The Brave Men Who Signed the Declaration

Cameron Smyth Commentary, Right Here Right Now

The 4th of July has forever been my favorite holiday in Santa Clarita. Old traditions like the parade and pancake breakfast now merge perfectly with newer ones like the 5/10k run and the numerous firework shows. Like many of us who grew up in Santa Clarita, I am now able to enjoy the day through the eyes of my own children and nothing beats it.

I also love the history of Independence Day and the bravery taken by the original 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. We all know Franklin, Adams, Hancock and Jefferson and their role in guiding our nation, but what of the others? Men who didn’t become President or have their faces placed on our currency. What happened to them? Thanks to the many historians of today (and the past) these courageous men were not forgotten and I can share some of their stories with you.

Francis Lewis, New York: his home and estates plundered and destroyed by British Soldiers. His wife was captured and though later exchanged for two British prisoners, she died from the effects of the abuse suffered during her imprisonment.

William Floyd, New York: escaped with his wife and children across Long Island Sound to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees for nearly a decade.

Philips Livingstone, New York: all his holdings were confiscated and his family driven out of their home.

Louis Morris, New York: saw all his commodities (Lumber, crops, livestock) taken. He was barred from his home and family until the end of the war.

John Hart, New Jersey: One of the older delegates at 65, he risked his life to return home to see his dying wife only to be forced into the woods by pursuing soldiers. When he finally reached home he found his farm burned, but more tragically his wife was dead, and his 13 children taken away. He died in 1779, without ever finding his family.

Richard Stockton, New Jersey: rushed back home to evacuate his wife and children. Despite finding refuge, they were ultimately betrayed as Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and brutally beaten and thrown into jail where he was deliberately starved. Eventually he was released after being starved and becoming an invalid, He returned home to find his estate looted and his family was forced to live off charity.

Robert Morris, Pennsylvania: He met Washington’s continual pleas for money during the war. He built and raised arms and provisions making it possible for Washington to cross the Delaware. In the process of supporting the war effort, he lost 150 ships, nearly going bankrupt.

George Clymer, Pennsylvania: escaped with his family, but their property was completely destroyed by the British.

Dr. Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania: forced to flee to Maryland. As a surgeon with the army, Rush saved the lives of countless soldiers.

John Martin, Pennsylvania: After signing, he was ostracized by many neighbors and relatives He died lonely and broken in 1777.

William Ellery, Rhode Island: His property and home burned to the ground.

Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., South Carolina: All three were taken by the British during the siege of Charleston and held as POWs. Eventually exchanged at the end of the war, they were released to learn the British fully devastated their significant landholdings and estates.

Thomas Nelson, Virginia: While in command of the Virginia military forces, he himself fired the shot which destroyed his own home which was being used as the British headquarters by General Cornwallis. If that wasn’t enough, he raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own holdings. When the loans came due, Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson’s property was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. He died broke at the age of 50.

Quite possible the most tragic fate befell Abraham Clark of New Jersey: Two sons who joined the officer corps were captured and sent to the British prison ship called “hell ship Jersey”. The men were treated with a special brutality because of their father. With the war concluding, Clark was offered his sons’ lives if he would simply recant his signature and come out for the King and Parliament. His answer? “No.”

Although space prevents me from giving a full account of all 56, I encourage you to do like I did this week and look up all the men who risked, (and gave up), everything for their independence. No matter your political views, you will be moved by their courage and self-sacrifice to forge our nation – the United States of America.