By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield
Richard Stockton hadn't planned to be a rebel. Born October 1, 1730, the oldest of a distinguished and well-to-do family, he was educated in the best of schools. In Stockton's wildest dreams, he would have never thought he'd become one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence—and the only signer who would be made an example of British cruelty.
Stockton graduated from college in 1748. He passed the bar exam and in 1763 received the degree of sergeant of law (one of the highest law degrees of the time). He became one of the most successful lawyers in the colonies. He married the poet, Annis Boudinot. They had six children.
In 1766 he set sail for England, Scotland, and Ireland as a representative for the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and the American colonies. He was well-received, due to his highly professional reputation. He boldly addressed King George III regarding the Stamp Act and the taxation issues. The king took it quite well. Or so it seemed to Stockton at the time.
When he visited Edinburgh, he was complimented with a dinner held in his honor. Little did he know what lay ahead of him.
In the city of Edinburgh, he was confronted by a robber, and his only means of defense was his small sword. He did succeed in wounding the would-be bandit and managed to keep his money and possessions. However, he did not manage to apprehend his assailant.
God had his hand upon the six-foot handsome, athletic, and tremendously outspoken Stockton even before he realized his calling.
The dogmatic Stockton was not daunted in the least by the mishap and set his sights on crossing the Irish Channel. However, his baggage did not arrive in time. Looking forlornly out as the ship took sail without him, he had time to resign himself to the situation at hand.
The next morning, he learned the ship he planned to embark upon was shipwrecked by a mammoth storm. No one survived. Passengers and crew were forced to share their fate of a watery grave. Submission to the will of heaven and resignation that God had a purpose for changing his destiny was always at the forefront of Stockton's thoughts, his Quaker roots firmly grounded in the Almighty God.
Stockton relied heavily on Scripture to explain away any doubts he had. He often said, "I subscribe to the entire belief of the great and leading doctrines of the Christian religion, such as the Being of God, and the completeness of the redemption purchased by the blessed Savior…"
Because of his wisdom and sound advice, he was appointed justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. However, the gap between the Crown and the Colonists grew ever wider. Stockton became an outspoken and staunch supporter of the Patriots. He resigned from the royal council, comprised of Loyalists and neutral parties.
He was later asked to represent New Jersey as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Though politics was never his forte, he often said that the day must first come when "… I am convinced that by neglecting my own affairs I am doing more acceptable Service to God and Man."
That day had arrived, he accepted being a delegate to the Continental Congress. And in 1776, boldly signed his name on the Declaration of Independence.
An awful silence filled the room as each man came forward to sign what was believed, at the time, to be their death warrant. This was an act of high treason and could cost a man his life. Little did Stockton know he'd become a champion of those words and ideals.
Five months later, on a bleak day in November, General George Washington was forced to retreat from General Charles Cornwallis’ army across New Jersey. Cornwallis was heading for Princeton and Stockton's home was in the path of the oncoming army.
He ran home. His wife, Annis had the foresight to bury important state papers before they rode to the house of a fellow patriot John Covenhoven.
That night British soldiers busted into the house and took Stockton and Covenhoven, dragged them away thinly clothed, to Perth Amboy. Stockton was taken to Provost Prison in New York City. Locked in irons, starved, and with no winter clothing, he shivered like a scant leaf against the frigid cold. Kept in these dire conditions, he was offered a pardon if he'd remain loyal to the king and recant his signature on the Declaration.
The lot had fallen to him, the dreaded sentence each signer feared, became his cross to bear. The words of the Constitution… "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." He was the scapegoat.
He was given a choice. His options were to freeze and starve to death in prison or be with his beloved Annis and family. After all, it was only a signature?
Did he recall the year in Europe when he dined with King George and the dignitaries of the Royal Crown? It would have been so simple for him to say he'd made a mistake, after all, his father and his grandfather were staunch Englishman. But he had given his word to God—and he feared the eternal wrath of God over what earthly man could do.
In his heart, he knew his destiny had come to this crossroads for a reason. He grabbed a firmer hold on his faith, for he sincerely believed—"that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The last sentence of the Declaration came vividly to his dazed thoughts, "…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence"—so The Almighty had chosen him—to pledge his life, his fortune, and his sacred Honor. So be it, Lord.
Annis continued to plead for her husband to the Continental Congress. After two years had gone by, Congress ordered Washington to do some sort of trade. A British general was offered for Stockton and other prisoners. They were released under the stipulation they would not participate in the war.
More than 12,000 men died in Provost Prison while Stockton was there. Stockton's suffering was so severe that his constitution could never recover the shock. His fortune, once plentiful, was lost. His lands were devastated, his papers and library were burnt, his livestock was seized and driven away. He had to depend on the assistance of friends for the necessities of life. He returned to his law practice to give his family an income; however, he became painfully ill with what some doctors said was throat cancer. He died at his residence at Princeton on February 28, 1781. He never saw America gain its independence from Britain, which came two years later.
The Reverend Dr. Samuel S. Smith had much to say about Stockton "…who hath been long among the foremost of his country for power, for wisdom, and for fortune; who eloquence only wanted a theatre-like Athens…" Yet Smith continued, "…he was compassionate to the injured and distressed, he hath often protected the poor and helpless widow unrighteously robbed of her dower, hath heard her with patience, when many wealthier clients were waiting, and hath zealously promoted her interest, without the prospect of reward…and as a Christian, you know that…he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ."
Stockton left his children this in his will: "As my children will have frequent occasion of perusing this instrument, and may probably be peculiarly impressed with the last words of their father, I think proper here, not only to subscribe to the entire belief of the great leading doctrines of the Christian religion…but also in the heart of a father's affection, to charge and exhort them to remember 'that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'"
Richard Stockton hadn't planned to be a rebel; however, his staunch faith and courageous beliefs would not allow him to travel but down one road. That narrow road leads to the celestial victory of heaven eternal.
Neither did Veteran Tom Caldwell on January 6, 2021, plan of being a rebel. He and his wife never entered the Capitol. Yet the FBI arrested him, and kept him in solitary confinement for months at the Washington DC prison, spending thousands of dollars on lawyer fees. His request in solitary confinement—was for a Bible.
Throughout the course of America's tempestuous 200-plus years, the unsung heroes bravely defend God and country. People have argued that they were not treated "equal." No matter what the critics say, America is bequeathed with "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…" We often forget the first half of that sentence, " …and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
The closing sentence of the Declaration of Independence reads, "…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence…." Without a doubt, God is the cornerstone of our American democracy—we best not forget that.
How did God give Stockton protection? He was captured and starved by the people whom he thought were once his friends. He died with a painful and excruciating illness. Still, he had no regrets and remained unbitter toward God and country. He bequeathed his children and America his full coat of armor so they, too, could stand undaunted and battle their enemy with Proverbs 9:10 (NKJV), "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
The Second Great Awakening has stirred her soul…
Rachael Rothburn is eager to leave her life of luxury in Boston to share the gospel with Native Americans in the west. The only problem is the missionary alliance won’t let her go unless she’s married. When Dr. Jonathan Wheaton, another missionary hopeful learns about the restrictions, he is desperate to find a wife. He offers Rachael a marriage of convenience and she agrees. The pair sets off for Oregon to share Jesus with the natives, but in the process, they discover God doesn’t create coincidences—He designs possibilities.
“…one gripping, compelling read. Wilted Dandelions by Ms. Brakefield had me eagerly turning pages and sighing over the love story premise as well as taking comfort in the spiritual message…” ES
Catherine says, "My readers inspire my writing!" She is an award-winning author. Her inspirational historical romances include Wilted Dandelions, her faith-based Destiny series Swept into Destiny, Destiny’s Whirlwind, Destiny of Heart, and Waltz with Destiny.
She has written two pictorial history books. Images of America: The Lapeer Area, and Images of America: Eastern Lapeer County.
Her short stories have been published in Guidepost Books, Baker Books, Revell, CrossRiver Media Publishers, and Bethany Book House Publishers.
She and lives with her husband of 49 years and their Arabian horses in the picturesque hills of Addison Township, Michigan. Her children grown, Catherine loves spoiling her two handsome grandsons and two beautiful granddaughters!