You may think that the Fourth of July is over, but don’t you think it’s good to be reminded of it throughout the year, lest we take it for granted? With that said, let’s give thought to just who were these brave men who signed The Declaration of Independence.
William Williams was certain he would be hung and Abraham Clark’s sons were imprisoned, as was the wife of Franklin Lewis. We usually think of Betsy Ross as seamstress of the U.S flag but it was signer Francis Hopkinson, who designed it.
George Walton was a signer from Georgia who had been orphaned, improvised, abused, shot, and imprisoned. Ask him if freedom is free. Thomas Heyward Jr. was a signer and songwriter. In his frilly sleeves and imported silk, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina was considered the “dandy” of the signers. According to Webster, a dandy is “A man who gives exaggerated attention to personal appearance.”
Signer Arthur Middleton, of South Carolina, also wrote under the penname Andrew Marvell. Thomas Lynch Jr. was buried at sea and Lewis Morris is buried in one of America’s poorest neighborhoods. William Floyd’s home was turned into a stable and Thomas Nelson ordered troops to fire upon his own house. Carter Braxton of Virginia had 18 kids and Richard Henry Lee of that same state had six fingers. John Penn taught himself to read and write, Thomas Stone died of a broken heart, George Wythe was poisoned by a nephew and Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the last signer to die at age 95 in 1832. He was 38 when he signed.
Joseph Hewes was a bachelor from Pennsylvania and representing North Carolina in The Continental Congress. He was 46 at signing and died at age 49. He worked himself to death. John Morton signed at 52 and had the dubious honor of being the first to die 9 months later at 52.
James Wilson was not exactly a success story and if you examine 56 lives, there’s bound to be a fungus among us. Wilson went from being a well thought of colonist and signer of both The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution to a guy who wound up in debtors prison over shady land deals. He went from a respected frontier lawyer to a slimeball corporate attorney. This consisted of switching from being a Whig to a Conservative.
When Little Laura and I went to England this year, we saw many sights and among them was an old debtor’s prison. This is a barbaric form of correctional institution that spread from Britain to the U.S in Colonial Days. Did you ever stop and think about what a debtor’s prison really is?
It’s not hard to figure that if a shady character is convicted of fraudulent debt to someone who he might get locked up before he does it to someone else. It takes a bad guy off the street – that’s the general concept but here’s the deal. When you put someone in a dungeon shackled to the floor, he doesn’t earn much money so how does he ever “earn” his way out of there and pay off his debt? If this plight isn’t bleak enough, consider that he is also being charged room and board for his daily staples while he’s laying there in his shackles. It would give you time to ponder the path you had taken thus far.
In the “Debtor’s Prison” concept, the law really embarrassed family and friends or kind strangers into paying off the debt and getting a person out of debtor’s prison. For Wilson, he was jailed in New Jersey and North Carolina. After years in the jails, he was released and died immediately. He was buried in North Carolina and then later moved to the graveyard in his native Pennsylvania where Ben Franklin and other signers were buried. All’s well that ends well.
Dudley Wooten is the owner/operator of Wooten’s Landscaping and Nursery and can be contacted at 740-820-8210.