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

revolutionary-war

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.

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