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IN OUR OPINION | Sacrificing for our independence
Fifty-six delegates placed their signatures on the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a statement announcing that the 13 American colonies at war with Great Britain were now independent states and no longer part of the British Empire.
In signing the Declaration of Independence, these men knew that the penalty was death if they were captured.
Of the 56 men who signed the historic document, five were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. The homes of 12 were ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the war and two sons of another were captured. Nine fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
What kind of men were they?
Twenty-four of the men were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants, nine were farmers and plantation owners.
John Hart, of New Jersey, was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives, his fields were burned and gristmill destroyed. For more than a year, he lived in the forest and in caves. When he returned home, he found his wife dead and his children had vanished. Hart died a few weeks later from exhaustion and a broken heart.
Thomas Nelson Jr.’s Virginia home was taken over by British General Charles Cornwallis, who converted it into his headquarters. Nelson asked General George Washington to open fire on the home during the Battle of Yorktown. His home was destroyed; Nelson died bankrupt.
Thomas McKean, who represented Delaware in Congress without pay, was pursued by the British and was forced to move constantly to keep his family hidden. His possessions were taken from him and poverty was his reward.
Francis Lewis’ New York home and properties were destroyed by the British, who also jailed his wife. She died a few months later.
Virginia resident Carter Braxton, a wealthy plantation owner and trader, watched as his ships were swept out to sea by the British Navy. He sold his home and land to pay off his debts. Braxton died in rags.
Robert Morris, once a wealthy Pennsylvania merchant, spent several years in a debtors prison after the war. Five years after he left prison, he committed suicide.
These patriots were men of means and education, but they valued liberty more than security.
We should never surrender our freedoms that these men died to secure.
When celebrating Independence Day, take a moment to remember those who sacrificed their lives for the liberty and freedom we enjoy in America today.