<The Case for Independence

The Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Who voted for the Declaration of Independence?

Congress voted on June 10, 1776 to create a committee to draft a declaration, and on June 11 appointed Thomas Jefferson (VA), John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Roger Sherman (CT), and Robert Livingston (NY) to that committee. July 1 was designated to be decision day on the Virginia motion for Independence after months of going back and forth over whether to reconcile or become independent. The resolution passed on 9-2-1-1 vote. Jefferson’s recollection was that “S. Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against it. Delaware having but two members present, they were divided” and the delegates from New York abstained because their instructions were to seek reconciliation. “Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina then requested the determination might be put off to the next day, as he believed his colleagues, though they disapproved of the resolution, would then join in it for the sake of unanimity.” Virginia’s motion for independence was finally approved by twelve out of thirteen states in the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. Both South Carolina and Pennsylvania changed their vote to yes and according to Jefferson there was a price to pay: the language of the Declaration was toned down and the explicit condemnation of slavery was removed. Caesar Rodney rode through the night and broke the deadlock in the Delaware delegation. And the New York delegates wrote to the New York Provincial Congress requesting that they be permitted to vote for Independence. No wonder that John Adams thought that July 2 was a day of celebration. Delegates then turned their attention to debate the language of the Declaration of Independence. Multiple printed drafts were in circulation among delegates during the debates on July 2-4 (see for example Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence as recorded in his Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress), but all of these printed draft versions have been lost. After editing the language, the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress, “[T]he debates having taken up the greater parts of the 2d. 3d. & 4th. days of July were, in the evening of the last closed. the declaration was reported by the commee., agreed to by the house, and signed by every member present except Mr. Dickinson.” This claim has been challenged by a statement made by delegate Thomas McKean, who later wrote that no one signed a copy of the Declaration of Independence on July 4. It seems that Jefferson may have meant that all delegates present on July 4 “signed” or “signaled” or “indicated” their approval of the document, except Dickinson whose vote was no longer needed for Pennsylvania to vote yes, rather than “signed” in the sense of writing their names.

Which delegates were present on July 4 for the vote? The Secretary for Congress, Charles Thomson, did not record the day-by-day attendance in Congress and only sporadically noted when delegates arrived or left. Some evidence can be pieced together from other sources, such as letters or delegate credentials issued by state legislatures. Based on the limited evidence, and in light of Jefferson’s note on the debates on July 4, it is likely that between 34 and 41 delegates were present to approve the Declaration of Independence on July 4. In the near future we plan to create an attendance chart, based on available sources, of which delegates were present in Congress throughout 1776.

Why was the Declaration of Independence signed on August 2, 1776?

Why did delegates sign a copy of the Declaration of Independence on August 2 rather than July 4? One must consider certain difficulties and complications, such as the manner in which delegations in Congress received authorization to approve independence, the varying attendance of certain delegates, and even the process of creating a formal document for signing.

The manner in which delegates in Congress were authorized to vote for independence greatly complicated the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is important to remember that votes in the Continental Congress were taken by state delegations as a whole – one state, one vote. When the votes were taken on independence on July 2 and on the Declaration of Independence on July 4, every state delegation in Congress except New York had received approval to vote for independence. Each state had held a convention, authorized by their state legislature, to debate the question of independence. State legislatures then notified their delegations in Congress once their state convention had approved independence. On July 2, therefore, the New York delegation did not vote on the question of independence, and it is likely that its delegates were not present on July 4 for the vote on the Declaration of Independence. 

Dunlap Broadside

On July 4, Congress resolved, “That the declaration be authenticated and printed [and that] the committee appointed to prepare the declaration, superintend and correct the press.” The Dunlap broadsides were printed on the night of July 4, 1776, by order of Congress, by John Dunlap, from his shop near the corner of 2nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia. [See map of Philadelphia]. This first printed version of the Declaration of Independence was printed on a broad piece of paper and only on one side. 200 copies were printed and sent to the states and the army. According to the Journal, copies were “sent to the several assemblies, conventions, and committees, or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops” with the purpose “that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the army.”

The delay in approval for the New York delegation complicated both the signing and the printing of the Declaration of Independence. The original handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence approved on July 4 included following title: “IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776. THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” New York, however, had not voted on July 2 or July 4, so the “unanimous” language in the title of the original handwritten version was not, strictly speaking, accurate. The title in the Dunlap Broadside, therefore, was changed to read, “IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776. A DECLARATION BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GENERAL CONGRESS ASSEMBLED.” This printed version of the Declaration of Independence was signed only by President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson.

This suggests that Congress was restraining itself in the Dunlap Broadside to publishing what was strictly true and legal. In this first public version of the Declaration of Independence, the language of “unanimous” had to be removed, since New York had not yet approved independence. This also likely explains why only the signatures of Hancock and Thomson were included on the Dunlap Broadside, rather than of all delegates who voted for the Declaration of Independence on July 4. The omission of the signatures of New York delegates would have been glaringly obvious to the public; furthermore, the omission of New York’s signatures would be permanently on the public record, despite the fact that New York delegates had actually wanted to vote “yes” on both independence and the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, Congress anticipated that approval for independence from the New York convention would arrive very shortly after July 4. The form of the Dunlap Broadside, therefore, reveals that it is a temporary – one might say temporizing – act on the part of Congress, which would allow for the immediate distribution of the Declaration of Independence to the public, but also ultimately give New York delegates the opportunity to sign a later copy of the Declaration of Independence that included the language of “unanimous” after they had received legal permission to do so.

That, of course, is exactly what happened. The New York state convention approved independence on July 9, and the New York delegates in Congress received written permission from their state legislature to approve independence on July 15.

Matlack “Parchment” Copy

After New York had approved independence, Congress passed, on July 19, the following resolution: “Resolved That the Declaration passed on the 4th be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile of “The unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America” & that the same when engrossed be signed by every member of Congress.” “Fairly engross” at that time meant to create an official document written in large script. Clerk to the secretary of the Second Continental Congress, Timothy Matlack, printed this version of Declaration of Independence by hand (Matlack was also influential in drafting Pennsylvania’s state constitution).

This handwritten copy, known as the Matlack Parchment version of the Declaration of Independence, reinserted the following original language in the title: “IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776. THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” – since New York had now officially approved independence. The delay after July 4 was the necessary result of having an official version “fairly engrossed” with the language of “UNANIMOUS” that could be legally signed by all state delegations in Congress, including New York. This version signed on August 2 thus highlights rather than obscures the importance of the events of July 4, 1776 – the Declaration of Independence had been restored to its original form of July 4th with the reinsertion of the language of “unanimous.”

This copy would be signed by 49 delegates on August 2, 1776, and by seven more delegates over the next few months, as delegates arrived in Philadelphia after election or re-election to Congress. These delegates signed the Matlack Parchment version between August 2 and either November 1776 or January 1777 (the exact date of the last signer, Thomas McKean, is uncertain). The delegates signed their names starting with the New Hampshire delegates in the first column on the right, and then moved from North to South.

A Mystery in the Journals of Congress

The entry for July 4 in the Journals of the Continental Congress presents us with something of a mystery. It reads, “The foregoing declaration was, by order of Congress, engrossed, and signed by the following members,” which is followed the names of all 56 delegates who would later sign the Matlack Parchment version of the Declaration of Independence. However, this includes the names of delegates who were not present in Congress on July 4. This means that the Journal entry for July 4 was amended later – likely in the early 1820s by the editors of the Journals of Congress as the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence approached. Or perhaps even later when Washington Chauncey Ford et al edited the Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 issued by the Government Printing Office between 1904 and 1937. The fact that the signers are added to the Journal on July 4 rather than August 2 highlights the act of approving the Declaration of Independence rather than simply the act of signing it. In other words, by including the names of all 56 signers in the Journal entry for July 4, the editor combined the importance of both approving and signing. It is worth noting that July 4 was accepted as THE day of Independence very early on. The Second Continental Congress in 1777 observed July 4, 1776 as the day of Independence. This is the first year after Independence had been declared. And the Constitutional Convention of 1787 also observed July 4. The last entry in Madison’s Debates for Monday, July 2 reads: “That time might be given to the Committee [the Gerry Committee to draft the Connecticut Compromise], and to such as choose to attend the celebrations on the anniversary of Independence the Convention adjourned till Thursday.” Some historians claim that the fact that Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, created a subsequent mythology about the importance of July 4. But we have shown that July 4 was important from the very founding itself.

Goddard Broadside

On January 18, 1777, Congress commissioned Mary Katherine Goddard of Maryland (Congress had moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore in December 1776 because of the war) to print a copy of the Declaration for the public that would, for the first time, include the signatures of the signers. 

This version of the Declaration of Independence, known as the Goddard Broadside, included the heading, “IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776. THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” However, it only listed the printed names of 55 signers. Why is one signer missing? It could be that the printer, Mary Katherine Goddard, made a mistake in listing the names. It is more likely, however, that she included the names of all the delegates who had signed the Matlack Parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence between August 2 and November, 1776. Whose name is missing? Thomas McKean of Delaware is missing from the list of signers in the Goddard Broadside, which suggests that he did not sign the Matlack Parchment copy until after January 18, 1777. In the Goddard Broadside, John Hancock remains at the top and center, but Secretary Charles Thomson is moved to the bottom of the page, and the other signers are made more prominent. Hancock also signs at the bottom as President (his name appears on the Goddard Broadside in three places). The date next to “In Congress” on the document is not July 4, but January 18, 1777. 

Who signed – and did not sign?

Who signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776 – and who did not sign that day? It is difficult to conclusively answer that question. The record of attendance in Congress is complicated by the manner in which delegates were appointed to Congress by their state legislatures. Annual appointments of delegates by state legislatures occurred at different times of the year in 1776 – some in the spring, some in the summer, and some in late fall. From the currently available records, however, we can confirm that some delegates were present or absent on August 2, 1776.

There were several elected delegates who were absent from Congress on July 4 but who signed the Declaration of Independence on or after August 2. Richard Henry Lee, who had introduced the motion for independence in June, and George Wythe were both in Virginia and not present for the votes on July 2 and 4. Lee returned to Congress on August 27, and Wythe returned between August 2 and September 14; both probably signed the Matlack Parchment version of the Declaration of Independence in September. Delegates Elbridge Gerry (MA), Oliver Wolcott (CT), William Hooper (NC), and Samuel Chase (MD) were away on other business on July 4 but returned and signed in August. Lewis Morris of New York was not authorized to sign on July 4 but returned and signed in August. And Thomas McKean of Delaware, as noted above, returned to Congress and signed either in September, 1776 or January, 1777. George Read of Delaware voted against independence on July 2, and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania abstained on the vote for independence, but both signed the Declaration of Independence in August. Seven signers had not been elected as delegates to Congress until after July 4: William Williams of Connecticut, Charles Carroll of Carrollton from Maryland, and Benjamin Rush, George Clymer, James Smith, and George Taylor of Pennsylvania signed in August, and Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire signed in early November of 1776. Some delegates to Congress who favored independence did not sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2. For example, as delegates from New York, Robert Livingston (who had been on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence), George Clinton, and Henry Wisner had not been authorized by their state convention to approve independence, and these delegates did not return to Congress after their terms had expired between July 4 and August 2. Another New York delegate, John Alsop, opposed independence and resigned from Congress on July 4. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania also opposed independence, resigned from Congress on July 2, and did not return to Congress until 1779. Two other delegates from Pennsylvania – Charles Humphreys and Thomas Willing – opposed independence, were not present on July 4, and were replaced in the Pennsylvania delegation before August 2. John Rogers of Maryland voted for independence on July 2 but was away from Congress on July 4 and did not return as a delegate in August.

John Quincy Adams and the Stone Engraving

The hand-printed Matlack Parchment version of the Declaration of Independence, which included the names of all 56 signers, still exists but is barely legible because of improper storage and care. Throughout the Revolutionary War, this copy moved with Congress every time it relocated to avoid the British military. As the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence drew near, the document was quite damaged and already noticeably fading. In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned printer William J. Stone to create an engraving that was meant to reproduce the Matlack Parchment copy as closely as possible. At this time, only three signers of the Declaration were still alive – John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Stone’s engraving was finished in 1823 and Congress authorized 200 copies to be printed on parchment. This is the version of the Declaration of Independence most of us are familiar with today, as all modern printings of the Declaration are reproduced from the Stone engraving rather than the Matlack Parchment copy. The 1823 printing includes a line at the top stating that it was printed at the order of Adams: “Engraved by W.I. STONE for the Dept. of State by order/ of J.Q. ADAMS Secy of State July 4th 1823….”

John Hancock is presented as the first to sign, with his large printed name right under the text and in the center of the page. Secretary Charles Thomson’s name is not found on this version. The Stone version includes all 56 signers, but there are six columns of signers rather than the four that were found on the Matlack “Parchment” version. Beginning with New Hampshire, the signers’ names start on the right column of the document working geographically from the northern states to the southern states. Though the names of the states are not mentioned, by following this pattern one can figure out which delegate is from which state. The signatures of two of the three New Hampshire delegates – Josiah Bartlett and William Whipple – begin the list in column six. What about Matthew Thornton, the third signer from New Hampshire? He arrived in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1776 and was granted permission to sign the Declaration. There was no room for him to sign in the New Hampshire section, however, since Samuel Adams from Massachusetts had signed very close to the signature of William Whipple. This is why Thornton’s signature appears at the end of the Connecticut signatures at the bottom of column six. The signatures of the five delegates from New Jersey are at the bottom of column five, and the signatures of the four New York delegates are at the top of column five. This is followed in column four with the three signatures of the Delaware and the nine Pennsylvania delegates. Column three contains the signatures of the seven Virginia delegates and the four Maryland delegates. Wythe, “the Godfather of the Declaration,” heads the list ahead of Richard Henry Lee who introduced the Resolution for Independence. Wythe and Lee both signed after August 2, but a place was reserved for them at the top of the Virginia delegation. The signatures of the delegates from South Carolina and North Carolina are in column two, and Georgia, the southernmost state, ends the list with column one on the left.

NameState2nd Cont. CongTrumbull PaintingPine PaintingFaulkner PaintingVote on 2 July 1776Probably approved on 4 July 1776Signed 2 August 1776Signed after 2 August 1776Notes 
Josiah BartlettNH1775-1776XXYesYesX
William WhippleNH1776-1779XYesYesX
Matthew ThorntonNH1776-1777Not a delegateNot a delegateXArrived in Congress November 4. Probably signed in November.
John HancockMA1775-1778XXXPresidingYesX
Samuel AdamsMA1775-1781XXXYesYesX
John AdamsMA1775-1777XXXYesYesX
Robert Treat PaineMA1775-1776XYesYesX
Elbridge GerryMA1776-1780XYesAwayXAway on July 4; Returned to Congress September 2, 1776; probably signed September 3.
Stephen HopkinsRI1775-1776XXXYesYesXClaims to have signed on July 4: "My hand trembles, but heart does not." (apocryphal)
William ElleryRI1776-1781XXYesYesXElected May 4, 1776, attended May 16, 1776 (presented credentials)
Roger ShermanCT1775-1781XXYesYesX
Samuel HuntingtonCT1776XXYesYesX
William WilliamsCT1776-1777XNot a delegateNot a delegateX
Oliver WolcottCT1776-1778XAwayAwayXReturned October 1. Probably signed in October.
William FloydNY1775-1776XXDid not voteDid not voteX
Philip LivingstonNY1775-1778XDid not voteDid not voteX
Francis LewisNY1775-1779XDid not voteDid not voteX
Lewis MorrisNY1775-1777XAwayAwayXReturned to Congress after August 2, before September 8. Likely signed in September.
Richard StocktonNJ1776XYesYesXArrived June 28, 1776
John WitherspoonNJ1776-1781XXYesYesXArrived June 28, 1776
Francis HopkinsonNJ1776XXYesYesXArrived June 28, 1776
John HartNJ1776YesYesXArrived June 28, 1776
Abraham ClarkNJ1776-1778XXYesYesXPresent July 4, confirmed in letter to Elias Dayton of that date
Robert MorrisPA1775-1778XXXABSTAINYesX
Benjamin RushPA1776-1777XNot a delegateNot a delegateX
Benjamin FranklinPA1775-1776XXXYesYesX
John MortonPA1775-1776YesYesXHe was the tie-breaking vote in favor of Independence in PA delegation
George ClymerPA1776-1777XNot a delegateNot a delegateX
James SmithPA1776-1778Not a delegateNot a delegateX
George TaylorPA1776Not a delegateNot a delegateX
James WilsonPA1775-1777XXYesYesX
George RossPA1775-1777Not a delegateNot a delegateXArrived July 20, 1776
Caesar RodneyDE1775-1776YesYesX
George ReadDE1775-1777XNO YesX
Thomas McKeanDE1775-1776XXYesYesXClaims no one signed on July 4, but it is possible he was not there on July 4 (headed DE constitutional committee). Returned to Congress briefly in September, 1776. Returned in January, 1777. Signature is missing from Goddard Broadside.
Samuel ChaseMD1775-1778XXAwayAwayX
William PacaMD1775-1779XYesYesX
Thomas StoneMD1775-1776XYesYesX
Charles Carroll of CarrolltonMD1776XXXNot a delegateNot a delegateXIs not appointed to Congress until July 5, 1776
George WytheVA1775-1776XXAwayAwayXReturned to Congress after August 2, before September 14. Probably signed in September.
Richard Henry LeeVA1775-1779XXAwayAwayXReturned to Congress August 27, 1776. Probably signed in September. Elected August 11, 1775 and June 20, 1776. Attended March 11-June 13, 1776 and August 27, 1776-February 1777.
Thomas JeffersonVA1775-1776XXYesYesXElected August 11, 1775 and June 20, 1776; attended May 14-September 2, 1776
Benjamin HarrisonVA1775-1778XXYesYesXElected August 11, 1775; attended May 16-August 10, 1776.
Thomas Nelson, Jr.VA1775-1777XYesYesX
Francis Lightfoot LeeVA1775-1779YesYesXElected August 15, 1775 and June 20, 1776; attended January 1, 1776-February, 1777
Carter BraxtonVA1776YesYesXElected December 15, 1775; attended February 23-August 2, 1776.
William HooperNC1775-1777XAwayAwayX
Joseph HewesNC1775-1776XXYesYesX
John PennNC1775-1780YesYesX
Edward RutledgeSC1775-1776XXYesYesUrged the delay in voting to July 4
Thomas Heyward, Jr.SC1776-1778XYesYesX
Thomas Lynch, Jr.SC1775-1776XYesYesX
Arthur MiddletonSC1776-1777XYesYesX
Button GwinnettGA1776YesYesX
Lyman HallGA1775-1777XYesYesX
George WaltonGA1776-1777XYesYesX

Commentary written and chart compiled by Christopher Burkett and Gordon Lloyd.

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George Wythe

George Wythe

George Wythe (1726-1806) was born in Elizabeth County (Hampton) Virginia to a wealthy agricultural family. He died in Richmond probably poisoned with arsenic by his heir, George Sweeney. His grave is located in the yard of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. He married in 1747, but his wife died in 1748. He remarried in 1755 and fathered one child who died in infancy. He inherited the family farm on the death of his brother in 1755.

Wythe’s father died when he was three, but his mother tutored him in the classics His mother died when he was still a teenager. George attended the college of William and Mary but, due to financial reasons, dropped out and studied at a law office in Spotsylvania. He was admitted to the bar in Spotsylvania County in 1746, at the age of 20.

He was appointed clerk to the Committee which formed the rules of conduct and elections in the House of Burgesses in 1747. In 1753 the Royal Governor of Virginia made him Attorney General. In 1755 Wythe was elected to represent Williamsburg in the House of Burgesses and served there until 1775. In 1764 Wythe drafted a remonstrance for the House in anticipation of Britain passing the Stamp Act.

In 1761 he was elected to the Board of Visitors at the College of William and Mary. Eight years later, he became America’s first Professor of Law a position he held until 1789. His students included Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, James Monroe, and John Marshall. He taught for twenty years and admitted to no greater love than that of forming young minds.

In 1775 Wythe was elected to the Second Continental Congress to replace George Washington who had become commander of the continental army. In June 1776 he returned to Virginia to help draft the new state Constitution and was thus absent on July 4 and August 2. He signed the Declaration in September in a space reserved for him at the top of the Virginia column.

He was elected Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1777 and in 1778 became one of the three Chancellors of the State of Virginia and served in that position for the rest of his life.

In 1787 he was chosen as one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention but left in early June due to his wife’s ill health. He served with Alexander Hamilton and Charles Pinckney on the committee that proposed the rules of procedure for the Convention. Fellow delegate William Pierce considered Wythe “one of the most learned legal characters of the present age and known for his “exemplary life.” He attended the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788 where he supported ratification.

Wythe was revered as a man on great honor and integrity. In his will, Wythe left his large book collection to Thomas Jefferson which Jefferson later sold to create the Library of Congress. Jefferson praised Wythe as “my ancient master, my earliest and best friend, and to him I am indebted for first impressions which have [been] the most salutary on the course of my life.” He also freed his slaves in his will and made provisions for their support until they could earn a living for themselves. In 1785, Jefferson assured English abolitionist Richard Price that Wythe’s sentiments against slavery were unequivocal.

Robert Morris

Robert Morris

Robert Morris (1734-1806) was born near Liverpool, Lancashire, England and came to the Chesapeake Bay area in 1744. He died in Philadelphia where he is buried at Christ Church Cemetery. He married in 1769 and fathered seven children.

He attended school in Philadelphia and apprenticed at Charles Willing’s shipping firm business at the age of 16. Over the next thirty-nine years the business flourished. Morris’ wealth was hit hard by the Stamp Act. Nevertheless, he supported the colonial movement against British rule. He became known as the “Financier of the Revolution.”

Elected to the First Continental Congress in 1775, he participated on many of the committees involved in raising capital and provisions for the Continental Army. Early in 1776, Morris loaned $10,000 of his own money to the government to support the troops who won the Battle of Trenton (Washington Crossing).

He was also selected to the Second Constitutional Congress. On July 1, 1776, he voted against independence choosing to still seek reconciliation with Britain. On July 2, he was deliberately absent thus permitting the Pennsylvania delegation to vote for independence.

1781 he devised a plan for a National Bank and submitted it to Congress. It was approved and became The Bank of North America. Morris was appointed the Secretary of Treasury of the United States.

Following the war, he served in the Pennsylvania Legislature. He also attended the 1786 Annapolis Convention. He was also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he is recorded as only speaking once. George Washington resided at his town house on the corner of Market Street during the Constitutional Convention. Morris’s town house subsequentially became the residence of Presidents Washington and Adams n the 1790s.

He supported the ratification of the constitution in 1787. In 1789, Washington appointed Morris Secretary of the Treasury, but he declined and suggested Alexander Hamilton instead. Morris accepted his selection as a Senator from Pennsylvania to the First Congress, completed his six-year term, and then retired from public service.

In 1794, Morris began the construction of a new town house on Chestnut Street; the unfinished building became known as “Morris’s Folly” because he was unable to finance the project. Morris spent three years in Debtor’s Prison. He died in poverty.

Only Robert Morris, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

George Clymer

George Clymer

George Clymer (1739-1813) was born in Philadelphia, orphaned the next year, and then mentored to be a merchant and responsible citizen by his wealthy uncle. He died in Morrisville, Pennsylvania at age 74 and was buried in Trenton, New Jersey. In addition to being economically, and politically, active, Clymer supported the abolition of slavery and the development of the practical arts and sciences. In 1784, he remarried his first wife having died.

Clymer was an early supporter of the movement for independence; he opposed both the Tea Act and the Stamp Act in the early 1770s. He was one of nine delegates from the Second Continental Congress to sign the 1776 Declaration of Independence and then the 1787 Constitution. Another was Roger Sherman. Clymer was elected to the House of Representatives in 1789 where he supported Sherman in the successful effort to pass the Bill of Rights in 1791. He also helped President George Washington enforce whiskey excise taxes in Pennsylvania.

Despite Clymer’s extensive involvement in the story of the American founding, he is not on the list of influential, or even underrated founders. We attribute this to Clymer’s inclination to work behind the scenes on the various committees to which his colleagues elected him. He reminds us of the steady and vital work done by individuals who do not seek the limelight. Contemporary William Pierce of Georgia, who provided character sketches of multiple founders, portrayed him as “a respectable man, and much esteemed.”

James Wilson

James Wilson

James Wilson (1742-1798) was born near St. Andrews, Scotland. He emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1766, died in Edenton, North Carolina, while on Circuit Court duty for the United States Supreme Court, and was reinterred in Christ Church, Philadelphia. In 1793, a widower with six children, he remarried and one child who died in infancy.

He attended St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, and was a Latin tutor at the College of Philadelphia where he later gave lectures in English Literature and received an honorary Master of Arts degree. Wilson studied law under John Dickinson, was admitted to the bar in 1767, and set up a very lucrative practice in Reading, PA. He bought a farm near Carlisle and became interested in land speculation.

In 1774, Wilson was a member of the Carlisle Committee of Correspondence, and wrote a widely read pamphlet “Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament.” He argued that Parliament lacked authority to pass laws for the colonies.

In 1775 and 1776, Wilson was elected to both the First and Second Continental Congress. The Pennsylvania delegation was divided on the issue of reconciliation or separation. Initially, respecting the wishes of his loyalist inclined constituents, Wilson supported a three-week delay to reflect on Richard Henry Lee’s June 7 independence resolution. On July 2, Wilson joined Franklin and Morton and voted for independence.

Wilson’s political career and personal life were controversial between 1776 and 1787. In 1776, Wilson strongly opposed the new Pennsylvania state constitution and, as result, was temporarily recalled from Congress. He also resumed his activities in speculation, and acquired considerable debt. During a food shortage in 1779, Wilson, his friends, and his property on Third and Walnut in Philadelphia–“Fort Wilson”–were attacked. He was rescued by a law enforcement troop. In 1781, Wilson served as a director of the original Bank of North America. He was elected to the Confederation Congress in 1782, where he worked closely with Robert Morris on financial matters.

In 1787, he was appointed to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia where he supported majority rule, read Franklin’s speeches, and was on the five-member Committee on Detail that wrote the first draft of the Constitution. He was a strong advocate for the adoption of the Constitution at the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention. His famous “State House Speech” set the tone for the Federalist-Antifederalist out of doors debate.

Following ratification of the Constitution, he was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1789. In 1792, he spent time in a debtors prison while still serving on the Supreme Court. He died while riding circuit in North Carolina.

William Pierce, a delegate from Georgia at the 1787 Constitutional Convention who provided sketches of the delegates, wrote of him: “No man is more clear, copious, and comprehensive than Mr. Wilson, yet he is no great Orator.”

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the tenth son of soap maker, and died in Philadelphia, a man of considerable wealth and international admiration. He was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground. He fathered four children from two common law wives.

Franklin received little formal education but became an avid supporter of the arts and sciences. Later, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Edinburgh and Oxford. At age 12, he worked for his half-brother James, printer of the New England Courant, where he published his first article, anonymously, in 1721. At age 16, he moved to Philadelphia, and then sought fame and fortune one year later in Europe. He returned to Philadelphia and re-entered the printing business. Franklin printed The Pennsylvania Gazette (1730-1748) and in 1741 began publishing the annual Poor Richard’s Almanac magazine, reportedly second only to the Bible in popularity and influence.

Franklin was Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly (1736-1751), a member of the colonial Pennsylvania Assembly (1751-1764) and a postmaster of the American colonies (1753-1774). Between 1752 and 1775, Franklin also served as an “agent” for Pennsylvania and three other colonies to England, France, and several other European powers. Already popular in Europe, Franklin’s defense of the colonial opposition to the Stamp Act before the House of Commons helped him become a hero in America.

Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1775. He was elected to both the First and Second Continental Congress. He was a member of a three person diplomatic mission to Canada, along with Charles Carroll and Samuel Chase, to seek a union between Canada and the colonies. He also served on the five-member Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He is reputed to have said upon signing the Declaration: “Gentlemen, we must now all hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.” In 1787, he represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention. His “rising sun” speech on September 17, 1787 is a classical expression of Franklin’s optimism about the American experiment.

In addition to coining the phrases “a penny saved is a penny earned,” and “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” Franklin created a list of 13 virtues to live by: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He was also one of the earliest and strongest advocates for the abolition of slavery.

George Read

George Read

George Read (1733-1798) was born in Maryland from a line of Irish and Welsh immigrants who became landowners. However, he was raised in Delaware. He died in New Castle and is buried in Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard in Newcastle. In 1763 he married the widowed sister of fellow signer George Ross and they had five children.

Read was educated in Pennsylvania where he studied law and admitted to the Philadelphia Bar at age 20. In 1754 he returned to Delaware. In 1763, he married the widowed sister of George Ross, fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania and uncle of Betsy Ross. What is impressive is Read’s forty year involvement in local, state, and national politics during which time he embraced both the politics of reconciliation with Britain in 1776 and the politics of change from 1786.

Read was attorney general in the colonial government from 1763-1774, but opposed the Stamp Act despite his reputation as a moderate. He was elected to the first and second Continental Congress from 1774-1776 along with Thomas McKean. The third delegate, Caesar Rodney, attended at the conclusion of the discussions. Read initially voted against Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence on July2; he was the only eventual signer to do so. He preferred to continue pursuing possible reconciliation with Britain rather than agreeing to a complete break. McKean sent an urgent message to Rodney in Delaware to come to Philadelphia to break the tie in the Delaware vote on independence because of Read’s reluctance to make the final step to endorse independence. Rodney’s vote broke the tie. When Lee’s Resolution was adopted, however, Read accepted the vote of his two Delaware colleagues and signed the Declaration.

In 1776, Read was selected to the Constitutional Convention in Delaware, where he served on the committee to draft the new Delaware Constitution. In 1777, the British captured Delaware and Read became emergency governor replacing Thomas McKean. Read was twice elected State Senator under the new Delaware Constitution. Between 1782-1788, he devoted himself to political activities in Delaware.

He attended the Annapolis Convention in 1786 that called for a Grand Convention to meet in Philadelphia, May 1786 to reconsider the structure and powers of the general government under the Articles of Confederation. He then represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention, where he signed the Constitution, attended the 1787 Delaware Ratifying Convention, served in the United States Senate (1789-1793), and then Chief Justice of Delaware.

Read actually signed the Constitution twice, signing once for himself and once for fellow Delaware delegate John Dickinson who was at home sick with a migraine. William Pierce, a delegate at the Constitutional Convention, penned sketches of fellow delegates: Read’s “legal abilities are said to be very great, but powers of Oratory are fatiguing and tiresome to the last degree.”

Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts to a prosperous merchant family. He died in Washington, DC. while serving as Vice President of the United States. He was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Gerry is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in DC. He fathered ten children. His wife lived until 1849, the last surviving widow of a signer.

He received a private education as a child and then studied at Harvard to be a merchant, graduating in 1764. Gerry then joined the lucrative family business and became a wealthy merchant in his own right.

Gerry’s political career was long, controversial, and effective, but mostly overlooked by historians.

In 1765, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act to raise revenue by taxing the colonies. Gerry was an opponent of these acts and allied himself with Samuel Adams and John Hancock. In 1772, Gerry was elected to the Massachusetts Bay legislature. In 1775, he was a member of a Committee of Safety, along with Adams and Hancock, in support of Boston.

In 1776, Gerry was selected to be a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. Gerry was a strong advocate for separating from England. He was absent for the formal signing on August 2, 1776 but signed later that year. He joins Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, and Mathew Thornton as late signers. In 1776, John Adams stated, “If every man here was a Gerry, the liberties of America would be safe.” He also was a member of the Confederation Congress (1783-1785) where he signed the Articles of Confederation.

He was selected to represent Massachusetts at the 1787 Constitutional Convention where he was chair of the Connecticut Compromise Committee but, in the end, declined to sign the Constitution. He thought the Constitution should include a bill of rights and thus opposed the ratification of the Constitution. Nevertheless, Gerry served two terms in the House of Representatives (1789-1793) where he supported the passage of a bill of rights. When John Adams became President in 1796, he selected Gerry, along with John Marshall and Charles Pinckney, to be commissioners to France to settle maritime disputes. This episode became known as the XYZ Affair and Adams recalled him. He was elected Governor of Massachusetts (1810-1811) where he signed a Congressional redistricting bill that assisted the Democratic Republicans. The map looked like a salamander. Thus the term “Gerrymander” for which Gerry is mostly remembered.

Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman (1721-1793) was born at Newton, near Boston. He died in New Haven, and was buried in Grove Street Cemetery. He married Elizabeth Hartwell in 1749 and they had seven children. She died in 1760. He then married Rebecca Prescott with whom he had eight children.

When he was two, the family moved from Newton to the frontier town of Dorchester, now Stoughton. His education was very limited, although he did have access to his father’s library. Later as a teenager he attended a new grammar school, and learned the cobbler’s trade from his father. He also met Samuel Dunbar, Harvard trained parish Minister of Stoughton who helped Sherman with mathematics, the sciences, literature, and philosophy.

In 1743, Sherman joined an elder brother in New Milford, Connecticut where they opened the first store in town. He was appointed surveyor of New Haven County and became a leader in the community. New Milford did not have a newspaper, so Sherman wrote and published a very popular Almanac each year from 1750 to 1761. Although he never had a legal education, Sherman was admitted to the Bar of Litchfield in 1754 and, from 1755-1761, represented New Milford in the colonial legislature, and was also a justice of the peace and a county judge. And four years later, he became an associate justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut. In 1761, a very successful landowner and businessman, he moved to New Haven and became a benefactor of Yale.

He was appointed commissary to the Connecticut Troops at the start of the Revolutionary war and elected to the First and Second Continental Congress and to the Confederation Congress in 1781, and 1783-1784.

Sherman was an active and respected delegate who attempted to balance the urgency for intercontinental agreements while retaining the vibrant local institutions to which Americans were attached. He was on the five-member committee in 1776 with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Robert Livingston to draft the Declaration of Independence. And he simultaneously fulfilled his state duties. Sherman was still a judge on the Connecticut and in 1783, he helped to codify the statutory laws of Connecticut. He served as mayor of New Haven (1784-1786). He also served on the committee forming the Articles of Confederation.

Sherman was selected by Connecticut to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 where he defended the rights of the smaller states and the partly national-partly federal Connecticut. Compromise. (Madison’s Notes of the Debates at the Convention credit him with delivering one hundred and thirty-eight speeches). As if that weren’t enough, Sherman wrote essays on behalf of the ratification of the Constitution as well voting in favor of ratification at the Connecticut Ratifying Convention. He was elected to the First Congress as both Representative(1789-1791) and Senator (1791-1793). He was very influential in securing the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Many of the most notable figures of the revolution, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, admitted a deep admiration for Roger Sherman and his work.

Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), brother of F.L. Lee, was born to an aristocratic family at Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland county, Virginia. He died at Chantilly and his grave is in the Lee family cemetery near Hague, Virginia. His first wife died in 1768 leaving him four children. He remarried in 1769 and fathered five more children.

He attended a private school in England, and returned to Virginia in 1751. The Lee family had been involved in Virginia politics for a long time. Richard Henry followed in that tradition. In 1757 Lee was appointed Justice of the Peace, and was shortly thereafter elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses where he served until 1775. He opposed the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Act of 1766. He was amongst those radical members of the Burgesses who met at the Raleigh Tavern, in Willmington when the house was dissolved by the Royal Governor. Lee and others in attendance adopted a resolution that declared that “an attack made on one of our sister Colonies, to compel submission to arbitrary taxes, as an attack made on all British America.”

In 1773, Lee, Henry, and Jefferson created the Virginia Committee of Correspondence and invited other colonies to do likewise. In 1774, Massachusetts invited the colonies to meet in September 1774 in Philadelphia as the First Continental Congress.

In 1774 he was elected along with Henry, and four other delegates, to attend the First Continental Congress. John Adams wrote that “the great orators here” in the First Congress “are Lee, Hooper and Patrick Henry.” He was also elected to the Second Continental Congress. Lee, seconded by John Adams, introduced the Resolutions for Independence to the committee of the whole on June 7, 1776. On June 11, a five member committee was created to provide a draft of the Declaration. On June 13, he returned to Virginia due to family illness and was thus absent on July 4 and on August 2! He was one of seven delegates who signed later.

He served in Congress through the course of the War, while also serving in the House of Burgesses. In 1783 he was selected as president of the Confederation Congress that operated under the Articles of Confederation that he helped draft. Lee was one of sixteen signers of both the Declaration and the Articles of Confederation.

Lee was elected to attend the Annapolis Convention, but he declined the invitation. He was selected to represent Virginia at the Constitutional Convention, but also declined this appointment. When the Convention sent the Constitution to the Confederation Congress, Lee as head of the Confederation refused to send the document to the states with the explicit approval of Congress. Lee opposed ratification of the federal constitution without amendments, as he thought it endangered the rights of the states and the rights of the people. He was elected the first State Senator from Virginia under the new federal government, but retired in 1792 to his home in Chantilly due to illness. He owned fifty slaves but, like many of the signers, he had an anti-slavery disposition. As early as 1769, Lee proposed high tax to discourage the slave trade.

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), was born in Byberry, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. He died from the typhus that swept through Philadelphia. Rush is buried in Christ Church Burial Ground.

He was educated at West Nottingham Academy in Maryland and then in 1759 attended and subsequently graduated from what is now Princeton University. He continued his education with a Philadelphia physician for four years and then pursued an M.D. at Edinburgh. While in Britain, he met future fellow signers Richard Stockton—whose daughter he married in 1776–and Benjamin Franklin. He returned to Philadelphia in 1769, opened a private practice, and was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. Rush published the first American textbook on chemistry.

He was active in the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty in the early 1770s and be-friended Thomas Paine whom he encouraged to write Common Sense. In June 1776 he was elected to the provincial conference that, in turn, chose delegates to the Continental Congress. The provincial conference selected Rush to the Continental Congress but after the July and August signings. Nevertheless, he was able to sign the Declaration. He was one of four physicians to sign the Declaration of Independence. The others were Lyman Hall, John Bartlett, and Matthew Thornton. Other members of Congress, Franklin, and John Adams foremost, made harsh observations about Rush.

FIn 1777, he was appointed a surgeon-general in the Continental Army. He complained to George Washington about the medical conditions he found and in 1778 resigned in disgust. This did not go over well with those people, including Washington, who were involved in the war effort.

In 1783, he helped found Dickinson College. Between 1787 and 1789, he wrote in favor of the adoption of the Constitution and was a member of the Pennsylvania ratifying convention that adopted the Constitution. He became a Professor of Medicine at the consolidated University of Pennsylvania in 1791 and an advocate of “bleeding the patient.” In 1965 the American Psychiatric Association recognized Rush as the “father of American psychiatry”.[6] Rush was also a strong supporter of prison reform and the abolition of slavery.

In 1797, he was appointed treasurer of the U.S. Mint where he served until his death in 1813.

John Witherspoon

John Witherspoon

John Witherspoon (1723-1794), the son of a Calvinist minister, was born in Gifford, Scotland. He died at his “Tusculum” farm and was buried in the Presidents’ Lot at Princeton Cemetery. Witherspoon married in 1748; only five of his ten children survived childhood.

He received the finest education available; he attended the preparatory school in Haddington Scotland. He received a Master of Arts degree (1739) and spent four years in the divinity school at the University of Edinburgh. At twenty, Witherspoon became a Presbyterian Minister in Beith and Paisley (1743-1757), where he wrote three works on theology including a satirical work. In 1764, Witherspoon was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of St. Andrews.

Richard Stockton and Benjamin Rush persuaded Witherspoon to emigrate to New Jersey in 1768 and become the President of Princeton University. (1768-1792).

Initially, Witherspoon abstained from political concerns, but by the early 1770s, he gave sermons and wrote essays in favor of colonial resistance. In early 1776, he served on the committees of correspondence and safety. Also in 1776, he was elected, along with John Hart, Richard Stockton, Abraham Clark, to the Second Congress as replacement candidates. He served in the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1782 and voted in favor of R. H. Lee’s Resolution for Independence and then signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4. In reply to another member who argued that the country was not yet ripe for such a declaration, that in his opinion it “was not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of rotting for the want of it.” Witherspoon was an active member of Congress; he served on hundreds of committees. He also voted in favor of the Articles of Confederation. He was the only active clergyman and college President to sign the Declaration and the Articles.

In November, 1776, he shut down and then evacuated the College of New Jersey on the approach of British forces who did much damage to the college. After the war, Witherspoon devoted his life to rebuilding the College and to the growth of the Presbyterian Church. One of his most prominent students was. James Madison. Witherspoon also served twice in the New Jersey state legislature between 1783 and 1789, supported ratification of the Constitution at the New Jersey Ratifying Convention. He became totally blind two years before his death.

Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington (1731-1796) was born into successful farming family of ten children in Windham, (now Scotland) Connecticut. He died in Norwich and is buried in the Old Burial Ground. He married in 1761 and they adopted three children.

He received a limited early education and started work as a cooper in 1745. Huntington was self-taught in the law and was admitted to the Bar of Connecticut in the mid to late 1750s. His education benefitted from the library of Rev. Ebenezer Devotion, whose daughter he married in 1761. Later, he received honorary degrees from Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth.

He is best known for his long involvement in national, state, local, and colonial politics.

Huntington moved to Norwich in 1760 and was appointed King’s attorney to the town. He served in served many colonial offices and duties. In 1773, he was appointed to the Superior Court of Connecticut. Nevertheless, he became active with the Connecticut Sons of Liberty in 1774. He was elected to Connecticut’s Upper House of Assembly (1775-1784), and served on the Council of Safety.

In 1776, Huntington entered national politics. He was a delegate to Second Continental Congress. He signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Benjamin Rush considered Huntington to be “a sensible, candid, and worthy man, and wholly free from State prejudices.” Due partially to health reasons, he split his time over the next seven years between Congress and Connecticut. He served two terms as President of the Congress (1779-1781) during the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. As a consequence, Huntington is often considered as “The First President of the. United States !”

He retired from national politics in 1784, but not state politics. He was Chief Judge of the Superior Court in 1784 and was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut in 1785. In 1786 he was elected Governor and led the successful effort to ratify the Constitution in Connecticut. He was re-elected to the Governor’s office every term until his death, in office, in 1796.

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams (1722-1803), second cousin of John Adams, was born in Boston to parents with strong Puritan virtues who supported the concept of “town meetings.” He died in Boston and, like fellow Declaration of Independence signers Robert Treat Paine and John Hancock, is buried in the Old Granary Burying Ground. He remarried after the death of his wife who gave birth to five children only two of whom lived beyond infancy.

He attended the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1740. He dabbled in a number of unsuccessful employments, including working in his father’s brewery that he inherited in 1748 and then mismanaged.

From an early age, Adams was involved with local political clubs that challenged British colonial rule. In 1765 he was elected to the Massachusetts Assembly where he served as clerk until 1774. There, he urged opposition to the Stamp Act and supported the formation of the Boston Sons of Liberty in 1765. In 1766, Sam Adams, along with James Otis, and John Hancock, were elected to a Massachusetts Assembly that was protective of the rights of the colonists. In 1774, he was chosen to be a member of the provincial council during the crisis in Boston and continued to write newspaper articles against British rule that showed the influence of John Locke concerning the rights of the people. He proposed the formation of an intercontinental Congress to address the “mutual grievances” of the colonies.

Adams was appointed as a representative to both the First and the Second Continental Congress, where he was a passionate advocate of independence from Britain.

Adams retired from the Congress in 1781 and presided over the State Senate until 1788. He declined an appointment to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was a reluctant participant in the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention the following year. In 1789 he was appointed lieutenant governor of the state. In 1794 he was elected Governor, and was re-elected annually until 1797 when he retired for health reasons.

According to Thomas Jefferson, “if there were any Palinurus to the Revolution, Samuel Adams was the man.” Palinurus, in Virgil’s Aeneid, is portrayed as an experienced guide.

John Hancock

John Hancock

John Hancock (1737-1793) was born in Braintree (Quincy), Massachusetts. He died in Boston and, like fellow Declaration of Independence signers John Adams and Samuel Adams, was buried at Old Granary Burying Ground. He married in 1774 and fathered two children who died at a young age.

Hancock, who was orphaned at age 7, was adopted by a wealthy merchant uncle from Boston. He studied at Boston Latin School and then Harvard where he graduated at age 17. He apprenticed with his uncle and, in 1760, was sent on a business mission to England where he also attended the coronation of George III. In 1763, his uncle died leaving Hancock a very large fortune.

He was elected to the Boston Assembly in the mid 1770s and was a member of the Stamp Act Congress. In 1768 his merchant ship Liberty was impounded by British customs officials at Boston Harbor and he was charged with running contraband goods. Riots by the residents of Boston, in support of the popular Hancock, ensued. The British response of 1770 is known as The Boston Massacre. In 1774, Hancock was elected to the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, where he served as President.

Hancock was elected to the First and Second Continental Congress. When Peyton Randolph resigned in 1776, Hancock assumed the position of President. He retired in 1777 due to ill health.

Back in Massachusetts, he was selected to the Convention that created the new State constitution in 1780. He was then elected Governor, a position he held until his death in 1793. He was also elected the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention where he brokered the compromise “ratify now, amend later.”

John Hancock was celebrated by friend and enemy alike. He was a believer in the republican principle that the ordinary citizens had the capcity to govern themselves. He also displayed a contempt for unreasoned authority, especially from Britain. A decree had been delivered from England in early 1776 offering a large reward for the capture of several leading figures. Hancock was one of them.

Only Hancock, and Secretary Charles Thompson, signed the original July 4, 1776 Broadside and he did so in large hand writing and in an entirely blank space. The formal signing occurred on August 2, July 1776. According to legend, on signing the Declaration, Hancock commented, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!”

William Paca

William Paca

William Paca (1740-1799) was born of Italian-American descent at Chilbury Hall in Abington, Maryland. He died at Wye Hall near his home, the Wye Plantation. Paca is buried in the family burial ground near Wye Plantation. He married Mary Chew, a daughter of a wealthy family, in 1763. She died in 1774 and Paca remarried. His second wife, Ann Harrison also died at an early age. Paca had six children.

He was tutored at home in the classics before attending Philadelphia College (University of Pennsylvania) where he graduated while still a teenager. He then studied law in Annapolis, and at the Inner Temple in England, before becoming a member of the Maryland Bar in 1761. He also became a wealthy planter who owned 4,500 acres of land and over 100 slaves.

From 1768 to 1774, Paca was elected to the colonial legislature where he was an ally of Samuel Chase. Back in 1765, they created the county’s Sons of Liberty and mobilized support against the Stamp Act. He also protested against the powers of the Propriety Governor. In 1773, he was a member of the Maryland committee of correspondence.

Paca was appointed to the First and Second Continental Congress . But the Maryland provincial convention refused to authorize the delegates to Congress to vote for independence. Paca, Charles Carroll, and Samuel Chase persuaded the Maryland convention to vote in favor of independence on July 1-2, 1776. Paca signed the Document on August 2, 1776. John Adams considered Paca to be a “great deliberator.” He served in Congress until 1779.

In 1779, he was appointed chief justice of the State of Maryland. In 1782 he was elected governor and served in that capacity until 1785. He was a delegate to the Maryland Ratifying Convention of 1788 and supported the adoption of the Constitution with 28 amendments. In 1789, he was appointed federal district judge for the State of Maryland and served until his death in 1799.

Charles Wilson Peale was commissioned to provide a portrait of Paca. According to Peale, Paca “was a handsome man, more than six feet high, of portly appearance, being well educated and accustomed to the best company….In the early period when the people’s eyes first became opened to their rights, he made the first stand for the Independence of the People.”

John Adams

John Adams

John Adams (1735-1826), cousin of Samuel Adams, was born in Braintree, Massachusetts and like his long time friend and foe, Thomas Jefferson, died on July 4 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration. With the exception of Charles Carroll, they were the last of the surviving Signers. He married Abigail Smith in 1764 and they had four children. John and Abigail Adams are buried in a crypt at the United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts. They were the first to move into the White House and the first to have a son—John Quincy Adams, the famous abolitionist—become President.
John Adams was educated in Braintree (Quincy) and graduated in law from Harvard at age 20. He thought about being a minister—his background was Puritan and Congregationalist–but pursued law instead. He was admitted to the Bar in 1758. In later life, he became a Unitarian.
Adams’s participation in local, state, national, and international affairs was continuous, consequential, and controversial.

In 1768 he achieved early popular notoriety by defending John Hancock in a smuggling charge brought by British Customs officials. But his defense of British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre of 1770 received a hostile response from the people of Boston. Adams, in turn, responded “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Nevertheless, he was elected to the Massachusetts Assembly in 1770, and like many of his revolutionary compatriots, Adams opposed the Stamp Act. He wrote a popular article, “Essay on the Canon and Feudal Law” against the Act. He joined James Otis in opposing the Revenue Act where Otis coined the term, “no taxation without representation.”

He was chosen to represent the colony of Massachusetts in the First and Second Continental Congress, 1774-1776, and this service is the main source of his national recognition. In 1774, he joined James Wilson and Thomas Jefferson in objecting to the willingness of Congress to accept a limited form of Parliamentary supremacy over the colonies.

The Second Continental Congress was less accommodating to the colonial past. In June 1775, he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief of the army. In June 1776, he supported the “Lee resolution”: “these colonies are, and ought to be, free and independent states.”. Adams was a member of ninety committees and chaired twenty-five. He was a member of the “committee of five”—Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Livingston, and Sherman–to draft a declaration of independence. He supported the draft by Thomas Jefferson that included a condemnation of slavery. On July 2, Lee’s Resolution passed. Adams wrote that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding generations,” as “the day of deliverance.” Congress ratified the Declaration on July 4.

In 1779 he was the prime participant in the framing of the new Massachusetts Constitution which document played a major part in the discussions over the creation and ratification of the Constitution in 1787. In 1781 and 1783, he participated with Franklin, Jay and Laurens, in the creation of the Treaty of Paris. He was the U.S. minister to Britain from 1783-1788, thus missing out on the creation of the Constitution in 1787. Adams was elected Vice President of the United States under George Washington in 1789, and was elected President in his own right in 1796. He lost the 1800 Presidential election to Jefferson. Adams retired from office at the end of his term in 1801. In 1812, Adams and Jefferson started the hard task of reconciliation which they did through the exchange of letters that lasted until 1826.

Signer Richard Stockton of New Jersey referred to Adams as the “Atlas of American Independence.” Franklin considered Adams to mean “well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.” Adams’s toast on July 4, 1826, was “Independence Forever!” Unaware that Jefferson had died hours earlier, Adams is reported to have said, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

Robert Treat Paine

Robert Treat Paine

Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814) was born in Boston where he died and, like fellow Declaration of Independence signer Samuel Adams, is buried in the Old Granary Burying Ground. He married Sally Cobb in 1766; they had eight children and all survived to adulthood.

He attended the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1749. Initially he “taught school” but then followed family tradition and studied for the ministry. In 1757, he was a chaplain in the French and Indian War. But Paine changed course once more. He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1757 and opened a practice in Portland, Maine and then, in 1761, Taunton, Massachusetts. In the trials of British soldiers following the Boston Massacre, Paine served as an associate prosecuting attorney. He lost the case to Adams but won widespread popularity in Boston. He also changed course in his religious affiliation: he left Calvinism for Unitarianism. One thing that didn’t change was his close affiliation with John Hancock.

Paine was elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Assembly in 1770. In 1775, he signed the appeal of reconciliation with George III, known as the Olive Branch Petition. He was selected to both the First and Second Continental Congress. Paine signed the Declaration of Independence and wrote to Joseph Palmer: “the issue is joined; and it is our comfortable reflection, that if by struggling we can avoid the servile subjection which Britain demanded, we remain a free and happy people.”

Between 1776 and 1780, he was involved in the drafting the Massachusetts Constitution. In 1777 Paine was elected attorney general of the state of Massachusetts. Also in 1780, Paine helped found the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was appointed by John Hancock to the Massachusetts Superior Court where he served from 1790 to 1804.

John Adams noted that “Bob Paine is conceited and pretends to know more knowledge and genius than he has.” According to Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania, Paine was known in the Continental Congress as the “Objection Maker,” because of his frequent objections to proposals made by other delegates. “He seldom proposed anything, but opposed nearly every measure that was proposed by other people…”

Stephen Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785) was born in Providence, Rhode Island where he also died and is buried. He was self-educated and earned his living in farming and shipping. His first wife died in 1753; she gave birth to five sons and. two daughters. Hopkins remarried in 1755.

Hopkins was deeply involved in local politics in the 1730s and 1740s. He served as a member and speaker of the Rhode Island Assembly in the early 1750s, and in 1754 was selected to be a delegate to the Albany Convention in New York where he helped draft a plan of union. In 1762, he wrote a widely circulated essay, “The Rights of the Colonies Examined.” In 1774, the Rhode Island legislature passed a bill prohibiting the importation of slaves. Hopkins authored the bill. He was elected to both the First and Second Continental Congress (1774,-1778) and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Hopkins, who had palsy, is reported to have said, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not!” He returned to Rhode Island where he served in the Legislature.

William Ellery

William Ellery

William Ellery (1727-1820) was born in Newport, Rhode Island, where he died and is buried. He attended Harvard and graduated before the age of 21. He was a merchant, a collector of customs, and the Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. He then started a law practice in 1770. In 1776, his wife, son, and two daughters fled to Connecticut when the British invaded Long Island. He was actually married twice and fathered 19 children.

Ellery was active in the Rhode Island Sons of Liberty, and announced “to be ruled by Tories when you may be ruled by the Sons of Liberty is debasing.” He was selected to the Second Continental Congress and arrived on May 16, 1776 to replace Samuel Ward who had died. He signed the Declaration on August 2, 1776, one of three signers to live into their 90s. Charles Carol of Carrollton and John Adams were the other two. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in November 1777. He was also selected to the Confederation Congress where he served, except for 1780 and 1782, until 1786.

His Newport property was destroyed in 1778 by British troops. Nevertheless, he remained involved in state affairs. He continued to hold the office of judge of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. In 1785 he became a strong and vocal advocate for the abolition of slavery. He left Congress and returned to Rhode Island. President George Washington appointed Ellery the Customs Collector for Newport, under the provisions of the Federal Constitution, where he served until his death.

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett (1735-1777) was born in Down Hatherly, Gloucestershire, England to a father who was an Anglican vicar of Welsh ancestry. He died in Savannah, Georgia where he is reputed to be buried in Colonial Park Cemetery. Gwinnett married in 1757 and he fathered three children.

In 1759, he entered the export shipping business. He emigrated to the colonies and in 1765 acquired a large tract of land in Georgia. He also acquired a large number of coastal properties and slaves to work them, but lost most of his property to creditors.

Gwinnett became interested in the politics of the revolution. He was elected to the colonial assembly between 1769 and 1771 but due to financial difficulties, he left politics for five years. In 1776, he was appointed commander of Georgia’s continental militia but forced to decline because of political faction.

Georgia did not send delegates to the First Continental Congress due to differences within the numerous Whigs. He was elected to attend the Second Continental Congress and attended for about three months where, apparently with reluctance, he signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Georgia and South Carolina delegations led the opposition to his inclusion of language “reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa.” Gwinnett then served in the Georgia legislature where he was involved in drafting the new state constitution and became President of the Georgia Council of Safety in 1777.

Gwinnett led an unsuccessful attempt to invade Florida in order to secure Georgia’s southern border. Gwinnett was charged with malfeasance, but was cleared of wrongdoing. His honor, nevertheless, was challenged by his arch rival General Lachlan McIntosh, and Gwinnett offered a pistol duel. Both were wounded; McIntosh survived but Gwinnett died three days later.

Lyman Hall

Lyman Hall

Lyman Hall (1724-1790) was born in Wallingford, Connecticut to devout Congregationalists. He died near Augusta, Georgia and his remains are interred at the Signers’ Monument in Augusta. In 1752 Hall married but his wife died in 1753. He remarried in 1755 and fathered one child.

He studied divinity and medicine at Yale University, graduated in 1756, and started his medical practice in Charleston, South Carolina. Hall was also trained in theology by his uncle and preached in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He bought land in Georgia in 1760 and established a slave-based, rice-indigo plantation in St. John’s Parish, while continuing to practice medicine.

Between the mid 1760s and 1774, Hall became involved in revolutionary politics with George Walton of Savannah despite the widespread absence of revolutionary fervor across Georgia generally.

He was admitted to the Continental Congress as a nonvoting member in May 1775, and then certified as one of five selected delegates by a Georgia Assembly that had changed its mind toward relations with Britain. Three were present for the signing: Hall, Gwinett, and Walton. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Georgia and South Carolina delegations led the opposition to his inclusion of language “reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa.” Hall was one of four physicians to sign the Declaration of Independence. The others were Benjamin Rush, Josiah Bartlett, and Matthew Thornton. He was involved in providing food and medicine for the Revolutionary Armies.

He was reelected to Congress through 1780 but retired in 1777 when state matters, including the difficult situation of being the executor of the estate of his longtime friend Button Gwinnett, demanded his attention. The war reached Savannah, Hall’s property was burned, and he stood accused of high treason. He fled to Charleston, which was also overtaken by the British.

He returned to Georgia in 1782, reclaimed his lands, and resumed his medical practice. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1783, then Governor, and then a year as judge in 1785. He then returned to private life and was involved in the continued development of agriculture and the encouragement of higher education, especially religious education. The University of Georgia was chartered in 1785.

George Walton

George Walton

George Walton (1740/1750-1804) was born near Farmville, Virginia. The precise date of his birth is unknown. He was orphaned early and raised by his uncle. He died in Augusta, Georgia and is buried at the Signers’ Monument in Augusta. He married in the mid 1770s and fathered two children.

Walton had little formal education, but he did apprentice as a carpenter with his adopted uncle. In 1769 he moved to Savannah and studied Law. He was admitted to the Bar in 1774 and befriended Whigs opposed to royal rule.

Walton was deeply involved with the Georgia patriot movement. He was elected Secretary of the Provincial Congress of Georgia and President of the Council of Safety. In 1776 he was elected to the Second Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Georgia and South Carolina delegations led the opposition to his inclusion of language “reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa.” He was only 26 years old and the youngest signer. The average age of the signers was 44.

Walton was also elected to the 1777, 1780, and the 1781 Congress. He was selected to committees dealing with western lands, national finance, and the military defense of Georgia.

In 1778 Walton was a Colonel of the First Regiment of the Georgia Militia. He was wounded, and imprisoned for a year, in the siege of Savannah by British forces. He gained his freedom in 1779 through a prisoner exchange and was elected Governor of Georgia, an office he held for only two months.

Political conflict was at the center of Walton’s life. He was allied with General Lachlan McIntosh in a fierce struggle against Gwinnett for political dominance of the state. Walton was dispatched from office on several occasions, indicted for alleged criminal activities on others, in a battle between two factions of the patriot movement in Georgia.

He was re-elected to Congress in 1780, served through 1781, and remained in Philadelphia until 1783. That year he was censured by the legislature for his involvement in a duel which led to the death Gwinnett . He was appointed Chief Justice (1783-1789), Justice of the State Superior Court (1790-1795, 1799-1804), and a delegate to the state ratifying convention (1788). He was elected to represent Georgia at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, but did not attend. In 1789 he served in the college of Electors and again elected Governor. In 1795 he was sent to fill an unfulfilled term in the US Senate. He was not reelected.

Walton retired to farming on land confiscated from British loyalists. There is no evidence that Walton owned slaves.

William Hooper

William Hooper

William Hooper (1742-1790) was born in Boston Massachusetts. His remains are at the Guilford National Military Park near Greensboro, North Carolina. The son of a Scotch immigrant Congregationalist minister, who was a loyalist, Hooper was groomed for the ministry. In 1767, he married and fathered three children.

He attended Boston Latin School for seven years and then graduated from Harvard College in 1760. But instead of entering the ministry, Hooper continued his studies in the law under James Otis, and then moved to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1764. Like fellow signers John Penn and William Hooper, he adopted North Carolina as his home.

By 1770, Hooper was appointed of deputy attorney general of North Carolina where he sided with William Tryon, the Royal Governor, and advocated the use of force against frontiersmen who openly opposed what they saw as government corruption. Hooper’s allegiance to the royal authorities underwent a fundamental shift. In 1773 he represented Wilmington in the General Assembly of North Carolina and sided with the moderate Whigs. He acquired the name “Prophet of Independence” due to his 1774 prediction that that the colonies would separate from Britain. In a letter to his friend James Iredell, he mentioned that the colonies were “striding fast to independence, and ere long will build an empire upon the ruins of Great Britain.”

He attended the First Continental Congress in 1774 and also became a member of committee of correspondence. He signed the Declaration of Independence, along with fellow North Carolinians Joseph Hewes and John Penn. Due to his involvement with the new government in North Carolina, Hooper missed the vote approving the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July, 1776. He arrived in time to sign it on August 2, 1776.

Due to family concerns and financial difficulties, he resigned from the Congress in 1777 and returned to North Carolina. Throughout the Revolution the British attempted to capture Hooper, and with his country home in Finian vulnerable to attacks, Hooper moved his family to Wilmington. In 1781 the British captured Wilmington and burned his estates in both Finian and Wilmington. He was elected to the State legislature the same year and served until 1786 although not without controversy; he was forgiving toward the loyalists. He campaigned for the successful adoption of the Constitution in 1788. In 1789 he was appointed to the Federal Bench, but a year later he retired due to failing health.

Joseph Hewes

Joseph Hewes

Joseph Hewes (1730-1779) was born in Maybury Hill near Princeton, New Jersey and died in Philadelphia. His grave is in Christ Church Burial Ground. He married in the early 1760s but his bride to be died a few days before the day of the wedding. He remained a bachelor for the rest of his life.

Hewes was born into a strict Quaker family and studied at a local school. He then attended Princeton College and became an apprentice to a Philadelphia merchant. He established a mercantile and shipping business in Wilmington in 1760 and then, in 1763, in Edenton, North Carolina. By the time of the revolution, he had amassed a fortune. Like fellow signers John Penn and William Hooper, he adopted North Carolina as his home.

He was elected to the North Carolina Provincial Assembly in 1763 and served until it was dissolved by the royal governor in 1775. He was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence in 1773, elected to the new Provincial Legislature (1774-1775), and then elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, but lost his bid for reelection in 1777. He was reelected in 1779.

Hewes was known as a tireless worker in committee and the leading expert on maritime concerns. He supported nonimportation measures despite their negative impact on his business interests. In the Second Continental Congress, Hewes originally opposed Richard Henry Lee’s June 7, 1776 separation from Britain Resolution despite the April 1, 1776 wishes of the North Carolina Assembly to support a vote for independence. North Carolina was the first colony to call for independence. In May 1776, Hewes had presented the “Halifax Resolves” to Congress that called for independence even though he thought the resolves to be premature. According to John Adams, however, Hewes experienced a transformation: “He started suddenly upright and lifting up both his hands to Heaven, as if he had been in a trance, cried out, ‘It is done! And I will abide by it.’” He signed the Declaration of Independence, placed his ships at the service of the Continental Armed Forces, and thus strained ties with his Quaker past. He served the Congress as the Secretary of the Naval Affairs Committee until 1779, when he fell ill. He was the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to die in Philadelphia.

John Penn

John Penn

John Penn (1741-1788) was born near Port Royal in Caroline County, Virginia, to a wealthy farming family. He died at his home near Stovall and is buried in the Guildford Courthouse National Military Park near Greensboro, North Carolina. Like fellow signers Joseph Hewes and William Hooper, he adopted North Carolina as his home. He inherited a large estate when his father died when he was eighteen years old. He married in the 1760s and fathered three children.

He received only a rudimentary education at a country school, but he had access to the library of his uncle Edmund Pendleton. He studied law on his own and was licensed to practice law in Virginia at age twenty-two. In 1774 he moved to Granville County, North Carolina, made his home near Stovall, and was accepted to the North Carolina Bar. He established a law practice and soon became a member of the political community. Penn joined fellow colonials who articulated the case for no taxation without representation and separation from Britain if relief was not forthcoming.

In 1775, Penn was elected to attend the provincial Assembly and also elected to the First Continental Congress. He also served in the Second Continental Congress until 1777. It is said that Penn’s first remarks upon arriving in Congress was, “my first wish is for America to be free.” North Carolina authorized Penn and the other North Carolina delegates to vote for independence. Upon the retirement of Hewes and Hooper in 1777, Penn assumed the leadership of the North Carolina delegation. He was reelected to Congress in 1779. Penn served in Congress for six years. He was one of sixteen delegates who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. According to Thomas Jefferson writing to John Adams in 1820, Penn was influential in making sure that Hewes and Hooper voted for independence.

He was appointed to the North Carolina emergency Board of War in 1779 and served until 1780. Due to ill-health, in 1782, Penn declined an appointment to the Governor’s. Council. In retirement, he devoted his time to his law practice.

Edward Rutledge

Edward Rutledge

Edward Rutledge (1749-1800) was born to a Scots-Irish immigrant aristocratic family in Charleston, South Carolina. He died in Charleston and is buried at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church yard. He married the sister of his colleague, Henry Middleton, in 1774. They had three children.

Like fellow South Carolina signers Middleton, Lynch, and Heywood, Rutledge was educated in law at Oxford. He also studied at the Middle Temple and was admitted to the English Bar. He opened a successful law practice in Charleston with his law partner Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

In appreciation of his successful defense of anti-Royalist newspaper publisher Edward Powell in 1773, Rutledge was selected as one of five South Carolina delegates to the First Continental Congress. The delegation included his older brother John Rutledge and his father-in-law Henry Middleton. In 1776, he became the leader of the South Carolina delegation due to the retirement of Middleton, the incapacitation of Thomas Lynch Sr., and the absence of John Rutledge on state business.

At first, Rutledge opposed the Resolution for Independence and helped secure a postponement of Richard Henry Lee’s June 7, 1776 Resolution even though the South Carolina Assembly had approved a vote in favor of independence. On July 1, Rutledge and the other South Carolina delegates voted against independence even though nine out of the thirteen colonies voted in favor. But like Carter Braxton and Thomas Stone, in the end, the South Carolina delegates abided by the decision of the majority and voted for Independence on July 2 1776. Thus South Carolina became the eleventh colony to declare independence. At age 26, Rutledge was the youngest of the signers. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Georgia and South Carolina delegations led the opposition to his inclusion of language “reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa.”

He left Congress in November of 1776 to resume his law practice and join in the defense of South Carolina. He was a member of the Charleston Battalion of Artillery, engaged in several important battles, and attained the rank of Captain. He served in the state legislature in 1778 and won reelection to Congress in 1779. He took his leave again in 1780 when the British conducted a third invasion of South Carolina. Along with Heywood and Middleton, Captain Rutledge was captured and held prisoner until July 1781.

In 1782 he returned to the South Carolina legislature where he served until 1796. He was a very active concerning the prosecution of British Loyalists. He also served as an elector, in 1788, 1792, and in 1796 when, despite his avowed allegiance to the Federalist party, he voted for Thomas Jefferson. In the end, he fell out with both John Adams and Jefferson over foreign policy issues.

Rutledge was elected to the state Senate, twice, and in 1789 elected Governor. Due to ill-health, he was barely able to complete his term as Governor in 1800 at age 50.

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. (1746-1809) was born at Old House Plantation, in St Helena’s Parish, South Carolina to one of the wealthiest planters in the colony. He died there and is buried in the family cemetery. He married in 1773. In 1786 His wife died and he remarried. Only one child from both marriages lived to maturity.

He received a classical education at home and like fellow South Carolina signers Middleton, Lynch, and Rutledge, Heywood was educated in law at Oxford then pursued legal studies in England.

In 1775 he was elected to the Second Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Georgia and South Carolina delegations led the opposition to his inclusion of language “reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa.” In 1778 he returned to South Carolina to serve as a Judge. He was taken prisoner by the British while in command of a Militia force during the siege of Charleston. He resumed his Judgeship following the war, and retired in 1798.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.

Thomas Lynch, Jr. (1749-1779) was born in Winyah, South Carolina. Sometime between 1776 and 1779, he and his wife were on a ship bound for France; it disappeared in the Caribbean. The couple were childless.

He went to Eton College in London, then to Cambridge University, and like fellow South Carolina signers Middleton, Rutledge, and Heywood, Lynch was educated in law in London. He returned to South Carolina in 1772 still in his early twenties. Lynch was a company commander in a South Carolina regiment in 1775. He was a member of the South Carolina provincial Congress from 1774-1776 and the first State legislature in 1776.

His father, Thomas Lynch, Sr,. was elected to both the first and second Continental Congress. However, in early 1776, Lynch, Sr., suffered a serious stroke and was unable to participate further. South Carolina then selected Lynch Jr., to become an additional official delegate. He voted in favor of independence, signed the Declaration, and then retired due to his own health problems. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Georgia and South Carolina delegations led the opposition to his inclusion of language “reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa.”

Arthur Middleton

Arthur Middleton

Arthur Middleton (1742-1787) was born in Charleston, South Carolina to a wealthy and politically active family. He is buried at the family plantation. He married in 1764 and fathered nine children.

He was educated in England. Middleton went to Hackney School, graduated from Cambridge in 1773, and like fellow South Carolina signers Lynch, Rutledge, and Heywood, Middleton was educated in law at Oxford and studied law in London.

Upon his return to Charleston, he was elected to the Council of Safety in 1775. In 1776, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress as a replacement for his father Henry Middleton who was president of the First Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration of Independence. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Georgia and South Carolina delegations led the opposition to his inclusion of language “reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa.” He was re-elected through 1780, but was absent from the proceedings. Middleton was also elected Governor in 1780, but declined the appointment.

Like his colleagues Heyward and Rutledge, he was captured when the British overran Charleston 1781 and held prisoner for over a year. Most of his fortune was destroyed during the Revolution.

In 1782, he served in Congress. He was engaged in State politics until his death.

Samuel Chase

Samuel Chase

Samuel Chase (1741-1811) was born in Princes Anne, Maryland. He died in Baltimore and is buried in Old St Paul’s Cemetery. He received a classical education with the help of his father, an Anglican clergyman, in Baltimore. Chase studied law, joined the bar in 1761, and practiced in Annapolis. He married in 1762 and fathered four children.

Between 1764 and 1784, he was a member of the colonial and then the Maryland state legislature. Royal authorities denounced him for participating in violent protests sponsored by the Sons of Liberty in 1765 against the Stamp Act. In 1774 and 1775, he was a member of the Maryland Committee of Correspondence, Council of Safety, and the provincial convention.

In 1774 he was selected to represent Maryland at the First Continental Congress where he supported a trade embargo on British goods. He was re-elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1775, and served there until 1778. In 1776, he was a member of a three person diplomatic mission to Canada, along with Benjamin Franklin and Charles Carroll, to seek a union between Canada and the colonies. He returned to Philadelphia in mid June. The vote on Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence had been postponed until July 1 and Chase knew that Maryland was not committed to independence. Chase returned to Maryland and, with the help of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and William Paca, persuaded the Maryland legislature to vote for independence. The three Maryland delegates arrived just in time to register the vote.

In 1785,he represented Maryland at the Mount Vernon Conference, the unsuccessful forerunner of the Annapolis Convention that led to a “more perfct union” between the states. In 1786 he moved to Baltimore, and in 1788 he was appointed chief justice of the Criminal Court of the district of Baltimore. He opposed the ratification of. the Constitution at the Maryland Ratifying Convention although later he became known as a staunch Federalist. He was later appointed chief justice of the state of Maryland. In 1796 he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, and served in that office until his death. He was impeached by the Jefferson oriented House of Representatives in 1805 on 8 counts of impeachment for his Federalist “partisan” judicial decisions, but he was acquitted by the Senate.

Thomas Stone

Thomas Stone

Thomas Stone (1743-1787) was born at Poynton Manor in Charles County Maryland. He died in Alexandra, Virginia and is buried in the family graveyard at his home in Habre-de-Venture. He married Margaret Brown from a wealthy Maryland family in 1768 and, with the assistance of slaves, ran a large tobacco plantation.

He was educated in the classics by a Scottish school-master and later studied law in Annapolis. He was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1764 and practiced for two years in Frederick, Maryland before returning to Charles County. He became a prosperous landowner and is a lesser known signer.

In 1773, Stone became a member of the Charles County Committee of Correspondence. In 1774, he became a member of the provincial convention and then elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1775. He was a member of the committee that framed the Articles of Confederation, but did not sign the document. Stone rarely spoke in Congress and was no firebrand on behalf of independence. In fact, he hoped that matters would be resolved peacefully between Britain and the colonies. He supported the Olive Branch Petition to King George which the King rejected. On June 28, the Maryland Convention changed its mind and instructed its delegates to vote for independence. Like Carter Braxton and Edward Rutledge, in the end, he accepted the will of the majority and Maryland voted for Independence on July 2, 1776. He signed the Declaration on August 2.

Stone was elected to the Maryland Senate in 1779 and served until 1785 when he resigned to care for his wife who was in ill-health. He returned briefly to the Continental Congress in 1784. In 1785, he represented Maryland at the Mount Vernon Conference. He was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, but declined to attend because of his wife’s failing health. She died in 1787, and Stone never got over the grief. He died the same year while waiting for a ship to take him on a recuperation trip to England.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Charles Carroll

Charles Carroll (1737-1832) of Carrollton was born an only child into a wealthy Roman Catholic family of Irish descent in Annapolis, Maryland. He died in Baltimore and is interred in Doughoregan Manor. He married Mary Darnell in 1768 and fathered seven children only three of whom lived to maturity.

He began his formal education at the age of 11 in France at St. Omar’s Jesuit College. Carroll graduated from the College of Louis the Grande at age 17 and continued his practical studies in Europe, and legal studies in London, before returning to Baltimore at age 28.

This very wealthy owner of agricultural estates, estimated to be 80,000 acres, and of 1,000 Catholic slaves, was an early leader of the Independence movement despite being barred from holding public office in Maryland because he was Catholic. Through his long career, he sponsored legislation in favor of the gradual legislation of slavery and the. right of Catholics to participate in politics.

In 1772 and 1773, he wrote anonymous newspaper articles under the name “First Citizen” opposing the right of the British government to tax the colonies without representation. Between 1774-1776, he supported non-importation measures, attended the first Maryland Revolutionary convention, and served on the committee of safety.

Even though Carroll was an early advocate for armed resistance and independence from Britain, the people of Maryland were much more ambivalent about separation. Maryland, for example, did not send a representative to the First Continental Congress. Carroll served on the first Committee of Safety, at Annapolis, in 1775, and also in the Provincial Congress. He visited the Second Continental Congress in 1776 and was a member of a three person diplomatic mission to Canada, along with Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase, to seek a union between Canada and the colonies.

Shortly after his return from Quebec in June 1776, the Maryland Convention, pressured by Carroll, Chase, and William Paca decided to support the Revolution. The Maryland resolution arrived in Philadelphia on July 1 just in time for the vote on Richard Henry Lee’s postponed June 7 independence resolution. Carroll was elected to represent Maryland on July 4, and was a late signer of the Declaration of Independence. He signed the Declaration on August 2. He was the only Catholic signer. He was also the longest-lived and last surviving signer of the Declaration. John Adams wrote to James Warren in 1776 that Carroll “continues to hazard his all: his immense fortune, the largest in America, and his life.” He served in the Continental Congress until 1778.

In 1778 he returned to Maryland from Philadelphia and participated in the formation of the new state government. He was a member of the committee that framed the new Maryland constitution. He was elected to the Maryland Senate in 1781, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (but did not attend), and as U.S. Senator to the first Federal Congress in 1788 where he supported Hamilton’s financial proposals. He returned to the State Senate in 1790 and served there for 10 years. He retired from politics in 1800.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was born at Shadwell Plantation in Albemarle county, Virginia. He died at Monticello just a few hours before John Adams on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. His tombstone indicates what he wanted to be remembered for: the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and the founding of the University of Virginia. His father died in 1757 and left him nearly 3,000 acres of land. In 1772, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton who died in 1782. They had six children in their ten year marriage, but only two lived to maturity. Jefferson probably fathered six children with Sally Hemmings, one of over 600 slaves he owned.

He was tutored by the Reverend James Maury in the classical tradition studying Latin, Greek, and French at age 9. He graduated from William and Mary College in Williamsburg at age 19, studied Law under George Wythe, the first professor of law in America who later would sign the Declaration in 1776. Jefferson was admitted to the Bar in 1767.

Jefferson attended the House of Burgesses as a student in 1765 when he witnessed Patrick Henry’s opposition to the Stamp Act. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1769 and served continuously until 1775. Jefferson’s involvement in revolutionary politics began and matured here in Williamsburg. Although never a vocal member, his written drafts and committee work made him an invaluable member of the House. In 1774, Jefferson drafted a resolution that called for a “Day of Fasting and Prayer” in response to the passage of the Intolerable Acts that formed the basis of his pamphlet A Summary View of the Rights of British America that denounced British control of the colonies. It was widely read throughout the colonies and even in England where it was promoted by Edmund Burke.

In 1775, Jefferson was elected as a replacement delegate to the First Continental Congress, but most of his suggestions because of their strong opposition to British rule. Things were different in the Second Continental Congress; the case for revolution had become stronger than the case for reconciliation. Jefferson was chosen to a five member committee that included John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, to draft the Declaration of Independence. He was chosen by the committee in turn to write the draft. The document, that included minor modifications from Adams and Franklin, was presented to the Congress on June 28. The Congress debated the draft on July 1 and excised a passage critical of the King, and an anti-slavery clause that according to Jefferson offended the South Carolina and Georgia delegations. The Declaration was adopted on July 4 and most of the delegates signed on August 2.

Jefferson returned to his home in Virginia in September where he served in the House of Delegates from 1776 to 1779. He drafted the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty in 1777 that declared that all men “shall be free to profess… their opinions in matters of religion.” This proposal was not passed by the Virginia legislature until 1786. In June 1779, he succeeded Patrick Henry as Governor of Virginia. The southern colonies were under heavy attack from British forces and Jefferson proved to be an ineffective war time Governor. He declined re-election after his first term and was succeeded by General Thomas Nelson, Jr. who also signed. The Declaration of. Independence.

In 1781 he retired to Monticello, the estate he inherited, to write and attend to his ailing wife. Martha died in September 1782. Retirement, however, proved to be temporary. He was elected to the Confederation Congress in 1783 where he wrote the Land Ordinance that ceded Virginia’s Northwest Territories and included the Jefferson Proviso” that banned slavery in the territories. In 1784 Jefferson went to France with Franklin and Adams to negotiate commercial treaties. He succeeded Franklin as Minister to France in 1785 and served in that position until 1789.

He returned to America in 1789, and was appointed Secretary of State by President George Washington. Jefferson, however, disagreed with Alexander Hamilton on the constitutionality of the Bank and with other Federalists on the direction of the country was taking under strong national leadership. He resigned from the cabinet in 1793 and, with James Madison, formed the opposition Democratic Republican party. Jefferson ran for president in 1796 but lost to John Adams. Under the rules of the Electoral College, Jefferson became vice president to a person whom he no longer respected. And even as vice president, he was bold enough to support the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Jefferson again ran for the presidency in 1801 and won. In victory, he graciously remarked in his Inaugural Address that “we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Witness the peaceful transition of power in America, “the world’s best hope.” In fact, the election was contentious. Jefferson beat Aaron Burr in the House of Representatives on the 36th ballot with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton.

Jefferson retired, finally, to Monticello in 1809. In 1815, he sold his own personal library to Congress to help launch the Library of Congress. With his long-time friend and ally James Madison, he helped establish the University of Virginia in 1819. Jefferson died on July 4, hours before Adams, as the nation celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison (1726-1791) was born in Berkeley, Charles City County, Virginia to a prominent southern planter family. He died in Berkeley and is buried there in the family cemetery. Harrison married and fathered seven children who survived infancy.

He attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg, but was unable to complete his studies due to the sudden death of his father in 1745. He assumed management of the family plantation and his landholdings eventually grew to include eight plantations run by several slaves.

He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1764. Harrison voted with his colleagues to defy the Royal Governor and passed the Stamp Act Resolutions. His declared attachment to republican principles, however, did not include supporting Patrick Henry’s call in 1765 to oppose the Stamp Act by means of civil disobedience. Nevertheless, Harrison cast his lot with the patriots rather than the royalists. Although a slaveholder, Harrison signed a petition in 1772 requesting that King George abolish the slave trade. Between 1773 and 1776, he served on the committee of correspondence and the provincial Congresses.

Harrison was elected by Virginia to the First Congress. He was reelected to the Second Continental Congress (1774-1777). In November 1775, Harrison was appointed to a select committee that included Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Lynch to review the needs of the army. In Spring 1776 he was chairman of the Committee of the Whole where he presided over the debates concerning the June Richard Henry Lee Resolution for independence.

The Committee of Five presented Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration on June 28, and on July 1, the Committee of the Whole debated its content. The Committee amended the draft on July 2 and 3, and the Congress adopted the Declaration on July 4. Pennsylvania Delegate Benjamin Rush recalled the atmosphere during the signing of the Declaration on August 2. He said that Harrison interrupted “the silence and gloom of the morning,” as delegates filed to sign the Declaration. According to Rush, in an 1811 letter to John Adams, the rotund Harrison approached the diminutive Elbridge Gerry, and said, “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes and be with the Angels, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.” In 1777 Harrison became a member of the newly-created Committee of Secret Correspondence for the Congress. He was also named Chairman of the Board of War. He stirred controversy by endorsing the rights of Quakers not to bear arms.

He left Congress in October 1777 to attend to his ravaged estates and to participate in state politics. In May 1776, the House of Burgesses was replaced by the House of Delegates. He was elected Speaker (1778-1781). In November 1781, he was chosen Governor. Back in the House in 1786, he supported Patrick Henry’s proposal that Virginia provide funds for teachers of the Christian religion. The proposal failed. The assembly instead enacted Thomas Jefferson’s famous Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. which established a complete separation of church and state.[68]

Harrison was a member of the Virginia Ratifying Convention for the United States Constitution in 1788. However, along with Patrick Henry and George Mason, he opposed ratification because of the absence of a Bill of Rights. Harrison continued his work in the Virginia House.

Harrison suffered from gout during his later years. He apparently had a reputation for his love of good food and fine wines that earned him the nickname “Falstaff of Congress.” John Adams referred to Harrison in his diary as, another “Sir John Falstaff”: “obscene,” “profane,” and “impious.” His son, William Henry Harrison, was elected ninth President of the United States. His great-grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23d President of the United States. Harrison is included in the Washington, D.C. Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Thomas Nelson Jr. (1738-1789) was born in Yorktown, Virginia to a wealthy family. He died at his estate, Offley Hoo, in Hanover County. He is buried in Yorktown in the yard of Grace Episcopal Church. He received a private education in England, and then a degree from Cambridge in 1760. Nelson and his wife had 11 children. He became a wealthy planter merchant in his own right who owned over 400 slaves.

He returned from England in 1761 and soon became involved in colonial and continental politics. Health problems, however, limited his political career. In 1765 became a justice of. the peace. He was also elected in 1765 to the House of Burgesses and served until Governor Lord Dunmore dissolved it. 1774, he was one of eighty nine people who convened at the Raleigh tavern when that House was dissolved by the royal Governor. He was a member of the five Virginia provincial conventions that met (1774-1776). He helped create the Virginia Militia and became its first Commander.

Nelson was elected to the First and Second Continental Congress (1775-1777) and was reelected in 1779. He was an early supporter of severance from Britain and secured a resolution supporting independence from the fifth Virginia convention meeting in Williamsburg in May 1776. Nelson returned to Philadelphia and handed it over to Richard Henry Lee who used it as the basis for his June 7 Resolution. He was one of the members chosen on June 12, 1776 to prepare a draft of the Articles of Confederation.

Nelson suffered health problems from 1776 onwards. He retired from national politics in Philadelphia in 1777 and, except for a brief time in 1779, returned to Virginia where he resumed both his political activities and military duties.

In 1781, Thomas Jefferson declined reelection as Governor and General Nelson succeeded him and served as both Civil Governor and Commander in chief of the Virginia Militia. The Continental Army and French forces relied on the competence of the Virginia units in the Siege of Yorktown in the Fall of 1781. Legend has it that he ordered his troops to destroy his own mansion because it was occupied by British forces.

Overcome by illness in October 1781, General Nelson retired completely from public service.

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797), younger brother of R.H. Lee, was born in Westmoreland at the Stratford Hall estate, into one of the most famous Virginia families. He is buried in the Tayloe family graveyard at Mount Airy. He was educated at home and then became a gentleman farmer. He married Rebecca Tayloe in 1769 but they had no children.

In 1765 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he served until 1775. He was a noted radical protestor who sided with Patrick Henry in opposing the Stamp Act of 1765. He Joined the group who called for a general congress and a Virginia Convention in 1774. He attended that convention and that year was sent to the first Continental Congress.

He also represented Virginia in the Second Continental Congress until 1779, working on numerous committees. Lee signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He retired from Congress in 1779 and returned to his home. He served for a while in the Virginia Senate and then retired to private life.

Carter Braxton

Carter Braxton

Carter Braxton (1736-1776) was born to a wealthy merchant and planter family in Newington Plantation in King and Queen county Virginia. He died in Richmond. He is buried in the family cemetery at his Chericoke plantation located near Elsing Green. He married Judith Robinson, a wealthy heiress, at age 19, but she died two years later. He remarried in 1761. His two wives bore 18 children, the most fathered by any signer. He lost nearly all of his wealth during the revolution. He was one of the largest landowners and slave owners in Virginia and he was active in the slave trade.

Braxton was educated at William and Mary College. In 1760 he returned from a two year visit to England and was appointed to represent King William county in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He served continuously in the House until 1775 except for a term as county sheriff (1772-1773). In 1769, despite his conservative inclinations, he joined the patriots in support of Virginia’s sole right to tax inhabitants by signing the Virginia Resolves and the nonimportation Virginia Association agreement. But he did not support the boycott feature of the Second Association nor the pledge not to purchase East Indian goods in the Third Association. When the house was dissolved in 1774, he joined the patriot’s Committee of Safety in Virginia, and represented his county in the Virginia Convention.

In 1775, upon the death of Peyton Randolph, Braxton was selected to the Second Continental Congress and arrived in Philadelphia in early 1776. At first he was critical of the independence movement, but like Edward Rutledge and Thomas Stone, in the end, he voted for Independence on July 2 1776. He expressed concerns over the “radical” new Virginia Constitution and this led to him not being reappointed to Congress. In 1777 he returned to Virginia and continued his term in the House of Burgesses until his death. He also served on the Governor’s executive council.

During the War, he used his wealth to sponsor shipping but the British captured his ships, ravaged his plantations and turned him into a debtor. In 1786, he had to leave his inherited country estate for simpler accommodations in Richmond.

John Morton

John Morton

John Morton (1724-1777), was born of Scandinavian decent in Ridley, Pennsylvania. His stepfather, an English immigrant, provided him with an informal education in surveying. He is buried in Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery in Chester, Pennsylvania. He married in 1748and fathered nine children.

Between 1756-1775, Morton was elected to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly and served as President in 1775. He held a variety of civil offices in Pennsylvania, including Justice of the Peace, High Sheriff, Presiding Judge of the General Court and the Court of Common Pleas. In 1774 he was appointed Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

He attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. In 1774, he was one of nine delegates from Pennsylvania elected to the first Continental Congress who met in Carpenters Hall. Morton was one of nine Pennsylvania delegates to sign the Declaration. On July 1, 1776, he resolved his prudential and revolutionary dispositions and voted with James Wilson and Benjamin Franklin to sign the Declaration. He was also a member of several committees in the second Continental Congress and chairman of the committee that reported the Articles of Confederation.

Morton is another example of a signer of the Declaration who had an extensive reputation at the state and local level without establishing a national reputation. Morton was the first signer of the Declaration to die!

James Smith

James Smith

James Smith (1719-1806) was born in Northern Ireland. He emigrated to Chester County, Pennsylvania with his family in 1729. He died in York and was buried in the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

Smith received a classical education at Rev Francis Allison’s Academy in New London. He later studied law at the office of his older brother George, in Lancaster, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar at age twenty-six, and set up an office in Cumberland County, near Shippensburg. In 1750, he moved to more populated York. During the 1760s Smith became a leader in the area.

Smith attended a provincial assembly convention in 1774 where he presented a paper called “Essay on the Constitutional Power of Great Britain over the Colonies in America;” he advocated a boycott of British goods. He also encouraged the formation of a Continental Congress of the Colonies. In 1775, he organized a volunteer militia company in York. He was appointed to the provincial convention in Philadelphia in 1775, and the state constitutional convention in 1776.

He was elected to the Second Continental Congress on July 20, 1776, some sixteen days after July 4! He signed the Declaration of Independence.

Smith retired from the Congress in 1777, and served one term in the State assembly, as a judge of the state High Court of Appeals. In 1782 he was appointed Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania militia. He was reelected to Congress in 1785 but declined due to advancing age.

George Taylor

George Taylor

George Taylor (1716-1781) was born in Northern Ireland and emigrated to America, as an indentured servant, in his early twenties. He died in Easton, Pennsylvania and is buried in St. John’s Lutheran Church Easton Cemetery. He acquired the business of his employer upon his death. He married his widow and had two children. His former home, in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, is a National Historic Landmark. Taylor was one of eight immigrants to sign the Declaration of Independence.

He was a successful Ironmaster and iron production was the central concern of his life. Entry into politics followed his commercial success.

Taylor was appointed a justice of the peace and elected to the Pennsylvania provincial assembly in 1764, where he served until 1769. He was a member of the committee that drafted the instructions of Pennsylvania delegates to the First Continental Congress. He was also a member of the Committee of Correspondence, and of the Committee of Safety (1773-1776).

In 1776 he was appointed as a replacement member of the Pennsylvania delegation to Congress, five of whom remained loyal to the Crown. He arrived in time to sign the Declaration on August 2. Taylor served in Congress through 1777.

He returned home and was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Council but, due to ill health, he served for only six weeks.

George Ross

George Ross

George Ross (1730-1779), the son of an Anglican clergyman who immigrant from Scotland, was born in Newcastle, Delaware and died in Philadelphia. He is buried in Christ Church Burial Ground. He received a home-schooled classical education, was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar in 1750, and practiced law in Lancaster. He married and fathered three children. He was the uncle in law of Betsy Ross.

His early political inclinations, like a number of the signers, were Tory. Ross served for twelve years as Crown Prosecutor to Carlisle. He was elected to the provincial legislature in 1768 where he served until elected to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in1776 that drafted the Pennsylvania Constitution and Bill of Rights. He was a member of the Committee of Safety for Pennsylvania in 1775. In 1776 he was also a Colonel in the Continental Army.

Ross represented Pennsylvania in both the First and the Second Continental Congress. He was the last Pennsylvania delegate to sign the Declaration. He was reelected in 1777, but resigned due to poor health.

In 1779 Ross was appointed to be a judge in the Pennsylvania Court of Admiralty but died in office the same year.

Caesar Rodney

Caesar Rodney

Caesar Rodney (1728-1784) was born in Dover, Delaware where he also died. A number of sources claim that he is buried in Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery in Dover, but this is disputed by some historians.

It is also unclear whether or not he received any formal education but, thanks to his guardian Nicholas Ridgley, became steeped in Delaware colonial political life from an early age. That much is certainly clear. He inherited the approximately 1,000 acre “Byfield” plantation from his father and at one time reputedly owned up to 200 slaves. His will called for the freeing of all of his slaves upon his death.

In 1755, Rodney served as High Sheriff of Kent County. Subsequently, his colonial responsibilities included registrar of wills, recorder of deeds, clerk of the orphan’s court, and justice of the peace. He was elected to the colonial legislature and, except for 1771, served until the legislature was dissolved in 1776.

Rodney also had a revolutionary side. He was a delegate, with Thomas McKean, to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, a member of the Delaware Committee of Correspondence, and a military leader in the colonial militia. In 1778, he was elected President of the State of Delaware for a three year term and also served as Major-General of the Delaware Militia. He was a speaker of the second branch of the State of Delaware from 1776 to 1784. He died in office.

Although primarily interested in colonial, state, and local politics, he was also associated with politics at the continental level. He was elected, with McKean and George Read, to the First and Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Rodney was also involved during 1776 in local politics and military duties.

He is remembered for his dramatic overnight ride on July 1, 1776 from Delaware to Philadelphia in a rainstorm. On that day, Congress took a non-binding test vote and the tally was nine in favor of independence. New York was absent, and Pennsylvania and New York were opposed to severance from Britain. Delaware was tied: McKean favored independence and Read preferred reconciliation. McKean, in Philadelphia, sent Rodney, in Delaware, an emergency request to put his military obligations on hold and come to Philadelphia to break the tie in the Delaware vote. Rodney travelled all night and arrived in Philadelphia, seventy miles away, to cast the deciding vote. “I vote for independence,” Rodney declared.

Fellow Continental Congress delegate John Adams referred to Rodney as a man with a sense of “spirit, wit, and humor.”

Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean (1734-1817) was born of Scotch-Irish ancestry in New London, eastern Pennsylvania near the border of New Jersey and Delaware. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. He married Mary Borden, the sister of Francis Hopkinson’s wife. Hopkinson was signer from New Jersey. After Mary died, McKean married Sarah Armitage and together they had five children.

McKean practiced law in both Pennsylvania and Delaware, and served as a colonel in the New Jersey militia. He was politically active in all three states, even while elected to federal office. In 1756, he became deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania. In 1757, he was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and appointed clerk of the Delaware Assembly.

In 1762 the Assembly appointed McKean and Caesar Rodney, another signer of the Declaration, to revise and publish the laws of the province of Delaware. Also in 1762, he was elected to the Delaware Assembly, and re-elected for seventeen years despite a six year residence in Philadelphia during that time. No other Signer of the Declaration took part in so many different State activities simultaneously as did McKean.

In 1775 he represented Delaware at the Stamp Act Congress in New York and then Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress from 1774-1777. On July 1, 1776, two of the three Delaware delegates were in attendance. McKean voted in favor of Independence and George Read voted against it. McKean strongly opposed the power that the British were imposing on the colonies. He sent an urgent message to Caesar Rodney in Dover to come at once to Philadelphia to break the deadlock. Rodney rode overnight in a rainstorm, having arrived wearing boots and spurs as described by McKean, and the deadlock was broken on July 2.

McKean also served on the Congressional committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. In 1777, he was appointed Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, an office that he held for nearly twenty years. He was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1781. In 1787 he attended the Pennsylvania ratifying convention and voted in favor of ratification. In 1789 he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania and served in that office before retiring in 1812. But his governorship was controversial as he survived an impeachment effort due to strife within differing partisan viewpoints.

William Floyd

William Floyd

William Floyd (1734-1821) was born in Brookhaven, Long Island, New York to a very successful farming family who immigrated from Wales. He died in Westernville, New York, and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery there. He married Hannah Jones in 1760 and they had three children. His wife died in 1781. Floyd remarried in 1784 and fathered two children.

He received little formal schooling, and was neither a lawyer nor a politician. But he had an extensive knowledge of farming. His father and mother died when he was still in his teens, and Floyd assumed responsibility for the operation of the family farm, the upbringing of his younger brothers and sisters, and to the well-being of the Brookhaven church. He was a member of the Suffolk County Militia in the early conflict with Britain, attaining the rank of Major General.

In 1774 Floyd was chosen to represent New York in the First and Second Continental Congress. He was a “late signer;” he signed the Declaration on August 2. He served in the Congress through 1777, and again between 1779-1803.

His property was destroyed in the Revolutionary War. Undaunted, he acquired land on the banks of the Mohawk river after the war and eventually retired there. In 1789 he was elected to the 1st Congress under the new Constitution, serving until 1791. In 1792 he served as a presidential elector, voting for the re-election of George Washington and then in 1800 voting for Thomas Jefferson. He was state Senator in 1803, and then he retired to eighteen years of farming.

Philip Livingston

Philip Livingston

Philip Livingston (1716-1778) was born in Albany, New York. He died in York, Pennsylvania while serving in the Continental Congress. He is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in York. He married in 1740 and fathered nine children.

He graduated from Yale College in 1737, and then entered the mercantile business in New York. He was a very successful businessman who amassed his wealth by speculating in real estate and the slave trade. He was also a civic philanthropist supporting creation of Kings College and the New York Public Library.

He served as a New York alderman (1754-1763). In 1754 he attended the Colonial Convention at Albany and served in the colonial legislature (1759-1769). Along with 26 other delegates from the colonies, Livingston attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 that wrote The Declaration of Rights and Grievances of Colonial America. It was the Stamp Act that turned Livingston from a reluctant supporter of the independence movement to a supporter of independence from Britain.

In 1774, he became a member of an extra-legal group –the Committee of 51–that selected the New York city delegates to the Continental Congress. Livingston was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress and then Second Continental Congress in 1776, where he served on committees that focused on commerce, finance, and Indian affairs. He strongly favored the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but was absent for the July vote. The New York delegation did not receive authorization to vote for independence until July 15 thus becoming the last colony to vote for severance from Britain. Livingston was “a late signer;” he signed on August 2.

In August, 1776, British troops utilized Livingston’s homes in New York as barracks and a hospital. Later, he served in the New York Senate. He died suddenly while in attending the Confederation Congress at York, Pennsylvania.

Francis Lewis

Francis Lewis

Francis Lewis (1713-1802) was born in Llandaff, Glamorganshire, Wales to parents who attended the Church of England. He died in New York and is buried in an unmarked grave in the yard of Episcopal Trinity Church. In 1745 he married Elizabeth Annesley, the sister of his business partner. Only three of their seven children survived to adulthood.

He was orphaned at age 5, but the family supported his attendance at Westminster School in England where there is a granite marker and bronze plaque honoring his attendance. Westminster School in England and entered a mercantile house in London. He set up mercantile businesses in London, New York and Philadelphia and finally settled in New York during the 1750s. Lewis was captured during the French and Indian War and was briefly a prisoner of war in France. He returned to New York in 1763, established a large fortune, and began his life of politics.

Lewis was elected to the 1765 Stamp Act Congress where he was challenged to change his position from reconciliation with Britain to independence from Britain. Lewis became active in state and local politics in the 1760s and early 1770s. He was a founder of the Sons of Liberty.

He was then elected to the First and Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1779 where he served on several committees that focused on commercial matters and troop supplies. On July 5, 1775, he signed John Dickinson’s Olive Branch Petition which was the effort to seek reconciliation with Britain. The King responded on August 25, 1775 declaring the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. Still, along with the other New York delegates, Lewis was instructed not to vote for independence on both July 2 and July 4, 1776. It was the only colony to vote against independence. The New York legislature then gave authorization to support a vote of independence and Lewis, and the other delegates, signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. He was the oldest New York signer. Lewis was one of sixteen signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.

Lewis lost all of his property in New York during the Revolutionary War. His wife was captured in 1776. She was released but died in 1779. Lewis retired from Congress in 1781 and left the political life behind.

Lewis Morris

Lewis Morris

Lewis Morris (1726-1798) was born at Morrisania, New York where he also died. He is buried at St. Ann’s Church, in the Bronx.

He was educated privately and then graduated from Yale College in 1746. He then returned to the family farm near Harlem. He married Mary Walton in 1749 and fathered ten children.

The Stamp Act of 1765 along with the Quartering Act of the same year, and the Townsend Acts of 1767-1768 all had negative impact on Morris’s views on British-colonial relations. In 1769, Morris served in the colonial legislature and also as Governor. By 1775 Morris had helped the development of a strong patriotic sentiment in Tory New York.

Morris was not chosen to the First Continental Congress, but he was elected to the Second Continental Congress by the New York legislature in 1775. He served on several committees including military and Indian affairs. He also was a brigadier-general in the New York militia and was thus absent on military duty on July 4, and also for the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. He thus joined Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Thomas McKean, and Mathew Thornton as late signers. Legend has it, that Morris was warned by his brother of the dangerous consequences that would befall him if he signed. Morris replied “Damn the consequences. Give me the pen.” In 1777, he was succeeded in Congress by his more famous brother, Gouverneur Morris.

His property was destroyed in the revolution. In the 1780s, Morris returned to local politics, serving as a judge in Worcester and State legislator from 1777-1781 and 1784-1788. He was selected to the New York Ratifying Convention where he supported ratification of the Constitution.

Morris spent most of the 1780s and the 1790s rebuilding the farm destroyed during the revolutionary war.

Richard Stockton

Richard Stockton

Richard Stockton (1730-1781) was born into a wealthy landowning family near Princeton, New Jersey where he also died. He is buried at the Stony Brook Quaker Meeting House Cemetery. In 1755 he married Annis Boudinot and they had six children.

He attended the West Nottingham Academy in Maryland, and then earned a degree at the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1748. He studied law and was admitted to the Bar in 1754. By 1765, Stockton had become an eminent lawyer in the Middle Colonies. He was appointed to the royal council of New Jersey in 1765 and, in 1774, he was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Stockton would have been considered a pollical moderate concerning British-Colonial relations. He argued that the colonies should be represented in the British Parliament. With the passage of the Stamp Act, he moved more in the direction of Independence. In 1776, the five New Jersey delegates to the Second Continental Congress were reluctant to endorse Independence. New Jersey elected the following as replacement delegates: Abraham Clark, John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Stockton, and John Witherspoon, whom Stockton and his son-in-law Benjamin Rush had recruited to be the President of Princeton University in the 1760s. They were given instructions to vote for Independence and they did.

Stockton was appointed to committees supporting the war effort. He was dispatched, with George Cylmer. on a fact-finding tour of the Continental Army in New York where he learned that New Jersey had been overrun by the British. He managed to move his family to safety, but Stockton, however, was captured, imprisoned, and tortured. Apparently, he was the only signer imprisoned because he was a signer! Benjamin Rush wrote to Ricard Henry Lee on December 30, 1776: “My much-honored father-in-law…suffers many indignities and hardships from the enemy.”

Stockton was released in January 1777, and returned, a broken man and in ill-health, to his estate, in Princeton, where he found his crops, livestock, and library destroyed. He formally resigned from Congress in February, 1777.

Stockton’s legacy is complex. He has been honored since 1888 with a marble statue in the U. S. Capitol as one of two New Jersey heroes. He is one of six signers to receive this honor. However, several original signers, as well as 21st Century historians, wonder whether he made a deal with his British captors: freedom from prison in exchange for loyalty to the Crown.

Francis Hopkinson

Francis Hopkinson

Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) was born in Philadelphia, the eldest of eight children. He died in Philadelphia while riding as Federal Circuit Judge and is buried in Christ Church Burial Ground. He married in 1768.

Talented, charming, and wealthy, he was the first to graduate from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). He studied Law with Benjamin Chew (later, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania) and was accepted to the Bar in 1761. He then furthered his education with two years of study (1766-1768) with the Bishop of Worcester, England. On his return to America, he wrote opera, music, poetry, and satire in support of the Patriot cause. His satirical works include “A Pretty Story,” the “Battle of the Kegs,” and the 1776 “The Prophecy,” where he predicted that independence would be declared. He also served as chair (1777-1778) of the Continental Navy Board, Treasurer of. Loans (1778-1781), and judge of the admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779. By contrast, Hopkins service at the national level was less extensive, but no less important.

Hopkinson was elected as one of five replacement delegates to the Second Continental Congress in 1776, where he signed the Declaration, and also drew character sketches of his fellow delegates. The other four replacement delegates were John Witherspoon, Abraham Clark, Richard Stockton, and John Hart.

After the War, he actively supported the Constitution. He was commissioned a Judge of Admiralty in Pennsylvania in 1780, and Washington appointed him U.S. District Judge for Pennsylvania in 1790. He died from an epileptic seizure in 1791.

John Hart

John Hart

John Hart (circa 1703/1711-1779) was born at Stonington, Connecticut and moved to Hopewell, New Jersey. He died at his farm, and was buried at the First Baptist Cemetery in Hopewell, New Jersey. His parents moved to New Jersey when he one year old. He had a limited education. But he inherited, and then worked, the very successful farm, acquired various mills, and became a leading member of the local community. He married in 1740 and fathered thirteen children.

He was also active in colonial and early state politics. His one, and perhaps only, memorable national experience was the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Fellow signer Benjamin Rush described Hart as “a plain, honest, well meaning Jersey farmer, with but little education, but with good sense and virtue enough to pursue the true interests of his country.”

The first public service of “Honest John” was as a justice of the peace. In 1761 he was elected the New Jersey Assembly, and annually reelected until the assembly was dissolved in 1771. In 1775 he was appointed to the local Committee of Safety, the Committee of Correspondence, and a judge to the Court of Common Pleas. He was elected to the newly formed Provincial Congress of New Jersey in 1776, where he opposed taxation by Parliament and the stationing of British troops in New Jersey.

In June 1776, Hart, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Abraham Clark, and Francis Hopkinson were appointed to the Second Continental Congress as replacements for the five original delegates who preferred reconciliation with Britain rather than independence. The new delegation arrived in time to sign the Declaration on July 2 and July 4. In August, he agreed to become speaker of the first branch of the New Jersey legislature. He was engaged in public service throughout the war, twice reelected to the Congress and also served on the Committee of Safety.

Hart’s New Jersey property was looted and the area was occupied by the British in November in 1776. He went into hiding. On June 22, 1778, he invited the 12,000 member American army led by George Washington to encamp on his farm. He died of kidney stones in 1779.

Abraham Clark

Abraham Clark

Abraham Clark (1726-1794) was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He died in Rahway and is buried there in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

Clark was tutored in mathematics and surveying—as well as in farming–and then taught himself law and went into practice as “the poor man’s counselor” serving poor farmers for free in cases dealing with title disputes. In succeeding years he served in the colonial era as the clerk of the Provincial Assembly and High Sheriff of Essex County. In the early 1770s, he became a member of the New Jersey Council of Public Safety, attended Revolutionary Conventions and was elected to the New Jersey Provincial Congress in 1775.

He represented New Jersey at the Second Continental Congress in 1776 as part of the New Jersey purge of original delegates who opposed independence from Britain. He joined the new pro-independence delegates John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton, and John Witherspoon in late June 1776. He signed the Declaration of Independence. Clark served in the Congress, and in the New Jersey state legislature, through the Revolutionary War.

He also attended the Annapolis Convention where, according to James Madison, he called for a Grand Convention to reconsider the structure and powers of he union under the Articles of Confederation. Although elected, he was unable, due to ill health, to attend the Federal Constitutional Convention in 1787. Clark opposed adoption of the Constitution unless it included a Bill of Rights. He was active in both national politics—he was elected to the Second and Third Congress (1791-1794)–and community politics until his death in 1794. Clark Township, New Jersey, is named in his honor.

Josiah Bartlett

Josiah Bartlett

Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795) was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts. He died in Kingston, New Hampshire where he is also buried. Bartlett studied medicine and started his practice in 1750 in Kingston. He married in in 1754 and fathered 12 children.

He was involved in local politics and became a member of the Committee of Safety, and a militia regiment officer in 1775. Bartlett was elected to represent New Hampshire in the First Continental Congress but did not attend because his house had been burned down by arsonists. He did attend the Second Continental Congress where he voted for independence, and due to the geographical order of voting, was the first delegate to sign after John Hancock. Bartlett was one of four physicians to sign the Declaration of Independence. The others were Benjamin Rush, Matthew Thornton, and Lyman Hall. He participated in the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Bartlett was one of four delegates elected to represent New Hampshire at the Federal Convention but did not attend because the State lacked funds. He later was appointed as a State judge (1779-1790), elected governor of New Hampshire in 1790 and reelected three times.

William Whipple

William Whipple

William Whipple(1730-1782) was born in Kittery Maine. He died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where he is buried in Union Cemetery along with his wife, son, and ex slave, Prince. He went off to sea as a boy and attained the position of Ship’s Master by the age of 21. In 1759 he arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and, in partnership with his brother, established a successful mercantile business that included trade between the American colonies, Europe, and the coast of Africa. In 1767 he married the daughter of a wealthy merchant; they had one child who died at an early age.

In 1775 he was elected to represent his town at the provincial congress. In 1776, Whipple became a member of the Committee of Safety, and was elected to the Continental Congress.

Whipple was in Philadelphia for the drafting and signing of the Declaration. He served through 1779, especially on the Marine Committee, though he was often absent on military duty as Brigadier General of the New Hampshire Militia. General Whipple served in the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga.

In the 1780s, Whipple was a state legislator and an associate justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire. He died, while traveling his court circuit.

Matthew Thornton

Matthew Thornton

Matthew Thornton (1714-1803) was born in County Antrim, Ireland and died in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He is buried in Thornton Ferry Cemetery. His parents emigrated to America when he was three or four years old. Thornton was educated in Worcester, Massachusetts as a medical doctor, and in 1745 was appointed surgeon to the New Hampshire troops. He later held royal commissions as justice of the peace and colonel of militia. He married around 1760 and had a family of five.

His medical practice was very successful and he became a prominent member of the Scotch-Irish Londonderry community. Thornton opposed the Stamp Act of 1765 and represented the community in the Provincial Assembly where he also served as President in 1775-1776. Thornton was selected as the first Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and as an Associate Justice to the Superior Court, under the new constitution which he helped draft.

Thornton was elected to represent New Hampshire in the Second Continental Congress but arrived in Philadelphia four months after the July signing of the Declaration. He was noted as officially present on November 4, 1776. He was granted permission to sign the Declaration at a later time, but there was no room for him to sign in the New Hampshire column. His signature appears below. That of the Connecticut delegation. Thornton joins Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, and Thomas McKean as late signers. He was one of eight immigrants, and three Irishmen, to sign the Declaration. He was also one of four physicians to sign the Declaration. The others were Benjamin Rush, Josiah Bartlett, and Lyman Hall.

He was selected to attend the 1777 session of Congress but declined due to poor health. Thornton spent the remainder of his life attending to state and local matters and operating a ferry later known as Thornton’s Ferry.

William Williams

William Williams

William Williams (1731-1811) was born in Lebanon, Connecticut. He died there and is buried in the Old Cemetery, Lebanon. His home in Lebanon is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. He married the daughter of the Royal Governor in 1771and they had three children.

He was steeped in colonial, local, and state politics throughout his life. But he was also involved in national politics; he signed the Declaration of Independence, was involved in the discussion over the Articles of Confederation, and supported the adoption of the 1787 United States Constitution.

He received a common school education, studied law and theology at Harvard and graduated in 1751. He then studied theology with his father, Solomon Williams, Pastor of the First Congregational Church in Lebanon. In 1755, he served in the French and Indian War at Lake George. After the Lake George War, he became a successful merchant in Lebanon, married the daughter of Johnathan Trumbull, the Royal Governor of Connecticut, served as a town clerk for forty-four years, and a selectman for twenty-five years. He then served in the provincial and later state Legislature for nearly forty years during which time he was councilor, member, and Speaker of the House.

Williams helped finance the war against Britain and wrote essays defending the colonial position. The Connecticut Gazette published his “Address to the King” from “America.” He was also a member of the Sons of Liberty and the Council of Safety in Connecticut.

Williams was elected to the Second Continental Congress on July 11, 1776. He arrived in Philadelphia on July 28, too late to vote for the July 4 vote (he replaced Oliver Wolcott, who became seriously ill), but he did sign the Declaration at the formal signing on August 2. He was appointed to the committee to frame the Articles of Confederation and in 1777 to the Board of War. In 1787, he supported the ratification of the Constitution at the Connecticut Ratifying Convention. Williams spent his remaining years as a Windham County Court judge.

Oliver Wolcott

Oliver Wolcott

Oliver Wolcott (1726-1797) was born in Windsor, Connecticut, the youngest of fifteen children of Royal Governor Roger Wolcott. He died in East Windsor and was buried in East Cemetery, Litchfield, Connecticut. He married Laura Collins in 1755 and they had five children. Wolcott was both a soldier and a politician.

Wolcott graduated from Yale in 1747. He rose to the rank of Captain with a volunteer army serving King George on the northern frontier. At the end of the war, Wolcott studied medicine with his brother and then turned to law. He was appointed sheriff of Litchfield County (1751-1775) and was a member of both the lower branch (1764, 1767-1768, and 1770) and the upper branch (1771-1786) of the colonial and State legislatures. In 1771, he rejoined the Connecticut Militia where he became a Major, a Colonel in 1774, and in 1776 a Brigadier General.

In 1774 the Continental Congress appointed him a Commissioner of Indian Affairs and secured a treaty of neutrality with the Iroquois in Albany. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775. By February 1776, Wolcott realized that “our difference with Great Britain has become very great. What matters will issue in, I cannot say, but perhaps in a total disseverance from Great Britain.” Wolcott was seriously ill in 1776 and returned to Connecticut. Thus he was absent on July 4 and also for the formal signing of the engrossed parchment of the Declaration of Independence on August 2. He signed it upon his return to Philadelphia in October 1776. He joined Elbridge Gerry, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Mathew Thornton as late signers.

He spent considerable time between 1776 and 1778 engaged in military affairs. In 1778 he was again elected to the Congress, where he served until 1784. He signed the Articles of Confederation.

Although retired, the Confederation Congress called on him on two different occasions to serve as an Indian Commissioner and negotiate treaties in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Yale honored him with a second degree, he was elected president of the Connecticut Society of Arts and Sciences, and in 1786 he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. Wolcott was also a delegate at the Connecticut Ratifying Convention. He assumed the Governorship on the death of Samuel Huntington in January 1796, and was popularly elected in 1797; he died in office.