From the DAR Americana Collection
Among the wide variety of holdings in the DAR Americana Collection is a collection of all of the signatures of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This exhibit includes a biography, signature, and portrait for each of the 56 signers.
Josiah Bartlett - New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett was the first delegate to vote for independence and the second signer after John Hancock. Geography dictated the voting order among the delegates to the Second Continental Congress. New Hampshire delegates voted first because they were from the northernmost colony. Bartlett was born in Massachusetts in 1729. He became a physician and opened a medical practice in Kingston, New Hampshire in 1750. He was also interested in politics and served as an active, energetic member of his colony’s legislature. He earned a reputation as a principled lawmaker and accepted dismissal by the royal governor from some of his committee assignments rather than abandon his opposition to royalist policies. In 1775 he was elected to represent New Hampshire in the First Continental Congress but declined to accept the assignment. He did accept election to the Second Continental Congress and for a time was heavily burdened with committee work as the only member from New Hampshire. Although he returned to state service and was elected president, and then governor, of New Hampshire, Bartlett never lost his interest in medicine. In 1790 Dartmouth College awarded him an honorary medical degree and in 1791 he founded the New Hampshire Medical Society and served as its first president. Josiah Bartlett died in 1795 at age 65.
Josiah Bartlett - New Hampshire: Agreement between Josiah Bartlett and James Prince, dated May 9, 1788 allowing the Prince family use for six months of a house and 41 acres of farmland situated in Kingston, New Hampshire, which Prince Josiah Bartlett - New Hampshire: Agreement between Josiah Bartlett and James Prince, dated May 9, 1788 allowing the Prince family use for six months of a house and 41 acres of farmland situated in Kingston, New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett - New Hampshire: Agreement between Josiah Bartlett and James Prince, dated May 9, 1788 allowing the Prince family use for six months of a house and 41 acres of farmland situated in Kingston, New Hampshire, which Prince and his wife had sold to Bartlett. Prince and his wife had sold to Bartlett. and his wife had sold to Bartlett.
Matthew Thornton - New Hampshire: Matthew Thornton was one of the last delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was granted permission to sign the document even though he arrived at the Second Continental Congress three months after the formal signing on August 2, 1776. Thornton was born in Ireland in about 1714. He emigrated with his parents to America when he was about four years old. He became a physician and maintained a successful medical practice in Londonderry, New Hampshire. In 1745 he served as a surgeon in the New Hampshire militia during the British expedition that captured Louisbourg, the French fortress in Nova Scotia. He was also active in New Hampshire politics and held royal commissions as justice of the peace and colonel of militia. In 1775 he drafted a plan of government that became New Hampshire’s first constitution. He continued to serve his colony as the first president of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and as a justice to the superior court. Matthew Thornton died in 1803 at about age 89.
William Whipple - New Hampshire: William Whipple was born in Kittery in present-day Maine in 1730. An able seaman, he became a ship’s captain while still in his early twenties. A few years later he and his brother, Joseph, established a mercantile business in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He became involved with the patriot movement in 1775 when he was elected to represent his town at the provincial congress. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. He served on both the marine and the commerce committees where his previous experience at sea and in business proved of use. Whipple was a tough-minded man who believed in a strong military and severe punishment for those loyal to the crown. He was a brigadier general in the New Hampshire militia and commanded troops both at Saratoga and in a Rhode Island campaign. After the war he served both as a state legislator and as an associate justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire. William Whipple died in 1785 at age 55.
John Adams - Massachusetts: "May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof." Those were President John Adams’s thoughts about the presidency and the White House in November 1800. Adams was born in Massachusetts in 1735. He attended Harvard College, was admitted to the bar, and began practicing law in 1758. He was an early convert to the cause for American independence and wrote both political protests and scholarly tracts in defense of American rights. Adams was a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses. He served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence and enthusiastically advocated its cause in Congress. During and after the Revolutionary War he served as a diplomat in Europe, helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, and served as America’s first ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. He returned to America and became the country’s first vice president in 1789. A vain, energetic, and highly intelligent man, Adams thought the vice presidency beneath him writing that he served in "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived." Adams became the nation’s second president in 1797 and found he needed to direct much of his attention to achieving and preserving a peaceful relationship with France. He retired to Massachusetts after one term in office. John Adams died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1826. Fellow president and signer Thomas Jefferson died on the same day.
John Adams - Massachusetts: A ship’s pass, issued in French, Spanish, English, and Dutch for the schooner, ‘Hornet,’ of Baltimore bound for the Caribbean island Hispaniola. This document, dated May 17, 1797, bears the signature of President John Adams. Adams served as President of the United States from 1797 to 1801.
Samuel Adams - Massachusetts: Samuel Adams was an unsuccessful business man who failed at many ventures including losing the brewery he inherited from his father. He was born in Boston in 1722, graduated from Harvard College with a master’s degree, and quickly earned a reputation as a tireless revolutionary. His first love was politics and he became a behind-the-scenes agitator with his passionate writings against taxation of the colonists by Parliament. He was relentless in encouraging the Americans to resent British occupation of Boston. He also stirred the colonists to a number of acts of defiance including the Boston Tea Party. He helped found the notorious Sons of Liberty, inspired Boston and other towns to create committees of correspondence, and was the first to propose a continental congress to unite and organize the colonial resistance. He was considered so dangerous to British goals in the colonies that in April 1775 the royal governor sent troops to arrest him for treason. He fled Lexington on the night of April 18 and barely escaped arrest the night before American and British troops faced each other on Lexington Green. Adams served in the Continental Congress until 1781 and then continued to serve his new country in a variety of capacities in Massachusetts. Samuel Adams died in Boston in 1803 at age 81.
Elbridge Gerry - Massachusetts: Elbridge Gerry was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1744. He was a Harvard-trained businessman and merchant who put his skills to good use for the American cause. In 1774 when Parliament closed Boston Harbor in partial retaliation for the Boston Tea Party, Gerry helped to coordinate shipments as Marblehead became a major port of entry for supplies donated by patriots throughout the colonies for Boston’s relief. Gerry served his country in several capacities over the course of his career. He was a member of the Massachusetts general court on the committee of correspondence. He also served as a member of the Massachusetts provincial congresses on the council of safety. He barely eluded capture by British troops marching on Lexington and Concord in April 1775. He joined the Continental Congress in 1776. He returned to Congress in 1783 but, although he was experienced in military and financial matters, he lacked patience with the details of nation building. He served two terms as governor of Massachusetts beginning in 1810. Opposing politicians coined the term "gerrymander" to ridicule Gerry’s support of a redistricting measure intended to ensure his party’s domination of the state senate. In 1813 he became President James Madison’s vice president. He died in office in 1814 at age 70. Elbridge Gerry is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in Washington, DC.
John Hancock - Massachusetts: John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration of Independence is so famous that now everyone’s signature is colloquially referred to as a “John Hancock.” The story that he signed his name larger than the others to irk King George III is unfounded. As president of the Second Continental Congress, Hancock was first to sign the document and thus had no perspective on the size of his signature. Nonetheless, few people associated with America’s founding were better known or more popular than Hancock. He was born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1737. He was orphaned as a boy and raised by a childless uncle from whom he inherited a very prosperous shipping company. While traveling in England on business he witnessed both the funeral of King George II and the coronation of King George III. Hancock grew staunchly in favor of American independence from Britain even though his great wealth placed him among elite men who were mostly loyalists. A believer in the abilities of the common man and mentored by the firebrand Samuel Adams, Hancock tirelessly incited the people to revolt. He aided the Boston Tea Party, gave a public address commemorating the Boston Massacre, and became a popular hero in 1768 for attempting to smuggle a shipment of wine in his sloop ‘Liberty’ to avoid paying taxes on it. Riding a wave of popularity, Hancock was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774. In April 1775 he barely escaped arrest by British troops in Lexington. He assumed the presidency of the Second Continental Congress in 1776. In 1780 he was elected the first governor of Massachusetts. A victim of a lavish lifestyle and rich food that aged him prematurely, John Hancock died in Boston in 1793 at age 56.
Robert Treat Paine
Robert Treat Paine - Massachusetts: Robert Treat Paine was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1731. Family tradition dictated that he join the clergy and he did so after graduating from Harvard College in 1749. He tired quickly of religious life, however, and set out to improve his frail health by working onboard ship. He spent several years as a merchant marine before returning home to study law. He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1757. Paine served as a prosecuting attorney in the trials of the British officers accused in the Boston Massacre. Although he lost to the defense, led by John Adams, his arguments against Parliament’s right to quarter troops among civilians won him acclaim. He attended the First Continental Congress in 1774 and served on the committee that formed the rules of debate and the committee charged with acquiring gunpowder. He was the author of the final appeal to King George III, known as the Olive Branch Petition, in 1775. Paine was again elected to represent Massachusetts at the Second Continental Congress and came to be known in Congress as the "Objection Maker" because he so frequently objected to others’ proposals. He was elected attorney general of Massachusetts in 1777. He had a life-long interest in science and was one of the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780. He accepted an appointment to the state supreme court in 1796. Robert Treat Paine died in Boston in 1814 at age 83.
Robert Treat Paine
Robert Treat Paine - Massachusetts: A bill of legal costs associated with a case in the court of Common Pleas, Bristol, August 1767. The position of Robert Treat Paine’s signature on this document suggests he represented the plaintiff. In 1767 Robert Treat Paine was practicing law in Taunton, Massachusetts.
William Ellery - Rhode Island: The story goes that on the day of the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence, August 2, 1776, William Ellery positioned himself near the secretary so that he could watch the others as each signed his name to what might have been his death warrant. He was pleased to report a look of "undaunted resolution" on every face. Ellery was born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1727. He graduated from Harvard College at age 15 and then spent more than twenty years trying his hand at a variety of careers. He settled on the law in about 1770 and appeared to have finally found his calling. He was a member of the Rhode Island Sons of Liberty and was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He was a bit reticent in debates but he proved a very competent and diligent committee member. Ellery was active on committees regarding commercial affairs, foreign relations, and naval issues. In 1785 he declined an offer to serve as chief justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court to remain in Congress where he had attained impressive seniority. His fervent support of the cause of independence gained him the animosity of the British who burned his home in Newport in 1776. William Ellery died in Newport in 1820. He lived to be 92 years old; the second-longest-lived signer after Charles Carroll.
Stephen Hopkins - Rhode Island: A very early critic of British tyranny, Stephen Hopkins originally was unwilling to advocate complete separation from England; however, eventually he saw American independence as inevitable. He was born in Scituate, Rhode Island in 1707 and is the second-oldest signer after Benjamin Franklin. He was a self-educated man who had expected to spend life as a farmer. Instead he became a surveyor, merchant, and shipbuilder before serving in several of the highest offices in Rhode Island including the governorship. He was one of the founders of the ‘Providence Gazette and Country Journal’ which supported the patriots’ cause. His own article "The Rights of the Colonies Examined" contested the legality of parliamentary taxation. He believed in the union of the colonies and represented Rhode Island in a variety of intercolonial meetings. In 1754 he was a delegate to the Albany Congress in New York where he befriended Benjamin Franklin and helped him draft a plan of colonial union which the congress passed but the colonies rejected. He attended both Continental Congresses. He was a productive delegate serving on the marine committee and helping to draft the Articles of Confederation. He left Congress in 1778 to return to Rhode Island and serve in its legislature. Stephen Hopkins died in Providence, Rhode Island in 1785 at age 78.
Stephen Hopkins - Rhode Island: Appointment of Ebenezer Cole as a Justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, County of Bristol, signed by Stephen Hopkins, governor of Rhode Island, May 9, 1763. Hopkins was serving his seventh year as governor of Rhode Island when he signed this document.
Samuel Huntington - Connecticut: Samuel Huntington devoted nearly all his life to public service. He was born on a farm in Windham, Connecticut in 1731. He had only a rudimentary education as a child but he loved learning and was ambitious. He taught himself law using borrowed books and was admitted to the Connecticut bar in his early twenties. He served his colony in a number of capacities including justice of the peace and justice to the superior court. He was also a member of the Connecticut legislature. He served as King’s Attorney of the colony for a time before resigning for reasons of conscience in 1774, the same year he became active with the Sons of Liberty. Huntington served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. He was active in committee work and contended with topics as varied as Indian affairs, ordnance supply, and marine concerns. He served two terms as President of the Congress and was acting in that capacity when the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781. Huntington left Congress in 1783 to return to Connecticut where he was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1785. He was elected Governor in 1786 and was re-elected every term for the rest of his life. Always deeply interested in education even though he lacked a formal degree, he supported institutions of higher learning including Yale College. He was the recipient of honorary degrees from Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth. Samuel Huntington died in 1796 at age 65.
Samuel Huntington - Connecticut: Letter of Marque issued to Elisha Hinman, commander of the frigate ‘Deane,’ dated June 6, 1780 and signed by Samuel Huntington as President of the Congress of the United States of America. Samuel Huntington served as President of Congress from September 1779 until July 1781.
Roger Sherman - Connecticut: Hardworking and determined, Roger Sherman was a self-made man with a remarkably busy career. He was born in Newton, Massachusetts on April 19, 1721. His formal education was minimal so he read widely on his own, teaching himself law, science, literature, and politics. In 1743 he relocated to New Milford, Connecticut where he pursued a variety of interests including writing and publishing a series of popular almanacs. Sherman was admitted to the bar in 1754. He maintained a law practice while also serving as a justice of the peace, a county judge, and as a representative in the colonial legislature. In 1761 he closed his law practice and moved to New Haven where he spent many years serving as treasurer of Yale College. At the same time, he served as an associate judge of the Connecticut Superior Court. He was an early supporter of the patriot cause and served as a delegate to both Continental Congresses. He was an active committee member and several of his fellow delegates admired his work ethic. He was a member of the committees that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. One of his greatest contributions was his authoring of the Great Compromise which provided for a dual legislative system whereby the people would be represented by proportion of population in the lower house and by equal representation in the upper house. Sherman was one of only two men who signed the three main founding documents of the nation: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States. Roger Sherman died in 1793 at age 72.
Roger Sherman - Connecticut: Letter signed by Roger Sherman dated Philadelphia, October 20, 1778 written to the Reverend Benjamin Trumbull, New Haven, Connecticut. Sherman discusses various proposals, including taxation and foreign loans, for supporting the credit of the United States. Sherman’s interest in public financial policy dates to the 1750s when he published a work on paper money. In the Continental Congress he served on a number of committees concerned with finance.
William Williams - Connecticut: William Williams so believed in the patriot cause that he contributed much of his own wealth to the war effort. He was born in 1731 in Lebanon, Connecticut. After he graduated from Harvard College in 1751 he studied with his father, a minister, with the intention to join the clergy. His plans changed after he participated in the British expedition to Lake George during the French and Indian War. His war experience taught him to resent British inattentiveness to the colonists’ needs. When he returned to Connecticut he established himself as a merchant and politician. Williams’s political career spanned more than fifty years and he held a number of state and local offices. He served as member, clerk, and speaker of the lower house of the colonial legislature and as a judge of the Windham County court. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. He arrived too late to vote for Independence but he did sign the Declaration on August 2, 1776. He also served as a member of the committee that framed the Articles of Confederation. During the winter of 1780-81, while a French regiment was stationed in Lebanon, he moved out of his home and turned it over to the officers. In 1788 he attended the convention that ratified the Federal Constitution. William Williams died in 1811 at age 80.
Oliver Wolcott - Connecticut: Oliver Wolcott was born in Windsor, Connecticut in 1726. He attended Yale College and immediately after graduating led a volunteer militia in the French and Indian War. He studied medicine for a time before taking up the practice of law and beginning a long and active political career. He was sheriff of Litchfield County for twenty years. He served in the colonial legislature and as a county judge. By 1774 he had risen to the rank of colonel in the militia. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775 and was appointed a Commissioner of Indian Affairs that same year. Throughout his time in Congress, Wolcott spent more time in the field leading Connecticut troops than in congressional sessions. He saw action in the defense of New York City and in the Saratoga campaign. He became ill during the summer of 1776 and returned home, missing both the vote for independence and the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence. He signed the document sometime after his return to Congress in October. During 1779, as a major general, he defended the Connecticut seacoast against the raids of William Tryon, Royal Governor of New York. After the Revolutionary War he continued to serve Connecticut as Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Oliver Wolcott died in 1797 at age 71.
Oliver Wolcott - Connecticut: Account written in Oliver Wolcott’s hand and bearing his signature dated November 11, 1777 concerning expenses associated with the administration of the estate of Oliver Burr by Sarah Burr. Oliver Wolcott served as judge of the court of probate for Litchfield, Connecticut from 1772 to 1781.
Lewis Morris - New York: A fierce proponent of American independence, Lewis Morris signed the Declaration of Independence reportedly after stating: "Damn the consequences, give me the pen." The statement is a charged one as Morris, heir to a great fortune that included his father’s Westchester County estate, Morrisania, had more to lose than many of his fellow delegates. Morris was born in New York in 1726 into a world of privilege and wealth with strong family ties to the crown government. He graduated from Yale in 1746, returned home to help manage the family estate, and acquired Morrisania in 1762 at his father’s death. He became politically active at this time and, as a member of the royal government’s New York Assembly, protested both the Stamp Act and the royal governor’s order that the Assembly provide funds for local royal troops. Morris was sent to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. His committee service focused on the defense of his colony and Indian affairs. He returned mostly to local duties after 1777, serving both as a judge and as a state legislator. Much of his property was destroyed and his wealth lost in the Revolution and he spent many years rebuilding Morrisania. In 1784 he served on the first Board of Regents of the University of New York and in 1788 he strongly supported Alexander Hamilton’s successful bid for ratification of the United States Constitution. Lewis Morris died in 1798 at age 71.
Francis Lewis - New York: Francis Lewis was among the most well-traveled of the signers. He was a successful merchant and frequently accompanied his cargo to foreign ports. Born in Wales in 1713 and orphaned at about four years of age, he was sent to London in the care of relatives where he attended the Westminster School. He apprenticed at a mercantile house in London before voyaging to America while still in his twenties to set up his own mercantile businesses in New York and Philadelphia. In 1756, while working as a clothing contractor for British troops at Fort Oswego during the French and Indian War, Lewis was taken prisoner and shipped to France. He returned to New York City after his release in 1763 and very quickly amassed a great fortune. He became active in politics and may have been a leader of the New York Sons of Liberty. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, he served for four years. His committee work naturally revolved around mercantile and shipping matters. Lewis endured great personal losses during the Revolutionary War. He spent a great amount of his considerable wealth to further the patriots’ cause. Worst of all, when the British destroyed his home on Long Island they took his wife, Elizabeth, prisoner. She was released as part of an exchange of wives of British officials; however, the hardships she suffered ruined her health and she died soon after her release in 1779. That same year, Lewis took a leave of absence from Congress and never returned. He lived in retirement with his sons and their families until his death in New York City in 1802 at age 89.
Phillip Livingston - New York: An energetic humanitarian and philanthropist, political conservative Philip Livingston was initially opposed to American independence. He was born in Albany, New York in 1716 to a wealthy family. After graduating from Yale in 1737, he became a merchant and entered the import business in New York City. Although eventually he amassed a great personal fortune, Livingston believed in the importance of public service. He supported many organizations and causes important to his colony’s development including King’s College (later Columbia University), the New York Society Library, the New York Chamber of Commerce, and New York Hospital. He served as a New York City alderman in his first political office. In a decade of service which included membership in the colonial legislature, he was a proponent of political and religious freedom and supported those who opposed the royal leadership of the colony. However, although Livingston opposed the taxes imposed on the colonists by the crown, he believed in dignified protests and disapproved of the violent tactics of such groups as the Sons of Liberty. Livingston was a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses. His committee service focused on marine, commerce, finance, military, and Indian matters. Between 1774 and 1778, he divided his time between Congress and the New York legislature. Both his home in New York City and his home in Brooklyn Heights were overrun and damaged by the British. Philip Livingston died suddenly while attending Congress in 1778 at age 62.
William Floyd - New York: William Floyd led his colony’s delegation in signing the Declaration of Independence even though he was not a particularly prominent figure in Congress and preferred to cede the floor to the other New York delegates during debates. Floyd’s family had emigrated to America from Wales in the 1650s and was established and wealthy by the time of his birth on Long Island in 1734. Floyd received no formal education and when both of his parents died within months of each other he was obligated to take over the family farm while still in his teens. Although he was involved in local civic matters, Floyd was typical of New York colonists in that he did not become active in the patriot cause until the 1770s. Floyd was chosen to represent New York in the First Continental Congress in 1774. In 1776, when the British occupied Long Island, Floyd’s wife and three children fled their property and began what became a seven-year period of exile in Connecticut. Floyd’s wife died there in 1781. The British used the Long Island house for a barracks, and when Floyd returned home with his children in 1783, he found both the house and the surrounding land severely damaged. Floyd served several terms in the New York legislature after the war. In 1789 he was elected to the first United States Congress under the new Constitution. In 1803 he gave his Long Island property to his son and relocated to spend the remainder of his life in a remote region of upstate New York where he had acquired a vast tract of land. William Floyd died in 1821 at age 86.
Abraham Clark - New Jersey: Although he was probably never a member of the bar, self-educated attorney Abraham Clark came to be known as the "poor man’s counselor" for his willingness to provide free legal advice to farmers involved in land disputes. Clark was born on his father’s farm in New Jersey in 1726. When he was still very young it was determined that he was too frail to become a farmer; however, he had a natural gift for mathematics and worked for a time as a surveyor. His support for the patriot cause began sometime between 1774 and 1776. Clark’s public service included a term as sheriff for Essex County and service in the colonial legislature. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. Although he served in Congress throughout the Revolutionary War, he was preoccupied with concerns about his home, which was located close to British-occupied areas, and his two soldier sons, who had been captured by the British. Clark’s boys were incarcerated for a time aboard the notorious prison ship, "Jersey," where they were mistreated by their captors. After the war, Clark continued his civil service career with a three-year tour in the state legislature. He returned to the Continental Congress from 1787 to 1789 but ill health prevented his attendance at the Constitutional Convention. Although Clark was opposed to the ratification of the United States Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights, he served as a representative to the Second and Third Congresses under the Constitution from 1791 until his death in 1794 at age 68.
Abraham Clark - New Jersey: Letter to a Colonel Drayton written by Abraham Clark in June 1782 explaining the actions in Congress that resulted in the postponing of an Elias Drayton's promotion. Abraham Clark was serving in Congress as one of the representatives from New Jersey when he signed this letter.
Francis Hopkinson - New Jersey: Francis Hopkinson was born in 1737, eldest of eight children, to a wealthy, prominent Philadelphia family with close ties to British culture and aristocracy. Hopkinson was a lawyer and judge by profession who had also been employed as a customs collector and a shopkeeper. His true talents, however, lay in artistic endeavors. Ranking among the better literary efforts of the Revolutionary and early Federal periods, Hopkinson’s essays include: "A Pretty Story," which was a skeptical examination of the relationship between the crown and the colonies; "Battle of the Kegs," which was a satiric taunting of the British; and "The Prophecy," which predicted the adoption of the Declaration of Independence months before that event. He was one of America’s first native composers and a talented artist who often relieved his boredom during congressional sessions by drawing caricatures of his colleagues. Wholeheartedly committed to the patriot cause by 1774, Hopkinson began a two-year term in the colonial legislature and was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. Throughout the Revolutionary War, he continued to produce essays and pamphlets in support of the patriot cause. After the war, Hopkinson continued to write about political and social themes while actively advocating for ratification of the United States Constitution. His legal career continued to the end of his life as he was commissioned a Judge of Admiralty in 1780 and appointed a Federal Circuit Judge in 1790. Francis Hopkinson died suddenly in Philadelphia in 1791 at age 53.
Francis Hopkinson - New Jersey: Order dated July 10, 1780 by Francis Hopkinson, judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania, instructing the marshal of the court to sell the ship, "The Eleanor," and to divide the proceeds among the owners, officers, and crew of the privateer "Fair American."
John Witherspoon - New Jersey: The American colonies were "not only ripe for the measure but in danger of rotting for the want of it." Those were John Witherspoon’s thoughts on the adoption of the Declaration of Independence expressed during a speech in Congress on July 2, 1776. The only active clergyman among the signers, Witherspoon was born in Scotland near Edinburgh in 1723. By the time he was twenty years old he had earned master of arts and divinity degrees from the University of Edinburgh. Initially reluctant to emigrate from Scotland to America for personal reasons, he finally did so in 1768 to accept the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). His support of the American cause likely stemmed from a hatred of the English acquired in 1745 when Witherspoon participated in the Highlander’s Revolt and was imprisoned briefly by British troops. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776 and remained in Congress until 1782. A well-regarded orator, Witherspoon participated heavily in congressional debates. He was also very active in committee work and his assignments focused on military and foreign affairs. After the war, he devoted much of his time to rebuilding the college as the British destroyed parts of the campus after they invaded New Jersey late in 1776. The college flourished under Witherspoon’s leadership and he is remembered for increasing the school’s endowment and making positive changes to both the curriculum and to teaching methods. John Witherspoon died on his farm outside Princeton, New Jersey in 1794 at age 71.
John Hart - New Jersey: John Hart’s family moved to a farm near Hopewell, New Jersey shortly after his birth in Stonington, Connecticut circa 1711. Hart received no formal education and lived and worked on the family farm his entire life. Known to his neighbors as "Honest John," he enjoyed great success as a leader in his community in both business and politics. In addition to having acquired a significant amount of property including saw and grist mills, Hart was also an accomplished public servant. He was elected to a variety of offices including justice of the peace and county judge. In 1761 he was elected to the New Jersey Assembly and served there until it was dissolved in 1771. From 1774 to 1776 he attended the New Jersey Provincial Congress and was vice president as well as a member of the council of safety and the committee of correspondence. In the legislature’s dispute with the Royal Governor, Hart opposed parliamentary taxation and the stationing of British troops in the colony. He was sent as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1776 just in time to vote in favor of independence. Returning to New Jersey in August 1776, he assumed the role of Speaker of the Lower House of the New Jersey legislature. Hart’s farm was destroyed when British troops invaded New Jersey in November 1776 and he was forced into hiding. When he emerged from exile after the American victories at Princeton and Trenton, he learned that his wife had died while he was gone. Hart became ill in 1778 and was forced to retire from public life. John Hart died at home on his farm in 1779 at about age 68.
Richard Stockton - New Jersey: Although originally a political moderate who preferred a quiet life tending to both his prosperous law practice and his family estate, a series of British offenses against the colonies culminating in the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 convinced Richard Stockton of the need for American independence. Born in 1730 near Princeton, New Jersey, the son of a wealthy landowner and judge, Stockton graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1748. He was admitted to the bar in 1754 and by the mid-1760s was recognized as one of the best attorneys in the middle colonies. Stockton served as a member of the executive council of New Jersey from 1768 to 1774 when he was appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. Also in 1776 Stockton lost his bid for the governorship of New Jersey and turned down the chance to become the chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey to remain in Congress. When the British invaded the colony in November 1776, Stockton managed to move his family to safety but he was captured and imprisoned by the British. In poor health as a result of ill treatment in prison, Stockton returned home in 1777 to find that British troops had destroyed his property and burned his private papers. Richard Stockton died in 1781 at age 50.
George Read - Delaware: Although George Read was the only signer who voted against independence in the final congressional vote on July 2, 1776, either because he felt pressure from the strong Tory presence in Delaware or because he genuinely believed reconciliation with the crown was still possible, he willingly joined the delegates in favor of independence after the vote. Read’s family relocated to New Castle, Delaware soon after his birth in Maryland in 1733. He attended schools in Pennsylvania and studied law in Philadelphia. He returned to New Castle to practice law after he was admitted to the bar in 1753. Cautious and moderate, Read was willing to protect the colonists’ rights but he preferred nonimportation measures and dignified protests to the use of extreme measures. He served as crown attorney general for Delaware from 1763 to 1774. In 1765 he began a decade-long career in the colonial legislature. In 1776 he presided over the Delaware constitutional convention and then began a term as speaker which, in effect, made him vice president of Delaware. After the state president was captured by the British in 1777, Read assumed the presidency and held it for several months. As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention he defended the rights of the smaller states. He is one of six signers of the Declaration of Independence who also signed the United States Constitution. He served in the United States Senate from 1789 to 1793 and as chief justice of Delaware from 1793 until his death. George Read died in New Castle, Delaware in 1798, just three days after his 65th birthday.
George Read - Delaware: This letter, dated February 17, 1787, requests the Delaware state auditor of accounts to record a warrant signed by the Delaware state president authorizing a payment for George Read, signer of the letter. George Read was serving as judge of the court of appeals in admiralty cases at the time this document was written.
Thomas McKean - Delaware: Thomas McKean was the last delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence. He signed the document sometime after January 18, 1777. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1734. Although his father was both a farmer and a tavern keeper, McKean grew up to study law and was admitted to the bar in both Pennsylvania and Delaware by 1754. A diligent worker, he served Delaware in a variety of positions including sheriff, militia captain, trustee of the loan office of New Castle County, customs collector, deputy attorney general of Sussex County, and clerk and member of the legislature, including the speakership of the lower house. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774 and except for the period December 1776 to January 1778, he stayed there until 1783 and even served as President for a few months in 1781. After the Revolution, he continued to hold offices in both Pennsylvania and Delaware. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention and eventually became a three-term governor of Pennsylvania. He was a strong, sure leader who believed in the advancement of education and internal improvements. Imperious by nature, he alienated many members of his own party. This, combined with an apparent penchant for nepotism (several family members and friends held prominent positions in his administration), resulted in a failed attempt to impeach him. Thomas McKean died at his home in Philadelphia in 1817 at age 83.
Caesar Rodney - Delaware: A self-made man, Caesar Rodney received no formal education. He was born in 1728 on his family’s 800-acre plantation near Dover, Delaware. His father died when Rodney was a teenager and, as the oldest child, Rodney inherited the estate. In 1755 he was commissioned High Sheriff of Kent County Delaware under the royal government. In succeeding years he continued to serve his colony in a variety of offices including, but not limited to, justice of the Superior Court, registrar of wills, recorder of deeds, clerk of the orphan’s court, and justice of the peace. From 1761 to 1776 he was a member of the Delaware colonial legislature. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777; however, often he was away from Congress fulfilling his military responsibilities. On the evening of July 1, 1776, Rodney received an urgent message from fellow Delaware delegate Thomas McKean informing him that fellow Delaware delegate George Read had voted against independence that day and pleading with him to come to Philadelphia to break the tie. Rodney rode all night in a thunderstorm stopping only to change horses. He completed the 80-mile trip just in time to ensure Delaware’s vote for independence before returning to Dover to reassume command of the state militia. In 1778 Rodney was elected president of Delaware for a three-year term. Subsequently, he was elected to the national Congress in 1782 but declined to serve due to failing health. Caesar Rodney died at his plantation in Dover in 1784 at age 55.
George Clymer - Pennsylvania: Orphaned shortly after his birth in Philadelphia in 1739, George Clymer was raised by a wealthy uncle from whom he inherited a very prosperous mercantile business. Clymer was a staunch patriot and among the first prominent Americans to support independence. In 1773 he led a committee that forced the resignation of the Philadelphia tea consignees appointed by England under the Tea Act. He was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1776 and, although he was reticent in debates, he worked hard on committees pertaining to finance, commerce, and military affairs. Clymer also served as one of the first two Continental treasurers and was so committed to the cause that he personally helped underwrite the war by exchanging all of his own specie for Continental currency. Undeterred when British soldiers occupied and destroyed much of his home in Philadelphia in September 1777, Clymer accepted the first of several appointments to help manage Indian affairs in the colonies. In 1787 Clymer was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and was one of the few signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He put his experience with national finance to use by accepting an appointment in 1791 from President Washington to serve as the United States Tax Collector in Pennsylvania. He was still serving in this capacity in 1794 when the tax revolt known as the Whisky Rebellion occurred. One of Clymer's sons was killed in the fighting. Clymer continued working for many years after retiring from public life in 1796. He served as first president of the Philadelphia Bank, first president of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and vice president of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society. George Clymer died in 1813 at age 73.
Robert Morris - Pennsylvania: A fearless financial wizard, Robert Morris almost singlehandedly arranged for the funding the colonies needed to win independence. Born in England in 1734, he came to Maryland at age 13 to live with his father. After briefly attending school in Philadelphia, he was apprenticed to a shipping firm where he eventually became a partner and one of the wealthiest merchants in the colonies. Morris was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775. His committee work centered around raising funds and supplies for the Continental Army. When Congress gave him unlimited power to rescue the nation's disastrous finances, Morris tirelessly cajoled the colonies to contribute money and provisions, borrowed money against overwhelming odds, and even levied his personal fortune to fund the bid for independence. In 1781 he combined a loan from France with some of his own money and financed both the Yorktown campaign and a national bank. Named the Bank of North America, it gave stability to the fledgling American economy, financed the war effort, and eventually established the credit of the United States with other nations. Morris was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He and Roger Sherman of Connecticut are the only two individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. In 1789 Morris turned down an appointment as Secretary of the Treasury to serve in the United States Senate. He retired in 1795 having never recovered his fortune. He lost his remaining funds to land speculation and was incarcerated in debtors prison in Philadelphia in 1798. He was released three years later but his health and spirits never recovered. Robert Morris died in 1806 at age 72.
Robert Morris - Pennsylvania: Certificate held by Bird, Savage and Bird of London, for four shares of stock in the North American Land Company signed on March 16, 1795 by Robert Morris, President and James Marshall, Secretary. Morris was serving as a United States senator from Pennsylvania when he signed this document.
Benjamin Rush - Pennsylvania: Benjamin Rush was born in Pennsylvania in 1745. Equal parts scientist and politician, he was well educated, earning his medical degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1768. The following year Rush returned home, opened a private medical practice in Philadelphia, and was appointed professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. He served briefly in Congress in 1776. In 1777 he was appointed surgeon general in the Middle Department of the Continental Army. Rush's military career was cut short after he became involved in the Conway Cabal, a secret movement to have General Washington removed from command. Although Rush was a staunch supporter of the ratification of the United States Constitution and served as treasurer of the United States Mint from 1797 to 1813, he is perhaps best remembered for his accomplishments as a physician and social reformer. He was a prominent advocate for the abolition of slavery and for scientific education of the masses, including women. He also supported educational and prison reform, condemned public and capital punishment, and encouraged temperance. Between 1783 and 1787 he helped organize Dickinson College, established the first free medical clinic in the United States to treat the poor, and aided in founding the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. He was also a member of the American Philosophical Society and a cofounder and vice president of the Philadelphia Bible Society. Although he was wildly popular with his medical students, Rush's critics thought him a gossip and too confident in his own opinions and decisions. Benjamin Rush died in 1813 at age 67.
Benjamin Rush - Pennsylvania: "Prescription for Thomas W. Rogers" dated 1807, includes medicinal, dietary, and general health advice from Benjamin Rush. At this time, Rush was serving as a medical doctor in Philadelphia, a professor at the Philadelphia College of Physics, and treasurer of the United States Mint.
James Smith - Pennsylvania: Thought of by his colleagues as witty and a good conversationalist if a bit eccentric, James Smith was born in northern Ireland circa 1719. He relocated with his family to York County, Pennsylvania in 1729 when he was about 10 years old. Smith attended the College of Philadelphia and then studied law in his brother's office before setting up his own law practice in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. This was frontier country and Smith took up surveying for a time because legal work was scarce. Eventually he returned to York to practice law exclusively. In 1774 Smith emerged in favor of the patriot cause with his attendance at a provincial assembly where he advocated both a boycott of English products and an intercolonial congress. Also in 1774 he organized a volunteer militia company in York. In provincial meetings in 1775 and 1776 Smith continued to call for independence. In 1776 he participated in drafting the Pennsylvania state constitution. That same year Smith was elected to the Second Continental Congress where he remained for two years. He continued his service to Pennsylvania after leaving Congress by serving in the state assembly and as a judge in the state court system. In 1782 Smith was appointed brigadier general of the Pennsylvania militia. He was reelected to Congress in 1785 but declined to serve citing his advancing age. He chose instead to turn his attention back to his law practice in his last years. James Smith died in 1806 at about age 87.
George Taylor - Pennsylvania: The only former indentured servant to sign the Declaration of Independence, George Taylor was born in northern Ireland in 1716. In 1736 he contracted himself to a Pennsylvania ironmaster and began work as a laborer at Warwick Furnace in Chester County. Intelligent and industrious, he was quickly promoted and eventually became bookkeeper and manager of nearby Coventry Forge, a business he acquired when he married the owner's widow. Taylor began his public life in 1747 when he took a commission as a captain in the Chester County militia. Devoted to the welfare of his colony, he was appointed justice of the peace for Bucks County and justice of the peace and a representative in the colonial legislature for Northampton County. Taylor served six years in the provincial assembly of Pennsylvania, attended a provincial Revolutionary convention, served on committees of safety and correspondence, and served as a colonel in the Bucks County and Northampton County militias. He was appointed to the Second Continental Congress in 1776. In 1777 he was elected to the Supreme Executive Assembly of Pennsylvania, but served only six weeks before retiring from public life. Taylor's greatest contribution to the patriot cause may have been through his work as an ironmaster. During the Revolution the company he had acquired with a partner in the mid-1750s, Durham Furnace, provided much ordnance to the Continental Army for which Taylor was not fairly compensated. In 1778 the state dispossessed him of his lease on Durham Furnace which was owned by a Philadelphia Loyalist. George Taylor died in 1781 at age 65.
Benjamin Franklin - Pennsylvania: The story goes that after Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence, he turned to his colleagues and said, "Gentlemen, we must now all hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately." He was the oldest signer of both the Declaration and the United States Constitution, a self-made businessman and self-educated intellectual, an indefatigable politician, author, inventor, printer, scientist, scholar, and diplomat. Franklin was born in Boston in 1706. He struck out on his own as a teenager and eventually set up shop as a printer in Philadelphia. In 1730 he began publishing a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette, but much more popular was his Poor Richard's Almanac which he published from 1733 to 1758. Exceedingly prolific and energetic, Franklin founded the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania. He also conducted scientific experiments that improved understanding of electricity, oceanography, and meteorology. He is credited with inventing the Franklin Stove, bifocal lenses, and the lightning rod. Franklin's long career in public service began in 1736 and included extensive work for both Pennsylvania and the new nation. He joined the Continental Congress in May 1775 and later served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. A charming and persuasive diplomat, he was responsible for negotiating the treaty of alliance with France in 1778. In 1783, along with John Adams and John Jay, Franklin traveled to France to sign the Treaty of Paris and bring an official end to the Revolutionary War. In 1787 he was elected as first president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, a cause to which he had committed himself as early as the 1730s. Benjamin Franklin died in 1790 at age 84.
John Morton - Pennsylvania: The first signer to die, John Morton did not live a full year after he signed the Declaration of Independence. He was born in 1725 in Chester (now Delaware) County, Pennsylvania of Finnish-Swedish descent. His father died before he was born. His mother later married a well-educated Englishman who trained his stepson in surveying and mathematics. Morton became a successful surveyor and farmer but his consuming interest was politics. He was elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature in 1756 and served there for the remainder of his life. He also served terms as justice of the peace and sheriff in his county. In 1774 he was appointed an associate justice of the Pennsylvania supreme court. That same year he was appointed to the First Continental Congress. Morton was active in committee work but is best remembered for having cast the decisive vote that swung his state in favor of independence. In addition, for several weeks at the beginning of 1777, he chaired the committee of the whole on the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. Although he was very successful in state service, Morton's first loyalty was always to his native Chester County. He was even somewhat hesitant at first to support the patriot cause because he lived in an area with a high Loyalist population and much of his success in life had come from living under British rule. After he signed the Declaration of Independence he lost many friends who may have felt betrayed by his allegiance to the patriot cause. John Morton died in 1777 at age 52.
George Ross - Pennsylvania: Decidedly a Loyalist when he was appointed to the First Continental Congress in 1774, George Ross joined the patriot cause once war between the colonies and the crown was inevitable. He was born in 1730 in New Castle, Delaware. His father, a Scotland-born clergyman, moved his large family to Pennsylvania when he became assistant rector at Christ Church in Philadelphia. Ross received a classical education at home and then commenced reading law at his brother's law office. He passed the bar in 1750 and established his own law practice at Lancaster. Ross served as crown prosecutor for Cumberland County from 1751 to 1763 and as a member of the colonial legislature from 1768 to 1775. During his three years in the Continental Congress, Ross earned a reputation among his colleagues for his keen mind and friendly sociability. Although he made no noteworthy contributions in congressional proceedings, he served on the Pennsylvania council of safety and as a colonel in the colonial militia. In 1776 he assisted in negotiating a peace treaty with the Indians in northwestern Pennsylvania and served as vice president of the first constitutional convention for Pennsylvania, for which he helped draft a declaration of rights. In 1778 he was appointed to a judgeship in the Pennsylvania Court of Admiralty. George Ross died in 1779 at age 49.
James Wilson - Pennsylvania: James Wilson was a gifted orator who joined the more radical members of the Continental Congress in demanding separation from the crown. He was born in Scotland in 1742. He relocated to America in his early twenties and, although he began his career as a teacher, he soon changed his focus to law. He was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia in 1767 and proceeded to found a lucrative and successful law practice. In 1774 Wilson joined the local committee of correspondence and wrote a widely circulated pamphlet in which he argued that Parliament had no authority to pass laws for the colonies. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775 where his committee work focused on military matters and Indian affairs. From 1779 to 1783 Wilson served as Advocate General for France in America. His duties concerned maritime and commercial matters. He also provided legal advice to Loyalists and their sympathizers. In the meantime, Wilson's personal affairs were precarious as he found himself deep in debt as a result of engaging in profiteering and land speculation schemes. His involvement in such intrigues culminated in an attack on his home in Philadelphia in 1779 when a mob set out to intimidate the political leadership during a food shortage. After working closely with Robert Morris to resolve the nation's financial affairs, Wilson was appointed a director of the Bank of North America in 1781. In 1787 he was elected to the Constitutional Convention—one of the highlights of his career. Wilson was a leader both on the drafting committee and in floor debates. He was appointed associate justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1789; however, he was often suspected of using his influence to favor land speculators. Heavily in debt and suffering from physical and mental fatigue that made it impossible for him to work, James Wilson died in 1798, two weeks before his 56th birthday.
Charles Carroll - Maryland: A cultured man of extensive education and great wealth, Charles Carroll was the only Roman Catholic signer, the last signer to survive, and the longest-lived signer. He was born in 1737 in Annapolis, Maryland to a prosperous family of Irish descent. In 1765 on returning to Maryland after spending twenty years attending schools in France and England, Carroll immediately identified with the rebel cause, protesting the Stamp Act and advocating armed resistance with the goal of permanent separation from the crown. In 1773 he anonymously engaged the colony's royal leadership in a series of newspaper articles protesting the right of the British government to tax the colonies without representation. In the next several years he supported nonimportation measures, attended the first Maryland Revolutionary convention, and served on local and provincial committees of correspondence and councils of safety. In 1776 Carroll, along with Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Carroll's cousin, John Carroll, was appointed by the Second Continental Congress to a commission to urge Canadians to support the American colonies against the British. Congress had hoped that the Carrolls especially would be able to sway the support of the Catholic French Canadians but the effort was a failure. Although Maryland did not send a delegate to the First Continental Congress, Carroll was elected to the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. In 1778 he returned to Maryland to participate in the formation of the state government. His public service continued for more than a decade including simultaneous time served in both the United States Senate and the Maryland legislature. Charles Carroll died in 1832 at age 95.
Charles Carroll - Maryland: Letter from Charles Carroll of Carrollton dated July 21, 1792 to fellow signer James Wilson asking for information about land he is interested in purchasing and the conditions of sale. At this time, Carroll was serving both as a United States senator and as a state senator in the Maryland legislature.
Thomas Stone - Maryland: Thomas Stone was so cautious in his views regarding independence that he favored negotiations with the British not only before the Declaration was signed but also for a while afterward as well. Stone was born on his parents' plantation in Charles County, Maryland in 1743. Eventually becoming a wealthy planter and attorney, he studied with a tutor as a boy before apprenticing himself to an Annapolis lawyer. He was admitted to the bar in 1764 and set up his own law practice in Frederick, Maryland. Stone was elected to the Charles County committee of correspondence in 1773 and to the Continental Congress in 1775. An untalented speaker who was reticent in debates, he was active in committee work, including the committee that framed the Articles of Confederation. Stone served in the Maryland legislature from 1777 to 1781 and was reelected to the Continental Congress in 1783 where he served for a very brief time as acting president. Although he was elected to serve at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Stone declined the office due to his wife's failing health. When she died of smallpox in 1787, he sank into a deep depression that affected his health. Stone decided to sail to England when his doctor recommended travel to distract him, but he died suddenly while waiting for his ship in Alexandria, Virginia. Thomas Stone was 44 years old.
Samuel Chase - Maryland: A forceful and effective orator, Samuel Chase was an early, outspoken opponent of the British. He was born in Maryland in 1741. His mother died at his birth and his father, Thomas, a clergyman, provided him with a classical education at their home in Baltimore. Chase was admitted to the bar in 1761 and opened his own law practice in Annapolis. He was elected to the colonial legislature in 1764 and was so vehemently opposed to the crown government he joined those who burned in effigy the local stamp distributor in protest of the Stamp Act of 1765. In 1774 and 1775 he took part in the Maryland committee of correspondence, the committee of safety, and the provincial convention. Chase was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and is remembered as the person most responsible for persuading the Maryland delegation to vote for independence on July 2, 1776. In 1787 he was chosen but declined to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Although he later became a staunch Federalist, he at first opposed the adoption of a national constitution. Chase completed his career in the courts serving as chief justice of the criminal court of Baltimore beginning in 1788 and as chief justice of the Maryland Superior Court from 1791 to 1794. In 1796 he was appointed an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court and served in that capacity until his death. Although he was an able judge who delivered several important opinions, he was unable to curb his political partisanship on the bench. Eventually he was impeached, but not convicted, by the United States House of Representatives. Samuel Chase died in Baltimore in 1811 at age 70.
Samuel Chase - Maryland: Letter from Samuel Chase dated Philadelphia, August 25, 1777 to Governor Thomas Johnson regarding the Continental Army and Maryland militia in response to British incursion into the Chesapeake. Chase was serving as a Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress when he wrote this letter.
William Paca - Maryland: Although William Paca was an early revolutionary in a conservative colony, his role in national affairs was eclipsed by his dedicated state service. Paca was born in 1740 in Maryland to a family of Italian descent. He was tutored at home before attending the College of Philadelphia from which he earned a degree in 1759. He went on to study law both in England and in Maryland and opened his own law practice in Annapolis in 1764. Elected to the colonial legislature in 1768, Paca was a local leader in the patriot cause by the late 1770s. He joined the Maryland committee of correspondence and, along with Samuel Chase, led the successful drive against the poll tax levied by the royal governor. Paca was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774; however, his primary focus remained the well-being of his colony. During the mid to late 1770s, he helped draft the Maryland state constitution, sat on the local council of safety, completed a 2-year term in the Maryland senate, and served as a judge in the Maryland court system. Paca also served in the militia for a time and spent his own money outfitting troops. In 1782 he helped raise funds for the establishment of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, the state's first institute of higher learning. As governor of Maryland from 1782 to 1785, Paca was dedicated in particular to issues concerning the welfare of war veterans. In 1788 he was a delegate to the state convention to ratify the Federal Constitution. William Paca died in 1799 just days before his 59th birthday.
Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee - Virginia: One of the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee was born in 1732 at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was educated in England before returning home to his colony to begin a very active political career. In 1758 he was elected to the House of Burgesses where he represented Westmoreland County for seventeen years. A radical, unreserved patriot, Lee spoke out against the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts and was responsible for implementing the first boycott against the crown. In 1773 Lee, along with Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, organized a Virginia committee of correspondence. Lee was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and served as its president from 1784 to 1785. In Congress he was known for his oratory skills as he persistently argued in favor of the patriot cause. It was Lee who presented the resolution for independence to the Congress in 1776. He was elected to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 but refused to attend because the proposed Constitution lacked a bill of rights. His "Letters of the Federal Farmer to the Republican" laid out his reasons for opposing the Constitution and epitomized antifederalist sentiment. Lee entered the U.S. Senate in 1789 but resigned due to failing health in 1792, the year after he saw the Bill of Rights he campaigned so tirelessly for added to the U.S. Constitution. Richard Henry Lee died in 1794 at age 62.
Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee - Virginia: Letter sent from Richard Henry Lee to "the Honorable Doctor Nathaniel Peabody, member of Congress at Morristown," dated September 24, 1780, and largely concerning strategy for the recapture of Charlestown (now Charleston), South Carolina and other areas in the South.
Carter Braxton - Virginia: An alumnus of the College of William and Mary, Carter Braxton received his first-rate education with no career goal in mind. Born in 1736 to a wealthy, landowning family, he intended to live the life of a gentleman of leisure. In 1761 Braxton was elected to represent King William County in the House of Burgesses. He accepted a position on the council of safety in 1775 where he played an important role in preventing armed conflict in Virginia. On April 20, 1775, the day after Lexington and Concord, the royal governor seized the gunpowder in the Williamsburg magazine. As Patrick Henry led a group of Hanover County militia into Williamsburg with the intention of demanding either the return of the gunpowder or payment for it, Braxton met with crown officials and managed to convince them to pay for the powder. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, Braxton was critical of the independence movement. He was one of the more conservative Virginia signers and believed that a compromise could be reached between the colonies and the crown. Although he eventually yielded to the majority, he was not completely convinced and continued to express such doubts about popular government that he lost his congressional seat. He went on to win election to the state legislature where he served for the remainder of his life. Dashing his early expectations to live the life of a wealthy gentleman, Braxton lost his fortune during the war as the British destroyed his extensive landholdings and ruined his shipping business by capturing most of his vessels. Carter Braxton died in 1797 at age 61.
Thomas Jefferson - Virginia: A true Renaissance man, Thomas Jefferson's interests and accomplishments encompassed the full range of both the physical sciences and the humanities. A scholar possessed of a remarkably versatile mind, he explored linguistics, music, agriculture, botany, meteorology, and geology. He was equally successful as a lawyer, politician, diplomat, architect, and inventor. His ideas regarding the basic rights of individuals greatly contributed to the evolution of the country as we know it now. Jefferson was born in 1743 in Goochland (now Albemarle) County, Virginia. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1762 and went on to study law. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1769 and to the Continental Congress in 1775. Always more valuable for his writing skills than his oratory abilities, Jefferson was chosen as a member of the Committee of Five charged with drafting the Declaration of Independence. After an unsuccessful stint as governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781, Jefferson retired briefly before returning to public life in 1784. He succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France in 1785. When he returned home, he continued his public service as the country's first secretary of state, second vice president, and third president. He served two terms as president during which time he laid the foundation for the westward expansion of the country by overseeing the Louisiana Purchase, ordering the Lewis and Clark expedition, and establishing the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Jefferson retired to the home he designed and built, Monticello, in 1809 and spent the last years of his life establishing the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. When he found his finances in poor shape, he sold his extensive library to the government where it became the basis of the Library of Congress. Thomas Jefferson died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1826. Fellow president and signer John Adams died on the same day.
Thomas Nelson, Jr
Thomas Nelson, Jr. - Virginia: Thomas Nelson, Jr. was such a committed patriot that, according to family legend, he ordered his troops to fire on his own home during the siege of Yorktown when he heard that British troops might be hiding there. Nelson was born in Yorktown, Virginia in 1738. He earned a degree in 1761 from Cambridge University in England. That same year he returned home to Virginia to settle into the life of a wealthy plantation owner. In 1764 Nelson was elected to the House of Burgesses representing York County. He joined the Continental Congress in 1775 where he was outspoken about his desire to break with the crown. In 1777 Nelson was awarded the rank of brigadier general in the militia and was elected to the lower house of the Virginia legislature. The following spring Nelson, partially at his own expense, raised, outfitted, and trained a unit of light cavalry. He was reelected to Congress in 1779 but poor health caused him to return to Virginia several months later. He was sufficiently recovered in 1780 to obtain munitions and supplies for the militia, command troops, attend the legislature, and raise money to help subsidize the war. Nelson was particularly effective in soliciting funds from wealthy plantation owners, promising to repay the loans personally if the government failed to do so. When the British invaded Virginia in 1781, Nelson succeeded Thomas Jefferson as governor and served as both governor and commander in chief of the Virginia militia. He joined the siege of Yorktown with 3,000 Virginia troops. Tired and ill again, Nelson retired from public life after Yorktown. He had sacrificed much of his private wealth for the patriot cause and lived out his life in poverty. Thomas Nelson, Jr. died in 1789 at age 50.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Francis Lightfoot Lee - Virginia: Shy and somewhat eclipsed by his older brother and fellow signer, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee was born in 1734 at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia. As a younger son in a large family, he was educated at home and did not attend college. Although Lee preferred the quiet life of a country gentleman and was more a follower than a leader, he was as determined a patriot as his outspoken brother. Lee joined the patriot cause early, participating in most of the Virginia assemblies from the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 to the outbreak of hostilities ten years later. As a member of the House of Burgesses, he earned a reputation as a radical in league with Patrick Henry. He was sent to the Continental Congress in 1775. A weak speaker, Lee was quiet in debates but he was active in committee work. He provided service to both the military and marine committees as well as to the committee responsible for drafting the Articles of Confederation. Lee retired from Congress in 1779 and returned home to serve in the state senate for a time before retiring to private life. Francis Lightfoot Lee died in 1797 at age 62.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Francis Lightfoot Lee - Virginia: Letter sent by Francis Lightfoot Lee to his brother, William Lee, Esq., in London, dated July 18, 1773, regarding the incompetence of a Captain Rayson, whose services were employed for the shipment of tobacco. At the time this letter was written, Francis Lightfoot Lee was a plantation owner and a representative to the House of Burgesses from Richmond County, Virginia.
Benjamin Harrison - Virginia: Nicknamed"Falstaff of Congress" because of his large frame, good humor, and love of luxury and fine food, Benjamin Harrison was born in 1726 in Charles City County, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary for a time but was forced to abandon his studies when his father died. Harrison was one of the more conservative Virginia signers. While a member of the House of Burgesses, he refused to endorse Patrick Henry's resolutions urging civil disobedience as retaliation for the Stamp Act, even though he had served on the committee appointed to draft a protest of the act to Parliament. Harrison was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774. As chairman of the whole from spring 1776 to summer 1777, he chaired the debates leading up to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Although Harrison was usually quiet during debates, he was active on committees concerned with foreign affairs, marine, military, and financial matters. In 1777 he resigned from Congress to serve in the lower house of the Virginia legislature where he presided as speaker from 1778 to 1781. In 1781 he was elected governor of Virginia following Thomas Nelson's resignation and served three terms. His son, William Henry, and his great-grandson, Benjamin, served as the ninth and twenty-third presidents of the United States. Benjamin Harrison died in 1791 at age 65.
Benjamin Harrison - Virginia: Deed of sale signed by Benjamin Harrison and his wife, Elizabeth, on November 19, 1760, granting 620 ½ acres of land in the parish of Martins Brandon, Prince George's County, Virginia, to a Robert Harrison. At the time this deed was signed, Benjamin Harrison was a wealthy plantation owner representing Charles City County in the House of Burgesses.
George Wythe - Virginia: George Wythe was such a staunch and committed patriot that his inflammatory drafts of a protest of the Stamp Act to Parliament had to be greatly modified before being submitted. Wythe was born in 1726 on his family's plantation in Elizabeth City County, Virginia. Tutored by his mother at home as a young boy, he later was forced to abandon his studies at the College of William and Mary when he could not afford the tuition. Turning instead to a career in law, he was admitted to the bar in 1746. Wythe was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1755 where he served for twenty years. During this time he also served brief terms as attorney general of Virginia and as mayor of Williamsburg. His first love, however, was teaching and arguably his most valuable contribution to the new nation was in education. In 1779 Wythe became the first professor of law in an American college at the College of William and Mary. Having trained a young Thomas Jefferson during the 1760s, Wythe's students eventually included James Monroe, John Marshall, and Henry Clay. Although he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, he was more effective at the state level, helping to draft the state constitution, designing the state seal, and holding state-level offices including speaker of the lower house of the Virginia legislature and judge of the Virginia court of chancery. George Wythe died in 1806 at age 80 under suspicious circumstances. He was infamously poisoned by an heir who disagreed with the provisions of Wythe's will.
Edward Rutledge - South Carolina: At age 26, Edward Rutledge was the youngest delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was born in 1749 in Charleston (then Charlestown), South Carolina. Educated in the classics early in life, he also studied law at Oxford University in England. Rutledge returned to South Carolina in 1773 and almost immediately made a name for himself by obtaining the release of a newspaper publisher who had been imprisoned by the crown for printing an article critical of the Loyalist members of the colonial legislature. Rutledge was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and spent his first term overshadowed by some of the more mature South Carolina delegates including his brother-in-law, Arthur Middleton, and his father-in-law, Henry Middleton. By 1776, however, Rutledge found himself leader of his delegation when several of the more experienced members either became ill or were called away on business. In late 1776 Rutledge took leave from Congress to join the Charleston Battalion of Artillery in defense of his colony. He fought in several important battles and attained the rank of captain. When Charleston fell in 1780, Rutledge was captured by the British along with fellow signers Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward, Jr. He was released in July 1781 and was elected to the state legislature in 1782. A very active member, at one time Rutledge served concurrently on nineteen committees. Also, he was successful in pushing for the passage of a bill that allowed for the confiscation of property belonging to Loyalists. In 1798 Rutledge was elected governor of South Carolina. His health declined before he could complete his term, however, and he died in 1800 at age 50.
Thomas Lynch Jr
Thomas Lynch Jr. - South Carolina: One half of the only father-son team to serve concurrently in the Continental Congress, Thomas Lynch, Jr. is one of the more tragic figures among the signers. He was born in 1749 in Prince George's Parish (present Georgetown County), Winyaw, South Carolina. The privileged only son of a wealthy planter, Lynch attended Eton and the University of Cambridge before studying law for a time in London. He returned to South Carolina in 1772. Influenced by his father, a committed revolutionary, young Lynch attended the first and second provincial congresses and the first state legislature while his father served in the Continental Congress. In 1775, while serving as a captain in the First South Carolina Regiment, Lynch fell ill with a bilious fever during a recruiting trip to North Carolina. He never fully recovered and remained a partial invalid for the rest of his life. Early in 1776, the elder Lynch suffered a stroke and his colleagues elected his son to the Continental Congress. The father was too ill to attend the signing ceremony, but young Lynch signed the Declaration of Independence at age 27. He was the second-youngest signer after fellow South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge. Both men ill, father and son began their journey home in late 1776. While they were en route, the elder Lynch suffered a second, fatal stroke. Lynch, chronically ill himself, felt unable to continue in politics and retired to his plantation. In 1779 he boarded a ship bound for southern France, hoping that a change of climate would improve his health. The ship sank early in the voyage and all aboard were presumed lost at sea. Thomas Lynch, Jr. died at a younger age than any other signer. He was 30 years old.
Arthur Middleton - South Carolina: An avid revolutionary who supported radical measures, Arthur Middleton advocated the tarring and feathering of Loyalists and confiscation of their property. He was born in 1742 near Charleston (then Charlestown), South Carolina. The son of a wealthy planter, Middleton was educated at the University of Cambridge in England. He returned home in 1763 and was elected to the colonial legislature in 1764. While sitting on the first and second provisional assemblies in 1775 and 1776, he aided in organizing a night raid on public arms stores at Charleston before the royal governor could seize them, raised money for armed resistance, and recommended defense measures for Charleston Harbor. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776 to replace his father, Henry Middleton, who was ill. Middleton's attendance in Congress was intermittent after the signing as he was occupied with state matters. In 1780 he joined the South Carolina militia in the defense of Charleston. When Charleston fell, Middleton was captured by the British along with fellow signers Thomas Heyward, Jr. and Edward Rutledge. He was released in July 1781 to find most of his fortune lost and his property destroyed. After the war, he devoted much time to repairing the damage done to his plantation. He also served in the state legislature and was one of the original trustees of the College of Charleston. Arthur Middleton died in 1787 at age 44.
Arthur Middleton - South Carolina: Printed lending agreement form with manuscript insertions, signed by Arthur Middleton, June 5, 1782, in which he agreed to pay the necessary fee to the Library Company of Philadelphia if he failed to return the stated book on time and in good order.
Thomas Heyward Jr.
Thomas Heyward Jr. - South Carolina: Thomas Heyward, Jr. was born in 1746 in St. Helena's Parish (now Jasper County), South Carolina. The oldest son of a wealthy planter, he was educated in England before returning home to practice law. His political career began in 1772 when he was elected to the colonial legislature. In 1775 and 1776 he was active in the first and second provincial congresses, the council of safety, and the committee that drafted the state constitution. Heyward was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776 and was one of the few signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Leaving Congress in 1778, Heyward returned home to accept an appointment as a circuit judge. In 1779 he joined the state militia as captain of a battalion of artillery and was wounded during the Battle of Port Royal Island. While in command of a militia force during the siege of Charleston in 1780, he was taken prisoner by the British along with fellow South Carolina signers Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge. Shortly before his release in 1781, Heyward celebrated Independence Day by setting patriotic verses to the British national anthem, God Save the King. God Save the Thirteen States quickly became popular throughout the colonies. After he returned home, Heyward resumed his judgeship, served in the state legislature, and helped found the Agricultural Society of South Carolina. Thomas Heyward, Jr. died in 1809 at age 62.
Button Gwinnett - Georgia: Button Gwinnett may have been lured to America by dreams of striking it rich as a plantation owner, but political controversy and financial trouble marred his short tenure in Georgia. Gwinnett was born in Gloucestershire, England circa 1735. His unusual first name is after a branch of his mother's family. Gwinnett emigrated to Georgia circa 1765 and, despite having neither capital nor experience as a planter, purchased St. Catherine's Island off the Georgia coast. An unsuccessful farmer, he quickly sank deep into debt. His possessions were claimed by creditors who took over the island in 1773 although Gwinnett was permitted to maintain his home there. At first a reluctant revolutionary, his close friendship with fellow Georgia signer and ardent patriot Lyman Hall was likely the factor most responsible for Gwinnett's conversion to the patriot cause. Gwinnett served as justice of the peace in 1768 and 1769 and as a member of the Georgia colonial assembly in 1769. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776. He chose to return to state business soon after the signing and was instrumental in helping to draft a state constitution. Gwinnett was appointed to replace Archibald Bulloch as governor of Georgia after Bulloch's sudden death in March 1777, but he quickly clashed with an old rival, General Lachlan McIntosh, over what action to take against the Loyalist presence in Florida. Tensions mounting, Gwinnett challenged McIntosh to a duel. Both men were wounded. McIntosh survived, but Button Gwinnett died of his injuries. He was about 42 years old.
George Walton - Georgia: George Walton was born in the 1740s in Virginia to a family of little means. When he was orphaned early in life, an uncle apprenticed him to a carpenter. Drawing on an innate tenacity that would serve him well all his life, Walton was able to supplement his early independent study with some formal education once he was released from his apprenticeship. In 1769 he moved to Savannah to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1774. A committed revolutionary, Walton soon emerged as a leader of the patriot cause in Savannah. Beginning in 1774, he served on the committee of correspondence, as secretary of the provincial congress, and as president of the council of safety. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776 and served on committees concerned with western lands, national finance, and Indian affairs. In 1778 he was commissioned a colonel of the First Regiment of the Georgia Militia. Walton was wounded and captured by the British during the defense of Savannah in December 1778. He was exchanged for a British captain and released in September 1779. Walton's continued state and national service included serving as chief justice of the state superior court, delegate to the state constitutional convention, presidential elector, U.S. senator, and governor of Georgia. An advocate of higher education, Walton was a trustee and founder of Richmond Academy in Augusta and Franklin College (later the University of Georgia) in Athens. George Walton died in 1804 in his mid to late 50s.
Lyman Hall - Georgia: An ordained minister who later turned to medicine, Lyman Hall was born in Connecticut in 1724. He graduated from Yale College in 1747. In 1758 Hall joined a group of New Englanders who relocated to Georgia and established the town of Sunbury in St. John's Parish. Doctors were scarce there and Hall's medical practice thrived. A fierce revolutionary in the New England tradition, Hall joined other local transplanted northerners in encouraging Georgia natives to support the patriot cause. St. John's Parish, guided by Hall, was a revolutionary stronghold in a mostly Loyalist colony. The youngest, poorest, and most remote colony, Georgia was last to join the Continental Association. As disagreements with the crown grew more serious, Hall was frustrated by the failure of revolutionary conventions he attended at Savannah in 1774 and 1775 to send delegates to the Continental Congress. Ready to secede from the colony if necessary, his parish held its own convention in March 1775 and sent Hall as its own "delegate" to Congress. Hall was admitted to the Continental Congress as a nonvoting member. In July 1775 Georgia sanctioned Hall's presence at Congress and appointed four additional delegates. Hall's plantation was destroyed and his property confiscated during the fall of Savannah in 1778. He retired to the relative safety of the north for a few years before returning to Georgia after the war to resume his medical practice. In 1783 he was elected to the state legislature and then the governorship. Lyman Hall died in 1790 at age 66.
William Hooper - North Carolina: An ambivalent politician whose allegiances shifted throughout his life, William Hooper was never able to establish a solid political following. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1742. His father, a Loyalist and a minister, expected his son to join the clergy as well. Hooper decided instead to study law with James Otis, a radical lawyer. The combination of his career choice and revolutionary politics alienated Hooper from his family and precipitated his relocation to Wilmington, North Carolina. Successful in his law practice, he also had political aspirations which were motivated sometimes by self-interest and sometimes by patriotism. In 1770 Hooper was appointed deputy attorney general of North Carolina. Thinking of his own economic interests, he sided with the royal governor in a conflict with a group of North Carolina frontiersmen who were rebelling against government corruption. His loyalty to the crown faded quickly, however, and in 1774 he was elected to the First Continental Congress. Hooper resigned from Congress in 1777 and returned to his estate outside Wilmington. When the British invaded North Carolina in 1780, he sent his family into Wilmington for their safety. Away on business when the city fell to the British in January 1781, he was separated from his family for ten months. When the British evacuated Wilmington, Hooper returned home to find his family safe but his property destroyed. After the war, he reverted to a more conservative political philosophy which caused him to lose favor among the populace. He never regained his political footing. William Hooper died in 1790 at age 48.
Joseph Hewes - North Carolina: A dedicated patriot who was known for his outstanding work ethic, Joseph Hewes was born near Princeton, New Jersey in 1730. He attended local schools before being apprenticed to a Philadelphia merchant to learn a trade. In about 1760 he moved to the seaport town of Edenton, North Carolina where he established a very profitable shipping business. A well-liked member of the community, Hewes quickly became involved in politics. He was elected to the provincial assembly in 1766, the committee of correspondence in 1773, and the provincial legislature in 1774 where he helped to overthrow the royal government. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774 where he served on the marine committee and vigorously supported nonimportation measures even though it meant personal financial loss. A friend and advocate of John Paul Jones, Hewes nominated Jones for one of the nation's first naval captaincies. Another important member of the marine committee, John Adams of Massachusetts, objected to the nomination because Jones was a Virginian. Adams insisted that all captaincies should go to New Englanders since the northerners in Congress had already conceded to the southerners by choosing Virginian George Washington to serve as commander in chief of the Continental Army. As a result, the most honored naval hero of the American Revolution received only a lieutenant's commission. Hewes was reelected to Congress in 1779, but he died of fatigue and overwork not long after the beginning of his term. Joseph Hewes was 49 years old.
John Penn - North Carolina: Highly intelligent and determined, John Penn was almost entirely self-educated. He was born in 1741 in Caroline County, Virginia. After practicing law in his home state for several years, he moved to Granville County, North Carolina in 1774. Talented and industrious, Penn was also unassuming and likable. He quickly became popular in his adopted colony and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775. He was one of the few signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Penn rarely quarreled with others; however, a disagreement with president of Congress Henry Laurens of South Carolina degenerated to the point where Laurens challenged Penn to a duel. A natural peacemaker, Penn managed to convince Laurens to end their feud even as they were traveling to the proposed duel site. In 1780 Penn was appointed to the North Carolina Board of War. The three-man board was dissolved early in 1781, however, as others occupying positions of authority in the state objected to the board's wide-ranging powers. His health deteriorating, Penn declined an appointment to the Governor's Council in July 1781. Although he served as state tax receiver for a short time in 1784, he devoted most of the rest of his life to his law practice. John Penn died in 1788 at age 47.