Independence Day is only a few days away, so this is the perfect time to remind everyone about the historical significance of the Fourth of July; and to identify the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence to discover whether you may be a distant relative or direct descendent.
Independence Day (colloquially the Fourth of July) has been an official federal holiday of the United States since 1941, but the tradition commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776, which has been celebrated for many generations. It was on this date that the Second Continental Congress declared the Thirteen Colonies were no longer subordinate to the British monarchy, and were rather united, free, and independent states.
This year, the Fourth of July will be celebrated on Sunday, July 4, 2021.
During the early years of the new republic, Independence Day was marked by solemn prayers, pomp and processions, political oratory, troop reviews, bell ringing, musical programs and singing of patriotic songs, bonfires, toasting, 13-gun salutes, and games and sports.
Today, Independence Day is the most patriotic and enthusiastically celebrated of all American holidays. The American flag is proudly displayed and red, white and blue decorations adorn the streets and homes. There will be parades, concerts, festivals, barbeques, picnics, and fireworks throughout the country.
In the summer of 1776, delegates from the Thirteen Colonies met in Philadelphia to make the case for liberty, thus convincing the delegates that it was time for the colonies to declare their independence from British tyranny.
The meeting of the delegates happened during a turbulent period for the colonies. For more than a year, Great Britain and the 13 colonies had been at war over the issue of “taxation without representation.” The colonies believed their rights were being impeded by the British, who were levying taxes upon them without their consent.
The conflict quickly escalated into a much larger dispute that went well beyond taxation. Many of the colonies believed they were capable of governing themselves and felt the Parliament did not respect or protect their interests. As a result, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in June of 1776 to debate independence.
The Lee Resolution
The Lee Resolution, also known as the Resolution of Independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the Thirteen Colonies to be independent of the British Empire. Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, first proposed the resolution on June 7, 1776. It is considered the earliest draft of the Declaration of Independence.
The Resolution of Independence read: “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right 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. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”
The Committee of Five
Anticipating that a vote for independence would be favorable, the Continental Congress, on June 11, 1776, appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft a declaration.
Members of that committee included Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and John Adams of Massachusetts. The committee’s draft declaration was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776.
Vote of Independence and Signing of the Declaration
On July 2, at the Pennsylvania State House, the Second Continental Congress voted in favor of independence. Final revisions to the Declaration of Independence were made within the following two days; and on July 4, John Hancock placed his signature upon it.
Other signatures were added to the document over the subsequent months, with many added on Aug. 2, 1776. The last person to sign the Declaration of Independence was Matthew Thornton, the New Hampshire delegate; his signature was made on Nov. 4, 1776.
Reading by George Washington
On July 6, John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, sent George Washington an initial printing of the Declaration of Independence, which Washington read to his assembled troops in New York on July 9. Later that night, the American Army destroyed a bronze statue of Great Britain’s King George III, which stood at the foot of Broadway on the Bowling Green in New York City.
First Public Reading
Pennsylvania militia Colonel John Nixon (1733-1808) is credited with delivering the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 6, 1776.
Signers of the Declaration of Independence
A total of 56 Congressional delegates signed the Declaration of Independence. Is it possible you are related to one of these individuals? Sometimes family legends prove to be true, while others don’t pan out.
It can take time to prove or disprove your relationship to a Signer. Many sources of genealogical data are available to aid in tracing descent from one the Signers, including: The Genealogical Register of the Descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, by the Rev. Frederick Wallace Pyne (a seven volume series that includes an index and images of the applications to the Society of Descendants); the FamilySearch’s history centers have access to a wide range of materials as part of their “Founding Fathers Project”; the New England Historical and Genealogical Society; and Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.
As a research shortcut, these Signers have No Descendants: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, John Hancock, Joseph Hewes, Samuel Huntington, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Thomas Lynch Jr., Caesar Rodney, James Smith, George Walton, William Whipple, James Wilson, and George Wythe
These Signers have no same surname (male) descendants: Samuel Adams, Samuel Chase, Benjamin Franklin, Elbridge Gerry, William Hooper, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Lewis, Thomas McKean, Robert Morris, John Penn, George Ross, Benjamin Rush, Thomas Stone, George Taylor, Matthew Thornton, and William Williams. It is currently believed that only 15 of the 56 signers have male descendants today.
You might be surprised to learn that proven descendants of the Signers represent a diverse population: Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, Asian.
FUN FACT: By a remarkable coincidence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two signatories of the Declaration of Independence to serve as presidents of the United States, both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.
|Name||Colony Rep.||Date of Birth & Place||Date of Death & Place||Find A Grave|
|Adams, John||MA||30 Oct 1735, Quincy, MA||4 Jul 1826, Quincy, MA||6|
|Adams, Samuel||MA||27 Sep 1722, Boston, MA||2 Oct 1803, Boston, MA||9|
|Bartlett, Josiah||NH||21 Nov 1729, Amesbury, MA||19 May 1795, Kingston, NH||2802|
|Braxton, Carter||VA||10 Sep 1736, Newington, VA||10 Oct 1797, Elsing Green, VA||2803|
|Carroll, Charles||MD||19 Sep 1737, Annapolis, MD||14 Nov 1832, Baltimore, MD||2785|
|Chase, Samuel||MD||17 Apr 1741, Princess Anne, MD||19 Jun 1811, Baltimore, MD||2804|
|Clark, Abraham||NJ||15 Feb 1726, Elizabethtown, NJ||15 Sep 1794, Rahway, NJ||2179|
|Clymer, George||PA||16 Mar 1739, Philadelphia, PA||23 Jan 1813, Morrisville, PA||2768|
|Ellery, William B.||RI||22 Dec 1727, Newport, RI||15 Feb 1820, Newport, RI||2805|
|Floyd, William||NY||17 Dec 1734, Brookhaven, NY||4 Aug 1821, Westernville, NY||2806|
|Franklin, Benjamin||PA||17 Jan 1706, Boston, MA||17 Apr 1790, Philadelphia, PA||364|
|Gerry, Elbridge||MA||17 Jul 1744, Marblehead, MA||23 Nov 1814, Washington, DC||388|
|Gwinnett, Button||GA||1735, Gloucester, England||19 May 1777, Savannah, GA||2793|
|Hall, Lyman||GA||12 Apr 1724, Wallingford, CT||19 Oct 1790, Burke county, GA||2786|
|Hancock, John||MA||23 Jan 1737, Quincy, MA||8 Oct 1793, Quincy, MA||440|
|Harrison, Benjamin V.||VA||13 Dec 1730, Berkeley, VA||24 Apr 1791, Berkeley, VA||2784|
|Hart, John||NJ||5 Nov 1713, Hopewell, NJ|
(date & place of birth still disputed)
|11 May 1779, Hunterdon county, NJ||2731|
|Hewes, Joseph||NC||9 Jul 1730, Kingston, NJ||10 Nov 1779, Philadelphia, PA||2773|
|Heyward, Jr., Thomas||SC||28 Jul 1746, Jasper county, SC||6 Mar 1809, Jasper county, SC||2807|
|Hooper, William||NC||28 Jun 1742, Boston, MA||14 Oct 1790, Wilmington, NC||10100|
|Hopkins, Stephen||RI||7 Mar 1707, Smithfield, RI||13 Jul 1785, Providence, RI||502|
|Hopkinson, Francis||NJ||21 Sep 1737, Philadelphia, PA||9 May 1791, Philadelphia, PA||2774|
|Huntington, Samuel||CT||15 Jul 1731, Scotland, CT||5 Jan 1796, Norwich, CT||2808|
|Jefferson, Thomas||VA||13 Apr 1743, Shadwell, VA||4 Jul 1826, Albermarle county, VA||544|
|Lee, Francis Lightfoot||VA||14 Oct 1734, Stratford Hall, VA||11 Jan 1797, Warsaw, VA||2809|
|Lee, Richard Henry||VA||20 Jan 1732, Westmoreland county, VA||19 Jun 1794, Westmoreland county, VA||1168|
|Lewis, Francis||NY||21 Mar 1713, Llandaff, Wales||31 Dec 1802, Manhattan, NY||621|
|Livingston, Philip||NY||15 Jan 1716, New Albany, NY||12 Jun 1778, York, PA||2776|
|Lynch, Jr., Thomas||SC||5 Aug 1749, Prince George’s Parrish, SC||1779, At Sea||2782|
|McKean, Thomas||DE||19 Mar 1734, New London, PA||24 Jun 1817, Philadelphia, PA||2676|
|Middleton, Arthur||SC||26 Jun 1742, Charleston county, SC||1 Jan 1787, Berkeley county, SC||2810|
|Morris, Lewis||NY||8 Apr 1726, Morrisania, NY||22 Jan 1798, Morrisania, NY||2767|
|Morris, Robert||PA||20 Jan 1734, Liverpool, England||8 May 1806, Philadelphia, PA||739|
|Morton, John||PA||10 Mar 1724, Chester county, PA||1 Apr 1777, Chester county, PA||2781|
|Nelson, Thomas||VA||26 Dec 1738, Yorktown, VA||4 Jan 1789, Hanover county, VA||2771|
|Paca, William||MD||31 Oct 1740, Abingdon, MD||23 Oct 1799, Queenstown, MD||2811|
|Paine, Robert Treat||MA||11 Mar 1731, Boston, MA||12 May 1814, Boston, MA||787|
|Penn, John||NC||6 May 1740, Caroline county, VA||14 Sep 1788, Granville county, NC||2779|
|Read, George||DE||18 Sep 1733, Cecil county, Maryland||21 Sep 1798, New Castle, DE||2777|
|Rodney, Caesar||DE||7 Oct 1728, Dover, DE||29 Jun 1784, Dover, DE||2783|
|Ross, George||PA||10 May 1730, New Castle, DE||14 Jul 1779, Philadelphia, PA||2775|
|Rush, Benjamin||PA||24 Dec 1745, Byberry, PA||19 Apr 1813, Philadelphia, PA||915|
|Rutledge, Edward||SC||23 Nov 1749, Charleston, SC||23 Jan 1800, Charleston, SC||920|
|Sherman, Roger||CT||19 Apr 1721, Newton, MA||23 Jul 1793, New Haven, CT||950|
|Smith, James||PA||17 Sep 1719, County Armagh, Northern Ireland||11 Jul 1806, York, PA||62|
|Stockton, Richard||NJ||1 Oct 1730, Princeton, NJ||28 Feb 1781, Princeton, NJ||2732|
|Stone, Thomas||MD||1743, Charles county, MD||5 Oct 1787, Alexandria, VA||2812|
|Taylor, George||PA||1716, Ireland||23 Feb 1781, Easton, PA||2778|
|Thornton, Matthew||NH||1714, Limerick, County Limerick, Ireland||24 Jun 1803, Newburyport, MA||2813|
|Walton, George||GA||1741, Cumberland county, VA||2 Feb 1804, Augusta, GA||2787|
|Whipple, William||NH||14 Jan 1730, Kittery, ME||28 Nov 1785, Portsmouth, NH||2814|
|Williams, William||CT||23 Apr 1731, Lebanon, CT||2 Aug 1811, Lebanon, CT||2815|
|Wilson, James||PA||14 Sep 1742, Ceres, Fife, Scotland||28 Aug 1798, Edenton, NC||1682|
|Witherspoon, Rev. John||NJ||5 Feb 1723, Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland||15 Nov 1794, Princeton, NJ||1156|
|Wolcott, Sr. Oliver||CT||20 Nov 1726, Windsor, CT||1 Dec 1797, Farmington, CT||2816|
|Wythe, George||VA||3 Dec 1726, Chesterville, VA||8 Jun 1806, Richmond, VA||2792|
- Find A Grave
- Library of Congress
- “1776”, by David McCullough
- National Archives, Declaration of Independence: A Transcription
- National Archives, Signers of the Declaration of Independence