The Declaration of Independence is over 1,330 words and is signed by 56 men. But what do we know about the signers?
Eight of the 56 signers were not born in the colonies:
- Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire was born in Ireland
- Francis Lewis of New York was born in Llandaff, Wales
- John Witherspoon of New Jersey was born in Gifford, Scotland
- Robert Morris of Pennsylvania was born in Liverpool, England
- James Smith of Pennsylvania was born in Northern Ireland
- George Taylor of Pennsylvania was born in Ireland
- James Wilson of Pennsylvania was born in Carskerdo, Scotland
- Button Gwinnett of Georgia was born in Gloucester, England
The New Jersey representative Richard Stockton was the only member to renounce his support for the Declaration of Independence, but it was not on his own volition. Richard was captured by the British and thrown in jail on November 30, 1776 where he was subjected to harsh treatment for months. Eventually he denounced his support for the bill, swore an oath of loyalty to King George III, and was released from prison. But after returning to New Jersey, he took a new oath of loyalty to his state in December 1777.
Overall, five signers were captured by the British. They were tortured and eventually died from their injuries.
Twelve signers had their homes ransacked and burned.
Four signers lost sons to the Revolutionary War. Two lost sons to their service in the army while another two lost sons due to capture by the British Army.
Nine signers lost their lives during the Revolutionary War, either due to service and injury, or to financial hardships.
What did the Signers do for a living?
- Twenty-four of the signers were lawyers and jurists
- Eleven were merchants
- Nine were farmers or large plantation owners
Thomas McKean of Pennsylvania was constantly hounded by the British for his support of the Declaration, so much so he was forced to keep his family constantly on the move and lost his household and possessions. Because he served in the Congress without pay, he quickly fell into poverty and was not able to rebuild after the Revolution.
British soldiers and vandals looted the homes of eight additional signers.
At the Battle of Yorktown, British General Charles Cornwallis had taken Thomas Nelson, Jr’s house for his headquarters. Nelson told General Washington to open fire on his house, destroying it completely.
Francis Lewis, representative from New York, had his home and property destroyed by the British. They also jailed his wife where she remained for weeks with inadequate clothing and food. These conditions left her in extremely poor health that she never recovered from. She passed away in 1779.
In 1776, John Hart was driven out of his New Jersey home, less than a month after the death of his wife Deborah. John hid in the nearby woods for several months. Hessian soldiers looted the property. He was able to rebuild his homestead and in 1778 hosted George Washington and is 12,000 men in his fields.