The Declaration of Independence
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons is the Continental Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
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.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Royal Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKean of Delaware 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 possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals, soldiers, or both, looted the properties of Ellery of Rhode Island, Clymer of Pennsylvania, Hall of Georgia, Walton of Georgia, Gwinnett of Georgia, Heyward of South Carolina, Ruttledge of South Carolina, and Middleton of South Carolina.
At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis of New York had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.
John Hart of New Jersey was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his grist mill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Lewis Morris of New York and Philip Livingston of New York suffered similar fates.
Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were among prominent Americans well known in England. Yet both signed the enthusiastically, knowing they would be hanged if caught and even if they escaped, Jefferson was risking Monticello and Franklin his wealth and world prestige in independence was not secured.
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."
Copyright 2005 by Jim Jenkins. All rights reserved.