Whatever happened to the signers of the Declaration of Independence? Most of the 56 men have all but disappeared into history. An essay called The Price they Paid which generally circulates on the internet around the Fourth of July purports to tell the rest of the story. But according to Snopes.com, it’s a mixture of fact and fiction.
Here’s a short, and accurate, biography of the three North Carolina signers from USHistory.org. Raleigh Mayor Tom Meeker may be dismayed to learn that all three were “not from this area.”
William Hooper was born in Boston in 1742. He graduated from Harvard College in 1760, continued his studies in the law, and settled in Wilmington, N.C. in 1767. In 1773 he represented Wilmington in the N.C. General Assembly. He attended the Continental Congress in 1774. He resigned from the Congress in 1776 and returned home. In 1789 he was appointed to the Federal bench, but a year later retired due to failing health.
Joseph Hewes was born in Princeton, N.J. and attended Princeton College. He established a shipping business in Wilmington, N.C. in 1760 and, by the time of the revolution, had amassed a fortune. He elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1766 and served there until it was dissolved by the royal governor in 1775. He was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence, elected to the Provincial Legislature, and sent along to the Continental Congress in 1775. Hewes was known as a tireless worker in committee and the leading expert on maritime concerns. In 1776 he signed the Declaration of Independence and placed his ships at the service of the Continental Armed Forces. He served the Congress as the Secretary of the Naval Affairs Committee until 1779, when he fell ill and died.
John Penn was born in Caroline County, Va. to a family of means. His father died when Penn was 18 years old, and though he had received only a rudimentary education at a country school, he had access to the library of his relative Edmund Pendleton. He was licensed to practice law in Virginia at age twenty-two. In 1774 he moved to Granville County, N.C., where he established a law practice and soon became a gentleman member of the political community. He was elected to attend the provincial Congress in 1775 and elected to the Continental Congress that same year. He served there until 1777, participating in committee work. He was again elected in 1779, appointed to the Board of War, where he served until 1780. He declined a judgeship in his native state around that time, due to failing health. In retirement he engaged in his law practice.
USHistory.org also has biographies on all the signers and other information on the drafting of the document. You can read Jefferson’s original draft and compare it to the edits made by Congress to arrive at the final version we know today.
Whatever else you do on the Fourth of July take time to read the Declaration of Independence. Then go to the U.S. Archives website, sign it, and print out a copy for yourself.
Read this section carefully. It is especially appropriate in elections years:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.