Have you ever wondered what happened to the fifty-six men who signed the
Declaration of Independence? This is the price they paid:
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before
they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons
in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the
fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships resulting from the
These men signed, and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their
What kind of men were they? Twenty five were lawyers or jurists. Eleven
were merchants. Nine were farmers or large plantation owners. One was a
teacher, one a musician, one a printer. Two were manufacturers, one
was a minister. These were men of means and
education, yet they signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing full
well that the penalty could be death if they were captured.
Almost one third were under forty years old, eighteen were
in their thirties, and three were in their twenties. Only
seven were over sixty. The youngest, Edward Rutledge of
South Carolina, was twenty-six and a half, and the oldest,
Benjamin Franklin, was seventy. Three of the signers lived
to be over ninety. Charles Carroll died at the age of
ninety-five. Ten died in their eighties.
The first signer to die was John
Morton of Pennsylvania. At first his sympathies were with
the British, but he changed his mind and voted for
independence. By doing so, his friends, relatives, and
neighbors turned against him. The ostracism hastened his
death, and he lived only eight months after the signing. His
last words were, "tell them that they will live to see the
hour when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most
glorious service that I ever rendered to my country."
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships
swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to
pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move
his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his
family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty
was his reward.
The signers were religious men, all being Protestant except
Charles Carroll, who was a Roman Catholic. Over half
expressed their religious faith as being Episcopalian.
Others were Congregational, Presbyterian, Quaker, and
Vandals or soldiers or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer,
Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.
Perhaps one of the most inspiring examples of "undaunted resolution" was
at the Battle of Yorktown. Thomas Nelson, Jr. was returning from
Philadelphia to become Governor of Virginia and joined General Washington
just outside of Yorktown. He then noted that British General Cornwallis had
taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters, but that the patriot's
were directing their artillery fire all over the town except for the vicinity
of his own beautiful home. Nelson asked why they were not firing in that
direction, and the soldiers replied, "Out of respect to you, Sir." Nelson
quietly urged General Washington to open fire, and stepping forward to the
nearest cannon, aimed at his own house and fired. The other guns joined in,
and the Nelson home was destroyed. Nelson died bankrupt, at age 51.
Caesar Rodney was another signer who paid with his life. He
was suffering from facial cancer, but left his sickbed at
midnight and rode all night by horseback through a severe
storm and arrived just in time to cast the deciding vote for
his delegation in favor of independence. His doctor told him
the only treatment that could help him was in Europe. He
refused to go at this time of his country's crisis and it
cost him his life.
Francis Lewis's Long Island home was looted and gutted, his home and
properties destroyed. His wife was thrown into a damp dark prison cell
for two months
without a bed. Health ruined, Mrs. Lewis soon died from the effects of the
confinement. The Lewis's son would later die in British captivity, also.
"Honest John" Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she lay dying,
when British and Hessian troops invaded New Jersey just months after he
signed the Declaration. Their thirteen children fled for their lives.
His fields and his grist mill were laid to waste. All winter, and for more
than a year, Hart lived in forests and caves, finally returning home to
find his wife dead, his children vanished and his farm destroyed. Rebuilding
proved too be too great a task. A few weeks later, by the spring of 1779,
John Hart was dead from exhaustion and a broken heart.
Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
Richard Stockton, a New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice, had rushed
back to his estate near Princeton after signing the Declaration of Independence
to find that his wife and children were living like refugees with friends.
They had been betrayed by a Tory sympathizer who also revealed Stockton's
own whereabouts. British troops pulled him from his bed one night, beat
him and threw him in jail where he almost starved to death. When he was
finally released, he went home to find his estate had been looted, his
possessions burned, and his horses stolen. Judge Stockton had been so badly
treated in prison that his health was ruined and he died before the war's
end, a broken man.
His surviving family had to live the remainder of their lives off
William Ellery of Rhode Island, who marveled that he had seen only
"undaunted resolution" in the faces of his co-signers, also had his home