Declaration of Independence: Shocking Sacrifices Were Made by the Men Who Signed It
Because of his small build and stature, George Walton was thought to be the youngest of the signers of the declaration (he was actually in his mid-30s). He hailed from Georgia and served as colonel in the 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 captive for nine months and was released in the early fall of 1779 in a prisoner exchange for a British navy captain.
At the same time Walton was held prisoner, his wife Dorothy was captured by the British. She was imprisoned on an island in the West Indies and was eventually freed after a prisoner exchange. During the Waltons’ confinement, the British ransacked their home.
British troops destroyed the home of George Clymer of Pennsylvania in September 1777 when they captured Philadelphia. Though his home was outside of the city, it was right in the middle of the path of the British march. American loyalists pointed out to the British homes belonging to patriots, which of course included Clymer’s estate.
Clymer also contributed to the war monetarily. He converted his entire fortune into continental currency, a risky move considering the likelihood that the currency would be rendered worthless. He also told wealthy friends to contribute to the American cause.
A delegate from Pennsylvania, Robert Morris helped insure Washington’s victory at Yorktown by using his own credit to obtain the supplies necessary to defeat the British. He spent more than $1 million (not adjusted for inflation) of his own money to accomplish this.
While serving as superintendent of finance of the United States, Morris regularly used his own financial resources to obtain much needed supplies. Using his own funds, for example, he purchased one thousand barrels of flour for Washington’s men in late spring of 1778.
Lewis Morris of New York served as a major general in the state militia. Morris devoted himself to recruiting men to serve in the militia and to help keep supplies up, which was a constant problem. For almost the entire length of the war, the British occupied his home, Morrisania, and used it as their headquarters. This forced Morris to live off of his close friends and associates until the war ended in 1783.
John Hancock of Massachusetts, the man with the largest signature on the declaration, served in the militia as major general in 1778. Hancock was put in command of approximately 6,000 men during the Rhode Island campaign. That campaign was ultimately unsuccessful because the French failed to carry out their end of the bargain.
Caesar Rodney served in the Delaware militia as well, attaining the rank of brigadier general. Rodney famously road on horseback straight from Dover to Philadelphia to cast his vote in favor of declaring independence (the Delaware delegation was split). He was with his men in the field during the brutal winter of 1776, helped quash an uprising in Delaware (there were a large number of loyalists within the state), and helped in George Washington’s effort to defend Philadelphia from being taken by the British.
Carter Braxton of the Virginia delegation accumulated massive personal debts helping the American effort in the war. He loaned 10,000 pounds sterling to Congress, which was never repaid. He also spent much of his wealth outfitting American ships so that they could carry more cargo. Due to the British capturing some of his vessels and others being lost out on the high seas, he suffered great financial calamity. These accumulated losses left him bankrupt by war’s end.
A delegate from Connecticut, Oliver Wolcott served as captain and then major general in the state militia. In 1776, he was appointed to lead 14 regiments in defense of New York City. He also commanded thousands of men in the Battle of Saratoga. Wolcott worked tirelessly to recruit for the Connecticut militia, which, like the army in general, was sorely lacking in numbers within its ranks.
William Whipple of New Hampshire served as brigadier general in the state militia. He fought against Gen. Burgoyne at the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga (commonly pointed to as the turning point for Americans in the war) in 1777. The following year, Whipple participated in the retaking of Rhode Island.
Thomas McKean of Delaware served as colonel in the Delaware state militia. Once McKean was appointed to the office of President of Delaware in 1777, he was targeted by the British (the British captured John McKinley, the previous president). He had to move his family on five occasions because of raids by both the British and local Indian tribes.
Francis Lewis of New York signed the declaration on August 2, 1776. Although he was present when independence was declared a month earlier, the New York delegation did not get permission from the state’s legislature to sign the document. A few months after affixing his signature on the declaration, British troops destroyed the Long Island estate of Lewis. They took Lewis’ wife and put her in prison where she was tortured on a regular basis. Under the direction of George Washington, she was finally returned in a prisoner exchange two years later.