possessed certain natural rights that governments couldn’t violate (like you know, inalienable rights). Became clerk to the Massachusetts House in 1766 and became a mentor to John Hancock.  Wrote the Massachusetts Circular Letter with James Otis calling the other colonies to join Massachusetts in resisting the Townshend Acts. Though often cited as such, he was more of reformer than an early advocate for independence (though he did say that the colonies would split from the empire if Britain didn’t clean up its act). As soon as the first British troops entered Boston, he wasted no time writing a series of articles known as the Journal of Occurrences (with others) up to 1769, which was probably not entirely accurate but it claimed to be factual since professional journalism didn’t really exist. After the Boston Massacre in 1770, he insisted that the soldiers involved would receive a fair trial and convinced John Adams and Josiah Quincy to defend them (even though he wrote essays condemning the outcome believing they should’ve been convicted of murder). Helped set up the first Committee of Correspondence in 1772, which would lead to similar groups throughout the colonies. Was a leader in the events that led to the Boston Tea Party. Was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774. In 1775, he and John Hancock would flee from Concord to Lexington where they made their escape thanks to warnings from Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott.

Significant Roles: Said to be a major influence or possible whip in the Second Continental Congress even though his role is unclear since he’s credited for steering them toward independence. But he was a cautious advocate despite his Boston radical image. In 1776, he praised Thomas Paine for Common Sense. Served on military committees during the American Revolution, advocating paying bonuses for Continental soldiers who decided to reenlist as well as harsh state legislation to punish Loyalists in Massachusetts. He was also appointed to the committee to draft the Articles of Confederation.

Ultimate Fate: Returned to Massachusetts in 1779 where he would draft the Massachusetts state constitution with John Adams and James Bowdoin. Would soon have a falling out with John Hancock. In 1781, he retired from the Continental Congress citing ill health. Played a major role in establishing free public education in Boston (for both boys and girls). Was a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780. Was elected to the Massachusetts ratifying convention for the US Constitution in 1788 where he reconciled with Hancock and became a firmer advocate after the Bill of Rights was issued. Was elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1789 and assumed governor in 1793 where he emerged as leader of the Democratic Republicans. Left office in 1797 due to his long suffering tremors which left him unable to write in the last 10 years of his life. Interred at Granary Burying Ground in Boston. Was and continues to remain a highly controversial figure in American history as his significance and reputation continues to be debated.

Trivia: Was second cousin to John Adams. Has a beer brand named after him. Had little money that friends had to finance his trip to Philadelphia in 1774 as well as buy him a new set of clothes (luckily his strict Puritan upbringing made him a rather frugal man, even after his son died and left him and his second wife with some financial security). Called, “Father of the American Revolution.”

  1. John Adams
Despite being a president of the United States, John Adams spent more than a century being one of the most underrated Founding Fathers in American history. Sure he may not be badass like George Washington, brainy like Ben Franklin, or pen a famous document like Thomas Jefferson. But his contributions and political writings have built this nation and continue to influence American political thought to this day. His HBO miniseries was very much deserved as well as being portrayed by Paul Giamatti.

Despite being a president of the United States, John Adams spent more than a century being one of the most underrated Founding Fathers in American history. Sure he may not be badass like George Washington, brainy like Ben Franklin, or pen a famous document like Thomas Jefferson. Nor could be be considered as charming or likeable as all three since he could be quite the curmudgeon (but he and Abigail had a great American love story). But his contributions and political writings have built this nation and continue to influence American political thought to this day. His HBO miniseries was very much deserved as well as being portrayed by Paul Giamatti.

Lived: (1735-1826) He was 40 at the signing and 90 at his death.

Family: Son of John Adams Sr. and Susanna Boylston. Oldest of 3 sons. Father was a farmer, church deacon, selectman, and militia lieutenant. Was from the sixth generation of his family from Massachusetts and very close to his dad. Mother came from a leading colonial medical family.  Married his third cousin Abigail Smith in 1764 and had 5 children, including future president John Quincy Adams as well as started a famous American dynasty that included politicians, diplomats, and historians.

State: Massachusetts

Occupation: Teacher, author, lawyer, statesman, diplomat, historian, and political theorist

Early Life: Born in Braintree (now Quincy). Began his studies in Harvard at 16 and graduated in 1755 but after a few years teaching in Worcester decided to become a lawyer (though he disappointed his parents who wanted him to be a minister. Not only that, but he rejected his family’s age old Puritanism and became a Unitarian). Earned his law degree in 1758 after studying under lawyer John Putnam. In 1765, in opposition to the Stamp Act, he drafted instructions to Braintree’s representatives which served as a model for other towns as well as contributed anonymous articles to the Boston Gazette. In that, he said that it violated the rights of citizens to be taxed without their consent and by tried by a jury of their peers. Was elected as selectman to Braintree the next year. In 1770, he was recruited by Samuel Adams to represent the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, which resulted in 6 of their acquittals and 2 convictions to Sam’s dismay. But he was elected to the General Court during the trial preparation. Wrote the Novanglus Essays in 1772 win which he argued the colonists have never been under the sovereignty of Parliament in the first place. Was elected to the First and Second Continental Congress in 1774, 1775, and 1777.

Significant Roles: Had a lot of influence in the Continental Congress and supported independence from Britain almost from the beginning. In June 1775, he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. In 1776, he wrote Thoughts on Government which would be influential in the writing of state constitutions, defended bicameralism, as well as advocated measures like separation of powers, 3 branches of government, and the concept of enumerated powers. Joined in Richard Henry Lee calling the colonies to set up their own independent governments with their efforts setting the stage for the formal adoption of American independence. Was among the Committee of Five which helped draft the Declaration of Independence with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. He’s said to persuade that the committee choose Jefferson to write the document. In 1779 he helped draft the Massachusetts Constitution with Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin which derived from his Thoughts on Government ideas (but he was the primary author). Served as a diplomat to France, Britain, and the Netherlands from 1777 to well into the 1780s. During this time, he was charged with negotiating a peace treaty with the British, resulting in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Ultimate Fate: Was a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780. Was a strong advocate for the ratification of the US Constitution and published A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States in 1787 which advocated a mixed government of checks and balances. Was elected Vice President under George Washington in 1789 and 1792, but while his role was minor in the administration, he was quite active in the Senate. Was elected President in 1796 as a Federalist. His administration saw the XYZ Affair and the Alien and Sedition Acts which made him rather unpopular (even though he was competent enough to narrowly avoid a war with France, which the US could not afford). Lost out on reelection in 1800 which led him to retreat into private life where he spent his remaining days working on his autobiography, getting back in touch with old friends, defending his reputation, and farming. He and Abigail are now buried in the crypt of the United First Parish Church.

Trivia: Was baptized by the Reverend John Hancock Jr. who was the father of the famous Founding Father. Was Hancock’s lawyer during the Liberty Affair. Was a second cousin of Samuel Adams. From an early age, he kept a diary in which he wrote descriptions of events and impressions of men, particularly cases he observed. Was anti-slavery, owned no slaves, and was proud of it. Had an on-again and off-again friendship with Thomas Jefferson, but he didn’t attend the latter’s inauguration mostly due to the death of his alcoholic son Charles and a desire to rejoin his wife Abigail (they had a very loving relationship. But Adams and Jefferson would reconcile in 1812 and they would correspond for the next 14 years of which 158 letters still survive). Called, “His Rotundity.” Was the first US president to live in the White House. Died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence as well as on the same day as Thomas Jefferson. Was subject of an HBO miniseries.  First biography was written by son John Quincy and grandson Charles Francis. Was a stubborn and prideful man with an argumentative personality who did not get along well with even his closest allies and it’s these personality traits that hindered him as a leader. Was no fan of Benjamin Franklin whom he thought was a hypocrite. Was not the guy you’d want to talk about the working class. Also, really hated Alexander Hamilton who tried to go to great lengths to discredit him. Described himself as “obnoxious and disliked.”

  1. Robert Treat Paine
Other than being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the first attorney general of Massachusetts, and a justice on its Supreme Court, Robert Treat Paine was also the prosecutor for the trial of the Boston Massacre. He's not known for much else and is the signer from the Massachusetts delegation you probably don't know.

Other than being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the first attorney general of Massachusetts, and a justice on its Supreme Court, Robert Treat Paine was also the prosecutor for the trial of the Boston Massacre. He’s not known for much else and is the signer from the Massachusetts delegation you probably don’t know.

Lived: (1731-1814) He was 45 in 1776 and 83 at his death.

Family: Son of the Reverend Thomas Paine and Sarah Treat. Father was also a merchant. Was one of 5 children. Maternal grandfather was the Reverend Samuel Treat who was one of the founders of New Jersey. Mother’s family had been in the New World since the Mayflower. Married Sally Cobb in 1770 and had 8 children.

State: Massachusetts

Occupation: Merchant, whaler, teacher, chaplain, and lawyer

Early Life: Born in Boston. Attended the Boston Latin School and entered Harvard at 14 where he graduated in 1749 at 18. After dabbling in teaching at the Boston Latin School, making merchant journeys to the Azores and Carolinas, and going on a whaling expedition to Greenland, he decided to become a lawyer. So he decided to study law under his mom’s cousin in Lancaster, though he took a break to volunteer as a chaplain during the French and Indian War. In 1756, he returned to his legal studies under Samuel Prat in Boston and was admitted to the bar the next year. In 1770, he and Samuel Quincy served as the prosecutors against the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. Represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778 and signed the Olive Branch Petition.

Significant Roles: Paine doesn’t seem to do much outside Massachusetts where he returned in 1776. In 1777, he was Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives as well as served as Massachusetts Attorney General from 1777 to 1790. Was on the committee to draft Massachusetts state constitution in 1780.

Ultimate Fate: Was a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780. Prosecuted the treason trials of Shays’ Rebellion. Served as justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court from 1790-1804. Buried in Boston’s Granary Burial Ground. Still, out of all the signers in the Massachusetts delegation, he’s the least known and the least interesting.

Trivia: Had a cousin who raised a regiment during the French and Indian War.

  1. Elbridge Gerry
Elbridge Gerry was a vocal in his opposition toward British colonial policy during the 1760s and active in organizing resistance in the early stages of the American Revolution. Of course, he's better known for being involved in a major redistricting scandal during his term as governor of Massachusetts in which

Elbridge Gerry was a vocal in his opposition toward British colonial policy during the 1760s and active in organizing resistance in the early stages of the American Revolution. Of course, he’s better known for being involved in a major redistricting scandal during his term as governor of Massachusetts in which “gerrymandering” gets its name. And James Madison still chose him as vice president in his 1812 presidential reelection campaign. Then again, he was active in the drafting and passage of the Bill of Rights.

Lived: (1744-1814) He was 31 at the signing and 70 at his death.

Family: Son of Thomas Gerry and Elizabeth Greenleaf. Father was a successful merchant who immigrated from England in 1730 and was active in local politics. Was one of 11 children and the third of 5 who survived to adulthood. Married Anne Thompson in 1786 and had 10 children. Had a grandson and great-grandson who were members of the US House of Representatives as well as a grandson who became a noted lawyer and philanthropist.

State: Massachusetts

Occupation: Merchant, philanthropist, and diplomat

Early Life: Born in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Entered Harvard at 13 where he received his bachelor’s in 1762 and his master’s in 1765. After that, he joined his dad’s merchant business in which he became one of the wealthiest Massachusetts merchants with connections in Spain, the West Indies, and the North American coast. Was vocally opposed to British colonial policy in the 1760s and was part of Marblhead’s resistance efforts such as establishing its Committee of Correspondence but had to resign due to an incident with mob violence the next year. In 1774, he played a major role in ensuring the delivery of supplies from Marblehead to Boston, only interrupting activities just to care for his dying dad. He was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 but refused to go, grieving his father’s loss. That year, he was also elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Assembly where he was responsible for assuring that the colony’s limited supplies and weapons remained out of British Army hands. These actions led to the storage of weapons and ammunition Concord where a British raiding expedition helped spark the American Revolution.

Significant Roles: Had a leading role in supplying the Continental Army such as negotiating business contacts with Spain and France as well as dabbling in privateering.  Served in the Second Continental Congress from 1776-1780, where he was very influential in convincing a number of delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence. Believed in limited central government and for the maintenance of civilian control of the military.

Ultimate Fate: Elected as Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1781. Attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787 but didn’t sign on account that it didn’t include a Bill of Rights but he later recanted after he was predictably defeated by John Hancock in the subsequent governor’s race. Was elected to the US Congress shortly after where he served two terms where he proposed and successfully lobbied for the Bill of Rights he wanted. Supported Alexander Hamilton’s bank and economic system but opposed the creation of a Treasury Department for fear that it might become more powerful than the president. In 1797 he was sent on a special diplomatic commission to France with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall with him where they unsuccessfully tried to engage Talleyrand in formal negotiations and were bribed by his agents resulting in the XYZ Affair. However, while Pinckney and Marshall left, Talleyrand made him stay and threatened war if he left. Of course, such incidents damaged his reputation that he was burned in effigy at his home. But later published correspondence vindicated him but he was so fed up with the Adams Administration that he joined the Democratic-Republicans. Was governor of Massachusetts from 1810 to 1812 which saw a major resdistricting scandal coined the term, “gerrymander” and made him a household name (but not in a good way). He was hated by Federalists so much that they had to get a guy out of retirement to run against him which resulted in his 1812 defeat.  In 1812, he was chosen as James Madison’s running mate in that year’s presidential election (due to being from the North) and was sworn in as vice-president the next year and was a strong proponent for the War of 1812 as well as sought arrest for Federalist printers. Fell ill and died in Washington D. C. two years later. Buried at Congressional Cemetery and is the only signer interred at Washington D.C.

Trivia: Best known for being the namesake of gerrymandering, a process by which electoral districts are drawn with the aim of aiding a party in power. Helped establish a hospital for performing smallpox inoculations on Cat Island, but the facilities were destroyed by a mob. Said to have a couple towns in upstate New York named after him. James Monroe was best man at his wedding. Was a longtime friend of John Adams. Said during the Constitutional Convention: “A standing army is like a standing member. It’s an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.”