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“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” With this pledge, fifty-six men unhesitatingly signed the Declaration of Independence.
They were immediately branded as traitors by the British government and hunted by the military. Until the revolution was won, their lives and those of their families were in jeopardy.
Seventeen signers served in the military during the war. Five were captured and held in British prisons. Twelve had their homes burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. A great many were unable to visit their families and homes for long periods of time. Most were offered immunity if they would pledge allegiance to King George III; they all refused. Some had their wives and children killed, jailed, mistreated, persecuted or left penniless. At least six are known to have given or loaned money or pledged their personal credit to support the revolution.
They all had sad stories, but these two touched me the most.
John Hart of New Jersey rode to protect his wife and thirteen children as the British advanced toward Trenton, during the winter of 1776. Deborah Hart was ill and unable to be moved. Mrs. Hart and friends were finally able to convince Hart that he should escape. At the last moment, he ran into the woods and found cover in the nearby Sourland Mountains. Hart was not able to return to his home until December 26th after the Continental Army had retaken Trenton. He found that his wife had been buried and his children were gone. The house and farm had been damaged but not destroyed. He was never able to locate all of his children.
John Morton of Pennsylvania, a public servant in a loyalist-leaning section of Pennsylvania, found it difficult to support independence. After a long struggle with his conscience, he finally decided to support the Virginia Resolution on July 1, 1776. This vote and his signature on the Declaration of Independence led his supporters, friends and some family members to believe that he had betrayed their trust and the King. From that moment on he was publicly ostracized. When he became ill in early 1777, his friends and some of his relatives stayed away. On his deathbed a short time later, he reportedly said, “Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it [the signing] to have been the most glorious service that I ever rendered to my country.” Morton was the first signer to die.
I spent a good part of last week preparing brief summaries of the hardships these brave men and their families endured. It is heart wrenching to read their stories. Their sacrifices were real, and some never fully recovered.
Thank you for your time today,