Monday, July 04, 2005

Have You Ever Wondered What Happened To The 56 Men Who Signed The Declaration Of Independence?

*Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. [Heyward, Rutledge, Walton and Middleton were captured as prisoners of war while leading military action. They were detained for about a year and then released. Stockton was captured in late 1776 for his defiance of the British but was released sometime in 1777 in a prisoner-of-war trade. I presume the prison conditions were horrible, but I was unable to find specific mention of torture. None of the men died in British captivity. Stockton never recovered from an illness contracted in prison but survived until 1781. The other men lived until 1809, 1800, 1804 and 1787, respectively.]

*Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. [I count at least 15 whose homes and possessions were destroyed by the British or Hessians: Ellery, M'Kean, Hall, Clymer, Heyward, Middleton, Nelson, Lewis, Hart, Morris, Livingston, Floyd, Hooper, Stockton, and Hopkinson]

*Two [Witherspoon, ?] lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another [Clark] had two sons captured.

*Nine of the 56 [I count at least ten: Heyward (wounded), Rutledge, Walton (wounded), Middleton, Whipple (lost leg), Wolcott, Nelson, Ross, M'Kean, and Rodney, were all military leaders in the war] fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. [They all suffered great hardships, but I can't find any who died in action. The earliest to die, Ross, died from complications of gout. M'Kean lived until 1817.]

*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. [My counts are similar -- plus five doctors, a minister, a shipbuilder, and Benjamin Franklin, who is difficult to categorize!] However, they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

*Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. [true] He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. [His war losses were compounded by other severe commercial setbacks, although he was able to retain his family home, Chericoke, where he was buried in 1797.]

*Thomas McKeam [M'Kean] was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. [His family was forced to move several times.] His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. [He continued to serve in a number of high ranking political offices and left a substantial estate consisting of stocks, bonds, and huge tracts of land in Pennsylvania when he died in 1817.]

*Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery [probably Ellery], Hall, Clymer, Walton , Gwinnett , Heyward, Ruttledge [spelled "Rutledge"], and Middleton. [I can't confirm vandalism or property destruction for Walton or Rutledge. The British stole some of Gwinnett's livestock, but he lost most of his holdings to creditors before the war]

*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 General George Washington to open fire. The home was completely destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. [I read three accounts that differed in detail, but had much the same substance.]

*Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. [Yes] The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. [His wife was in prison for six months; she lived about two years after the ordeal.]

*John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. [Ill at the time of the attack (winter of 1776-77), she died while he was in hiding.] Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. [True] For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. [True] A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. [He died in 1979, from ill health he contracted during his exile].

*Norris [probably "Morris"] and Livingston suffered similar fates. [Both from New York, their properties were destroyed by advancing British troops.]

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 never told you a lot of what happened in the Revolutionary War. Some of us take our liberties so much for granted . . . we shouldn't!

Please take a few moments while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank God for these patriots. It's not too much to ask for the price of freedom.