Don't Know Much

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (6th in a series)

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…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

(Sixth in a series. Note: The Yes after a named means the Signer enslaved people; No  means he did not. The first post is here.)

Wealthy planters, merchants and moderates

-Richard Henry Lee (Virginia) A 41 year old planter from a prominent Virginia family –his younger brother Francis Lightfoot (See previous post) was also there– Lee deserves more acclaim than he usually gets. A “great orator,” said John Adams, Lee introduced the resolution for independence. Curiously he left Congress and didn’t vote for the resolution or the Declaration, which he signed later in the summer of 1776. He was one of the few signers to actually serve with a Virginia militia unit. He remained in poetics after the war, becoming a vocal opponent of the Constitution but an advocate for the Bill of Rights. He was elected to the U.S. Senate but resigned in ill health and died  at age 62 in 1794. YES

Francis Lewis (New York) A native of Wales, he was a 63 year old merchant at the time of the signing, a key supporter of George Washington, but was instructed not to vote for the Declaration by New York. He then signed in August. During the war, his wife was imprisoned by the British and died shortly after her release, leaving Lewis grief-stricken. He died in 1802 at age 89, was buried in an unmarked grave at Manhattan’s Trinity Church, and now, curious New Yorkers will know why there is a Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens. YES

Philip Livingston (New York) The 60-year-old member of one of New York’s wealthiest families, he was a merchant who favored the patriot cause but was, like many New Yorkers, more moderate about declaring independence and was absent when the entire delegation abstained from the vote. But he signed in August. (Robert Livingston, a cousin and  member of the Declaration draft committee, was also absent from the vote and never signed the Declaration).  The British occupied his Brooklyn home after the fall of New York and used it as a hospital.  Although he sold some of his property to support the war effort, his family continued to amass large land holdings in upstate New York. In poor health, he died at age 62 in 1778, when Congress was forced to evacuate Philadelphia and moved to York, Pa. YES

Thomas Lynch, Jr. (South Carolina) At 27, the second youngest signer (after Edward Rutledge also of South Carolina), he was lawyer and son of a delegate. When his father, a wealthy planter, suffered a stroke, the younger Lynch was sent to Congress. (His father was unable to vote or sign.)  Both left for home in poor health and the elder Lynch died en route. Lynch Jr. and his wife later sailed for France in the hope of regaining his health but both died at sea in 1779. YES

 

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