Whatever Happened To ...?


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

Five signers were captured by the British and brutally tortured as traitors.

At least twelve of the fifty-six had their homes pillaged and burned.

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army.  Another two had sons captured.

Nine fought in the War for Independence and died from wounds or from hardships they suffered.


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 or large plantation owners.  One was a teacher, one a musician, and one a printer.  They were men of means and education who launched the Ship of State which you and I have inherited.  Yet, they signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing full well that the penalty could be death if they were captured.

When these courageous men signed, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom and independence.

In the face of the advancing British Army, the Continental Congress fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore on December 12, 1776.


It was an especially anxious time for John Hancock, the President, as his wife had just given birth to a baby girl.  Due to the complications stemming from the trip to Baltimore, the child lived only a few months.

William Ellery's signing at the risk of his fortune, proved only too realistic.  In December 1776, during three days of British occupation of Newport, Rhode Island, Ellery's house was burned and all his property was destroyed.

Richard Stockton, a New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice, had rushed back to his estate near Princeton after signing the Declaration only to find that his wife and children were living like refugees with friends.  They had been betrayed by a Tory sympathizer who also revealed Stockton's own whereabouts.  British troops pulled him from his bed one night, beat him and threw him in jail where he almost starved to death.  When he was finally released, he went home to find his estate had been looted, his possessions burned, and his horses stolen.  Judge Stockton had been so badly treated in prison that his health was ruined and he died before the war's end.  His surviving family had to live the remainder of their lives off charity.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, was a wealthy planter and trader.  One by one, his ships were captured by the British navy.  He loaned a large sum of money to the American cause; it was never paid back.  He was forced to sell his plantations and mortgage his other properties to pay his debts.  He died in rags.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British, that he was forced to move his family almost constantly.  He served in the Continental Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding.  His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers or both looted the properties of
George Clymer, William Ellery, Lyman Hall, George Walton, Button Gwinnett, Benjamin Harrison, Francis Hopkinson and Philip Livingston.  Seventeen lost everything they owned.

Thomas Heyward, Jr., Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton, all of South Carolina, were captured by the British during the Charleston Campaign in 1780.  They were kept in dungeons at the St. Augustine Prison until exchanged a year later.

Francis Lewis also had his home and properties destroyed.  The enemy jailed his wife for two months, and that, and other hardships from the war, so affected her health, that she died within a few months.

At the Battle of Yorktown,
Thomas Nelson Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over his family home for his headquarters.  Nelson urged General George Washington to open fire upon his own home.  The home was destroyed.  Nelson later died bankrupt.

"Honest John" Hart, a New Jersey farmer, was driven from his wife's bedside when she was near death.  Their thirteen children fled for their lives.  His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste.  For over a year, he eluded capture by hiding in nearby forests.  He never knew where his bed would be the next night and often slept in caves.  When he finally returned home, he found that his wife had died, his children vanished, and his farm and stock were completely destroyed.  Hart himself died in 1779 without ever seeing any of his family again.


Such were the stories and sacrifices typical of those who risked everything to sign the Declaration of Independence.  These men were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians.  They were soft-spoken men of means and education.  They had security, but they valued their liberty even more.

Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged:

"For the support of this declaration, with a 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.  We didn't just fight the British.  We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government!

They gave us an independent America.  Some of us take these liberties so much for granted ... we shouldn't.

So, take a couple of minutes while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank these patriots.

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