HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 56 MEN WHO SIGNED THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE?
Nine of the 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured as traitors, then died. Two had sons serving in the Revolutionary Army who died.
They signed the Declaration knowing it was a declaration of treason to England. They knew if captured, they would be subject to the worst of deaths (“hung, drawn and quartered”), their possessions would be forfeited to the English government, and their family would be homeless and destitute, thence imprisoned. The signers of the Declaration had much to lose.
What kind of men were they? They all were men of means, well educated, and well respected. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were large plantation owners. They were intelligent, and they were committed to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
We have already mentioned those signers who died in the war (14 out of 56, that’s 25%). What about the rest?
Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Eight more (Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton) had their homes and buildings looted by Tories or English soldiers. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British who were trying to capture him that he was forced to move his family almost constantly from one hiding place to another. His home and possessions were taken from him, and he died in poverty. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, had his fleet of ships sunk by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in poverty.
Some voluntarily gave all that they had as personal possessions or wealth. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged the American generals to have artillery open fire on the house. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Some had the heartbreak of having wives die from the fighting. Francis Lewis went into hiding from the English forces seeking to find and kill him as a traitor. He had his home and properties destroyed. The English jailed his wife as the wife of a traitor, and she died within a few months.
John Hart was driven by oncoming English army men from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. He and his 13 children fled the house for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were burned by the English. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.
Some of us take our American liberties as normal. They are not. Most of the world has never had such liberty and never will in the foreseeable future.
Freedom is never free! Unabashed patriotism is NOT a sin. The Fourth of July is not only a day to have a picnic; it is the occasion for us to remember what happened on July 4th, 1776!
Men and their families fought and died in a war built on the ideals of what was to become a new nation, conceived in liberty and brought forth for others, including us. Remember that!