We all are aware of certain of America’s Founding Fathers and their accomplishments and contributions to America. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and John Adams—these (and other) names are imbedded in our American History textbooks and remain a staple in discussions on America’s founding. But these are only a very few of the signers of the Declaration of Independence—and so much of what is known is their public contributions to society. But unlike today, politicians of that time didn’t make a career of their politics. They all had lives and careers outside of their public life. I thought it might be fun to look at some interesting, random, and unique facts about the 56 men who laid the groundwork for this nation by signing the Declaration of Independence.
Ages of the Signers
· The youngest men to sign the Declaration were Edward Rutledge and Thomas Lynch Jr.—both age 26. Rutledge was three months younger than Lynch, so he earns the official “youngest” title.
· The oldest men who signed were Benjamin Franklin (age 70) and Stephen Hopkins (69).
Birthplaces of the Signers
Of the 56 men, only eight were born outside the American colonies. They were:
· Button Gwinnett
· Francis Lewis
· Robert Morris
· James Smith
· George Taylor
· Matthew Thornton
· James Wilson
· John Witherspoon
Professions of the Signers*
· Twenty-four men—nearly half of the overall group—were lawyers.
· Seventeen were merchants.
· Fifteen were plantation or land owners.
· Four were physicians.
· Three were scientists.
· Two were land speculators.
· Two served as ministers (only one was active at the time he signed the document).
· Two were farmers.
· One was a surveyor.
· One was a printer.
· One was a musician.
· One was a military officer.
*Of the 56 men, seventeen are listed on the National Archives website as having two professions, so these numbers won’t add up to an even 56.
Family of the Signers
· All but two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were married.
o Caesar Rodney was the first. Rodney suffered with asthma all through his life, and in his later years, he also developed cancer on his face. On multiple occasions, he underwent the knife to remove the cancer—suffering great pain and scarring, to the point that he wore a scarf over his face to hide the disfigurement. He ultimately succumbed to the disease on June 26, 1784, after an eight-year battle. He was fifty-five years old. I would guess that due to the cancer and scarring, he may have chosen not to be romantically involved with anyone.
o Joseph Hewes is the only other unmarried soul who signed the Declaration. He was said to have been engaged to marry a young woman, Isabella Johnston, but days before their nuptials, Isabella fell ill and died. Hewes was so heartbroken over her loss that he never found love again.
· The rest of the signers of the Declaration were married at least once. Sixteen of those 56 married twice in their lifetimes.
· The sum total of children born to the signers of the Declaration is 337.
· Carter Braxton gets the award for the most children. He and his first wife, Judith, had two daughters before she passed away early in their marriage. Two years after her death, he married again and had sixteen children with his second wife, Elizabeth. Eighteen children total for the Braxton family.
· Others who had children in the double digits included Josiah Bartlett (12 children), Abraham Clark (10), William Ellery (16), John Hart (13), Thomas McKean (11), Lewis Morris (10), Thomas Nelson Jr. (13), Benjamin Rush (13), Roger Sherman (15), and John Witherspoon (12).
· Five of the signers had no children: Joseph Hewes, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Thomas Lynch Jr., Caesar Rodney, and William Whipple.
Random Claims to Fame
· The first signer of the Declaration of Independence to die was Button Gwinnett. He died on May 19, 1777, not even a full year after the signing. He was age 42 at the time. Three days prior to his death, he fought a duel with Lachlan McIntosh, the man who’d been appointed to the lucrative brigadier general position in the Continental Army which Gwinnett had hoped to get. After losing that position, the two men had an ongoing fued which led to the duel in question.
· Because of his unexpected and early death, there are few samples of Button Gwinnett’s signature on documents, so his autograph is one of the most highly sought after among the Founding Fathers, and it comes at a very dear price. There are only ten samples known to exist outside of the Declaration itself.
· The signer who died at the youngest age was Thomas Lynch Jr., who passed away at the age of 30. Both Lynch and his father served in the Continental Congress (the only father-son pair to do so), although both men were ill at the time. The elder Lynch was too sick to sign the famed document, and he died in 1777. The younger Lynch did improve some, though his health still suffered, so in 1779, he and his wife boarded a ship to go to the West Indies in hopes the climate might have good effects on his overall health. The ship was lost at sea, and Lynch Jr. and his wife Elizabeth both perished.
Thomas Lynch Jr.
· Thomas Lynch Jr.’s signature is also very rare for much the same reason as Button Gwinnett’s, and the few samples of it outside of the Declaration of Independence have sold for $200,000-$250,000/each.
· The signer of the Declaration of Independence who was the oldest at his death was Charles Carroll of Carrollton—age 95. He died November 14, 1832, of an apparent heart attack. He lived long enough to out-survive four of the first five American presidents.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
It’s Your Turn: Which fun fact or detail did you find most interesting? Why? Leave your answers along with your email address to be entered in the drawing for one of my books, along with a scented soap and package of Oak Alley Plantation notecards.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
The Scarlet Pen by Jennifer Uhlarik
Step into True Colors — a series of Historical Stories of Romance and True American Crime
Enjoy a tale of true but forgotten history of an 19th Century serial killer whose silver-tongued ways almost trap a young woman into a nightmarish marriage.
In 1876, Emma Draycott is charmed into a quick engagement with Stephen Dee Richards after reconnecting with him at a church event in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. But within the week, Stephen leaves to “make his fame and fortune.” The heartbroken Emma gives him a special pen to write to her, and he does with tales of grand adventures. Secret Service agent Clay Timmons arrives in Mount Pleasant to track purchases made with fake currency. Every trail leads back to Stephen—and therefore, Emma. Can he convince the naïve woman she is engaged to a charlatan who is being linked a string of deaths in Nebraska?