Don't Know Much

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (Part 8)

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[Part 8 of a blog series that begins here. Note: YES following an entry means the signer enslaved people; NO means he did not.]

…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)

Minister turned lawyer.  Self-taught planters’s sons. A Nay vote. A rare bachelor. And a veiled man. The next six signers:

Thomas Nelson, Jr. (Virginia) Another son of a wealthy planter. he was a 37 year old merchant-planter at the signing, owner of more than 400 enslaved people. He raised money  to supply troops and even commanded militia. Legend has it that he fired a cannon at his own Yorktown mansion during the 1781 siege when told that it was British headquarters. The war cost him financially and he was in ill health, retiring as Virginia’s governor and living on his plantation until his death at 50 in 1789. YES

William Paca (Maryland) An attorney and wealthy planter’s son, he was 35 at the signing. A patriot leader in somewhat conservative Maryland, he helped bring the state to favor independence at  Philadelphia. He raised funds for the war effort and later, as Congressman, worked to support veterans. An advocate of the Constitution, he was later appointed a federal judge by President Washington, and was in that post at his death in 1799 at age 58. YES

Robert Treat Paine (Courtesy: Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts)

Robert Treat Paine (Courtesy: Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts)

Robert Treat Paine (Massachusetts) Overshadowed by two Adamses and Hancock from Massachusetts, he was a minister turned attorney, 45 at the signing, best known as one of the prosecutors in the 1770 trial of the British soldiers charged in “Boston Massacre.” His friend and fellow delegate John Adams had served rather successfully as their defender. In 1780, he was among the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the first American groups dedicated to expanding scientific knowledge and learning. After the war, he remained active in Massachusetts politics and was named a state judge by Hancock until his retirement in 1804 due to deafness. He died in 1814 at age 83. NO

John Penn (North Carolina) A wealthy planter’s son who taught himself to read and write, he was a 36 year old attorney at the signing.  He remained in Congress and was one of the signers who also signed the first American constitution, the Articles of Confederation. He retired to private law practice and died in 1788 at age 48. YES

George Read ( Delaware) Among the conservative delegates, he was a 42 year old lawyer at the time of the signing but had voted against independence on July 2.He served in state offices until ill health forced his resignation. But  he returned to Philadelphia to take part in the Constitutional convention and was leading voice for small states’s rights and led the ratification forces in Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution. Elected to the Senate, he resigned to take a judgeship in Delaware before his death in 1798 at age 65. YES

Caesar Rodney (Delaware) Another self educated attorney, son of a planter, he was 47 at the signing. He is best known for an 80 mile ride in a storm to break a deadlock that put Delaware in the independence column –which cost him favor with conservatives in his home state. One of the three bachelor signers (Francis Lee and Thomas Lynch were the others), he remained in the Congress until he became Delaware’s state president. A cancerous growth on his face was untreated and he covered it with a silk veil, worn for a decade before his death in 1784 at age 55. YES

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Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents (Hyperion Paperback-April 15, 2014)

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