The Signers of the Declaration of Independence: They Risked All For the Liberty We Enjoy

As we enjoy our 4th of July celebrations, take a moment to reflect on those quaint men in powdered wigs men who gathered together back in Philadelphia in 1776.

We all have heard of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin; John Hancock and Samuel Adams (the only one to have a beer named after him).

But  have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the
Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British in later battles, and became prisoners of war.
Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Richard Stockton of New Jersey had evacuated his family to New York, where one night he was dragged from his bed by local Tories and jailed at the infamous Provost Jail like a common criminal.

John Witherspoon, also of New Jersey, lost a son at the Battle of Germantown in October 1777.  Another, Abraham Clark, had two sons captured and imprisoned on a British prison barge.

Nine of the 56 served in the Continental Army and died during the course of the Revolutionary War.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept
from the seas by the British Navy. He was forced to sell his home and properties to pay his debts. He never recovered his fortune.

Thomas McKeam was “hunted” by the British “like a fox”; forced to move his
family almost constantly.  He served in the Congress without pay, and his
family was kept in hiding.

Soldiers looted the properties of Ellery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates, there property appropriated for military use. John Hart was driven from his farm and forced to hid in forests and caves for a month. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed.  The enemy jailed his
wife on Long Island for several months, and though released her health continued to deteriorate. She died a few years later, never fully recovering from her ordeal.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson pointed out his own house to American gunners, suggesting that as it was the finest in the town, it no doubt had been taken and was being used by British General Cornwallis as his headquarters. He urged the Marquis de Lafayette  to open fire upon it. Several British officers dinning within were killed by the cannon fire.

The home of Thomas Nelson, Yorktown

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  What kind of men were they?

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

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were
not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and
education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight,
and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on
the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our
fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

They gave you and me a free and independent America.  The history books
tell about the battles of the Revolutionary War. But they don’t always tell the full story of these brave men who risked everything to stand up for liberty, against their own government; the most powerful empire in the world at that time.

Some of us take these liberties so much for granted…We shouldn’t.

So, take a couple of minutes while enjoying each and every 4th of July holiday, and
silently thank these patriots.  It’s not much to ask for the price they paid. And remember:

FREEDOM IS NEVER FREE!

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