As we prepare to flip burgers, light fireworks and sip cold beverages this coming weekend in celebration of July 4, here are a few little-known facts about the 56 men who risked life and limb to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Nine of the signers were farmers and large plantation owners, 24 were lawyers and jurists and 11 were merchants.
Two of the signers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two who went on to become presidents of the United States, both died on the same day — July 4, 1826, on the 50th year anniversary of independence.
John Adams wrote about independence to his wife, Abigail. “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that 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 the continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
He got most everything right, although he missed the date. July 2 was the day that the founding fathers actually declared America’s independence from Britain. However, July 4 has become the official holiday because it was the date written on the actual document.
To protect their safety, the 56 signers of the document were not immediately revealed to the public. Nonetheless, several of them paid dearly for their participation, many of them farmers.
Soldiers looted the properties of Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, the youngest signer at 26, and Lyman Hall, who after the war went on to help develop agriculture in Georgia. Arthur Middleton of South Carolina was captured by the British in Charleston and his fortune destroyed.
Thomas Nelson’s home was destroyed, and Francis Lewis lost both his home and property. Thomas McKean of Delaware lost all his possessions.
John Hart’s family was torn apart. The New Jersey farmer was forced to hide for more than a year. But he never gave up the cause, even allowing George Washington’s troops, 12,000 strong, to camp on his farm during the growing season.
Carter Braxton, a Virginia planter and trader, used his considerable wealth to fund the revolutionary cause. But he had to sell his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in poverty.
This coming weekend, we will celebrate the 234th anniversary of our country. While we’re at it, let’s also give thanks to the 56 men who made it all possible. They risked it all for liberty.
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