Claim: Essay outlines the fates of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
|MIXTURE OF TRUE AND FALSE INFORMATION|
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1999]
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? What fates befell them for daring to put their names to that document?
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.
Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.
Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.
Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
What kind of men were they?
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.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
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 General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General 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
Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.
Standing talk straight, and unwavering, they pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
They gave you and me a free and independent America. The history books never told you a lot about what happened in the Revolutionary War. We didn't fight just the British. We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government!
Some of us take these liberties so much for granted, but we shouldn't.
So, take a few minutes while enjoying your 4th of July Holiday and silently thank these patriots. It's not much to ask for the price they paid. Remember: Freedom is never free!
I hope you will show your support by please sending this to as many people as you can. It's time we get the word out that patriotism is NOT a sin, and the Fourth of July has more to it than beer, picnics, and baseball games.
Origins: In the waning years of their lengthy lives, former presidents (and Founding Fathers) John Adams and Thomas Jefferson reconciled the political differences that had separated them for many years and carried on a voluminous correspondence. One of the purposes behind their exchange of letters was to set the record straight regarding the events of the American Revolution, for as author
It is true that five signers of the Declaration of Independence were captured by the British during the course of the Revolutionary War. However, none of them died while a prisoner, and four of them were taken into custody not because they were considered "traitors" due to their status as signatories to that document, but because they were captured as prisoners of war while actively engaged in military operations against the
George Walton was captured after being wounded while commanding militia at the Battle of Savannah in December 1778, and Thomas
Richard Stockton of New Jersey was the only signer taken prisoner specifically because of his status as a signatory to the Declaration, "dragged from his bed by night" by local Tories after he had evacuated his family from New Jersey, and imprisoned in New York City's infamous Provost Jail like a common criminal.
It is true that a number of signers saw their homes and property occupied, ransacked, looted, and vandalized by the British (and even in some cases by the Americans). However, as we discuss in more detail below, this activity was a common part of warfare. Signers' homes were not specifically targeted for
Abraham Clark of New Jersey saw two of his sons captured by the British and incarcerated on the prison ship Jersey. John Witherspoon, also of New Jersey, saw his eldest son, James, killed in the Battle of Germantown in October 1777. If there was a second signer of the Declaration whose son was killed while serving in the Continental Army, we have yet to identify him.
This statement is quite misleading as phrased. Nine signers died during the course of the Revolutionary War, but none of them died from wounds or hardships inflicted on them by the British. (Indeed, several of the nine didn't even take part in the war.) Only one signer, Button Gwinnett of Georgia, died from wounds, and those were received not at the hands of the British, but from a fellow officer with whom he duelled in May 1777.
Before the American Revolution, Carter Braxton was possessed of a considerable fortune through inheritance and favorable marriages. While still in his teens he inherited the family estate, which included a flourishing Virginia tobacco plantation, upon the death of his father. He married a wealthy heiress who died when he was just 21, and within a few years he had remarried, this time to the daughter of the Receiver of Customs in Virginia for the King. As a delegate representing Virginia in the Continental Congress in 1776, he was one of the minority of delegates reluctant to support an American declaration of independence, a move which he viewed at the time as too dangerous:
Although Braxton did lose property during the war and had to sell off assets (primarily landholdings) to cover the debts incurred by the loss of his ships, he recouped much of that money after the war but subsequently lost it again through his own ill-advised business dealings. His fortune was considerably diminished in his later years, but he did not by any stretch of the imagination "die in rags."
As one biography describes Thomas McKean (not "McKeam"):
However, it is problematic to assert that McKean's treatment was due to his being a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (His name does not appear on printed copies of that document authenticated in January 1777, so it is likely he did not affix his name to it until later.) If he was targeted by the British, it was quite possibly because he also served in a military capacity as a volunteer leader of militia. In any case, McKean did not end up in "poverty," as the estate he left behind when he died in 1817 was described as consisting of "stocks, bonds, and huge land tracts in Pennsylvania."
First of all, this passage has a couple of misspellings: the signers referred to are William Ellery (not "Dillery") and Edward Rutledge (not "Ruttledge"). Secondly, this sentence is misleading in that it implies a motive that was most likely not present (i.e., these men's homes were looted because they had been signers of the Declaration of Independence).
The need to forage for supplies in enemy territory has long been a part of warfare, and so it was far from uncommon for British soldiers in the field to appropriate such material from private residences during the American Revolution. (Not only were homes used as sources of food, livestock, and other necessary supplies, but larger houses were also taken over and used to quarter soldiers or to serve as headquarters for officers.) In some cases, even American forces took advantage of the local citizenry to provision themselves. Given that many more prominent American revolutionaries who were also signers of the Declaration of Independence (e.g., Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, Benjamin Rush, Robert Morris) had homes in areas that were occupied by the British during the war, yet those homes were not looted or vandalized, it's hard to make the case that the men named above were specifically targeted for vengeance by the British rather than unfortunate victims whose property fell in the path of an armed conflict being waged on American soil.
The tale about Thomas Nelson's urging or suggesting the bombardment of his own house is one of several Revolutionary War legends whose truth may never be known. Several versions of this story exist, one of which (as referenced above) holds that Nelson encouraged George Washington to shell his Yorktown home after British Major General Charles Cornwallis had taken it over to use as his headquarters in 1781:
"A simultaneous discharge of all the guns in the line," Joseph Martin wrote, was "followed [by] French troops accompanying it with 'Huzza for the Americans.'" Sounding much like the Nelson legend, Martin's account added that "the first shell sent from our batteries entered an elegant house formerly owned or occupied by the Secretary of State under the British, and burned directly over a table surrounded by a large party of British officers at dinner, killing and wounding a number of them."
Whatever the truth, the Nelson home was certainly not "destroyed" as claimed. The house stands to this day as part of Colonial National Historical Park, and the National Park Service's description of it notes only that "the southeast face of the residence does show evidence of damage from cannon fire."
Francis Lewis represented New York in the Continental Congress, and shortly after he signed the Declaration of Independence his Long Island estate was raided by the British, possibily as retaliation for his having been a signatory to that document. While Lewis was in Philadelphia attending to congressional matters, his wife was taken prisoner by the British after disregarding an order for citizens to evacuate Long Island.
John Hart's New Jersey farm was looted in the course of the Revolutionary War (possibly due his status as Speaker of the Assembly), and he did have to remain in hiding in nearby mountains for a short time, but the rest of the above passage is gross exaggeration. When the British overran the area of New Jersey where Hart resided in late November of 1776, he was not "driven from his [dying] wife's bedside," as his wife had already died several weeks earlier (and most of his thirteen children were adults by then). He certainly didn't spend "more than a year" on the run living "in forests and caves," as the Continental Army recaptured the area within a month (through General George Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night). Hart also did not die "from exhaustion and a broken heart" a mere "few weeks" after emerging from
Lewis Morris (not Norris) indeed saw his Westchester County, New York, home taken over in 1776 and used as a barracks for soldiers, and the horses and livestock from his farm commandeered by military personnel, but he suffered those initial deprivations at the hands of the Continental Army, not the British. Shortly afterwards his property was appropriated, looted, and burned by the British when they occupied New York. (Morris and his wife were eventually able to reclaim their property and restore their home after the war.)
Philip Livingston lost several properties to the British occupation of New York and sold off others to support the war effort, and he did not recover them because he died suddenly in 1778, before the end of the war.
Last updated: 3 July 2014
Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1992. ISBN 0-674-44302-0. Bobrick, Benson. Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. ISBN 0-684-81060-3. Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. ISBN 0-375-70524-4. Ferris, Robert G. Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Flagstaff, AZ: Interpretive Publications, 1982. ISBN 0-936-47807-1. Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Random House, 1997. ISBN 0-679-77908-6. Wills, Garry. Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. ISBN 0-394-72735-5. Wright, Mike. What They Didn't Teach You About the American Revolution. Presidio Press, 1999. ISBN 0-891-41668-4.