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The Price They Paid
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died.
Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary
army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or
hardships of the revolutionary war.
They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants,
nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they
signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death
if they were captured.
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
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost
constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His
possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton,
Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis
had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General
George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she
died within a few months.
John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for
their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he
lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children
vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and
Livingston suffered similar fates.
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild eyed,
rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had
security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they
pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection
of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and
our sacred honor."