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.

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