Declaration Of Independence

What happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? 

Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Every 4th of July, Americans celebrate the birth of our nation. As in all births, blood is spilled. 

In 1776, if you stood against the King of England and his British Red Coats, you were a traitor. But if you were a signer of the Declaration Of Independence, that was treason. 56 men signed the document declaring that America was free from the tyranny of King George the Third. In the weeks and months following this heroic act, many suffered the wrath of King George, either directly because of their actions, or simply from the ravages of the war itself. Here are some of their stories.

Four of the signers were captured as prisoners of war after actively engaged in military operations against the British. Richard Stockton of New Jersey was dragged from his bed by night after he had evacuated his family safely, being imprisoned in New York City's infamously harsh Provost Jail. George Walton was captured after being wounded while commanding militia at the Battle of Savannah in December 1778, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge were taken prisoner at the Siege of Charleston in May in 1780. Many Americans had their homes ransacked, looted, vandalized and even burned during the war because of their stance for independence from Britain. Abraham Clark of New Jersey saw two of his sons captured by the British and incarcerated on the prison ship Jersey. John Witherspoon, also of New Jersey, saw his eldest son, James, killed in the Battle of Germantown in October of 1777. Nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence ultimately died during the course of the Revolutionary War.

Who were these men who dared to stand against a cruel, tyrannical leader and his brutal army? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners, 27 were trained as Christian ministers; most of them men of means and well educated. But they all signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty of such action could be death if they were captured by the British.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, having invested heavily in shipping, saw many of his ships appropriated, sunk or captured by the British Navy. To cover the cost of the ships lost during the war, he sold his home and properties to pay his debts.

Carter Braxton

In a letter to his friend, John Adams in 1777, Thomas McKean describes how he was "hunted like a fox by the enemy" and was forced to move his family repeatedly due to his military participation in the war as a leader of a militia. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family had to be kept in hiding until the war was over.

Thomas McKean

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Ellery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. History records that he quietly urged his commander to open fire upon his own dwelling, partially destroying his home. Today the National Park Service notes that the house still shows "evidence of damage from cannon fire."

Thomas Nelson Jr.

Francis Lewis, who represented New York in the Continental Congress, had his Long Island home raided by the British and properties destroyed shortly after signing the Declaration of Independence. The British jailed his wife and held her in prison for several months, finally releasing her due to severe illness which she would eventually die from.

Francis Lewis

John Hart's house was looted and his fields and gristmill were laid to waste during the course of the Revolutionary War. He was forced to live on the run following the raid, hiding in the nearby mountains, forests and caves until the Continental Army recaptured the area.

John Hart

Lewis Morris saw his home appropriated, looted, and burned by the British when they occupied New York. Philip Livingston lost several properties to the British occupation of New York, selling off others for money to support the war effort before his sudden death in 1778.

Lewis Morris

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the designers and participants of the American Revolution. The signers of the Declaration of Independence took an additional huge risk in daring to put their names on a document that repudiated the established government. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. Most were soft-spoken men of means and education. Many had security and happy, stable lives under British rule, but they valued liberty more and pledged their lives for the new country that would follow.

It begs to ask the question, how much would we be willing to give up, to ensure that the freedom these brave men, and the thousands that fought after them, will remain and never be taken away?

© 2010-2022 Robert Whitehurst - All rights reserved

May not be duplicated without permission

Copyrights to all artwork belong to each copyright holder

Note: The above essay has been updated and meticulously fact checked according to historical records.