Founding fathers faced adversity in quest for freedom

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 4, 2010

Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, few are household names. Leith said some of the lesser-known signers still have wonderful stories of bravery in the face of danger. Of the 56 signers, five were taken prisoner of war by the Brits, 12 had their homes burned and two lost sons in the war.

Richard Stockton

Leith said of the 56 signers, only one ever was said to have recanted: Richard Stockton of New Jersey. Stockton was captured by the British, interrogated and even tortured. He was said to have told the British he would take back his signature if he could. George Washington intervened and because of Washington’s work in his behalf, Stockton avoided any persecution or prosecution by the Americans after the war for his purported recanting of his signature.

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Stockton’s personal library, one of the five finest in the colonies, was destroyed; his cattle and horses were either stolen or destroyed. He had hidden his wife and children in hopes of keeping them safe but the British were tipped off by a traitor.

His treatment at the hands of the British left him physically broken. After his release, Stockton was an invalid until his death at age 51.

Thomas McKean

The Delaware patriot served in Congress without pay because he felt it was his obligation to bring freedom, Leith said. McKean was forced to move his family five times during to war to keep them safe.

Thomas Nelson Jr.

His home was confiscated for use by the British Gen. Cornwallis. So incensed was he at this that he ordered American troops to shell his house. But the war took more than his home, Leith said. Nelson died bankrupt and embarrassed he was unable to pay his bills.

Francis Lewis

The New York patriot escaped capture but his wife did not. She was jailed and mistreated for two months. She was so malnourished when she was freed she only lived two years after.

“Honest John” Hart

The New Jersey native was beside his wife’s deathbed when he heard the British were coming for him. His 13 children scattered in different directions to escape capture and after the war he never was able to reunite his entire family.

For many years after signing the Declaration of Independence, he himself was forced to stay on the run, evading the enemy by sleeping in caves.

William Whipple

The New Hampshire man lost a leg in the war for independence.

John Morton

The Pennsylvania man faced what is perhaps the ultimate cruelty after signing the Declaration of Independence: his own family turned their backs on him.

“They suffered many ways even though the British did not always do it to them,” Leith said.