The Declaration of Independence was the brainchild of the young American Congress, the masterpiece of Tom Jefferson and “in your face” for King George.
“There’s your sign, George.” That’s the message it sent back across the pond to those who thought the colonies needed The Stamp Act, Coerce Act, Boston Port Act, Quartering Act, etc., which the colonists redefined as the Intolerable Acts. This is going on from 1765 – 1774. In 1775, Paul Revere makes his ride and the shot was heard around the world.
In 1776, Richard Henry Lee proposes a declaration of independence, Tom writes it, and 56 sign it. “There’s your sign, George.” America now has a birth certificate and she starts having birthdays. Let’s talk about those 56 somewhat forgotten heroes who signed her birth certificate and probably their death warrant.
William Williams was certain he would be hanged for signing but was also convinced that it was more logical to hang anyone that wouldn’t sign it.
William Bartlett was the son of a cobbler and a self-made hands-on doctor. He was the first man to cast a vote for independence on July 2, 1776. Three of his sons and seven grandsons became doctors.
William Whipple was a slave trader and had slaves, one whom he took to war with him. It was this slave (Prince) in the front of George Washington’s boat crossing the Delaware to Trenton, N.J. in the famous “Christmas Crossing” to capture the German Hessians.
At that time, the British were offering blacks their freedom if they fought on their side. More slaves ran away during The Revolutionary War than the Civil War. More blacks fought on the side of the British than on the American side. Washington and Jefferson both lost 20 each to become British soldiers. After the war, in 1784, Prince was freed, a year before Whipple died. Both are buried in Portsmouth, N.H. In the same cemetery and with a Revolutionary War veteran’s metal marker beside their grave.
Button Gwinnett, of Georgia, was killed in a duel (you might suspect defending his name.) It was actually a fight he challenged General McIntosh, who got the Georgia governor position over Gwinnett. He was the second signer to die (John Morton was the first). Button Gwinnett signatures sold for as much as $150,000 at auction in later years. A forged B.G.signature was the subject of “Button – Button” a 1953 sci-fi story. His final resting place was disputed so much between Savannah and Augusta that the moral of the story might be (you guessed it) – “Button, Button, who has the Button.”
I mentioned earlier that John Morton was the first signer to die. When The Colonies voted yea or nay on declaring independence, the Pennsylvania delegates were severely divided and it was Morton who was the tie breaker in favor of breaking away from Britain.
This division of loyalty and rebellion in Pennsylvania made him and his vote unpopular with about half of his neighbors. Nine months later he became ill and his last words on his deathbed were directed toward those who persecuted him. He said, “Tell them that they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service I ever rendered to country.” Doesn’t this speak volumes as to the internal strife our patriots felt during the revolution?
Of course we can’t overlook John Adams, the signer everyone loved (to hate). He was good to his country but others in Congress who worked with him considered him “bitchy.” When Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were appointed by Congress to write The Declaration, Adams chose to write a letter to Jefferson. In the letter, Adams told Tom that he (Tom) should write the declaration and he had three logical reasons.
He said, “First, you are a Virginian and a Virginian should appear at the head of this business. Second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason three, you can write ten times better than I can.”
When you read between the lines of that letter, you pick up on several things. Adams says to Tom that he speaks, writes, and looks better than himself. He says everything but him smelling better than himself. Is this a little man syndrome that makes him feel inferior inside and bitchy on the outside?
That could be, or maybe it’s mostly about internal politics and how a Boston lawyer didn’t feel accepted into the southern fold of delegates. I think that it speaks mainly to the fact that Virginia was the hub of power at that time and on up through The Civil War and still today.
As we discuss these 56 signers, we see them as unified for a common cause but believe me, they were individuals, too.
Dudley Wooten is the owner/operator of Wooten’s Landscaping and Nursery and can be contacted at 740-820-8210.