Benson John Lossing.

Biographical sketches of the signers of the Declaration of American Independence ... online

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Entered, according to Act of Congreas, in the year 1848.


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and fee
the Southern District of New York.


1 n*,_iK are lessons of deep, abiding interest, and of
inestimable value, to be learned in studying the lives of
the men who perilled their all to secure the blessed
inheritance of free institutions which we now enjoy.
We do not learn merely the dignity and sacredness of
pare patriotism, by following them in their career amid
the storms of the Revolution, but all the virtues which
adorn humanity are presented in such bold relief, in the
private and public actions of that venerated company,
that when we rise from a perusal of a narrative of their
lives, we feel as if all the noble qualities of our common
manhood had been passing before us in review, and
challenging our profound reverence.

The biography of a great man, is an history of his own
times ; and when we have perused the record of the
actions of the men of our Revolution, we have imbibed a
general knowledge of the great events of that struggle for
Freedom. If this proposition is true, then we feel that
this volume has a claim to the public regard, for we have
endeavored to comprise within as small a compass as a
perspicuous view of the subject would allow, the chief
events in the lives of the men who stood sponsors at the
baptism in blood of our Infant Republic.

The memoirs are illustrated by copious notes explana-
tory of events alluded to in the course of the biographical
narrative, and these, we believe, will be found a highly
useful feature of the work.


We have made free use of materials long since laid
before the public by abler pens than our own. We did
not expect to add much -that is new to the biographical
facts already published ; our aim was to condense those
facts into the space of a volume so small, that the price of
it would make it accessible to our whole population. It
is the mission of true patriotism to scatter the seeds of
knowledge broad -cast amid those in the humbler walks
of society, because adventitious circumstances deny them
access to the full granary of information, where the
wealthy are filled ; for these humbler ones are equa.
inheritors of the throne of the people's sovereignty, anc
are no less powerful than others at the ballot-box whera
the nation decides who its rulers shall be.

The final adoption of the Federal Constitution, and the
organization of the present government of the United
States under it, formed the climax the crowning act
of the drama of which the Declaration of Independence
was the opening scene. We therefore thought it propel
to append to the biographies, a brief sketch of the legis-
lative events which led to the formation and adoption
of the Constitution. The Declaration is pregnant with
grave charges against the King of Great Britain charges
which his apologists have essayed to deny. We have
taken them up in consecutive order as they stand in the
document, and adduced proofs from historical facts, of the
truth of those charges. These proofs might have been
multiplied, but our space would not permit amplification.

With these brief remarks, we send our volume forth
with the pleasing hope that it may prove useful to the
young and humble of our beloved land, unto whom we
affectionately dedicate it.

B. J. L.
NEW YORK, April, 1848.






New Hampshire.

Josiah Bartlett, 13

William Whipple, 17

Matthew Thornton, 20


John Hancock 22

John Adams 27

Samuel Adams 33

Robert Treat Paine, 37

Rhode Island.

Elbridge Gerry, 40

Stephen Hopkins, 44

WilliamEllery 47


Roger Sherman, 50

Samuel Huntington, 53

William Williams 56

Oliver Wolcott, 59

New York.

William Floyd, 63

Philip Livingston, 67

Francis Lewis, 71

Lewis Morris, 74

New Jersey.

Richard Stockton 77

John Witherspoon 81

Francis Hopkinson, 85

John Hart, 87

Abraham Clark 90


Robert Morris, 93

Benjamin Rush. 99

Benjamin Franklin, 104

John Morton, 112

George Clymer, 114

James Smith, 119

George Taylor, 123


James Wilson 126

George Ross, 130


Cfflsar Rodney 133

George Read, 137

Thomas McKean, 141


Samuel Chase, 146

Thomas Stone, 151

William Paca, 154

Charles Carroll, of Carroll ton, .... 157


George Wythe, 162

Richard Henry Lee, 166

Thomas Jeflerson, 174

Benjamin Harrison 184

Thomas Nelson, Jr 188

Francis Lightfoot Lee, 194

Carter Braxton 197

North Carolina.

William Hooper, 201

Joseph Hewes, 205

JohnPenn 208

South Carolina.

Edwurd Rutledge, 211

Thomas Hey ward, Jr 215

Thomas Lynch, Jr 219

Arthur Middleton 323


Button Gwinnett, 227

Lyman Hall, 229

George Walton, 233

Robert R. Livingston, (of New

York, not a signer.) 238








ependence Hall as it appeared in 1776.

ROM no point of view can the Declaration
of American Independence, the causes
which led to its adoption, and the events
which marked its maintenance, be ob-
served, without exciting sentiments of profound vene-
ration for the men who were the prominent actors in that
remarkable scene in the drama of the world's history.
Properly to appreciate the true relative position in which
those men stood to the then past and future, it is necessary
to view the chain of causes and effects, retrospective and
prospective, united in them by a brilliant link.

For a long series of years the commercial policy of
Great Britain, in her dealings with the American Colo-
nies, was narrow and selfish, and its effects influenced the
whole social compact here. The colonists felt the injus*
tice df many laws, but their want of representation in the
National Legislature, and their inherent political weak-
ness, obliged them to submit. But when the wars Malta


the French and Indians called forth their ph/sical ener-
gies, and united, in a measure, the disjointed settlements,
scattered in isolated communities along the Atlantic sea-
board, marked by hardly a semblance of union in feeling
and interest, it was then that they perceived the strength
and value of unity, and talked with each other respecting
their common rights and privileges.

The royal governors viewed the interchange of political
sentiments between the colonies with great disfavor, foi
they saw therein the harbinger of their own departing
strength. Their representations to the British Ministry,
more than any other single cause, contributed to the en-
actment of laws respecting the colonies, that finally gene-
rated that rebellious spirit in the hearts of the Anglo-
Americans, which would not, and did not, stop short of
absolute Political Independence.

The enactment of the Stamp Act in 1765, and the
kindred measures that soon followed, made it plain to the
minds of the colonists that even common justice would be
denied them by the Home Government, if its claims inter-
fered with the avaricious demands of an exhausted trea-
sury. They saw plainly that the King and Parliament
were resolved to turn a deaf ear to all petitions and re-
monstrances- that were based upon the righteous assump-

ARE ONE AND INSEPARABLE." As this was a principle too
vital in the very constitution of a free people, to be yielded
the colonists felt the necessity of a General Council to de
liberate upon the solemn questions involved. In this, the
great heart of colonial America seemed to beat with oi


pulsation ; and almost simultaneously, arid without pre-
vious concert, the proposition for a General Congress was
put forth in several of the colonies.

The time and place for holding a Congress were desig-
nated, and on the fifth of September, 1774, delegates from
the various colonies assembled in Carpenter's Hall, in
Philadelphia. Their deliberations were orderly but firm.
Loyalty to the crown, notwithstanding its oppressions, was
a leading theme in their debates. Not a word was whis-
pered of dismemberment and independence, but they
solemnly consulted with each other upon the best means
of maintaining the integrity of the British realm, compati-
ble with the preservation of their own inalienable rights.
To this end their efforts were directed, and they humbly
petitioned the King, remonstrated with Parliament, and
appealed to their brethren in Great Britain for justice.
But their petitions and remonstrances were in vain. New
oppressions were laid upon them, and the blood of Ameri-
. can citizens was shed by British soldiery at Lexington
and Concord !

Another Congress assembled in May, 1775, organized
a temporary general government, made provisions for" an
army, and appointed Washington commander-in-chief
And yet they talked not of independence. They armed in
defence of rights bestowed by the British Constitution,
and they were still willing to lay their, down, and avow
their loyalty, when those rights should be respected.
Even with arms in their hands, and successfully opposing
the force of British bayonets, they petitioned and remon-
strated. But their petitions were unheeded ; their re-



monstrances were insultingly answered ; j,nd their de-
mands for justice were met by swarms of armed merce-
naries, purchased by the British Government of petty
German princes, and sent hither to butcher British sub-
jects for asserting the rights of British subjects !

Hope for reconciliation faded away at the opening of
1776, and in June of that year, Richard Henry Lee, of
Virginia, offered a resolution in the General Congress,
declaring all allegiance of the colonies to the British crown,
at an end. This bold proposition was soon after followed
by the appointment of a committee to draft a Declaration
of Independence. This committee consisted of Thomas
lefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sher-
man and Robert R. Livingston. The draft was made by
Jefferson, and after a few verbal alterations by Dr. Frank-
lin and Mr. Adams, it was 'submitted to Congress* on the
twenty-eighth of June. It was laid upon the table until
the first of July, when it was taken up in committee of
the whole, and after several amendments were made, nine
States voted for Independence. The Assemblies of Mary-
land and Pennsylvania refused their concurrence ; but
conventions of the people having been called, majorities
were obtained, and on the fourth of July, votes from all
the Colonies were procured in its favor, and the thirteen
united Colonies were declared free and independent States

The Declaration was signed on that day, only by John
Hancock, the President of Congress, and with his narr.e
alone, it was first sent forth to the world. It was ordered
to be engrossed upon the Journals of Congress, and on
the second day of August following, it was signed by all


out one of the fifty-six signers whose names aie appended
-o it. That one was Matthew Thornton, who, on taking
his seat in November, asked and obtained the privilege of
signing it. Several who signed it on the second of
August, were absent when it was adopted on the fourth
of July, but, approving of it, they thus signified their ap-

The signing of that instrument was a solemn act, and
required great firmness and patriotism in those who com-
mitted it. It was treason against the home government,
yet perfect allegiance to the law of right. It subjected
those who signed it to the danger of an ignominious death,
yet it entitled them to the profound reverence of a disen-
thralled people. But neither firmness nor patriotism
was wanting in that august assembly. Arid their own
sound judgment and discretion, their own purity of pur-
pose and integrity of conduct, were fortified and strength-
ened by the voice of the people in popular assemblies,
embodied in written instructions for the guidance of their

Such were the men unto whose keeping, as instruments
of Providence, the destinies of America were for the time
intrusted ; and it has been well remarked, that men, other
than such as these, an ignorant, untaught mass, like those
who have formed the physical elements of other revolu-
tionary movements, without sufficient intellect to guide
and control them could not have conceived, planned, and
carried into execution, such a mighty movement, one so
fraught with tangible marks of poh'tical wisdom, as the
American Revolution. And it is a matter of just pride to


the American people, that not one of that noble band who
periled life, fortune, and honor, in the cause of freedom,
ever fell from his high estate into moral degradation, or
dimmed, by word or deed, the brightness of that effulgence

Their bodies now have all returned to their kindred
dust in the grave, and their souls have gone to receive
their reward in the Spirit Land.

Congress was assembled in Independence Hall, at
Philadelphia, when the Declaration was adopted, and, con-
nected with that event, the following touching incident is
related. On the moming of the day of its adoption, the
venerable bell-man ascended to the steeple, and a little
boy was placed at the door of the Hall to give him notice
when the vote should be concluded. The old man waited
long at his post, saying, " They will never do it, they will
never do it." Suddenly a loud shout came up from below,
and there stood the blue-eyed boy, clapping his hands,
and shouting, " Ring ! Ring ! ! " Grasping the iron
tongue of the bell, backward and forward he hurled it a
nundred times, proclaiming " Liberty to the land and to
the inhabitants thereof."

S HE ancestors of JOSIAII BARTLETT were
Ifrom Normandy, whence they emi-
j grated to England. The name was
conspicuous in English History at an
early date. Toward the rlose of tho
| seventeenth century a branch of the
family emigrated to America, ant 1 set-
tled in the town of Beverley, in Massachusetts. Josinh
was born in Amesbury, in Massachusetts, in November,
1729. His mother's maiden name was Webster, and



she was a relative of the family of the great statesman of
that name of our time.

Young Baitlett lacked the advantage of a collegiate
education, but he improved 'an opportunity for acquiring
some knowledge of the Greek and Latin, which offered
in the family of a relative, the Rev. Doctor Webster.
He chose for a livelihood the practice of the medical pro-
fession, and commenced the study of the science when
he was sixteen years old. His opportunities for acquir-
ing knowledge from books were limited, but the active en-
ergies of his mind supplied the deficiency, in a measure,
and he passed an examination with honor at the close of
his studies. He commenced practice at Kingston in New
Hampshire, and proving skillful and successful, bis busi-
ness soon became lucrative, and he amassed a 'ompe-

Mr. Bartlett was a stern, unbending republicai ; o prin-
ciple, yet, notwithstanding this, he was highly o -teemed
by Wentworth, the royal governor,* and received from
him a magistrate's commission, and also the command of
a regiment of militia. In 1765 he was elected a member
of the provincial legislature of New Hampshire. It was
.at the time when the Stamp Actt was before the BritJ&h
Parliament, and Mr. Bartlett soon became a prominent
leader of a party that opposed the various oppressive
measures of the home government. Through Wentworth,
magnificent bribes were offered him, but his patriotism
was inflexible.

* Ai a general rule the royal governors looked with disfavor upon all demo
cratic movements, and withdrew and withheld their support from those who
manifested decided republicanism in their sentiments. The obvious reason for
this was, that the voice of republicanism sounded in their ears like the death knell
of their power and place.

1 The Stamp Act required all legal instruments of writing, such as wills, deeds,
mortgages, marriage certificates, &c., to be written upon paper stamped with tho
royal arms of Britain. An officer called a " Stamp Master" was appointed to sell
them, and thus Great Britain indirectly taxed her American colonies without their


111 1776 he was appointed a member of the Committee
of Safety of his State. The governor was alarmed when
this committee was appointed, and to prevent the trans-
action of other business of a like nature, he dissolved the
Assembly. They re-assembled in spite of the governor,
and Dr. Bartlett was at the head of this rebellious move-
ment. He was soon after elected a member of the Con-
tinental Congress,* and in 1775, Governor Wentworth
struck his name from the magistracy list, and deprived him
of his military commission. Still he was active in the pro-
vincial assembly, and the governor, despairing of reconcili-
ation, and becoming some what alarmed for his own safety,
left the province. The provincial Congresst assumed the
reins of government, and immediately re-appointed Dr.
Bartlett colonel of militia.

In August, 1775, he was again chosen a delegate to the
Continental Congress, and was again 1776.
He was one of the committee appointed to devise a plan
for the confederation of die States, as proposed a June
by Dr. Franklin. He warmly supported the 1776 '
proposition for independence, and when, on the second
of August, 1776, the members of Congress signed the
Declaration, Dr. Bartlett was the first who affixed his sig-
nature, New Hampshire being tae first State called.

In 1778, he obtained leave from Congress to visit his
family and look after his private affairs, which had be-
come much deranged. He did not resume his seat again
in that body. In 1779 he was appointed Chief Justice of
the Court of Common Pleas of New Hampshire, and the
muster master of its troops. He was afterward raised to
the bench of the Supreme Court. He took an active, part

* First convened at Philadelphia, on the fourth of September, 1774.

t Before actual hostilities commenced, nearly all the colonies were acting inde-
pendent of the royal governors and their council?, and provincial Congresses were
organized, which performed all the duties of independent State legislatures.


in the Convention of his State, in favor of the Constitution
of 1787, and when it was adopted, he was elected a mem-
ber of the fii'st Senate that convened under it in the city
of New York. But he declined the honor, and did not
take his seat there. He had been previously chosen Pres-
ident of New Hampshire, and held that responsiole of-
fice until 1793, when he was elected the first governor of
that State, under the Federal Constitution.* He held the
office one year, and ihen resigning it, he retired to pri-
vate life, and sought that needful repose which the de-
clining years of an active existence required. He had
served his countiy faithfully in its hour of deepest peril,
and the benedictions of a free people followed him to
his domestic retreat. But ha was not permitted long to
bless his family with his -prose ace, nor was he allowed to
witness his country entirely five- from perils of great mag-
nitude, that threatened its destruction, while the elements
of the new experiment in gove.rmi'Mt were yet unstable,
for in 1795 death called him away. He died on the nine-
teenth of May of that year, in the a^xty -sixth year of his

* So jealous were the people of State Rights, tt>a* tHc Federal Constitution waa
warmly opposed in many parts of the Union, because -of it* apparent nuLitication
of those rights, and that is the reason why several ot tt>e States so long delayed
to ratify that instrument The following table exoiohs the dates of the ratifica-
tion of the Constitution by the thirteen old States.

Delaware, Dec. 7 1787

Pennsylvania, Dec. 12 1787

New Jersey, Dec. 18 1787

Georgia, Jan. 2, 1788

Connecticut, Jan. 9, 1788

Massachusetts, Feb. 6, 1788

Maryland, April 28, 1788

South a, Kiy K> 1788

New Harafshii?, J ue t\ 1788

Virginia, June 2tf 1788

NewYirk, Joly itf ..1788

North enroling Nv. S\ , . . .1789
Rhode Island, May ."V 1790

ILLIAM WHIPPLE was born at Kittery,
in New Hampsliire (that portion which
is now the State of Maine) in the year
1730. His early education was received
at a common school in his native town.
When quite a lad, he went to sea, in
which occupation he was engaged for
several years. At the age of twenty nine a he
quitted the seafaring life, and, with his brother,
Joseph Whipple, entered into mercantile pursues in
Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

He early espoused the cause of the colonies and soon




became a leader among the opposition to British authority.
In 1775 he was elected a member of the Provincial Con-
gress of New Hampshire, and was chosen by that body,
one of the Committee of Safety.* When, in 1775, the
people of that State organized a temporary government,
Mr. Whipple was chosen a member of the Council. In
January, 1776, he was chosen a delegate to the Continen-
tal Congress, and was among those who, on the fourth of
July of that year, voted for the Declaration of Indepen-
dence. He remained in Congress until 1777, when he
retired from that body, having been appointed a Briga-
dier General of the New Hampshire Militia. He was
very active in calling out and equipping troops for the
campaign against Burgoyne. He commanded one brig-
ade, and General Stark the other. He was under Gates
at the capture of Burgoyne, and was one of the commis-
sioners to arrange the terms of capitulation. He was
afterward selected one of the officers to march the British
prisoners to Cambridge, near Boston.

He joined Sullivan in his expedition against the British
on Rhode Island in 1778, with a pretty large force of
New Hampshire Militia. But the perverse conduct of
the French Admiral D'Estaing, in not sustaining the siege
of Newportjt caused a failure of the expedition, and
General Whipple, with his brigade, returned to New

In 1780, he was offered the situation of Commissioner

* These ccmmittees were organized in several of the States. Their business
was to act as an executive body to regulate the general concerns of the govern-
ment during the continuance of the war. These committees were of vast im-
portance, and acted efficiently in conjunction with the committees of correspond-
ence. In some instances they consisted each of the same men.

t The Count D'Estaing agreed to assist Sullivan in reducing the town of New-
port, but just as he was entering the harbor, the fleet of Lord Howe, from New-
York, appeared, and ho proceeded to attack him. A storm prevented an engage-
nent, and both fleets were greatly damaged by the gale. D'Estaing, instead of re-
maining to assist Sullivan, sailed for Boston, under the pretence of repairing hif
chattered vessels.


of the Board of Admiralty, but declined it. In 1782, he
was appointed by Robert Morris, financial agent in New
Hampshire, * but he resigned the trust in the course of a
year. During that year, he was appointed one of the
commissioners to settle the dispute between Pennsylvania
and Connecticut, concerning the Wyoming domain, and
was appointed president of the Court.t He was also ap-
pointed, during that year, a side judge of the Superior
Court of New Hampshire. J

Soon after his appointment, in attempting to sum up
the arguments of counsel, and submit the case to the jury,
he was attacked with a violent palpitation of the heart,
which ever after troubled him. In 1785 he was seriously
affected while holding court ; and, retiring to his cham-

Online LibraryBenson John LossingBiographical sketches of the signers of the Declaration of American Independence ... → online text (page 1 of 29)