Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Five were captured by the British and executed as traitors; twelve had their homes burned; two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army. Nine signers died of other war wounds. Nearly half of these men were lawyers, 11 merchants, nine farmers and plantation owners, and John Witherspoon – a Presbyterian minister. The rest reflected the normal occupations of the time.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the sea 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 kept his family in hiding. He died in poverty.
Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, 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. The owner urged General George Washington to open fire, which was done. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she lay our dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead, his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.
These were people like you and me who gave up their livelihoods because they were committed to a glorious cause. These men had security but the valued freedom more. They signed on to the cause with these words: For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
As you celebrate your nation’s birthday, what have you pledged?