It’s more than beer, picnics and baseball games

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

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To the Editor:

Daily News readers might find what the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence endured back then so we could be free today. It’s startling. 

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 serving the in 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 rags. 

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 looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, 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. He 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 grist mill 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. 

The Fourth of July is more than beer, picnics and baseball games. It’s about showing gratitude and respect to those who gave much more than most of us to keep our nation free. 

Phelps Salter 


(Editor’s Note: This Letter to the Editor was originally published in a 2018 issue of the Washington Daily News and was resubmitted by the author for publication this year.)