On July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress voted to accept the declaration of Independence in Philadelphias Independence Hall. On August 2, fifty-six men signed their names to the historic document, giving birth to a new nation as they declared their independence from Great Britain.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Who were these "super-patriots"? Most were well-educated, prosperous businessmen and professionals. Two dozen were lawyers or judges; nine were farmers or plantation owners; eleven were merchants. Among them were also physicians, politicians, educators, and a minister; several were sons of pastors.
Here is the documented fate of that gallant fifty-six.
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 Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, raised $2 million to supply our French allies by offering his property as collateral. Because he was never reimbursed by the struggling new government, he was unable to repay the note when it came due wiping out his entire estate. In the final battle of Yorktown, Nelson urged George Washington to fire on his home as it was occupied by British General Cornwallis. Nelsons home was destroyed, leaving him bankrupt when he died.
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 and enemy soldiers looted the properties of Bartlett, Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Gwinnet, Walton, Heward, Rutledge, and Middleton; the latter four captured and imprisoned.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed and his wife imprisoned. She later died from the brutal treatment she received.
After signing the Declaration, Richard Stockton, a State Supreme Court Justice, rushed back to his estate near Princeton in an effort to save his wife and children. Although he and his family found refuge with friends, a Tory betrayed him. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and beaten by British soldiers. Then he was jailed and deliberately starved. After his release, with his home burned and all of his possessions destroyed, he and his family were forced to live off charity.
John Hart was driven from his wifes bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart
Lewis Morris and Philip Livingston suffered fates similar to Harts.
John Hancock, one of the wealthiest men in New England, stood outside Boston one terrible evening of the war and said, "Burn, Boston, though it makes John Hancock a beggar, if the public good requires it." He lost most of his fortune during the war, having given over $100,000 to the cause of freedom.
Caesar Rodney, Delaware statesman, was gravely ill with facial cancer. Unless he returned to England for treatment, his life would end. Yet Rodney sealed his fate by signing the Declaration of Independence. He was one of several who fulfilled their pledge with their lives.
As a captain in the Continental Army, Nathan Hale volunteered to penetrate enemy lines to spy for the American cause. He was captured by the British. On the day of his execution by hanging in September 1776, Hale spoke these last words: "I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
In all, five of the fifty-six were captured by the British and tortured. Twelve had their homes ransacked, looted, confiscated by the enemy, or burned to the ground. Seventeen lost their fortunes. Two lost their sons in the army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six lost their lives in the war, from wounds or hardships inflicted by the enemy.
These were only a few of the examples of the sacrifices made by those fifty-six courageous men who boldly pledged their all to support the Declaration of Independence. Of those who took the pledge to defend the sovereignty of their nation and the liberty of its people, many were forced to pay a heavy price before that bold vision could be realized.
It is important to remember this about them: despite the hardships they encountered -- regardless of the heavy price exacted by that pledge -- not a single one of them defected or failed to honor his pledge. These men of means, prosperity, and security, who enjoyed much ease and luzury in their personal living, considered liberty to be so much more important than security that they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. And they fulfilled that pledge. And freedom was born.