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The Cost of Freedom

The Signers of the Declaration of Independence
The Revolutionary War lasted for 9 years from 1775 to 1783

On July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress voted to accept the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia's Independence Hall. On August 2, 1776, fifty-six men signed their names to the historic document that gave birth to a new nation as they declared their independence from Great Britain. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence risked their lives, families and fortunes for the cause of freedom. Think of yourself. Would you sacrifice for a cause? What would you risk your job for? These men sacrificed their livelihoods, property, families and lives. Among the signers were two dozen lawyers or judges; nine farmers or plantation owners; eleven merchants, physicians, politicians, educators, and a minister. William Ellery one of the signers of the Declaration stated, "I was determined to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrant. I placed myself beside the secretary, Charles Thomson, and eyed each closely as he affixed his name to the document. Undaunted resolution was displayed in every countenance." Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader saw just about every shipping vessel in which he held an interest sunk or captured by the British during the Revolutionary War. During the war, he had loaned part of his wealth to support the war. The losses eventually resulted in great debt. As his debt grew, Braxton was forced to sell off his vast land holdings and the debts due him became worthless on account of the depreciation of the currency. In 1786, he was forced to leave his estate. Many of the plantations he had acquired over time were also ruined by enemy forces.
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Thomas Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, raised $2 million to supply our French allies by offering his property as collateral. He was never reimbursed and he was unable to repay the note when it came due ± wiping out his entire estate. In the final battle of Yorktown, Nelson urged George Washington to fire on his home as it was occupied by British General Cornwallis. Nelson's home was destroyed, leaving him bankrupt when he died. His health and fortune were wrecked by the war and he moved his large family to a small estate in Hanover County. Shortly after signing the Declaration of Independence, John Hart was elected to the new State Assembly and chosen its Speaker. When Hart left Philadelphia to take his seat in the state legislature at Princeton, he was besieged in his farmhouse during the British invasion of New Jersey. His thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and his property were ruined. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, where he existed as a fugitive. On September 26, 1776, Richard Stockton was appointed to a committee to inspect the northern army. On his return home, he was betrayed to the British and was dragged from his homes at night and taken to prison in New York. Stockton was treated brutaly. His home was destroyed and his lands were ruined. Stockton was subsequenty the subject of a prisoner exchange. Stockton never regained his health and his fortune- he and his family were forced to live on charity. He died in poverty at the age of 51. Lewis Morris was on hand to sign the Declaration of Independence, even though he knew that a large British army had landed within a few miles of his estate and that his possessions would probably be destoyed. "Damn the consequences, give me the pen," Morris is said to have shouted. Soon after, his family driven away, his livestock captured and the entire property destroyed. All of the Morris property and nearly all of his wealth had been destroyed in the war.
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In December 1776, George Clymer risking capture by the British along with Walton and Morris remained behind to carry on remaining congressional business when the members of Congress were forced to flee from Philadelphia to Baltimore. British troops detoured for the purpose of vandalizing Clymer's home. His wife and children escaped by hiding in the woods nearby. In 1763, John Hancock had inherited what was believed to be the greatest body of wealth in New England when his uncle died. He was a marked man by the British, who had attempted to arrest him many times before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Hancock was the first to sign his name to the document. He risked his fortune in the struggle for independence and performed valuable services for his country during the Revolutionary War. He used his wealth to arm and feed much of the volunteers from Massachusetts. Soon after Francis Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence, the British destroyed his estate in Whitestone, New York. His extensive library and his property were destroyed. His wife was taken prisoner for several months and was confined without a bed or a change of clothes. She died within a year or two after her release. Lewis' latter years were spent in comparative poverty, his fortune having been lost in the war. In the spring of 1780, the city of Charleston was besieged by the British. Upon the surrender of the city, Thomas Heyward, Jr. was taken prisoner and sent with Edward Rutledge, Richard Hutson and others to St. Augustine, Florida, where he was imprisoned for a year. Most of what he owned was destroyed during the war. In December 1776, George Walton risking capture by the British along with Clymer and Morris remained behind to carry on remaining congressional business when the members of Congress were forced to flee from Philadelphia to Baltimore. In December 1778, Walton was appointed a colonel in the militia and was wounded in
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the thigh. He fell from his horse and was taken prisoner by the British troops. He was held as a prisoner of war until he was exchanged in October of 1779 for a British naval captain. Arthur Middleton's property was looted and most of his fortune was destroyed. Middleton owned a valuable collection of paintings that were destroyed. His family escaped before the British arrived. Middleton was active in the defense of Charleston in 1780. With several others he was taken prisoner, and was sent by sea to St. Augustine, where he was kept in confinement for nearly a year. During the Revolutionary War, Lyman Hall was accused of high treason by the British and had both his Savannah houses burned by the British. His family managed to escape to the north, later joining him in Philadelphia. During the War, the British tried, but were unable to capture William Hooper or harm his family. They did; however, torch his estate and leave his property completely devastated. Hooper fled the British, going from friend to friend. During the War, a party of Hessians invaded the residence of Francis Hopkinson in Bordentown. His family only had time to escape with their lives before the invaders destroyed his home. Hopkinson's library contained the most distinguished books of the times as well as a collection of scientific equipment. William Williams abandoned his business and went from house to house soliciting private donations to supply the army. Williams also made frequent speeches to get others to join the cause. Throughout the war, his house was open to the soldiers. During the Revolutionary War Button Gwinnett's property was totally destroyed by the British.
Compiled by Thomas George

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