For you history lovers, I would like to share a little something I lifted from the Stanley Pack News a few years ago, a publication of the Stanley Pack Post No. 499 of the American Legion.
When the initial battles in the American Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those that did were considered radical. By the middle of the following year, however, many more colonists had come to favor independence, thanks to the growing hostility against Britain and the spread of revolutionary sentiments such as those expressed in Thomas Paine’s bestselling pamphlet “Common Sense,” published in early 1776. On June 7, when the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, Virginia delegate Richard Lee Henry introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. Amid heated debate, Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s resolution, but appointed a five-man committee – including Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Robert Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York – to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain.
On July 2, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence in a near-unanimous vote (the New York delegation abstained, but later voted affirmatively). On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival,” and that the celebrations should include “Pomp and Parade – Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one end of the country to the other.”
On July 4, Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, which had been written largely by Thomas Jefferson. Though the vote for actual independence took place on July 2, from then on, July 4 became the day that was celebrated as the birth of American independence.
According to my friend Keith Mavis, the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
So, what became of those 56 signers? Twelve of those signers had their homes ransacked. Five were captured by the British and tortured before death. Nine of the signers died from wounds in the Revolutionary War, two others lost their sons, and another had two sons captured.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died poor.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge and Middleton. At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., noted that the British Gen. Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged Gen. George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste.
Just a reminder that in this country, our freedom has never been free.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.