Thomas Heyward, Jr., signed the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation

July 28, 2014

 

 

Thomas Heyward, Jr. was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and of the Articles of Confederation as a representative of South Carolina.

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Born on July 28, 1746, near Beaufort in Saint Luke’s Parish, South Carolina. His father, Daniel Heyward, had already named another son, Thomas, so the future signer added a Junior to his name to distinguish himself from his brother. Coming from a wealthy family, he was able to study law in England, where he discovered that the English looked down on Americans. Returning to South Carolina, he established a successful law practice, built a plantation called White Hall, and in 1772, was elected to the South Carolina legislature. In 1773, he married Elizabeth Mathews, sister of South Carolina Governor John Mathews; together they would have five children. In February 1776, he was elected to the Second Continental Congress. While angry with England, Heyward was uncertain if America was ready for independence. At the first trial vote on July 1, South Carolina voted to reject independence, but the next day, at the actual vote, they switched sides and voted for independence, so as not to divide the country. After signing the Declaration of Independence, Heyward returned to South Carolina to fight the British, joining the militia. In 1779, he was wounded during the successful battle of Port Royal Island, near Beaufort, South Carolina. He recovered, and a year later, helped to defend Charleston. When the British were finally successful in capturing the city in May 1780, he was among those captured. While Heyward was imprisoned in Saint Augustine, Florida, the British raided his plantation, burning White Hall and taking his 130 slaves for sale to the sugar plantations in Jamaica. When he was eventually freed, he became a judge and a state lawmaker in South Carolina. His wife, Elizabeth Mathews Heyward, would die in 1782, and four years later, he married Elizabeth Savage, with whom he would have three more children. Hayward died on March 6, 1809, at the age of 62.

He is buried in the Heyward Family Cemetery in Jasper County, South Carolina.

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A descendant of Thomas Heyward was DuBose Heyward (1885–1940), a poet, novelist and playwright who was a large influence on the Southern Renaissance and is most well-known for the 1925 and 1927 play Porgy and the libretto to the 1935 opera by George Gershwin based on the former, Porgy and Bess.

A great-nephew was Confederate General James Heyward Trapier.

Living relatives

The Gibeson, Melander, and Cramer families are living relatives of Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Sources


July 4, 1826: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Die

July 4, 2014

 

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John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. There is probably no greater coincidence in American history.

Together, and as political rivals, they had done as much or more to shape the nation in those first 50 years as any two people in the country.

In many respects, the two were poles apart. Adams was a New England overachiever; Jefferson, a southern aristocrat. Adams was a Federalist; Jefferson, the classic Republican. Adams was a political animal; Jefferson was most at home on his Virginia mountaintop. But according to historian Joseph Ellis, They “came to embody the American dialogue.”

In their retirement, they exchanged a memorable correspondence in which they expressed all of their concerns for, as well as their pride in, the new nation. “You and I ought not to die,” Adams wrote Jefferson, “before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

Adams, always the more loquacious of the two, did more explaining. He wrote two letters to every one of Jefferson’s. Both worried about the future of the country, especially as it concerned the growing divide between the north and the south. “I look back with rapture on those golden days when Virginia and Massachusetts lived and acted together like a band of brothers,” Adams wrote Jefferson in 1825.

Jefferson had been asked to prepare a speech for that last 4th of July. Though ill health prevented him from delivering this valedictory, it contained some of his most stirring language. Speaking of the celebration, he wrote, “May it be to the world, what I believe it to be, the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.”

Adams, too, was asked to help celebrate the occasion in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Likewise, illness prevented him from traveling. He died at about five o’clock on the 4th. His last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Adams was wrong by about five hours.

In his concern over the relationship between these two, one night several months after Jefferson’s retirement from the Presidency in 1809, Dr. Benjamin Rush had a dream about his two good friends which he felt was important. On October 17, 1809, he wrote down an account of that dream and sent it to John Adams. In describing that dream, he related what he had seen:

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard [who later became the Secretary of State under President James Monroe] a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.

“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country. . . being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends. . . . A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms [truths], the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. . . . These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country.”

Thru the efforts of Dr. Rush, friendship between the two former presidents was rekindled and several parts of his dream were fulfilled. As accurately described in his dream, Adams and Jefferson did again become close friends, and there did indeed follow the “correspondence of several years” described in the dream. Furthermore, the “world was favored with a sight of the letters” as entire volumes were eventually published which contained the letters written between those two in their latter years. Interestingly, seventeen years after his dream, they did “sink into the grave nearly at the same time” as the two men died within three hours of each other on the same day. Finally, both expired “full of years and rich in the gratitude of praises of their country.”

Renowned American statesman Daniel Webster was called to deliver a eulogy for Adams and Jefferson at Boston’s Faneuil Hall one month after their deaths. His speech praised both men’s achievements, saying that they would influence society for the rest of time:

“No two men now live … who, more than those we now commemorate, have … given a more lasting direction to the current of human thought. Their work doth not perish with them.”

He encouraged the crowd to honor the liberty granted to them by Adams and Jefferson, saying, “let us cherish a strong affection for it, and resolve to maintain and perpetuate it. The blood of our fathers, let it not have been shed in vain; the great hope of posterity, let it not be blasted.”

In 1831 James Monroe, our Nation’s 5th President, also died on the 4th of July. In 1850 our 12th President, Zachary Taylor participated in July 4th activities at the Washington monument. It was a blistery day and the president became quite ill. He died five days later on July 9th.


Dr. Ladd Addresses the Governor of South Carolina, July 4, 1785

July 4, 2014

A Dr. Ladd, of Charleston, South Carolina, delivered the following address before the Governor of the State, and a large number of other gentlemen, on the 4th of July, 1785, being the anniversary of American independence. It will present the views of the patriots of that day in reference to the special presence of Almighty God through the scenes and triumphs of the Revolution, and their desire to enthrone God as the Governor of the nation. The motto of his oration was, —

Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell

Their children, and their children another generation.

A prophet divinely inspired, and deeply impressed with the importance of the event which had just taken place, breaks into this exclamation, — an exclamation happily adapted to the present occasion, tending to perpetuate the remembrance of an event written upon the heart of every true American, of every friend to his country.

The eventful history of our great Revolution is pregnant with many a source of sublime astonishment. Succeeding ages shall turn to the historic page and catch inspiration from the era of 1776: they shall bow to the rising glory of America; and Rome, once mistress of the world, shall fade on their remembrance.

The commencement of our struggles, their progress and their periods, will furnish a useful lesson to posterity: they will teach them that men desperate for freedom, united in virtue, and assisted by the God of armies, can never be subdued. The youthful warrior, the rising politician, will tremble at the retrospect and turn pale at the amazing story. America, — the infant America, — all defenceless as she is, is invaded by a most powerful nation, her plains covered by disciplined armies, her harbors crowded with hostile fleets. Destitute of arms, destitute of ammunition, with no discipline but their virtue, and no general but their God, — threatened with the loss of their liberties (liberties which were coeval with their existence and dearer than their lives), they arose in resistance and were nerved in desperation. What was the consequence? The invaders were repulsed, their armies captured, their strong works demolished, and their fleets driven back. Behold, the terrible flag of the glory of Great Britain, dropping all tarnished from the mast, bewails its sullied honors.

This, my countrymen, by assistance superhuman have we at length accomplished, — I say superhuman assistance, for one of us has “chased a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight. The Lord of hosts was on our side, the God of the armies of Israel;” and at every blow we were ready to exclaim, with glorious exultation, “The sword of the Lord and of Washington.”

Yet how did even America despair when the protecting hand of our Great Leader (God) was for one moment withheld! Witness our veteran army retreating through the Jerseys; an almost total withering to our hopes, while America trembled with expectation, — trembled ! though shielded and protected by the King of kings and her. beloved Washington.

And now, having in some measure paid our debt of acknowledgment to the visible authors of our independence, let us lay our hands on our hearts in humble adoration of that Monarch who (in place of George the Third) was this day chosen to reign over us; let us venerate the great generalissimo of our armies, from whom all triumph flows ; and be it our glory, not that George the Third, but Jehovah, the first and the last, is King of America — he who dwelleth in the clouds, and whose palace is the heaven of heavens; for, independent as we are with respect to the political systems of this world, we are still a province of the great kingdom, and fellow-subjects with the inhabitants of heaven.


…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

July 4, 2014

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On July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence. The men who issued that famous document realized they were signing their own death warrants, since the British would consider them traitors. Many suffered hardship during the Revolutionary War.

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Francis Lewis, New York delegate saw his home plundered — and his estates in what is now Harlem — completely destroyed by British Soldiers. Mrs. Lewis was captured and treated with great brutality. Though she was later exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died from the effects of her abuse.

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William Floyd of New York saw the British use his home for a barracks. His family fled to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees. After the war, Floyd found his fields stripped and house damaged.

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Philips Livingstone had all his great holdings in New York confiscated and his family driven out of their home. Livingstone died in 1778 still working in Congress for the cause.

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Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all his timber, crops, and livestock taken. For seven years he was barred from his home and family.

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Richard Stockton of New Jersey was dragged from his bed, thrown into prison, and treated like a common criminal. His home was looted and his fortune badly impaired. He was released in 1777,but his health was broken. He died a few yeas later.

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At age sixty-three, John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him, and he escaped in the woods. While his wife lay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm and wrecked his homestead. Hart slept in caves and woods as he was hunted across the countryside. When at long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able to sneak home, he found his wife had already been buried, and his 13 children taken away. He never saw them again. He died a broken man in 1779, without ever finding his family. The New Jersey Gazette reported that he “continued to the day he was seized with his last illness to discharge the duties of faithful and upright patriot in the service of his country.”

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Dr. John Witherspoon, signer, was president of the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton. The British occupied the town of Princeton, and billeted troops in the college. They trampled and burned the finest college library in the country.

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Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey delegate signer, had rushed back to his estate in an effort to evacuate his wife and children. The family found refuge with friends, but a Tory sympathizer betrayed them. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and brutally beaten by the arresting soldiers. Thrown into a common jail, he was deliberately starved. Congress finally arranged for Stockton’s parole, but his health was ruined. The judge was released as an invalid, when he could no longer harm the British cause. He returned home to find his estate looted and did not live to see the triumph of the Revolution. His family was forced to live off charity.

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Robert Morris, merchant prince of Philadelphia, delegate and signer, met Washington’s appeals and pleas for money year after year. He made and raised arms and provisions which made it possible for Washington to cross the Delaware at Trenton. In the process he lost 150 ships at sea, bleeding his own fortune and credit almost dry.

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George Clymer, Pennsylvania signer, escaped with his family from their home, but their property was completely destroyed by the British in the Germantown and Brandywine campaigns.

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William Ellery, Rhode Island delegate, saw his property and home burned to the ground.

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Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina delegate, had his health broken from privation and exposures while serving as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies and on the voyage, he and his young bride were drowned at sea.

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Thomas Nelson, signer of Virginia, was at the front in command of the Virginia military forces. With British General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, fire from 70 heavy American guns began to destroy Yorktown piece by piece. Lord Cornwallis and his staff moved their headquarters into Nelson’s palatial home. While American cannonballs were making a shambles of the town, the house of Governor Nelson remained untouched. Nelson turned in rage to the American gunners and asked, “Why do you spare my home?” They replied, “Sir, out of respect to you.” Nelson cried, “Give me the cannon!” and fired on his magnificent home himself, smashing it to bits. But Nelson’s sacrifice was not quite over. He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estates. When the loans came due, a newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson’s property was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. He died, impoverished, a few years later at the age of 50.

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Another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, while serving is governor, narrowly escaped advancing British soldiers, led by traitor Benedict Arnold, by galloping into the woods surrounding Monticello as the cavalry descended on his home. The British ravaged his wine cellar but spared the home.

Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge, three South Carolina signers, served in their state’s militia and were captured when the British seized Charleston. They spent a year in a St. Augustine prison and, when released, found their estates plundered.

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And, finally, there is the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark.

He gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to that infamous British prison hulk afloat in New York Harbor known as the hell ship Jersey, where 11,000 American captives were to die. The younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality because of their father. One was put in solitary and given no food. With the end almost in sight, with the war almost won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the British request when they offered him his sons’ lives if he would recant and come out for the King and Parliament. The utter despair in this man’s heart, the anguish in his very soul, must reach out to each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: “No.”

Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor, and the nation they sacrificed so much to create is still intact.

The 56 signers of the Declaration Of Independence proved by their every deed that they made no idle boast when they composed the most magnificent curtain line in history. “And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Sources:

  • The American Patriot’s Almanac, William J. Bennett and John T. E. Cribb (2008) p. 235
  • The Americans Who Risked Everything, Rush Limbaugh, Jr. (2008)

Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

July 4, 2014

Declaration of Independence

Here is the complete text of the Declaration of Independence. This document represents a primary resource in understanding the history of America. The original spelling and capitalization have been retained.

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IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

A DECLARATION by the REPRESENTATIVES of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GENERAL CONGRESS ASSEMBLED.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

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John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, commissioned 1817; purchased 1819;

placed in the Rotunda 1826

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

  • Column 1
  • Georgia:
  • Button Gwinnett
  • Lyman Hall
  • George Walton
  • Column 2
  • North Carolina:
  • William Hooper
  • Joseph Hewes
  • John Penn
  • South Carolina:
  • Edward Rutledge
  • Thomas Heyward, Jr.
  • Thomas Lynch, Jr.
  • Arthur Middleton
  • Column 3
  • Massachusetts:
  • John Hancock
  • Maryland:
  • Samuel Chase
  • William Paca
  • Thomas Stone
  • Charles Carroll of Carrollton
  • Virginia:
  • George Wythe
  • Richard Henry Lee
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • Thomas Nelson, Jr.
  • Francis Lightfoot Lee
  • Carter Braxton
  • Column 4
  • Pennsylvania:
  • Robert Morris
  • Benjamin Rush
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • John Morton
  • George Clymer
  • James Smith
  • George Taylor
  • James Wilson
  • George Ross
  • Delaware:
  • Caesar Rodney
  • George Read
  • Thomas McKean
  • Column 5
  • New York:
  • William Floyd
  • Philip Livingston
  • Francis Lewis
  • Lewis Morris
  • New Jersey:
  • Richard Stockton
  • John Witherspoon
  • Francis Hopkinson
  • John Hart
  • Abraham Clark
  • Column 6
  • New Hampshire:
  • Josiah Bartlett
  • William Whipple
  • Massachusetts:
  • Samuel Adams
  • John Adams
  • Robert Treat Paine
  • Elbridge Gerry
  • Rhode Island:
  • Stephen Hopkins
  • William Ellery
  • Connecticut:
  • Roger Sherman
  • Samuel Huntington
  • William Williams
  • Oliver Wolcott
  • New Hampshire:
  • Matthew Thornton

Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776


Lee Resolution adopted: The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America

July 2, 2014

 

 

The Lee Resolution, also known as the Resolution of Independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the United Colonies to be independent of the British Empire. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed it on June 7, 1776, after receiving instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President, Edmund Pendleton (in fact Lee used, almost verbatim, the language from the instructions in his resolution). Voting on the resolution was delayed for several weeks while support for independence was consolidated. On June 11, a Committee of Five was appointed to prepare a document to explain the reasons for independence. The resolution was finally approved on July 2, 1776, and news of its adoption was published that evening in the Pennsylvania Evening Post and the next day in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved on July 4. It was the 4th, and not the 2nd, that would come to be celebrated as Independence Day for the new country.

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Engraving by Ole Erekson, circa 1876, Library of Congress

When the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, few colonists in British North America openly advocated independence from Great Britain. Support for independence grew steadily in 1776, especially after the publication of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense in January of that year. In the Second Continental Congress, the movement towards independence was guided principally by an informal alliance of delegates eventually known as the “Adams-Lee Junto”, after Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.

On May 15, 1776, the revolutionary Virginia Convention, then meeting in Williamsburg, passed a resolution instructing Virginia’s delegates in the Continental Congress “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain”.[1] In accordance with those instructions, on June 7, Richard Henry Lee presented the resolution to Congress. The resolution, seconded by John Adams, had three parts:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

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The Lee Resolution

Congress as a whole was not yet ready to declare independence, however, because the delegates from some of the colonies, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, had not yet been authorized to vote for independence.[2] Voting on the first clause of Lee’s resolution was therefore postponed for three weeks while advocates of independence worked to build support in the colonial governments for the resolution.[3] Meanwhile, a Committee of Five was appointed to prepare a formal declaration so that it would be ready when independence, which almost everyone recognized was now inevitable, was approved. The committee prepared a declaration of independence, written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and presented it to Congress on June 28, 1776.

The declaration was set aside while the resolution of independence was debated for several days. On July 2, the resolution of independence was approved by twelve of the thirteen colonies. Delegates from New York still lacked instructions to vote for independence, and so they abstained on this vote, although on July 9 the New York Provincial Congress would vote to “join with the other colonies in supporting” independence.[4]

Although it would shortly be outshone by the much more famous declaration, the Lee Resolution’s passage was contemporaneously reported as the colonies’ definitive declaration of independence from Great Britain. The evening of July 2, the Pennsylvania Evening Post reported:

This day the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES.[5]

The Pennsylvania Gazette followed suit the next day with its own brief report:

Yesterday, the

CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and

INDEPENDENT STATES.[6]

After passing the resolution of independence on July 2, Congress turned its attention to the text of the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a number of alterations to the text, including adding the wording of Lee’s resolution of independence to the conclusion. The final text of the declaration was approved by Congress on July 4 and sent off to be printed.

John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, on July 3 about the resolution of independence:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.[7]

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John and Abigail Adams

Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated Independence Day on July 4, the date the much-publicized Declaration of Independence was approved, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was adopted.

The latter two parts of the June resolution were not passed until months later. The second part regarding the formation of foreign alliances was approved in September 1776, and the third part regarding a plan of confederation was passed in November 1777.

Notes

  1. Boyd, Evolution of the Text, 18; Maier, American Scripture, 63. For text of the May 15 Virginia resolution, see Yale.edu
  2. Maier, American Scripture, 42
  3. Maier, American Scripture, 43
  4. Burnett, Continental Congress, 191
  5. Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 2, 1776
  6. Pennsylvania Gazette, July 3, 1776
  7. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Had a Declaration…” [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. Masshist.org, Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963

References

  • Boyd, Julian P., The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text. Originally published 1945. Revised edition edited by Gerard W. Gawalt. University Press of New England, 1999. ISBN 0-8444-0980-4
  • Burnett, Edward Cody. The Continental Congress. New York: Norton, 1941
  • Hogeland, William. Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1-July 4, 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN 1-4165-8409-9; ISBN 978-1-4165-8409-4
  • Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997. ISBN 0-679-45492-6

The Lee Resolution: Richard Henry Lee proposes Independence

June 7, 2014

 

 

The Lee Resolution, also known as the resolution of independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the United Colonies to be independent of the British Empire. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed it on June 7, 1776, after receiving instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President, Edmund Pendleton (in fact Lee used, almost verbatim, the language from the instructions in his resolution). Voting on the resolution was delayed for several weeks while support for independence was consolidated. On June 11, a Committee of Five was appointed to prepare a document to explain the reasons for independence. The resolution was finally approved on July 2, 1776, and news of its adoption was published that evening in the Pennsylvania Evening Post and the next day in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved on July 4.

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Richard Henry Lee

When the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, few colonists in British North America openly advocated independence from Great Britain. Support for independence grew steadily in 1776, especially after the publication of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense in January of that year. In the Second Continental Congress, the movement towards independence was guided principally by an informal alliance of delegates eventually known as the “Adams-Lee Junto”, after Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.

On May 15, 1776, the revolutionary Virginia Convention, then meeting in Williamsburg, passed a resolution instructing Virginia’s delegates in the Continental Congress “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain”.[1] In accordance with those instructions, on June 7, Richard Henry Lee presented the resolution to Congress. The resolution, seconded by John Adams, had three parts:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

Congress as a whole was not yet ready to declare independence, however, because the delegates from some of the colonies, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, had not yet been authorized to vote for independence.[2] Voting on the first clause of Lee’s resolution was therefore postponed for three weeks while advocates of independence worked to build support in the colonial governments for the resolution.[3] Meanwhile, a Committee of Five was appointed to prepare a formal declaration so that it would be ready when independence, which almost everyone recognized was now inevitable, was approved. The committee prepared a declaration of independence, written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and presented it to Congress on June 28, 1776.

The declaration was set aside while the resolution of independence was debated for several days. On July 2, the resolution of independence was approved by twelve of the thirteen colonies. Delegates from New York still lacked instructions to vote for independence, and so they abstained on this vote, although on July 9 the New York Provincial Congress would vote to “join with the other colonies in supporting” independence.[4]

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“The resolution for independency agreed to July 2, 1776″. The marks at the bottom right indicate the twelve colonies that voted for independence. The thirteenth colony, New York, abstained.

Although it would shortly be outshone by the much more famous declaration, the Lee Resolution’s passage was contemporaneously reported as the colonies’ definitive declaration of independence from Great Britain. The evening of July 2, the Pennsylvania Evening Post reported:

This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.[5]

The Pennsylvania Gazette followed suit the next day with its own brief report:

Yesterday, the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES.[6]

After passing the resolution of independence on July 2, Congress turned its attention to the text of the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a number of alterations to the text, including adding the wording of Lee’s resolution of independence to the conclusion. The final text of the declaration was approved by Congress on July 4 and sent off to be printed.

John Adams wrote his wife Abigail on July 3 about the resolution of independence:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.[7]

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John Adams

Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated Independence Day on July 4, the date the much-publicized Declaration of Independence was approved, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was adopted.

The latter two parts of the June resolution were not passed until months later. The second part regarding the formation of foreign alliances was approved in September 1776, and the third part regarding a plan of confederation was passed in November 1777.

Notes

1. Boyd, Evolution of the Text, 18; Maier, American Scripture, 63. For text of the May 15 Virginia resolution, see Yale.edu

2. Maier, American Scripture, 42

3. Maier, American Scripture, 43

4. Burnett, Continental Congress, 191

5. Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 2, 1776

6. Pennsylvania Gazette, July 3, 1776

7. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Had a Declaration…” [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. Masshist.org, Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963

References

  • Boyd, Julian P. The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text. Originally published 1945. Revised edition edited by Gerard W. Gawalt. University Press of New England, 1999. ISBN 0-8444-0980-4
  • Burnett, Edward Cody. The Continental Congress. New York: Norton, 1941
  • Hogeland, William. Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1-July 4, 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN 1-4165-8409-9; ISBN 978-1-4165-8409-4
  • Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997. ISBN 0-679-45492-6

Georgia Patriot Button Gwinnett receives fatal wound in duel

May 16, 2014

 

 

On May 16, 1777, British-born Georgia Patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence Button Gwinnett received a bullet wound in a duel with his political rival, Georgia city Whig Lachlan McIntosh. Three days later, on May 19, 1777, Gwinnett died as a result of the gangrenous wound. McIntosh was also shot in the duel, but the wound was not fatal.

Button Gwinnett was born in Down Hatherly, Gloucestershire, England, and was baptized in Gloucester in 1735. He was married and began a career in trading while still in Britain.

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Portrait of Button Gwinnett painted by Nathaniel Hone

In the 1760s, Gwinnett moved first to Charleston, South Carolina, then to Savannah, Georgia, where he had established himself as a trader by 1765. Entering politics in 1769, he was elected to the Commons House of Assembly. Taking up residence on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia, in 1770, Gwinnett left commerce for farming. His politics were deeply influenced by his contempt for the wealthy and powerful city Whigs of Savannah. Gwinnett’s political base of country Whigs consisted of less prosperous coastal dwellers like himself and backcountry farmers. When first made commander of Georgia’s Patriot forces, Gwinnett was forced to resign by the outcry of city Whigs. He went on to win election to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia and became a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

Gwinnett returned to Georgia immediately after signing the declaration to find city Whig Lachlan McIntosh commanding Georgia’s nascent military efforts. Determined to take control of Georgia politics, Gwinnett became speaker of the legislature, guided the Georgia Constitution of 1777 into existence and took over as governor when Archibald Bulloch died suddenly in office.

Gwinnett then wanted to lead an expedition to secure Georgia’s border with Florida. A dispute between McIntosh and Gwinnett over who would command the effort ultimately led to their duel and Gwinnett’s death.

Gwinnett is buried n the Colonial Park Cemetery at Savannah, Georgia.

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Sources


Second Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia

May 10, 2014

 

 

The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting in the summer of 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolution had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met between September 5, 1774 and October 25, 1774, also in Philadelphia. The second Congress managed the colonial war effort, and moved incrementally towards independence, adopting the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. By raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties, the Congress acted as the de facto national government of what became the United States.[1]

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Congress Voting Independence, a depiction of the Second Continental Congress voting on the United States Declaration of Independence by Edward Savage and/or Robert Edge Pine, 1784-1801, courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, via the US Library of Congress.

When the Second Continental Congress came together on May 10, 1775 it was, in effect, a reconvening of the First Continental Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting were in attendance at the second, and the delegates appointed the same president (Peyton Randolph) and secretary (Charles Thomson).[2] Notable new arrivals included Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and John Hancock of Massachusetts. Within two weeks, Randolph was summoned back to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses; he was replaced in the Virginia delegation by Thomas Jefferson, who arrived several weeks later. Henry Middleton was elected as president to replace Randolph, but he declined. Hancock was elected president on May 24.[3]

Delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies were present when the Second Continental Congress convened. Georgia had not participated in the First Continental Congress and did not initially send delegates to the Second Continental Congress. On May 13, 1775, Lyman Hall was admitted as a delegate from the Parish of St. John’s in the Colony of Georgia, not as a delegate from the colony itself.[4] On July 4, 1775, revolutionary Georgians held a Provincial Congress to decide how to respond to the American Revolution, and that congress decided on July 8 to send delegates to the Continental Congress. They arrived on July 20.[5]

Notes

  1. Cogliano, Revolutionary America, 1763-1815, 113
  2. Burnett, Continental Congress, 64–67
  3. Fowler, Baron of Beacon Hill, 189
  4. Worthington C. Ford, et al. (ed.), ed. (1904–1939). Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. Washington, DC. pp. 2:44–48
  5. ibid.. pp. 2:192–193

Bibliography

  • Fowler, William M., Jr. (1980). The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-27619-5

Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence

January 15, 2014

Philip Livingston was an American merchant and statesman from New York City. He was a delegate for New York to the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1778, and signed the Declaration of Independence.

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Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence

He was born January 15, 1716, in Albany, New York, to Philip (1686–1749), 2nd Lord of the Manor. Philip, however, was Lord Livingston’s fourth son, and thus could not inherit. The wife of the 2nd Lord of the Manor was a daughter of Albany, New York, Mayor Pieter Van Brugh. On 14 April 1720 he married Christina Ten Broeck, daughter of Dirk and Margarita (Cuyler) Ten Broeck. Their son Philip Philip Livingston’s daughter Christina (1774–1841) married John Navarre Macomb (1774–1810) who was the son of Alexander and Catherine (Navarre) Macomb and brother of Major General Alexander Macomb.

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Philip Livingston, artist unknown

Philip attended and graduated from Yale College in 1737. He then settled in New York City and pursued a mercantile career. He became prominent as a merchant, and was elected Alderman in 1754. He was reelected to that office each year until 1763. Also in 1754, he went as a delegate to the Albany Congress. There, he joined delegates from several other colonies to negotiate with Indians and discuss common plans for dealing with the French and Indian War. They also developed a Plan of Union for the Colonies which was, however, rejected by King George.

Livingston became an active promoter of efforts to raise and fund troops for the war, and in 1759 was elected to the Province of New York assembly. He would hold that office until 1769, serving as Speaker in 1768. In October 1765, he attended the Stamp Act Congress, which produced the first formal protest to the crown as a prelude to the American Revolution. Philip became strongly aligned with the radical block in that Congress. He joined New York City’s Committee of Correspondence to continue communication with leaders in the other colonies, and New York City’s Committee of Sixty.

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by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

When New York established the New York Provincial Congress in 1775, he was the President. They also selected him as one of their delegates to the Continental Congress that year. In the Congress, he strongly supported separation from Great Britain and in 1776 joined other delegates in the Declaration of Independence.

After the adoption of the new New York State Constitution, he was appointed to the New York State Senate (Southern D.) in 1777, while continuing to sit in the Continental Congress. He died suddenly on June 12, 1778, while attending the sixth session of Congress in York, Pennsylvania and is buried in the Prospect Hills Cemetery there.

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Philip Livingston’s grave monument in Prospect Hill Cemetery at York, Pennsylvania.

Livingston was a Presbyterian, a Mason, and an original promoter of King’s College, which became Columbia University.

Sources

  1. Philip Livingston at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  2. Biography by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1856
  3. Philip Livingston at Find a Grave

William Whipple, signer of the Declaration of Independence

January 14, 2014

William Whipple

1730-1785

Representing New Hampshire at the Continental Congress

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by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

Born: January 14, 1730

Birthplace: Kittery, Maine

Education: Common School. (Merchant, Soldier, Judge)

Work: Elected to Provincial Congress, 1775, 76; Member of state Council, Committee of Safety, 1776; Elected to Continental Congress, 1776-79; Commissioned Brigadier General of the New Hampshire Militia, 1777- ca. 1781; Appointed Associate Judge to the Superior Court, 1782.

Died: November 28, 1785

William Whipple was born at Kittery Maine, in 1730. He was educated at a common school until his early teens, when he went off to sea to find his fortune. He was an able seaman, earning the position of Ship’s Master by the age of 21. He worked hard and amassed a great deal of money. In 1759 he landed in Portsmouth and, in partnership with his brother, established himself as a merchant. Calls to public duty began almost immediately. He was elected to several local offices and was involved in the Patriot movement.

In 1775 he was elected to represent his town at the provincial congress. The following year New Hampshire dissolved the Royal government and reorganized with a House of Representatives and an Executive Council. Whipple was made a Council member, a member of the Committee of Safety, and was promptly elected to the Continental Congress. He served there through 1779, though he took much leave for military affairs. In 1777 he was made Brigadier General of the New Hampshire Militia. General Whipple led men in the successful expedition against General Burgoyne at the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga.

After the war Whipple was appointed an associate justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire. He suffered from a heart ailment for several years and he died, fainting from atop his horse while traveling his court circuit, in November of 1785.

Source: http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/signers/whipple.htm


Death of Francis Lewis, signer of the Declaration of Independence

December 30, 2013

Francis Lewis, a businessman and politician, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence as a representative of New York.

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by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

Born on March 21, 1713, in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales, he was the only child of Reverend Francis Lewis, but was orphaned at an early age. He went to live with his aunt and uncle soon after. He was educated in Scotland and attended Westminster School in England. He entered a mercantile house in London, then moved to Whitestone, New York in 1734. He was taken prisoner and shipped in a box to France while serving as a British mercantile agent in 1756. On his return to America, he became active in politics.

He was a member of the Committee of Sixty, a member of the New York Provincial Congress, and was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775. In 1778, he signed the United States Articles of Confederation. From 1779 to 1780, Lewis served as the Chairman of the Continental Board of Admiralty.

His home, located in Whitestone, on Queens, New York, was destroyed in the American Revolutionary War by British soldiers, who also arrested his wife and denied her a change of clothing or adequate food for weeks while in captivity.[1][2]

His son Morgan Lewis served in the army during the Revolutionary War and later held many offices in New York State, including Governor.

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Francis Lewis died on December 30, 1803, and was buried at Trinity Church Cemetery.

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Grave of Francis Lewis at Trinity Church Cemetery.

Francis Lewis’s great-grandson, Manning Livingston, died at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. He also has many relatives stretching all the way to Idaho. His great-great-great grandson was Hollywood director William A. Wellman, and his great-granddaughter was author and actress Anna Cora Mowatt.

In Queens, New York, Francis Lewis High School and P.S. 79 “The Francis Lewis School” are named for Lewis. There is also Francis Lewis Boulevard, which locals tend to refer to as “Franny Lew,” stretching almost the entire north/south length of the borough, as well as Francis Lewis Park, which is located underneath the Queens approach of the Bronx Whitestone Bridge. A Masonic Lodge, Francis Lewis #273, is also located in Whitestone, NY.

References

  1. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/declaration/bio27.htm
  2. Francis Lewis’ descendants want tribute to Queens signer of Declaration of Independence, New York Daily News, on-line

Major General William Floyd, signer of the Declaration of Independence

December 17, 2013

William Floyd was an American politician from New York, and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. He was the first New York delegate to the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration.

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by Ole Erekson, Engraver, circa 1876, Library of Congress

William Floyd was born on December 17, 1734, in Brookhaven, New York Long Island, into a family of English and Welsh origins and took over the family farm when his father died. His great-grandfather Richard Floyd was born in Brecknockshire, Wales in about 1620 and settled in the Province of New York. William Floyd was a member of the Suffolk County Militia in the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, becoming Major General.

He was a delegate from New York in the First Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776. He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1777 to 1788. In March 1789, he was elected to the 1st United States Congress under the new Constitution as an Anti-Administration candidate and served until March 3, 1791.

Floyd was a presidential elector in 1792, voting for George Washington and George Clinton.

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William Floyd portrait pained by Ralph Earle (1792)

In 1795, Floyd ran for Lieutenant Governor of New York with Robert Yates on the Jeffersonian Republican ticket, but they were defeated by Federalists John Jay and Stephen Van Rensselaer.

Floyd was again a presidential elector in 1800, voting for Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr; and in 1804, voting for Thomas Jefferson and George Clinton.

Floyd was again a member of the State Senate in 1808.

In 1820, Floyd was again chosen a presidential elector, but did not attend the meeting of the electoral college, and Martin Van Buren was appointed to fill the vacancy.

The William Floyd House, the family home, is located in Mastic Beach, is part of Fire Island National Seashore and is open to visitors. The home is located in the middle of extensive woods, grassland and wetlands.

Among his descendants are cinematographer Floyd Crosby, his son, rock musician David Crosby and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. A second cousin twice removed was Abraham Lincoln.

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Floyd would die on his farm on the NY frontier at the age of 86 on August 4, 1821, and was buried at Westernville Cemetery in Westernville, New York.

Sources


Major General Oliver Wolcott signed the Articles of Confederation and Declaration of Independence

November 21, 2013

Oliver Wolcott was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and also the Articles of Confederation as a representative of Connecticut.

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Portrait of Connecticut Founding Father Oliver Wolcott by the American painter Ralph Earl, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Museum of Connecticut History. Circa 1789

Wolcott was born on November 20, 1726, in Windsor, Connecticut, the youngest of fourteen children of the royal governor Roger Wolcott. He attended Yale College and was a roommate of Noah Webster, graduating in 1747. He was commissioned to raise a militia company to fight in the French and Indian War, and he served the King as Captain in this unit on the northern frontier. At the end of the war, Wolcott studied medicine, then was appointed sheriff of the newly created Litchfield County, Connecticut, serving from about 1751 to 1771.

He participated in the American Revolutionary War as brigadier general and then major general in the Connecticut militia. The Continental Congress appointed him Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and he was elected to the Congress in 1775. He became seriously ill in 1776 and did not sign the Declaration of Independence until some time later. He was engaged in military affairs between 1776–78, and served again in Congress from 1778-1784.

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Oliver Wolcott. Oil painting, 1873, by James R. Lambdin, after Ralph Earl, Gallery: Independence National Historical Park

He served again as an Indian Commissioner, and was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut in 1786, assuming the Governorship on the death of Samuel Huntington in 1796, and was reelected to the position, dying in office on December 1, 1797, in Farmington, Connecticut. He is buried in East Cemetery in Litchfield, Connecticut.

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Oliver Wolcott gravesite at East Cemetery, Litchfield, Connecticut.

He was passionate about poetry. His son, Oliver Wolcott, Jr., served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents George Washington and John Adams and as Governor of Connecticut.

The town of Wolcott, Connecticut was named in honor of Oliver and his son, Oliver Jr. His home in Litchfield was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971. In Torrington, Connecticut there is a school named after him Oliver Wolcott Technical High School.


William Floyd, signer of the Declaration of Independence

November 17, 2013

William Floyd, who was the first delegate from New York that signed the Declaration of Independence, was born on Long Island, on the 17th of December, 1734. His father was Nicoll Floyd, an opulent and respectable landholder, whose ancestors came to America from Wales, about the year 1680, and settled on Long Island. The father of William died while his son was young, and left him heir to a large estate.

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William Floyd, representing New York at the Continental Congress, by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

The early education of young Floyd, by no means corresponded to the wealth and ability of his father. His studies were limited to a few of the useful branches of knowledge, and these were left unfinished, in consequence of the death of that gentleman. The native powers of Floyd were, however, respectable, and his house being the resort of an extensive circle of connections and acquaintance, which included many intelligent and distinguished families, his mind, by the intercourse which he thus enjoyed with those who were enlightened and improved, became stored with rich and varied knowledge. His wealth enabled him to practice a generous hospitality, and few enjoyed the society of friends with more pleasure.

At an early period in the controversy between Great Britain and the colonies, the feelings of Mr. Floyd were strongly enlisted in the cause of the latter. He was a friend to the people; and, with zeal and ardor, entered into every measure which seemed calculated to ensure to them their just rights. These sentiments on his part excited a reciprocal confidence on the part of the people, and led to his appointment as a delegate from New-York to the first Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia on the fifth of September, 1774. In the measures adopted by that body, so justly eulogized by the advocates of freedom, from that day to the present, Mr. Floyd most heartily concurred.

In the following year, he was again elected a delegate to congress, and continued a member of that body until after the Declaration of Independence. On that occasion, he assisted in dissolving the political bonds which had united the colonies to the British government; and in consequence of which, they had suffered numberless oppressions for years. Into other measures of congress, Mr. Floyd entered with zeal. He served on numerous important committees, and by his fidelity rendered essential service to the patriotic cause.

It was the lot of not a few, while thus devoted to the public good, to experience the destructive effects of the war upon their property, or the serious inconveniences arising from it in relation to their families. In both these respects Mr. Floyd suffered severely. While at Philadelphia, attending upon congress, the American troops evacuated Long Island, which was taken possession of by the British army. On this latter event, the family of Mr. Floyd were obliged to flee for safety to Connecticut. His house was occupied by a company of horsemen, which made it the place of their rendezvous during the remainder of the war. Thus, for nearly seven years, Mr. Floyd and his family were refugees from their habitation, nor did he, during this long period, derive any benefit from his landed estate.

In the year 1777, General Floyd (we give him this military appellation, from the circumstance of his having some time before been appointed to the command of the militia on Long Island) was appointed a senator of the state of New York, under the new constitution. In this body, he assisted to organize the government, and to accommodate the code of laws to the changes which had recently been effected in the political condition of the state.

In October, 1778, he was again elected to represent the state of New York in the Continental Congress. From this time, until the expiration of the first congress, under the federal constitution, General Floyd was either a member of the national assembly, or a member of the senate of New York. In this latter body, he maintained a distinguished rank, and was often called to preside over its deliberations, when the lieutenant governor left the chair.

In 1784, he purchased an uninhabited tract of land upon the Mohawk River. To the clearing and subduing of this tract, he devoted the leisure of several successive summers. Under his skillful management, and persevering labors, a considerable portion of the tract was converted into a well cultivated farm; and hither, in 1803, he removed his residence. Although, at this time, he was advanced in life, his bodily strength and activity were much greater than often pertain to men of fewer years. He enjoyed unusual health, until a year or two before his death. The faculties of his mind continued unimpaired to the last. A little previous to his death, he appeared to be affected with a general debility, which continuing to increase, the lamp of life was at length extinguished. This event occurred on the 4th of August, 1821, and when he had attained to the extraordinary age of eighty-seven years.

In his person, General Floyd was of a middle stature. He possessed a natural dignity, which seldom failed to impress those into whose company he was thrown. He appeared to enjoy the pleasures of private life, yet in his manners he was less familiar, and in his disposition less affable, than most men. Few men, however, were more respected. He was eminently a practical man. The projects to which he gave his sanction, or which he attempted, were those which judgment could approve. When his purposes were once formed, he seldom found reason to alter them. His firmness and resolution were not often equaled.

In his political character, there was much to admire. He was uniform and independent. He manifested great candor and sincerity towards those from whom he happened to differ; and such was his well known integrity, that his motives were rarely, if ever, impeached. He seldom took part in the public discussion of a subject, nor was he dependent upon others for the opinions which he adopted. His views were his own, and his opinions the result of reason and reflection. If the public estimation of a man be a just criterion by which to judge of him, General Floyd was excelled by few of his contemporaries, since, for more than fifty years he was honored with offices of trust and responsibility by his fellow citizens.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 261-282. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

http://colonialhall.com/floyd/floyd.php


Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence

September 21, 2013

Francis Hopkinson, an American author, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey. He later served as a federal judge in Pennsylvania. He played a key role in the design of the Great Seal of the United States.

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From The literary history of Philadelphia (1906).

Francis Hopkinson was born at Philadelphia on September 21, 1737, the son of Thomas Hopkinson and Mary Johnson. He became a member of the first class at the College of Philadelphia (now University of Pennsylvania) in 1751 and graduated in 1757, receiving his masters degree in 1760, and a doctor in law (honorary) in 1790. He was secretary to a Provincial Council of Pennsylvania Indian commission in 1761 that made a treaty with the Delaware and several Iroquois tribes. In 1763, he was appointed customs collector for Salem, New Jersey. Hopkinson spent from May 1766 to August 1767 in England in hopes of becoming commissioner of customs for North America. Although unsuccessful, he spent time with the future Prime Minister Lord North and his half-brother, the Bishop of Worcester Brownlow North, and painter Benjamin West.

After his return, Francis Hopkinson operated a dry goods business in Philadelphia and married Ann Borden on September 1, 1768. They would have five children. Hopkinson obtained a public appointment as a customs collector for New Castle, Delaware on May 1, 1772. He moved to Bordentown, New Jersey in 1774, became an assemblyman for the state’s Royal Provincial Council, and was admitted to the New Jersey bar on May 8, 1775. He resigned his crown-appointed positions in 1776 and, on June 22, went on to represent New Jersey in the Second Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence. He departed the Congress on November 30, 1776 to serve on the Navy Board at Philadelphia. As part of the fledgling nation’s government, he was treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778; appointed judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779 and reappointed in 1780 and 1787; and helped ratify the Constitution during the constitutional convention in 1787. On September 24, 1789, he was nominated by President George Washington to the newly created position of judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania. He was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission, on September 26, 1789.

Only a few years into his service as a federal judge, Hopkinson died on May 9, 1791, in Philadelphia at the age of 53 from a sudden epileptic seizure. He was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. He was the father of Joseph Hopkinson, who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and also became a federal judge.

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Gravesite of Francis Hopkinson in Philadelphia’s Christ Church Burial Ground

Hopkinson was an amateur author and songwriter at a time when Philadelphia and the colonies were not well known for the arts. He wrote popular airs and political satires (jeux d’esprit) in the form of poems and pamphlets. Some were widely circulated, and powerfully assisted in arousing and fostering the spirit of political independence that issued in the American Revolution.

His principal writings are A Pretty Story . . . (1774), a satire about King George, The Prophecy (1776), and The Political Catechism (1777).[1] Other notable essays are “Typographical Method of conducting a Quarrel”, “Essay on White Washing”, and “Modern Learning”. Many of his writings can be found in Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings, published at Philadelphia in three volumes in 1792 (see Bibliography).

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by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

Hopkinson was a reputed amateur musician. He began to play the harpsichord at age seventeen and, during the 1750s, hand-copied arias, songs, and instrumental pieces by many European composers. He is credited as being the first American born composer to commit a composition to paper with his 1759 composition “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free.” By the 1760s he was good enough on the harpsichord to play with professional musicians in concerts. Some of his more notable songs include “The Treaty”, “The Battle of the Kegs”, and “The New Roof, a song for Federal Mechanics”. He also played organ at Philadelphia’s Christ Church and composed or edited a number of hymns and psalms including: “A Collection of Psalm Tunes with a few Anthems and Hymns Some of them Entirely New, for the Use of the United Churches of Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia” (1763), “A psalm of thanksgiving, Adapted to the Solemnity of Easter: To be performed on Sunday, the 30th of March, 1766, at Christ Church, Philadelphia” (1766), and “The Psalms of David, with the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, &c. in Metre” (1767). In the 1780s, Hopkinson modified a glass harmonica to be played with a keyboard and invented the Bellarmonic, an instrument that utilized the tones of metal balls.[2] In 1788 he published a collection of 8 songs dedicated to his friend George Washington and his daughter called “Seven Songs for the Harpsichord” and voice.

Books

  • The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq Printed by T. Dobson, 1792
  • Judgments in the Admiralty of Pennsylvania in four suits Printed at T. Dobson and T. Lang, 1789

Essays

  • A Pretty Story Written in the Year of Our Lord 1774. Printed by John Dunlap, 1774

Musical compositions

  • Collection of Plain Tunes with a Few from Anthems and Hymns. Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1763.
  • Temple of Minerva. (The First American Opera)[3] Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1781.
  • Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano. Printed by T. Dobson, 1788.[4]

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Francis Hopkinson’s design for a US flag, featuring 6-pointed stars arranged in rows.

Hopkinson claimed to have designed the official “first flag” of the United States and sought compensation from Congress. Congress refused on the pretext that many people were involved in the flag’s design, and that Hopkinson was already paid as a public servant.[5][6] Another consideration was that the Flag Resolution of 1777, which defined official United States flags, did not specify the arrangement of stars.[7] Many designs were in use that complied with the flag resolution, with stars arranged in a square, a wreath, rows, patterns, or the familiar “Betsy Ross” circle.

The design of the first Stars and Stripes by Hopkinson had the thirteen stars arranged in a “staggered” pattern technically known as quincuncial because it is based on the repetition of a motif of five units. This arrangement inevitably results in a strongly diagonal effect. In a flag of thirteen stars, this placement produced the unmistakable outline of the crosses of St. George and of St. Andrew, as used together on the British flag. Whether this similarity was intentional or accidental, it may explain why the plainer fashion of placing the stars in three parallel rows was preferred by many Americans over the quincuncial style.

Hopkinson also designed a flag with stars arranged in a circle. It is similar to the familiar Betsy Ross flag, except that it uses 6-pointed stars.[8]

On May 25, 1780, Hopkinson wrote a letter to the Continental Board of Admiralty mentioning several patriotic designs he had completed during the previous three years. One was his Board of Admiralty seal, which contained a red-and-white striped shield on a blue field. Others included the Treasury Board seal, “7 devices for the Continental Currency,” and “the Flag of the United States of America.”[9]

In the letter, Hopkinson noted that he hadn’t asked for any compensation for the designs, but was now looking for a reward: “a Quarter Cask of the public Wine.” The board sent that letter on to Congress. Hopkinson submitted another bill on June 24 for his “drawings and devices.” The first item on the list was “The Naval Flag of the United States.” The price listed was 9 pounds.

The Treasury Board turned down the request in an October 27, 1780, report to Congress. The Board cited several reasons for its action, including the fact that Hopkinson “was not the only person consulted on those exhibitions of Fancy, and therefore cannot claim the sole merit of them and not entitled to the full sum charged.”[10]

Hopkinson’s itemized bill, moreover, is the only contemporary claim that exists for creating the American flag. Although no “Hopkinson flags” exist from the time period, it is believed that his flag contained 13 red and white stripes and 13 white stars arranged symmetrically on a field of blue.

Francis Hopkinson provided assistance to the second committee that designed the Great Seal of the United States. This seal is now impressed upon the reverse of the United States one-dollar bill. The seal, designed by William Barton, contains an unfinished pyramid with a radiant eye, an image used by Hopkinson when he designed the continental $50 currency.[11]

References

  1. Charles Wells Moulton, ed. (1902). The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors: 1785–1824. Buffalo, NY: The Moulton Publishing Company. pp. 131. http://books.google.com/books?id=iBAFAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA131
  2. Francis Hopkinson biography at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Digital Library
  3. Pennsylvania Center for the Book on Hopkinson and his writings
  4. “Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano”. Early American Secular Music and its European Sources, 1589–1839 http://colonialdancing.org/Easmes/Biblio/B000974.htm
  5. transcript
  6. Buescher, John. “All Wrapped up in the Flag”, Teachinghistory.org
  7. Mastai, pg. 49
  8. Znamierowski says Hopkinson also used 5-pointed stars. Pg 113.
  9. Leepson, Marc; DeMille, Nelson. Flag: An American Biography. St. Martin’s Griffin. pp. 33. ISBN 978-0-312-32309-7
  10. Journals of the Continental Congress – Friday, October 27, 1780
  11. Univ. of Notre Dame, Coin and Currency Collections
  • Hopkinson holdings at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Online Public Access Catalog.
  • Mastai, Bolesław; Mastai, Marie-Louise d’Otrange. The Stars and the Stripes; the American flag as art and as history from the birth of the Republic to the present. New York, Knopf, 1973.. ISBN 0-394-47217-9.
  • Znamierowski, Alfred. The World Encyclopedia of Flags. Hermes House. ISBN 1-84309-042-2.

Sources

  • Francis Hopkinson at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Francis Hopkinson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center

The History of the Constitution: the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation

September 16, 2013

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The Declaration of Independence

On June 4, 1776, a resolution was introduced in the Second Continental Congress declaring the union with Great Britain to be dissolved, proposing the formation of foreign alliances, and suggesting the drafting of a plan of confederation to be submitted to the respective states. Independence was declared on July 4, 1776; the preparation of a plan of confederation was postponed. Although the Declaration was a statement of principles, it did not create a government or even a framework for how politics would be carried out. It was the Articles of Confederation that provided the necessary structure to the new nation during and after the American Revolution. The Declaration, however, did set forth the ideas of natural rights and the social contract that would help form the foundation of constitutional government.

The era of the Declaration of Independence is sometimes called the “Continental Congress” period. John Adams famously estimated as many as one-third of those resident in the original thirteen colonies were patriots. Scholars such as Gordon Wood describe how Americans were caught up in the Revolutionary fervor and excitement of creating governments, societies, a new nation on the face of the earth by rational choice as Thomas Paine declared in Common Sense.

Republican government and personal liberty for “the people” were to overspread the New World continents and to last forever, a gift to posterity. Most of these were influenced by Enlightenment philosophy. The adherents to this cause seized on English Whig political philosophy as described by historian Forrest McDonald as a means of justifying for most of their changes to received colonial charters and traditions. It was rooted in opposition to monarchy they saw as venal and corrupting to the “permanent interests of the people”.

To these partisans, voting was the only permanent defense of the people. Elected terms for legislature were cut to one year, for Virginia’s Governor, one year without re-election. Property requirements for suffrage for men were reduced to taxes on their tools in some states. Free blacks in New York could vote if they owned enough property. New Hampshire was thinking of abolishing all voting requirements for men but residency and religion. New Jersey let women vote. In some states, senators were now elected by the same voters as the larger electorate for the House, and even judges were elected to one year terms.

These “radical Whigs” were called the people “out-of-doors”. They distrusted not only royal authority, but any small, secretive group as being unrepublican. Crowds of men and women massed at the steps of rural Court Houses during market-militia-court days. Shays Rebellion is a famous example. Urban riots began by the out-of-doors rallies on the steps of an oppressive government official with speakers such as members of the Sons of Liberty holding forth in the “people’s “committees” until some action was decided upon, including hanging his effigy outside a bedroom window, or looting and burning down the offending tyrant’s home.

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The Articles of Confederation, Page 1

The Articles of Confederation was unanimously adopted in 1781 once Maryland agreed. Over the previous four years, it had been used by Congress as a “working document” to administer the early United States government, win the Revolutionary War and secure the Treaty of Paris (1783) with Great Britain. Lasting successes during its life prior to the Constitutional Convention included the Land Ordinance of 1785 where Congress promised settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains full citizenship and eventual statehood. Some historians characterize this period from 1781 to 1789 as weakness, dissension, and turmoil. Other scholars view the evidence as reflecting an underlying stability and prosperity. But signs of returning prosperity in some areas did not slow growing domestic and foreign problems. Nationalists saw that the confederation’s central government was not strong enough to establish a sound financial system, regulate trade, enforce treaties, or go to war when needed.

The Congress was the sole organ of the national government, without a national court to interpret law nor an executive branch to enforce them, in the states or on individuals. Governmental functions, including declarations of war and calls for an army, were supported in some degree for some time, by each state voluntarily, or not. These newly independent states separated from Britain no longer received favored treatment at British ports. The British refused to negotiate a commercial treaty in 1785 because the individual American states would not be bound by it. Congress could not act directly upon the States nor upon individuals. It had no authority to regulate foreign or interstate commerce. Every act of government was left to the individual States. Each state levied taxes and tariffs on other states at will, which invited retaliation. Congress could vote itself mediator and judge in state disputes, but states did not have to accept its decisions.

The weak central government could not back its policies with military strength, embarrassing it in foreign affairs. The British refused to withdraw their troops from the forts and trading posts in the new nation’s Northwest Territory, as they had agreed to do in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. British officers on the northern boundaries and Spanish officers to the south supplied arms to various Native American tribes, allowing them to attack American settlers. The Spanish refused to allow western American farmers to use their port of New Orleans to ship produce.

Revenues were requisitioned by Congressional petition to each state. None paid what they were asked. Some funded only enough to pay interest to their own citizens. Connecticut declared it would not pay at all, not just for one year, but two. Congress appealed to the thirteen states for an amendment to the Articles to tax enough to pay the public debt as principle came due. Twelve states agreed, Rhode Island did not, so it failed. The Articles required super majorities. Amendment proposals to states required ratification by all thirteen states, all important legislation needed 70% approval, at least nine states. Repeatedly, one or two states defeated legislative proposals of major importance.

Without taxes the government could not pay its debt. Seven of the thirteen states printed large quantities of its own paper money, backed by gold, land, or nothing, so there was no fair exchange rate among them. State courts required state creditors to accept payments at face value with a fraction of real purchase power. The same legislation that these states used to wipe out the Revolutionary debt to patriots was used to pay off promised veteran pensions. The measures were popular because they helped both small farmers and plantation owners pay off their debts.

The Massachusetts legislature was one of the five against paper money. It imposed a tightly limited currency and high taxes. Without paper money veterans without cash lost their farms at sheriff’s auction for back taxes. This triggered Shays Rebellion to stop tax collectors and close the courts until the unfair proceedings were dropped. Troops quickly suppressed the rebellion, but nationalists like George Washington warned:

“There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to.”


James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

September 14, 2013

James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer both of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the Constitution. A leading legal theorist, he was one of the six original justices appointed by George Washington to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

One of seven children, Wilson was born to a Presbyterian farming family on September 14, 1742 in Carskerdo, Fife, Scotland[4] to William Wilson and Alison Landall. Wilson attended a number of Scottish universities without attaining a degree. Imbued with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in British America in 1766, carrying valuable letters of introduction. These helped Wilson to begin tutoring and then teaching at The Academy and College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). He petitioned there for a degree and was awarded an honorary Master of Arts several months later.

Wilson began to read the law at the office of John Dickinson a short time later. After two years of study he attained the bar in Philadelphia, and, in the following year (1767), set up his own practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. His office was very successful and he earned a small fortune in a few years. By then he had a small farm near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was handling cases in eight local counties, and was lecturing at The Academy and College of Philadelphia.

On 5 November 1771, he married Rachel Bird, daughter of William Bird and Bridget Hulings; they had six children together: Mary, William, Bird, James, Emily and Charles. Rachel died in 1786, and in 1793 he married Hannah Gray, daughter of Ellis Gray and Sarah D’Olbear; the marriage produced a son named Henry, who died at age three. Hannah had previously been the widow of Thomas Bartlett, M.D.

Taking up the revolutionary cause, Wilson published in 1774 “Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament.” In this pamphlet, Wilson argued that the Parliament had no authority to pass laws for the American colonies because the colonies had no representation in Parliament. It presented his views that all power derived from the people. Though considered by scholars on par with the seminal works of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams of the same year, it was actually penned in 1768, perhaps the first cogent argument to be formulated against British dominance.

In 1775 he was commissioned Colonel of the 4th Cumberland County Battalion [1] and rose to the rank of Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania State Militia.[5]

As a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, James Wilson was a firm advocate for independence. Believing it was his duty to follow the wishes of his constituents, Wilson refused to vote until he had caucused his district. Only after he received more feedback did he vote for independence. While serving in the Congress, Wilson was clearly among the leaders in the formation of Indian policy. “If the positions he held and the frequency with which he appeared on committees concerned with Indian affairs are an index, he was until his departure from Congress in 1777 the most active and influential single delegate in laying down the general outline that governed the relations of Congress with the border tribes.”[6]

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by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

Wilson also served from June 1776 on the Committee on Spies, along with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Rutledge, and Robert R. Livingston. They together defined treason. (Page, p. 119.)

On October 4, 1779 the Fort Wilson Riot began. After the British had abandoned Philadelphia, James Wilson successfully defended at trial 23 people from property seizure and exile by the radical government of Pennsylvania. A mob whipped up by liquor and the writings and speeches of Joseph Reed, President of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council, marched on Congressman Wilson’s home at Third and Walnut Streets. Wilson and 35 of his colleagues barricaded themselves in his home, later nicknamed Fort Wilson. In the fighting that ensued, six died, and 17 to 19 were wounded. The city’s soldiers, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry and Baylor’s 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, eventually intervened and rescued Wilson and his colleagues. The rioters were pardoned and released by Joseph Reed [2] [3]

Wilson closely identified with the aristocratic and conservative republican groups, multiplied his business interests, and accelerated his land speculation. He also took a position as Advocate General for France in America (1779-83), dealing with commercial and maritime matters, and legally defended Loyalists and their sympathizers. He held this post until 1798 (until his death).

One of the most prominent lawyers of his time, Wilson is credited for being the most learned of the Framers of the Constitution. A fellow delegate in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia made the following assessment of James Wilson: “Government seems to have been his peculiar study, all the political institutions of the world he knows in detail, and can trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of the Grecian commonwealth down to the present time.”[7]

Wilson’s most lasting impact on the country came as a member of the Committee of Detail, which produced the first draft of the United States Constitution in 1787 (a year after the death of his first wife). He wanted senators and the president to be popularly elected. He also proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise at the convention, which made slaves count as three-fifths of a person for representation in the House and Electoral College. Along with James Madison, he was perhaps the best versed of the framers in the study of political economy. He understood clearly the central problem of dual sovereignty (nation and state) and held a vision of an almost limitless future for the United States. Wilson addressed the Convention 168 times.[8] A witness to Wilson’s performance during the convention, Dr. Benjamin Rush, called Wilson’s mind “one blaze of light.”[9]

Though not in agreement with all parts of the final, necessarily compromised Constitution, Wilson stumped hard for its adoption, leading Pennsylvania, at its ratifying convention, to become the second state (behind Delaware) to accept the document. His October 6, 1787 speech in the State House courtyard has been seen as particularly important in setting the terms of the ratification debate, both locally and nationally. In particular, it focused on the fact that there would be a popularly elected national government for the first time. Wilson was later instrumental in the redrafting of the 1776 Pennsylvania State constitution, leading the group in favor of a new constitution, and entering into an agreement with William Findley (leader of the Constitutionalist Party) that limited the partisan feeling that had previously characterized Pennsylvanian politics.

He was nominated to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court by George Washington on September 24, 1789, after the court was implemented under the Judiciary Act of 1789. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 26, 1789, and received commission on September 29, 1789. Only nine cases were heard by the court from his appointment in 1789 until his death in 1798.

He became the first professor of law at the College of Philadelphia in 1790—only the second at any academic institution in the United States—in which he mostly ignored the practical matters of legal training. Like many of his educated contemporaries, he viewed the academic study of law as a branch of a general cultured education, rather than solely as a prelude to a profession.

Wilson broke off his first course of law lectures in April 1791 to attend to his duties as Supreme Court justice on circuit. He appears to have begun a second-year course in late 1791 or in early 1792 (by which time the College of Philadelphia had been merged into the University of Pennsylvania), but at some unrecorded point the lectures stopped again and were never resumed. They were not published (except for the first) until after his death, in an edition produced by his son, Bird Wilson, in 1804. The University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia officially traces its foundation to Wilson’s lectures.

Wilson’s final years were marked by financial failures. He assumed heavy debts investing in land that became liabilities with the onset of the Panic of 1796-1797. Of note was the failure in Pennsylvania with Theophilus Cazenove. In debt, Wilson was briefly imprisoned in a Debtors’ Prison in Burlington, New Jersey. His son paid the debt, but Wilson went to North Carolina to escape other creditors. He was again briefly imprisoned, but continued his duties on the Federal judicial circuit. In 1798, he suffered a bout of malaria and then died of a stroke on August 28 at the age of 55, while visiting a friend in Edenton, North Carolina. He was buried in the Johnston cemetery on Hayes Plantation near Edenton, but was reinterred in 1906 at Christ Churchyard, Philadelphia.[10]

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Grave of James Wilson at Christ Churchyard in Philadelphia

“Tracing over the events of Wilson’s life, we are impressed by the lucid quality of his mind. With this went a restless energy and insatiable ambition, an almost frightening vitality that turned with undiminished energy and enthusiasm to new tasks and new ventures. Yet, when all has been said, the inner man remains, despite our probings, an enigma.” – Charles Page Smith[11]

In the lectures mentioned above, James Wilson, among the first of American legal philosophers, worked through in more detail some of the thinking suggested in the opinions issuing at that time from the Supreme Court. He felt, in fact, compelled to begin by spending some time in arguing out the justification of the appropriateness of his undertaking a course of lectures. But he assures his students that:

“When I deliver my sentiments from this chair, they shall be my honest sentiments: when I deliver them from the bench, they shall be nothing more. In both places I shall make ― because I mean to support ― the claim to integrity: in neither shall I make ― because, in neither, can I support ― the claim to infallibility.” (First lecture, 1804 Philadelphia ed.)

With this, he raises the most important question of the era: having acted upon revolutionary principles in setting up the new country:

“Why should we not teach our children those principles, upon which we ourselves have thought and acted? Ought we to instil into their tender minds a theory, especially if unfounded, which is contradictory to our own practice, built on the most solid foundation? Why should we reduce them to the cruel dilemma of condemning, either those principles which they have been taught to believe, or those persons whom they have been taught to revere?” (First lecture.)

That this is no mere academic question is revealed with a cursory review of any number of early Supreme Court opinions. Perhaps it is best here to quote the opening of Justice Wilson’s opinion in Chisholm v. State of Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793), one of the most momentous decisions in American history:

“This is a case of uncommon magnitude. One of the parties to it is a State; certainly respectable, claiming to be sovereign. The question to be determined is, whether this State, so respectable, and whose claim soars so high, is amenable to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States? This question, important in itself, will depend on others, more important still; and, may, perhaps, be ultimately resolved into one, no less radical than this ‘do the people of the United States form a Nation?'”

In order to arrive at an answer to this question, one that would provide the foundation for the United States of America, Wilson knew that legal thinkers had to resolve in their minds clearly the question of the difference between “the principles of the constitutions and governments and laws of the United States, and the republics, of which they are formed” and the “constitution and government and laws of England.” He made it quite clear that he thought the American items to be “materially better.” (First lecture.)

References

  1. Morton, J. C. (2005-12-30). Shapers of the great debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 : a biographical dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 306. ISBN 9780313330216. OCLC 493444554.
  2. “Signers of the Declaration of Independence”. http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/wilson.htm.
  3. The Encyclopædia britannica (11 ed.). 1911. OCLC 45504382. http://books.google.com/books?id=20MOAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA693
  4. “James Wilson”. ushistory.org. http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/wilson.htm
  5. Infoplease.com
  6. James Wilson: Founding Father, Charles Smith Page, 1956, p. 72
  7. Library of Congress: James Wilson
  8. World Book Encyclopedia, 2003, James Wilson article
  9. “James Wilson: A Forgotten Father,” St. John, Gerald J., in The Philadelphia Lawyer, www.philadelphiabar.org
  10. St. John, G. J. (2004). “James Wilson: A Forgotten Father”. The Philadelphia Lawyer 66 (4)http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/TPLWinter04JamesWilson?appNum=2&wosid=dFdfEaGabKlZdIHJS33VH0. “During the dedication of Pennsylvania’s new capitol building in Harrisburg, Roosevelt singled out James Wilson for special praise [...] One month after the Harrisburg speech, Wilson’s remains were removed from Hayes Plantation and reinterred at Old Christ Church”
  11. James Wilson: Founding Father, 1956, p. 393
  • Works of James Wilson 3 vol (1804) online edition
  • Collected Works of James Wilson, 2 vols. Edited by Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Press, 2007
  • Hall, Mark David (1997). The Political and Legal Philosophy of James Wilson, 1742-1798. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1103-8
  • Read, James H. (2000). Power Versus Liberty: Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and Jefferson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0-8139-1911-8
  • Wexler, Natalie (2007). A More Obedient Wife: A Novel of the Early Supreme Court. Washington: Kalorama Press. ISBN 0615135161

George Sweeney Trial

September 2, 2013

The George Sweeney Trial in 1806 in Richmond, Virginia was a trial in which George Sweeney, the grand-nephew of George Wythe, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was acquitted of murdering Wythe. Wythe was a distinguished attorney who attended the Philadelphia Convention in 1775 and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776; in 1806, he died of arsenic poisoning. Before he died, Wythe accused his nephew of murder and changed his will to exclude him. Wythe’s black housekeeper provided evidence that George Sweeney had tried to poison Wythe, her son and her, but by law was prohibited from testifying in a criminal case against a white man. Sweeney was tried and found not guilty.[1][2]

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George Wythe, victim

Although George Wythe was 80 years old, he was healthy and vigorous. He wrote his will leaving a large amount to George Sweeney, his grandnephew.[3] When Sweeney, a 17-year-old drinker and gambler, came to live with him in 1805, he began stealing Wythe’s books for sale and forging Wythe’s name on personal bank account checks to help pay his debts.[4] Wythe had also made settlements for former slaves Lydia Broadnax, whom he had freed in 1787, and her 16-year-old son Michael Brown, as well as Benjamin, an adult man whom he freed in 1797. Sweeney would share his inheritance with them.

Since Sweeney was fearful that Wythe would discover the forgeries, and he knew that he was a beneficiary of Wythe’s estate, evidence suggests that he decided to murder his uncle and/or the other heirs. He bought arsenic, as attested to by the shopkeeper, and Broadnax said she saw him put something in the coffeepot in the kitchen from which Wythe, Broadnax and Brown drank. Brown and Wythe died slow and agonizing deaths over several days: Brown on June 1 and Wythe a week later on June 8, 1806. Broadnax survived.[1][3]

As Wythe lay on his death bed, Sweeney’s forgeries were discovered. On June 1, the judge changed his will to disinherit his grandnephew.[5]

On June 18, Sweeney was arrested and charged with murder. The trial began on September 2. The convincing testimony pointing to Sweeney as the culprit was provided by Lydia Broadnax, a free black woman who had been Wythe’s cook for many years. She had witnessed Sweeney’s suspicious behaviors around the coffee pot, which suggested that he had placed a substance in the coffee on May 25, while she was in the kitchen with him. Broadnax had drunk a small amount of the coffee and become ill. When Wythe and Brown also became ill from drinking the coffee, she testified that she suspected that Sweeney had put something in it.[6]

The two judges did not allow Broadnax’s testimony into evidence nor that of the other black servants who had seen Sweeney’s suspicious behaviors.[1] They adhered to the law at that time, which did not allow blacks to testify against a white person in a criminal trial:

“It was gleaned from negroes, which is not permitted by our laws to go against a white man.”[6]

Hearsay evidence was introduced by the whites who testified that Sweeney had bought arsenic. The jail warden testified that Sweeney had not been searched upon arrest, and that later a packet with arsenic was found in the jail yard, where it could have been thrown from a jail window. Another person testified that Wythe on his death bed, asked him to search Sweeney’s room, where he found a container of arsenic. Wythe changed his will on June 1, to disinherit Sweeney. Because hearsay evidence was excluded by law, the jury’s verdict on September 8 was not guilty.[1]

Footnotes

  1. Kappman (ed.), Edward W. (1994). Great American Trials. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press. pp. 75–77. ISBN 0-8103-9134-1.
  2. “George Wythe”. http://www.thedeclarationofindependence.org/Thomas-Jefferson.org/georgewythe.org/
  3. “George Wythe 1726-1806″. ColonialHall.com. http://www.colonialhall.com/wythe/wythe4.php
  4. Robert A. Peterson. “George Wythe of Williamsburg”. Foundation for Economic Education. http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=1095
  5. “GBiography – George Wythe”. www.history.org. 1999. http://www.history.org/Almanack/people/bios/biowythe.cfm
  6. Stephen G. Christianson (1994). “Sweeney Poisons Wythe And Is Tried For Murder”. http://law.jrank.org/pages/2424/George-Sweeney-Trial-1806-Sweeney-Poisons-Wythe-Tried-Murder.html

Thomas Lynch, signer of the Declaration of Independence

August 5, 2013

Thomas Lynch was the son of a gentleman of the same name, and was born on the fifth of August, 1749, at Prince George’s Parish, in the province of South Carolina. The family was an ancient one, and is said to have originally emigrated from Austria to England, where they settled in the county of Kent; sometime after which, a branch passed over to Ireland, and thence some of the descendants removed to South Carolina. The name of the family is said to have been derived from a field of pulse called lince, upon which the inhabitants of a certain town in Austria lived, for some time, during a siege which was laid to it; and from which circumstance they changed the name of the town to Lince or Lintz, which name was adopted by the principal family of the place.

The precise period when Jonack Lynch, the great grandfather of Thomas Lynch, the subject of the present memoir, emigrated from Ireland to America is uncertain, but, probably, at an early period after the settlement of the colony. At his death, he left his son Thomas a slender patrimony, which however, by his industry, and especially by the purchase of a large tract of land, which he devoted to the cultivation of rice, was increased to a princely fortune. This fortune, at his death, was left to a son by the name of Thomas, father of the subject of the present sketch.

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by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

At an early age, young Thomas Lynch was sent to a flourishing school, at that time maintained at Georgetown, South Carolina. Before he had reached his thirteenth year, his father removed him from this school and sent him to England, to enjoy those higher advantages, which that country presented to the youth of America. Having passed some time in the collegiate institution of Eaton, he was entered a member of the university of Cambridge, the degrees of which institution he received in due course. On leaving the university, he sustained a high reputation, both in respect to his classical attainments, and for the virtues which adorned his character.

This intelligence, communicated by some friend to his father, was so highly flattering, that he was induced to continue his son abroad for some years longer, and wrote to him, expressing his wish that he should enter his name at the temple, with a view to the profession of law. This he accordingly did, devoting himself with @is characteristic zeal to the philosophy of jurisprudence, and to the principles of the British constitution.

About the year 1772, after an absence of eight or nine years, young Mr. Lynch returned to South Carolina. He returned an eminently accomplished man; in his manners graceful and insinuating, and with a mind enriched with abundant stores of knowledge, justly the pride of his father, and an ornament to the society in which he was destined to move.

Although he was eminently qualified to enter upon the profession of law, he succeeded in persuading his father to allow him to relinquish the pursuit of a profession which his fortune rendered it unnecessary for him to pursue. Such a preliminary course was unnecessary to entitle him to the confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens. These he at once enjoyed.

In 1775, on the raising of the first South Carolina regiment of provincial regulars, he was appointed to the command of a company. Having received his commission, he soon enlisted his quota of men, in some of the neighboring counties, and at the head of them took up his march for Charleston. Unfortunately, during the march he was attacked by a violent bilious fever, which greatly injured his constitution, and from the effects of which he never afterwards entirely recovered.

On his recovery, he joined his regiment, but was at this time unable, from the feeble state of his health, to perform the duties of his station according to his wishes. Added to this affliction, the unwelcome intelligence was received of the dangerous illness of his father, who was at that time attending in his place upon congress in Philadelphia. He immediately made the necessary arrangements to hasten to a dying father, if possible to administer to him the support and consolation which an affectionate son only could impart. To his surprise, his application for a furlough for this purpose was denied by the commanding officer, Col. Gadsden. This disappointment, however, and the controversy which grew out of the above refusal, were terminated by his election to congress, as the successor of his father. He now lost no time in hastening to Philadelphia, where he found his father still living, and so far recovered that the hope was indulged that he might yet be able to reach Carolina.

The health of the younger Mr. Lynch, soon after joining, congress, began also to decline with the most alarming rapidity. He continued, however, his attendance upon that body, until the declaration of independence had been voted, and his signature affixed to that important instrument. He then set out for Carolina in company with his father, who had hitherto been detained by feeble health in Philadelphia; but the father lived only to reach Annapolis, when a second paralytic attack terminated his valuable life.

After this afflicting event, the son proceeded to Carolina but such was his own enfeebled state of health, that he had little reason to anticipate the long continuance of life. A change of climate, in the view of his physicians and friends, presented the only hope of his ultimate recovery. A voyage to Europe was at that time eminently hazardous, on account of exposure to capture. A vessel, however, was found proceeding to St. Eustatia, on board of which, accompanied by his amiable and affectionate wife, he embarked, designing to proceed by a circuitous route to the south of France.

From the time of their sailing, nothing more is known of their fate. Various rumors were from time to time in circulation concerning the vessel in which they sailed, but their friends, after months of cruel suspense, were obliged to adopt the painful conclusion, that this worthy pair found a watery grave during some tempest, which must have foundered the ship in which they sailed.

Although the life of Mr. Lynch was thus terminated, at an early age, he had lived sufficiently long to render eminent services to his country, and to establish his character as a man of exalted views and exalted moral worth. Few men possessed a more absolute control over the passions of the heart, and few evinced in a greater degree the virtues which adorn the human mind. In all the relations of life, whether as a husband, a friend, a patriot, or the master of the slave, he appeared conscious of his obligations, and found his pleasure in discharging them.

That a man of so much excellence, of such ability and integrity, such firmness and patriotism, so useful to his country, so tender and assiduous in all the obligations of life, should have been thus cut off, in the midst of his course, and in a manner so painful to his friends, is one of those awful dispensations of Him whose way is in the great deep, and whose judgments are past finding out.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 443-447. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

http://colonialhall.com/lynch/lynch.php


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