Richard Stockton, Signer of "The Declaration of Independence"

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Richard (the Signer) Stockton

Birthplace: Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, British Colonial America
Death: February 28, 1781 (50)
Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, United States
Place of Burial: Princeton, Mercer County, NJ, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Honorable John Stockton and Abigail Stockton
Husband of Annis Boudinot Stockton
Father of Julia Rush; Mary Hunter; Susannah Cuhtburt; Sen. Richard Stockton; Lucius Horatio Stockton and 2 others
Brother of Sarah Stockton; John "The Elder" Stockton; Hannah Boudinot; Abigail Pintard; Susanna Pintard and 4 others

Occupation: Signer of Declaration of IndependenceDelegate to Continental Congress, Signer Declaration of Independence
Managed by: William Tully
Last Updated:

About Richard Stockton, Signer of "The Declaration of Independence"

Richard Stockton (1730-1781)
Signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Richard Stockton was born near Princeton, on October 1, 1730. He attended the West Nottingham Academy under Dr. Samuel Finley, and then earned his degree at the College of New Jersey (Now Princeton) in 1748. He studied law with David Ogden of Newark. Stockton became an eminent Lawyer with one of the largest practices in the colonies. He was not much concerned with politics, but applied his talents and person to the revolutionary cause when the day came. He was appointed to the royal council of New Jersey in 1765 and remained a member until the government was reformed. He was a moderate with regard to Colonial autonomy. He argued that the colonies should be represented in the Parliament. With the passage of the Stamp Act, such arguments were overcome by colonial backlash. In 1774, he was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. In 1776, the New Jersey delegates to the Congress were holding out against Independence. When news of this reached the constituents, New Jersey elected Richard Stockton and Dr. Witherspoon to replace two of the five New Jersey delegates. They were sent with instructions to vote for Independence. Accounts indicate that, despite clear instruction, Justice Stockton wished to hear the arguments on either side of the issue. Once he was satisfied, the New Jersey delegates voted for Independence.

Stockton was appointed to committees supporting the war effort. He was dispatched on a fact finding tour to the northern army. New Jersey was overrun by the British in November of '76, when he was returning from the mission. He managed to move his family to safety, but was captured and imprisoned by the British. He was not released until several years later, badly treated and in very poor condition. He lost all of his extensive library, writings, and all of his property during the British invasion. He died a pauper in Princeton at the age of 51.

Source: Independence Hall Association, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton, 1730-1781 -

Signer of the Declaration of Independence and the builder of the Morven mansion in Princeton, NJ.

Richard Stockton, illustrious lawyer, jurist, legislator and singer of the Declaration of Independence, was born on October 1, 1730. He initially showed little interest in politics. He once wrote, "The publick is generally unthankful, and I never will become a Servant of it, till I am convinced that by neglecting my own affairs I am doing more acceptable Service to God and Man." Stockton did, however, take an active role as a trustee of the College of New Jersey (Princeton).

In 1768, Stockton had his first taste of government service when he was appointed to the governing Council of New Jersey; he was later (1774) appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. He first took a moderate stance in the troubles between the colonies and England. He did not favor separation; rather, he suggested in 1764 that some colonial members be appointed to the Parliament. However, he changed his position a year later when the controversy over the Stamp Act arose. In 1774, he drafted and sent to Lord Dartmouth "a plan of self-government for America, independent of Parliament, without renouncing allegiance to the Crown."

In 1776, Stockton was elected to the Continental Congress, where he took a very active role. Shortly after he signed the Declaration of Independence, he was taken prisoner by the British. Although he remained in prison for only a month, his health was broken. He became an invalid and died at Princeton on February 28, 1781.

Richard Stockton was betrayed by a loyalist and seized by the British, who subjected him to beatings and starvation. When he was finally freed, in a prisoner exchange, he was an invalid who died a short time later at the age of 51.


Judge Richard Stockton was the only signer to be put in irons, starved and imprisoned under brutal conditions by the British four months after signing the Declaration of Independence. He paid the supreme price for placing his signature on the Declaration and pledging his life, his fortune and his Sacred Honor.

Stockton’s great-grandfather was Richard "The Emigrant" Stockton, 1635-1707, who arrived in Flushing, Long Island, New York, when it was still New Netherland. Richard and his wife Abigail (nee unknown) were the parents of Richard "The Builder" Stockton, the grandfather of Rihcard "The Signer" Stockton. The ancestors of Richard "The Emigrant" Stockton are not known. He became a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and purchased 2000 acres of land in Burlington, New Jersey. His son Richard "The Builder" bought 5,500 acres of land from William Penn in Princeton, New Jersey and settled there with his wife Susannah (nee Witham) Robinson. The fifth son of Richard, eight year old John Stockton, inherited much of his fathers land after Richard died in 1709. Susannah later married Thomas Leonard and remained in Princeton after her husband’s death. John Stockton married his cousin Abigail and assumed his wife’s Presbyterian faith. John later became a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. In 1752, John Stockton and his stepfather, Thomas Leonard, gave money and land to establish the College of Princeton (later Princeton University) in Princeton, New Jersey.

Richard Stockton the signer of the Declaration of Independence was born October 1, 1730, the eldest of eight children born to John and Abigail Stockton. He was educated in the early years by Rev. Doctor Samuel Finley at Nottingham Academy in Maryland, and then attended the College of New Jersey at Newark graduating in 1748 before the college relocated to Princeton. He applied himself to the study of law under the honorable David Ogden of Newark, at that time the most eminent lawyer in the province.

Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754, to the grade of counselor in 1758, and in 1763, he received the degree of Sergeant-at-Law the highest degree of law attainable. He opened his law practice in Princeton in 1754, and later another in Newark and was recognized as one of the most eloquent lawyers in the colonies.

Stockton was six feet tall, with green eyes and a slender yet powerful build of an accomplished swordsman and horseman. In 1757, he wed Annis Boudinot, built their home Morven, and later had two sons and four daughters. Annis was descended from French Huguenots; her grandfather fled France at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and settled in New York. Her father Elias Boudinot Sr, apprenticed as a silversmith and merchant, then traveled to the West Indies to run a plantation. There he married Catherine Williams, the daughter of a Welsh planter in Antigua, West Indies. From Antigua they moved to Darby, Pennsylvania where Annis was born in 1736, then moved to Philadelphia where her father established a shop and home next door to Benjamin Franklin. Annis and her brothers attended Franklin’s Academy. Stockton’s oldest daughter Julia wed Dr. Benjamin Rush in January 1776, six months later Rush signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1764, Stockton became the Grand Master of the first chartered Masonic lodge (St. John’s No 1) in Princeton, New Jersey.

In June 1766, Richard Stockton sailed to London and for fifteen months traveled in England, Scotland and Ireland. His handsome features and highly polished manners made him very popular. A young English woman Esther DeBerdt, engaged to Stockton’s former law student Joseph Reed remarked, “I like Mr. Stockton exceedingly. He is certainly the cleverest man I have yet seen from America.” In London he attended the Queen’s birthday ball and was presented to King George III, later he had the honor of giving a speech to the King acknowledging the repeal of the Stamp Act and the King was impressed by Stockton. Stockton acquired his personal coat of arms and motto: Omnia Deo Pendent — all depends on God.

Stockton’s high character and distinguished abilities preceded him and he was received by the most eminent men of the kingdom. American affairs assumed great importance in England at that time and the opinions of so distinguished an American were sought after. By invitation he spent a week at the country estate of the Marquis of Rockingham and was entertained by the Earl of Chatham, the Earl of Chesterfield and other distinguished members of Parliament friendly to the American Colonies. When Stockton was questioned about America by the secretary of state, he rejoiced that he had nothing to ask of the government “and therefore dare speak my sentiments without cringing. Whenever I can serve my native country, I leave no occasion untried.” He frequently attended Westminster Hall and advised all who would listen that the colonies would never submit to be taxed by the British parliament without representation. While in London Stockton met with Benjamin Franklin and conferred with London merchants on the issue of paper money by the colonies and an act of Parliament forbidding it.

On his visit to Scotland he was entertained by the Earl of Levin and other noblemen at Edinburgh Castle and the freedom of the city was conferred on him. While in Scotland as a trustee of the College of New Jersey, Stockton visited Reverend John Witherspoon. Witherspoon had declined the appointment as president of the college because his wife was reluctant to emigrate. Persuaded by Stockton and Benjamin Rush (a medical student in Edinburgh) Witherspoon accepted and became the president of the College, and ten years later signed the Declaration of Independence alongside Stockton and Dr. Benjamin Rush (then Stockton’s son-in-law). Like his father, John Stockton a founder of the College and trustee, Richard served as a trustee of the College of New Jersey for 24 years, as would his eldest son Richard.

Two incidents occurred during Stockton’s travels that placed his life in peril. He was attacked one night in Edinburgh by a desperate robber and defended himself skillfully with a small sword. The second time his life was preserved was in Ireland. He booked passage on a ship to cross the Irish channel, his baggage was delayed but it proved to be his preservation as the ship sank in a violent storm and all aboard perished, he later crossed safely. In August 1767, he boarded a ship in London and 26 days later arrived in New York.

In 1768, Stockton was elevated to a seat in the royal executive council of New Jersey; in 1774, he was placed on the bench of the Supreme Court. Dreading the possibility of war, on December 12, 1774; he drew up and sent to Lord Dartmouth, Secretary for the Colonies “An Expedient for the Settlement of the American Disputes”, a plan for self-government of America, independent of Parliament but owing allegiance to the Crown. “If something of the kind was not done, he warned Lord Dartmouth, the result would be an obstinate, awful, and tremendous war”.

When at last all his attempts to change the minds of the British failed, he decided he must, when given a choice of King or country, choose his native country. He resigned his royal appointments and New Jersey elected him to the Continental Congress in June 1776.

On July 1, 1776, Richard Stockton and his good friend Rev. John Witherspoon arrived in Philadelphia to take their place as new members of Congress meeting at the State House (now Independence Hall). It had been a long and muddy ride from Princeton, they had been caught in a violent thunderstorm, and their clothes were soaking wet. Because of the storm they had arrived late, at the end of a speech John Adams was giving in favor of independence. As they had not been present for the entire speech Richard asked Adams to repeat what they had missed. Adams at first refused, but when Stockton again repeated his request and at the urging of Edward Rutledge who said “only Adams had the facts at his command” Adams rose to the occasion and gave a stirring speech in favor of independence. Richard was silent during Adams speech and then listened with thoughtful and respectful attention to the arguments that were offered by supporters and opponents of the declaration under consideration. After hearing the irresistible and conclusive arguments of the honorable John Adams for independence, Richard fully concurred in the final vote in favor of that bold and decisive measure. Richard gave a short but energetic speech at the close of the debate. Richard Stockton later declared Adams “the Atlas of the hour, the man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independency. He who sustained the debate, and by the force of reasoning demonstrated not only the justice, but the expediency of the measure.”

In late August 1776, Stockton received an equal number of votes with Mr. Livingston, for Governor of New Jersey; when informed Stockton replied “he had not the least inclination to serve in the office of Governor.” He was then elected Chief Justice of the State and again declined the honor, preferring to remain in Congress and was re-elected to Congress in November 1776.

Stockton was an active and influential member of Congress. On September 26, 1776, he and fellow signer George Clymer of Pennsylvania were sent on an arduous journey of nearly two months duration to inspect the northern army. They were empowered by Congress to contract for provisions, provide barracks, make regulations for hospitals and report back to Congress on the state of the army. They traveled to Albany, Saratoga, Ticonderoga, and every facility necessary to implement their mission, aided by General Schuler, who commanded the northern army. They found the army in need of all necessary things and Stockton reported this to John Hancock. There was no place to acquire these items and unfortunately no money to purchase them with if they were to be found. The continental army had to depend on Congress and the states to provide for them, and help for the army was slow in coming if it came at all.

Stockton wrote fellow signer Abraham Clark “Dear Sir, Before I left Philadelphia Congress appointed a Committee, consisting of one member from each state, to devise ways and means for furnishing the Army with clothing and etc. As the member appointed for New Jersey, I laid the resolution before our Legislature then sitting at Princeton, and recommended to them the great importance of their approaching persons in every county. They were pleased to take up the matter with that zeal which the nature of it required and determined to take every step that they might in this endeavor to more effectually and speedily execute the business. I hope therefore that already a considerable quantity of shoes and stockings at least may be provided and that you will take immediate order for the sending of the parcels. Col. Dayton’s Regiment is moved from Fort Stanwix to Tyconderoga the Col and Major Barber came here last evening and the Regiment is now a few miles of this place, marching with cheerfulness, but a great part of the men barefooted and barelegged. My heart melts with compassion for my brave countrymen who are thus venturing their lives in the public service and yet so distressed. There is not a single shoe or stocking to be had in this part of the world, or I would ride a hundred miles thought the woods, and purchase them with my own money—for you’ll consider that the weather here must be different from that in New Jersey; it is very cold now I assure you. For God’s sake my dear sir, upon the receipt of this collect all the shoes and stockings you can, and send them off for Albany in light wagons; a couple of two horse wagons will bring a great many, which may be distributed among our several Regiments who will be all together at Tyconderoga in a few days – if any breeches, gloves and coats be ready send them along; but do not wait for them if the shoes and stockings are ready, and the others not—we have dispatches from General Gates this morning informing that he hourly expects to be attacked by the Enemy; but our works are very strong and a Boom thrown across the water from Tyconderoga to prevent the enemies shipping from getting below us, therefore I trust with the blessing of Almighty God, that we shall disappoint their wishes and sanguinary purposes—But shall the brave troops from New Jersey stand in lines half leg deep in snow without shoes or stocking—God forbid. I shall empty my portmanteau of the stockings I have for my own use on this journey, excepting a pair to take back home, but this is a drop of water in the Ocean.” Richard Stockton’s heartfelt compassion for his fellow countrymen in dire need of everything was apparent in his letter as he was one of the few signers that actually traveled with the Continental Army.

The British invaded New Jersey and Stockton rushed home and moved his family to the home of a friend thirty miles from Princeton. He was captured there November 30, 1776, by loyalists in the dead of night, drug from his bed and marched in freezing weather clad only in a nightshirt and breeches. He was turned over to the British and jailed in Perth Amboy first, then sent on to prison in New York. The darkest days of his life were spent locked in irons, starving and shivering in the cold winter of 1776-77 in the notorious Provost prison in New York City. Conditions were horrific in prison where over 12,000 men died in prison ships and prisons in New York compared with 4,435 battle casualties during the entire war.

On January 3, 1777, General George Washington was directed by Congress to protest against “the shocking and inhuman treatment” of the honorable Richard Stockton to General William Howe. Stockton was given a parole by General Howe in mid January, requiring him to no longer participate in the war effort as was common on both sides. Stockton was sick and near death when he returned home. A week later Stockton’s son-in-law and fellow signer Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote “At Princeton I met my wife’s father who had been plundered of all his household furniture and stock by the British army, and carried a prisoner to New York, from whence he was permitted to return to his family upon parole.”

Lately Stockton has been maligned by a few writers claiming that Stockton took a pardon from General Howe and swore allegiance to the king. This claim is based on a private letter quoting a rumor spread by an enemy of Stockton. There is absolutely no proof this occurred. In March 1777, only two months after Stockton’s release, in a letter to British Parliament General Howe wrote “at no time had a leading rebel sought pardon.” The book His Sacred Honor comes to Stockton’s defense against these revisionist writers using rumors and innuendo to spread this false claim against a founding father.

Stockton’s home “Morven” had been occupied by British General Cornwallis. Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote: “The whole of Mr. Stockton’s furniture, apparel, and even valuable writings have been burnt. All his cattle, horses, hogs, sheep, grain and forage have been carried away by them. His losses cannot amount to less than five thousand pounds.” Stockton’s library one of the finest in the colonies was burned and he was forced to accept help from his family and friends to survive. Because of Stockton’s poor health and the parole requiring him not to participate in the war effort he resigned from Congress. Dr. Rush wrote that it took Stockton nearly two years to recover his health.

Stockton slowly regained his health and returned to his law practice to support his family but later developed cancer. He would not live see his country win independence. He died February 28, 1781; his remains were conveyed to Nassau Hall and eulogized by the President of the College of New Jersey, Dr. Samuel Smith “If what honors this young country can bestow, if many and great personal talents could save man from the grave…Behold here ‘the end of all perfection…to have been a son of this college and it was one the first honors of this college to have given birth to such a son… a man who has long been foremost in his country, for power, for wisdom, and for fortune… Another of the fathers of learning and eloquence is gone. In council he was wise and firm, but always prudent and moderate…The office of Judge of the province was never filled with more integrity and learning that it was by him for several years before the revolution. Since that period, he hath represented New Jersey in the Congress of the United States. But a declining health and constitution worn out with application and with service obliged him, shortly after, to retire from the line of public duty, and hath at length dismissed him from the world.” He was buried at Stony Brook Quaker Cemetery in Princeton, New Jersey among his Quaker ancestors. In 1913, a handsome bronze marker was placed at the site by the Sons of the American Revolution.

Annis Boudinot Stockton

Annis Boudinot Stockton was one of America’s first female published poets. She was a close friend and favorite correspondent of General George Washington. One of her poems about General Washington, on the surrender of Lord Cornwallis, shows how highly Washington esteemed these complimentary writings by the letter he wrote Annis. “Philadelphia, July 22, 1782. Madam, Your favor of the 17th, conveying to me your pastoral on the subject of Lord Cornwallis’ capture, has given me great satisfaction. Had you known the pleasure it would have communicated, I flatter myself, your diffidence would not have delayed it to this time. Amidst all the compliments which have been made on this occasion, be assured, madam, that the agreeable manner, and the very pleasing sentiments in which yours is conveyed, have affected my mind with the most lively sensations of joy and satisfaction. This address, from a person of your refined taste and elegance of expression, affords a pleasure beyond my powers of utterance, and I have only to lament that the hero of your pastoral is not more deserving of your pen; but the circumstance shall be placed among the happiest events of my life. I have the honor to be, madam you’re most obedient and respectful servant, G. Washington.” Many of the letters they wrote are included in Stockton’s Biography His Sacred Honor. Annis was the only woman to be made a member of the American Whig Society. Annis Boudinot Stockton died February 6, 1801, surviving her beloved Richard by nearly twenty years.

Elias Boudinot, brother of Annis, married Stockton’s sister Hannah, and was trained as a lawyer by Stockton. In 1772, fifteen year old Alexander Hamilton arrived from the West Indies and lived with Elias and Hanna for two years. Boudinot was appointed by General Washington to be commissary general of prisoners in the Revolutionary Army 1776-1779. Boudinot became a member of the Continental Congress in 1778, and President of Congress in 1782-83. On August 23, 1783, George Washington attended the public reception by Congress in Princeton. The black gowned students of Princeton surrounded the door to Nassau Hall and cheered as Washington entered. The gallery was crowded; the floor was reserved for members of Congress; and on the wall hung the empty frame of the portrait of George II, which Alexander Hamilton’s cannon ball had destroyed in the fighting of January 3rd at the battle of Princeton six years before. Two members conducted Washington to a chair beside President Elias Boudinot, who remained seated on the platform, with his hat on his head to symbolize the superiority of the civil authority over the military. When the General had seated himself, Boudinot proceeded to read an address of welcome. From the pocket of his close-fitting coat Washington drew his carefully written reply. He read it, and the simple ceremony was over. Paintings of Richard Stockton, George Washington and Elias Boudinot hang in Nassau Hall to this day. Boudinot again served in Congress from 1789-1795. Elias Boudinot is responsible for our Thanksgiving Holiday, he proposed in 1789 in the United States House of Representatives, a resolution that we officially celebrate a day of public thanksgiving. President Washington later issued a proclamation designating a day of prayer and thanksgiving. Boudinot also served as Director of the Mint, and became the first president of the American Bible Society in 1816. Elias Boudinot served his country in many positions during the difficult times of the American Revolution. He died October 24, 1821.

A statue of Richard Stockton by Henry Kirke Brown.

A statue of Richard Stockton by Henry Kirke Brown was dedicated by congressional proceedings in 1888 and placed in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Stockton is one of only six signers to be so honored. In the famous painting “The Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, Richard Stockton is standing on the far left side of the painting the third figure from the left. In Washington, D.C. near the Washington Monument there is a memorial park to the signers with 56 granite boulders, each engraved with the name of a signer.

There is a Richard Stockton Rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike with his portrait and a short story.

The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey is named in his honor.

Richard Stockton’s home “Morven” became the New Jersey Governors Mansion from 1954-1981. Morven is now a State owned Museum, a magnificent home which stands today as a testimonial to the Stockton family. Richard Stockton’s eldest son Richard became a New Jersey senator and Stockton’s served in Congress for four generations. Richard Stockton’s grandson Commodore Robert Field Stockton conquered California, became its first military governor in 1846, and in 1851 served as a Senator from New Jersey.

by John C. Glynn, Jr. and Kathryn Glynn, 2008

American Archives. Documents of the American Revolution. Illinois University Libraries
Corner, George W., The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush. Princeton Press, 1948
Ferris, Robert G. and Richard E. Morris, Signers of the Declaration. Park Service 1973
Glynn, John C. & Kathryn Glynn, His Sacred Honor Judge Richard Stockton A Signer of the Declaration of Independence. 2006
Gruber, Ira D., The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution. 1972
Sanderson, John, Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. 1823

SOURCE: The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Richard Stockton (October 1, 1730 – February 28, 1781) was an American lawyer, jurist, legislator, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Early life

Richard was a son of John Stockton (1701-1758) the wealthy Princeton landowner who donated land and helped bring what is now Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey located in Newark) to Princeton, New Jersey. Richard was born at the Stockton family home now known as Morven in the Stony Brook neighborhood of Princeton, New Jersey, attended Samuel Finley's academy at Nottingham, which later became West Nottingham Academy, and the College of New Jersey located in Newark, graduating in 1748. He studied law with David Ogden, of Newark, who was at that time the head of the legal profession in the province. Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754 and soon rose to great distinction. In 1763 he received the degree of Sergeant at law the highest degree of law at that time. He was a longtime friend of George Washington. His wife was poet Annis Boudinot Stockton, sister of New Jersey statesman Elias Boudinot. The Stocktons had six children. Their son Richard Stockton became an eminent lawyer and prominent Federalist leader. Elias Boudinot was married to Stockton's sister Hannah Stockton (1736–1808).

Stockton initially showed little interest in politics. He once wrote, "The public is generally unthankful, and I never will become a Servant of it, till I am convinced that by neglecting my own affairs I am doing more acceptable Service to God and Man." Stockton did, however, take an active role as a trustee of the College of New Jersey. Political career

Stockton served the College, afterwards known as Princeton University, as a trustee 26 years. In 1766 and 1767, he gave up his law practice for the purpose of visiting England, Scotland, and Ireland. His fame preceded him and he was received by the most eminent men of the kingdom. Stockton had the honor of personally presenting to King George III an address of the trustees of the College of New Jersey, acknowledging the repeal of the Stamp Act, and his address was favorably received by the king.

He was consulted on the state of American affairs by such notable men as the Marquis of Rockingham with whom he spent a week at his country estate. He met with Edmund Burke, the Earl of Chatham, and many other distinguished members of Parliament who were friendly to the American Colonies.

In Scotland, his personal efforts resulted in the acceptance of the presidency of the College by the Reverend John Witherspoon. Witherspoon's wife had opposed her husband's taking the position but her objections were overcome with the aid of his future son-in-law Benjamin Rush, who was a medical student in Edinburgh. This was an exceedingly important event in the history of higher education in America. One night in Edinburgh, Stockton was attacked by a robber and he defended himself skillfully with a small sword, the surprised and wounded robber fled. Stockton returned to America in August 1767.

In 1768, Stockton had his first taste of government service when he was elevated to a seat in the New Jersey Provincial Council; he was later (1774) appointed to the provincial New Jersey Supreme Court.

He first took a moderate stance in the troubles between the colonies and Great Britain. In 1774, he drafted and sent to Lord Dartmouth "a plan of self-government for America, independent of Parliament, without renouncing the Crown." This Commonwealth approach was not acceptable to the King, had it been the British could have avoided the war that freed the colonies and deprived the King of the fairest jewel in his crown.

When Parliament resolved to raise revenue in the colonies in 1775, Stockton declared the colonies "must each of them send one or two of their most ingenious fellows, and enable them to get into the House of Commons, maintain them there till they can maintain themselves, or else we shall be fleeced to some purpose." Revolutionary War

In 1776, Stockton was elected to the Second Continental Congress, where he took a very active role. That August, when elections were held for the state governments of the new nation, Stockton and William Livingston each received the same number of votes to be the Governor of New Jersey on the first ballot. Although Livingston later won the election by one vote, Stockton was unanimously elected to serve as the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, but he turned down that position to remain in the Congress. Stockton was the first person from New Jersey to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Stockton was appointed by Congress, along with fellow signer George Clymer, to an exhausting two-month journey to Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga and Albany, New York to assist the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. On his return to Princeton, he traveled 30 miles east to the home of a friend, John Covenhoven, to evacuate his family to safety, and away from the path of the British army. While there, on November 30, 1776, he and Covenhoven were captured in the middle of the night, dragged from their beds by loyalists, stripped of their property and marched to Perth Amboy and turned over to the British.[1] The day Stockton was captured, General William Howe had written a Proclamation offering protection papers and a full and free pardon to those willing to remain in peaceable obedience to the King. George III. Although many took the pardon, Stockton never did and was marched to Perth Amboy where he was put in irons, and brutally treated as a common criminal.[2]

He was then moved to Provost Prison in New York where he was intentionally starved and subjected to freezing cold weather. After nearly five weeks of brutal treatment, Stockton was released on parole, his health ruined.[3]

Over 12,000 prisoners died in the prison ships and prisons in New York compared to 4,435 soldiers that died in combat over the six years of war. His estate, Morven, in Princeton was occupied by General Cornwallis during Stockton's imprisonment; his furniture, all household belongings, crops and livestock were taken or destroyed by the British. His library, one of the finest in the colonies, was burned. "Morven the home of the Hon. Richard Stockton, was denuded of its library and furniture." [4]

Stockton's treatment in the New York prison prompted Continental Congress to pass a resolution directing George Washington to inquire into the circumstances and not long afterward, Stockton was paroled on January 13, 1777. The U.S. National Archives contains other messages showing that Washington duly contacted General Howe in New York regarding the exchange or release of Stockton and others.

Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote "At Princeton I met my wife's father who had been plundered of all his household furniture and stock by the British army, and carried a prisoner to New York, from whence he was permitted to return to his family upon parole."[5]

Howe's Document that Stockton signed giving his word of honor not to meddle in the American affairs during the war was the parole Benjamin Rush said Richard Stockton was given when he was released from prison in New York.[6]

On March 25, 1777, General Howe and his brother Lord Howe wrote to Lord George Germain (Secretary of State for the Colonies)in England "My Lord, We have the honor to enclose to your Lordship a state of the Declarations subscribed in consequence of our Proclamation of the 30th of November. Although none of the Leaders, nor principal Instigators and Abettors of the Rebellion, thought fit to avail themselves of the opportunity given them to return to their Duty, we have some satisfaction in observing that so considerable a number of His Majesty's deluded Subjects, of inferior Rank, in those Provinces where the Proclamation could be expect to have Effect, were disposed to relinquish the unjust Cause they had been once induced to support."[7] 4,836 Declarations were subscribed but Stockton as a Signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leading rebel never did according to General Howe.

In 1777, all members of Congress and Washington's Army were required to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. Richard Stockton as a prisoner of war, and taken behind enemy lines was also required to take the oath. He was called before the Board, took the Oath and was dismissed (It is noted that Stockton did not turn in any protection papers as was required if you signed Howe's Proclamation and were given a pardon).[8] Later days and legacy

Because of the parole document Stockton signed with General Howe to gain his freedom, and giving his word of honor not to meddle in the war (required to be given a parole), Stockton resigned from Congress. It took nearly two years to regain his health according to Dr. Rush.

In Princeton a rumor started by Mr. Cochran, a Tory, claiming Stockton had taken General Howe's protection caused Stockton to be spoken against for a short time, but "Mr Cochran's known quarrel with him makes it very doubtful to candid persons" Rev. John Witherspoon wrote in a letter to his son David.[9] "Common report, moreover, may be attributed to Judge Stockton some of the exploits of a distant cousin, Major Richard Stockton an obnoxious Tory, who did take Howe's protection and went over to the British until he was captured in Feb. 1777."[10]

Nothing was ever written about doubts of Stockton's loyalty in any of the papers of members of Congress, or in any newspapers or books of the time.

When his health permitted, Stockton attempted to earn a living by reopening his law practice and teaching new students. Two years after his parole from prison he developed cancer of the lip that spread to his throat. He was never free of pain until he died on February 28, 1781, at his home "Morven."

His remains were conveyed to Nassau Hall, where a large audience of citizens, friends and students of the college were in attendance. The eulogy was delivered by Rev. Doctor Samuel Smith, vice president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University)and son-in-law of Rev. John Witherspoon. "The remains of a man who hath been long among the foremost of his country, for power, for wisdom, and for fortune; and who, if what honors this young country can bestow, if many and great personal talents, could save man from the grave, would not thus have been lamented here by you. Behold here 'the end of all perfection.' The office of a judge of the province, was never filled with more integrity and learning than it was by him, for several years before the revolution. Since that period, he hath represented New-Jersey in the congress of the United States. But a declining health, and a constitution worn out with application and with service, obliged him, shortly after, to retire from the line of public duty, and hath at length dismissed him from the world." [11]

On March 7, 1781, The New Jersey Gazette acknowledged his worth to his country: "The ability, dignity, and integrity, with which this gentleman discharged the duties of the several important offices to which he was called by the voice of this country are well known."

For two generations his family had been Quakers, and it was his wish to be buried at the Stony Brook Meeting House Cemetery in Princeton.

Stockton and his wife, Annis, were close friends of General George Washington. After Stockton's death, Annis, one of America's first published female poets, became a favorite correspondent of General Washington. Washington and his wife, Martha, were frequent visitors to Morven.

In 1888, the state of New Jersey donated a marble statue of Stockton to the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol. He is one of only six signers to be honored.

In 1969, the New Jersey Legislature passed legislation establishing a state college which was named after Stockton, to honor the memory of New Jersey's signer of the Declaration of Independence. Previously known as "Stockton State College" and "Richard Stockton State College", it is now known as "Richard Stockton College of New Jersey".

A rest area on the southbound New Jersey Turnpike, south of Interstate 195, is named after Stockton. Family

Stockton and his wife had six children, four daughters and two sons: Julia Stockton (married to Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration), Mary, Susan, Richard, Lucius and Abigail.

Stockton's oldest son Richard was an eminent lawyer and later a Senator from New Jersey. His son, Commodore Robert Field Stockton, was a hero of the War of 1812, and in 1846 became the Military Governor of California and later a Senator from New Jersey. Ancestry

Richard "The Signer" was born to John Stockton (born 1701) & Abigail Phillips. John's father was Richard "The Builder" Stockton. Abigail is the daughter of Phillip Phillips and Hannah Stockton. Richard and Hannah were brother and sister, making Richard Stockton's (born 1730) parents 1st cousins.[12]

Sanderson, Biography of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, page 195, 1831. ref>[1]
Sanderson, Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, 1823, page 156, 195.
Stryker, William S., The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Cambridge. 1898, Page 18
Corner, George W. The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush. Princeton University Press, 1948. Page 130
Glynn, John C., His Sacred Honor Judge Richard Stockton A Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Eveready Press, 2006. Page 201.
The Collections of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. No 5,page 127
Abstracts of the Council of Safety Minutes, State of New Jersey, 1777-1778, Hutchinson, Richard S., Heritage Books 2005,
Letters of Delegates to Congress, Vol.6.
Bill, Alfred Hoyt., A House Called Morven. Princeton University Press, 1954, p. 43.
Sanderson, John. Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Vol 3, p.115
Glynn, His Sacred Honor Judge Richard Stockton a signer of the Declaration of Independence, 2006, page 197
Patriots of the American Revolution, May/June 2010, Vol 3, Issue 3. A Signer of the Declaration of Independence Under Attack.

The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution; Ira D. Gruber; W.S. Norton and Company, Inc.; 1972 page 195:
British officers and rebels agreed the proclamation of November 30 had been a failure. Most of the 4,836 colonists who took advantage of the proclamation had done so before Trenton while British troops were enjoying their greatest success; AT NO TIME, however, HAD A LEADING REBEL SOUGHT PARDON.

Jan l8, 21, 22, 29, Feb 7, 1777, Tatum, ed., Jour. of Serle, 176-177, 178-179, 180, 186: John Shuttleworth to (Walter Spencer) Stanhope, June 29, (i.e., Jan. 29), 1777, Sterling, Annals of a Yorkshire House, II, 21: Henry Laurens to John Laurens, Feb. 3, 1777, C.O.5/40; the Howes to Germain, March 25, 1777, and (enclosed therein) declarations subscribed as a result of the proclamation of Nov. 30, 1777, C.O. 5/177.

External links:
Richard Stockton at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
Biography by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1856
The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence article on Stockton
The Richard Stockton Statue at the Architect of the Capitol
Appleton's cyclopædia of American Biography article on Stockton
Richard Stockton at Richard Stockton College
American Heritage article on Stockton and the Declaration of Allegiance.
Richard Stockton at Find a Grave

SOURCE: Wikipedia, Richard Stockton (Continental Congressman)

The Declaration of Independence

Courageous men

Caesar Rodney was weary when he reached his plantation near Dover on the night of July 1, 1776. An outspoken advocate of American independence, Rodney was exhausted from many months of battling Delaware's Tories while building up and drilling the colony's militia. The 47 year-old son of a plantation owner, he was first elected to the colonial legislature in 1761, and sent to the first and second Continental Congresses. Caesar Rodney was also afflicted with a painful and unsightly facial cancer. So terribly was he ravaged by the disease that he wore a green silk scarf over part of his face, and was described by one colleague as "an animated skeleton, with a bandaged head."

Tonight there was to be no rest for this weary patriot. An urgent message from his colleague, Thomas McKean, now demanded his presence in Philadelphia "at the earliest possible moment." McKean and George Read, the other two representatives from Delaware, were split on the issue of independence and Caesar Rodney's vote was needed if Delaware was to join the United States of America.

But Philadelphia was 80 miles away and a torrential rainstorm was swamping the region between the two cities. Exhausted, racked by cancer, Rodney set out after dusk and rode all night through the pouring rain and the crashing thunder, stopping only long enough to change horses. As he raced through the stormy darkness, it must have occurred to Caesar Rodney that a political storm was rising out of Philadelphia that would change the course of history. It was a storm which had been building for more than a decade as the British Parliament and King George III imposed one oppressive measure after another on the colonies, increasing their taxes and decreasing their freedoms.


The passage of the Stamp Act of 1765 had infuriated many wealthy and influential colonists, and was responsible for beginning the storm that settled over that historic assembly in Philadelphia in July 1776. These Americans had become angry not so much at the amount of the taxes exacted as the realization that this was only the opening move in a program of confiscatory taxation. If Parliament "may take from me one shilling in the pound," argued Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, "what security have I for the other nineteen?"

Although the Stamp Act was subsequently repealed, it had been followed by the Townshend Acts and the Writs of Assistance in 1767, the Boston Massacre in 1770, increasing interference in colonial governments, the Boston Port Bill in 1774, and other "injuries and usurpations, all having, in direct object, the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states."

The tyrannical actions of the Crown were quickly followed by measured and sometimes violent reactions from the colonists. They had held a Stamp Act Congress in New York during September 1765, and that same year formed the Sons of Liberty, which one observer called, "a mob of gentlemen." Committees of Correspondence were organized in 1772 to exchange information among the colonies and mold public opnion in the developing struggle. And Continental Congresses were convened at Philadelphia in 1774, to deal with Britain's passage of the Intolerable Acts, and in 1775, shortly after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

The Second Continental Congress had constituted itself a provisional government and began making preparations for war with Britain, including the creation of a Continental Army under General George Washington. But even as late as January 6, 1776, the Congress adopted a resolution stating that the colonies, "had no design to set up as an independent nation." Many men of influence were opposed to independence, preferring to return to the relationship of a dozen years earlier.

In January, however, a sensational pamphlet appeared in Philadelphia and stirred more revolutionary fervor than anything that had been written to that time. Entitled 'COMMON SENSE', the 25,000 word tract by Thomas Paine challenged British authority over the Colonies and bluntly stated that "the period of debate is closed. Arms, as a last resort, must decide the contest."

In the months that followed, impassioned speeches were delivered from New Hampshire to Georgia, and the political tension became almost unbearable. Then, on June 7th, Richard Henry Lee put this resolution before the Congress:

"RESOLVED, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

After several days of heated debate, final action on Lee's resolution was deferred until July 1st, and men on both sides of the issue used the intervening weeks to lobby for their own positions. On July 1st the colonies, balloting according to a majority of each delegation, approved the Lee resolution by a vote of 9-2, with South Carolina and Pennsylvania opposed, Delaware deadlocked and New York abstaining. Unanimity was essential, so Edward Rutledge of South Carolina moved that a final vote be postponed until the following day.


Thus had the stage been set as Caesar Rodney galloped up Chestnut Street to the State House in Philadelphia on the morning of July 2nd. The exhausted rider was enthusiastically greeted by Thomas McKean and escorted in to the brick building where some 50 to 60 men were about to decide the fate of a continent.

There was no debate or discussion. The time had come to vote again on Richard Henry Lee's resolution. New England was unanimously for independence. New York still abstained, but New Jersey and Pennsylvania voted in the affirmative. The Pennsylvania delegation had been 4-3 against independence, but Robert Morris and John Dickinson deliberately stayed away from the State House during the balloting, allowing Pennsylvania, under the unit rule, to support independence despite instructions by which the two men felt themselves personally bound.

Delaware was called next by Charles Thompson, the clerk of the Congress, and Caesar Rodney, in a tired but clear voice, responded: "As I believe the voice of my constituents and of all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, and my own judgment concurs with them, I vote for independence."

Rodney knew very well that, now unable to go to England for treatment of his terrible cancer, he would die an early and horrible death.

There were no negative votes among the five southernmost colonies (South Carolina went along for the sake of unity), and when the roll had been completed 12 colonies had voted in favor of separation from Britain, with only New York abstaining. A monumental decision had been made, and now it would have to be implemented.


The man chosen to formally declare the reasons for independence was Thomas Jefferson, a 33 year-old lawyer and plantation owner from Virginia. A member of the five-man drafting committee created immediately after the Lee resolution was introduced, Jefferson had proposed that John Adams of Massachusetts undertake the actual writing of the statement, but Adams declined. He said that the task should fall to his rival Jefferson on three counts: "Reason first, you are a Virginian, and Virginia ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular; you are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can."

"Well," said Jefferson, "if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.

That Jefferson did his job well is obvious to anyone who has read the Declaration of Independence, particularly his statement of the self-evident truths 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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

On July 3rd, Jefferson's draft of the Declaration was submitted to the delegates from the 13 Colonies, and he suffered the pain of all authors at the hands of editors - in this case, half a hundred of them. The debate continued into the Fourth of July and, in Jefferson's own words, "seemed as though it would run on interminably. The weather was oppressively warm and the room occupied by the delegates was nearby a livery stable...The horse-flies swarmed thick and fierce, alighting on the legs of the members and biting hard through their thin silk stockings. Handkerchief in hand they lashed at the hungry pests to no avail."

The revisions were completed on the evening of July 4th, the document was adopted without dissent, and the Declaration of Independence was ordered proclaimed throughout the United States. Only John Hancock signed the declaration that day, and a formal signing by all the delegates was scheduled for August 2nd.

In the days that followed, copies of the Declaration of Independence was posted throughout the 13 states and read in public places. General Washington ordered that the document be read to each Army brigade on July 9th, and he reported afterwards to Congress on "the expressions and behavior of officers and men testifying their warmest and approbation of it." Parades and demonstrations, patriotic observances and celebrations, were held across the states. Exuberant citizens of Bowling Green, New York hauled down a large equestrian statue of George III and carried it to the Connecticut home of General Oliver Wolcott, a delegate to Congress. Wolcott 's wife and children, and other ladies of the town, melted down the statue into 42,088 bullets for the American Army.

Meanwhile, the New York State Convention had finally voted to allow its delegates to approve the Declaration, and on July 15th New York became the 13th colony to affirm independence.


Two weeks later, on August 2, 1776, the Congress met again at the State House in Philadelphia to formalize with their legislatures what they had adopted a month before. Not all of those who had voted for independence on July 2nd were present in August. Some had left Congress; others were away and had to sign later; and several new delegates had since been elected.

Whatever their status that August, the 56 men who eventually signed the Declaration of Independence were under no illusions. They knew they were committing high treason against the Crown and that the penalty for doing so was death by hanging. They understood quite clearly that they were indeed pledging "to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

William Ellery of Rhode Island deliberately moved close to the signing table "to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrants." He said that "undaunted resolution was displayed on every countenance."

John Hancock of Massachusetts, the president of the Congress, had been the first to sign. "There," he had said after writing his name in large, bold letters. "His Majesty can now read my name without spectacles, and can now double his reward of 500 pounds for my head. That is my defiance.

Hancock is also reported to have said that "we must be unanimous. There must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together." To which the witty Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania replied: "Yes, we must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Steven Hopkins of Rhode Island, the second-oldest signer, was afflicted with palsy. "My hand trembles," he said as he handed the quill to William Ellery, "but my heart does not." And Charles Carroll, a new delegate from Maryland and one of the wealthiest men in America, replied as he was asked by Hancock if he would sign: "Most willingly." When he had backed away from the table, one delegate whispered, "There go a few millions!"

And so it went through the rest of the states, with George Walton of Georgia the last to affix his name to the historic document that day. Even George Read of Delaware, who had voted against the Declaration on July 2nd, signed it, as did Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, who had stayed away from the session rather than vote no as he was formally instructed to do.

It took only a few minutes to complete the signing, and it was agreed not to make the signatures public for six months to give the signers and their families as much time as possible to secure themselves against certain reprisals. Despite this precaution, it is probable that the British government and their Tory allies knew the names of every signer long before they were released to the public.


These 56 men who spoke for two and a half million American free men were a spectacular group of individuals. That such men were present at the moment of America's birth strongly suggests that the same Divine Providence they invoked in the Declaration of Independence had indeed planned it that way.

The signers were public spirited and patriotic citizens who had for years been important in the affairs of their local communities and governments. Ranging in age from 26 (Edward Rutledge) to 70 (Benjamin Franklin), they were for the most part materially well-off in colonial society. Eleven delegates were prosperous merchants, nine were wealthy farmers or landowners, and 24 were lawyers or judges. The colonies' most respected doctors, educators, and clergymen were numbered among their ranks.

Here were the elite of the 18th century America, but few were elitist. They were moral men, and all men of integrity who had been welded together in a common purpose. They had a great deal to lose - life, liberty, and property - but they were convinced that the cause was worth the risk. That risk was not only substantial, it was imminent. On the day of the signing, the British fleet - an armada of dozens of ships with 42,000 sailors and soldiers - was waiting off the coast to crush these patriots and make an example of them. Behind that fleet were all the wealth and power of the British Empire.

Arrayed against such might was a Continental Army of 10,000 men and a handful of poorly equipped and badly trained militia in the several states. Few with a knowledge of history would have predicted anything but disaster and ruin for those gathered in Philadelphia during the first week of August in 1776.

In point of fact, disaster and ruin was the lot for many of the signers. Nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were jailed and brutally treated. One lost all 13 of his children; and the wives, sons, and daughters of others were killed, imprisoned, harassed, or deprived of all material possessions. Seventeen signers lost everything they owned, and all of them were hunted as traitors, with most separated from their homes and families.

But none of the signers ever betrayed his pledged word. There were no defectors. No one changed his mind. Lives and fortunes were lost, but their sacred honor was never sacrificed. Half continued to serve their country after the war - several as President, many as members of Congress, governors, and state legislators - and a number of them played a role in drawing up the Constitution of the United States.


The first signer to die, in 1777, was John Morton of Pennsyvania, a former Crown officer who had been sent to Philadelphia to oppose independence. Once persuaded otherwise, however, Morton signed the Declaration and stood by his decision, though he was ostracized by his family and friends, many of whom were Tories. That reaction deeply hurt Morton, particularly when he was ignored even after he fell gravely ill early in 1777. On his deathbed, John Morton sent these final words to those who had rejected him: " Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it [the signing] as the most glorious service I have ever rendered to my country."

The New York signers - William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, and Lewis Morris - were particularly vulnerable to British retaliation. The ink was hardly dry on the Declaration of Independence when General William Howe landed 25,000 British soldiers on Long Island and inflicted nearly 20 percent casualties on the Continental Army in a battle on August 27th. Washington ordered his forces to withdraw and the Redcoats laid waste to most of the countryside, destroying in the process homes and lands of the four who signed for New York.

The wife of William Floyd escaped with her children by boat across Long Island Sound into Connecticut and died in 1781 without ever again seeing her home.

Philip Livingston lost two homes and much of his business property, but was able to sell some of his remaining holdings to help maintain the credit of the United States. He died in 1778 while separated from his family by the war.

Francis Lewis was away when the British ransacked his home, so they seized his wife, treated her brutally, and threw her into prison under foul conditions. Her health broke during captivity and Mrs. Lewis died shortly after being released in a 1778 prisoner exchange.

The other New York signer, Lewis Morris, lost his magnificent estate, "Morrisania", which was sacked and burned. He lived in poverty for years before he was able to restore his property. Yet he so conducted himself that Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania said of Morris that "every attachment of his heart yielded to his love of his country."

Great hardships and suffering were also inflicted upon three signers from neighboring New Jersey. John Hart, at the insistence of his dying wife, finally left her bedside to flee as a party of Hessians approached his farm. He was hunted by soldiers and dogs and was forced to hide in the woods and caves of the Sourland Mountains during icy December weather. When he was at last able to return to his home, John Hart found that his wife had died and his 13 children were scattered throughout the countryside or in captivity. His own health began to deteriorate and he was dead by the third anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.

Richard Stockton was betrayed by a loyalist and seized by the British, who subjected him to beatings and starvation. When he was finally freed, in a prisoner exchange, he was an invalid who died a short time later at the age of 51.

Abraham Clark, the New Jersey signer who was known as "The Poor Man's Counsellor", had two sons - both Army officers - who were captured and accorded barbarous treatment on the hellship 'Jersey'. The British offered freedom for the boys if he would abandon the cause, but Abraham Clark refused. When other members of Congress heard of the plight of the Clark sons, they ordered George Washington to take a British prisoner, preferably an officer, and starve him to death in a dark hole. The mere communication of that congressional order to General Howe was enough to end the persecution of the Clark brothers and they survived their imprisonment.

During the siege of Yorktown in 1781, the British forces were under heavy attack from some 16,000 American troops, 3,000 Virginia militia, and the French fleet. The militia commander was signer Thomas Nelson Jr., who noticed that the artillery gunners were shelling everything in the vicinity except his own stately brick mansion, which was being used as British headquarters. "Why do you spare my house?", Nelson demanded of the gunners. "Sir, out of respect to you," an artilleryman replied." "Give me the cannon," Nelson shouted. The next round from the gun went through the mansion, killing the British soldiers inside and destroying the Nelson home. Nelson, who died in poverty after paying off his wartime debts "like an honest man," said he was only honoring a pledge he had made six years before. "I am a merchant of New York, but I am a Virginian first," he declared in the House of Burgesses. "Let my trade perish. I call to God to witness that if any British troops are landed in the County of York, of which I am Lieutenant, I will wait no orders, but will summon the militia and drive the invaders into the sea!"

Joseph Hewes of North Carolina was a Quaker with a long pacifist heritage, and for many months he sided with those in Congress who were opposed to independence. After much soul-searching, Hewes decided that his belief in liberty outweighed his pacifist convictions, and he joined those urging separation from England. During the war he devoted a super-human effort to outfitting the Continental Navy, activity which alienated him from his fellow Quakers. "My country is entitled to my services, and I shall not shrink from the cause, even though it should cost me my life," he declared. Joseph Hewes died in 1779, literally from overwork, a lonely man separated by principle from his Quaker friends and family.

During the British assault on South Carolina in 1780, three of that state 's signers - Thomas Heyward Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge - distinguished themselves in the defense of Charleston. All three were captured, refused a British offer of amnesty if they would repudiate the American cause, and were shipped to the Crown stockade at St. Augustine, Florida. Heyward defied the guards by writing new words to "God Save the King" and teaching the other prisoners to sing, "God Save the States" to the old tune. The three South Carolinians were given their freedom in a prisoner exchange in late 1781. Thomas Heyward returned to find that his wife had died in hardship during his imprisonment.

Such was the caliber of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the men who risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to establish the American Republic and guarantee our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

"These are the times that try men's souls," Thomas Paine wrote in COMMON SENSE. "The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands it now deserves the thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

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Richard Stockton, Signer of "The Declaration of Independence"'s Timeline

October 1, 1730
Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, British Colonial America
March 2, 1759
Princeton, NJ, United States
April 17, 1761
Princeton, Mercer County, NJ, United States
April 17, 1761
Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, British America
April 17, 1764
Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, United States
Morven, Princeton Township, Mercer, New Jersey, United States
September 8, 1773
Princeton, Mercer, New Jersey, United States