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America’s sacrifice for freedom

Commentary

Editor’s note: This editorial appeared in The Post-Journal of Jamestown on July 3, 1976.

Two hundred years ago a group of Americans already branded as revolutionaries by their king made the final break with Great Britain and in an act of defiance aimed at polarizing the spirit of revolution, signed the Declaration of Independence.

According to tradition, Benjamin Franklin, who helped draft the Declaration, told his fellow delegates to the colonial congress in Philadelphia, “We must all hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately.”

While none of the signers was hanged, all did not escape unscathed from the revolution. In fact, many suffered grievously.

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost sons in the Continental Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers and large plantation owners. These were men of means and well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken away from him and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers or both looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge and Middlelton. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife and she died within months.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr. noted that British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire, which was done. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and grist mill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead, his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Morris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

These were the men who gave us an independent America. God grant that as we enter the third century of our country’s existence we have the strength and determination to keep it.

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