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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,977
July 10, 2019
"Fates of Declaration Signers"
By Mike McManus

The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew they were inviting immense personal risk in doing so, yet they pledged "to each other our Lives, Fortunes and sacred Honor" for the cause of independence.

In fact, many paid a very high price as they fought the British. Five were captured by the British and jailed. Richard Stockton of New Jersey was pulled from his bed, beaten and thrown in jail where he almost starved to death. When he was finally released he returned home to find his estate had been looted, his possessions burned and horses stolen. He was so badly beaten in prison that he never recovered and he died before war's end.

Three from South Carolina - Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge and Thomas Heyward - were also captured by the British in 1780 and sent to a prison in St. Augustine, Florida. Prior to their capture, however, Heyward and Rutledge fought in the battle at Port Royal Island where they helped Gen. Moultrie defeat the British. Heyward was wounded and his plantation was raided, buildings burned and his wife, who witnessed it all, died as a result.

After William Ellery risked everything, he lost his fortune. In December, 1776, during three days of British occupation of Newport, Rhode Island, Ellery's house was burned and all his property destroyed.

Thomas Nelson, Jr. inherited a vast family fortune, much of which he used to support the American effort. He led 70 troops to meet the British in Philadelphia in summer1778, and paid for the 70 to return home. He also signed his name for $2 million to purchase provisions for the French fleet which came to America's aid.

Nelson noted that British General Cornwallis had occupied his beautiful home, and saw that American troops were firing in the direction of his home, but not at it. Asked why, the U.S. soldiers replied, "Out of respect for you, sir." Nelson quietly urged Gen. Washington to open fire on his house. Nelson stepped forward to the nearest cannon, aimed it at his own home and fired. The Nelson house was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis also had his New York home and property destroyed. The British jailed his wife for two months and that and other hardships from the war so affected her health that she died only two years later. After she died, Lewis lost all his property and abandoned politics.

After signing the Declaration in his thirties, George Walton served as a colonel in Georgia's first regiment of the state militia in 1778. During the siege of Savannah, a cannonball broke Walton's leg which led to his being captured. He was held for nine months and released in a prisoner exchange in 1779. While a prisoner, his wife, Dorothy, was also captured by the British, imprisoned on an island in the West Indies but later released in a prisoner exchange. When both were jailed the British ransacked their home.

A Pennsylvania delegate, Robert Morris, helped insure Washington's victory at Yorktown by using his own credit to obtain the supplies necessary to defeat the British, spending more than $1 million. While serving as the U.S. superintendent of finance, he regularly used his own funds to buy supplies - such as 1,000 barrels of flour for Washington.

Carter Braxton of Virginia loaned 10,000 pounds sterling to outfit American ships so they could carry more cargo - funds that were never repaid. Due to the British capturing some of his vessels and others lost on the high seas, he suffered great financial calamity. These accumulated losses left him bankrupt by war's end.

Soon after Francis Lewis signed the Declaration, his estate on Long Island was destroyed and the British captured Lewis' wife who was put in prison and tortured on a regular basis. Under the direction of George Washington, she was finally returned in a prisoner exchange two years later.

Benjamin Franklin, aged 70, was the oldest of the signers of the Declaration. Prior to setting sail for France in late 1776 to ask the French to assist in the war, Franklin gave his entire fortune to Congress to help fund the war.

Benjamin Harrison of Virginia, whose son and great-grandson both served as U.S. Presidents, suffered substantial losses because of the "ravages" and "plunderings" of the British.

What's most remarkable about the Declaration signers is how many of them donated their fortunes to the American Army - and were left in poverty as a result.

These were historic contributions that few of us knew anything about.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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