July 04, 2009

Our Founding Fathers

On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress agreed to formally declare American independence from the British Crown.

On August 2, 1776, 56 members of that Continental Congress began affixing their signatures. Signing was not complete until October but approval had been decided. Each state had only one vote but could send any number of delegates to the convention. The final vote was 13-0 making it unanimous. 56 signed.

They were:

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr, Thomas Lynch, Jr, Arthur Middleton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

The Price They Paid:

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died; Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned; Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured and tortured; Nine fought and died from wounds or hardships from the Revolutionary War. Most died impoverished.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKean of Delaware was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him; poverty was his reward.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., of Virginia, noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis of New York had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife and she died within a few months.

John Hart of New Jersey was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his grist mill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Lewis Morris of New York and Philip Livingston of New York suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.

They pledged:
"For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

And, finally, there is the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark.
He gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to the infamous British prison hulk afloat in New York harbor known as the hell ship "Jersey," where 11,000 American captives were to die. The younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality because of their father. One was put in solitary and given no food. With the end almost in sight, with the war almost won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the British request when they offered him his sons' lives if he would recant and come out for the King and parliament. The utter despair in this man's heart, the anguish in his very soul, must reach out to each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: "No."

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