Are You Related? Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

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

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. 

Seeking Independence

Declaration of Independence, oil on canvas by John Trumbull, 1818, for the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The members of the Continental Congress signed the declaration in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, a day subsequently celebrated as Independence Day in the United States. Architect of the Capitol.

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. 

NameColony Rep.Date of Birth & PlaceDate of Death & PlaceFind A Grave
Memorial
Adams, JohnMA30 Oct 1735, Quincy, MA4 Jul 1826, Quincy, MA6
Adams, SamuelMA27 Sep 1722, Boston,  MA2 Oct 1803, Boston, MA9
Bartlett, JosiahNH21 Nov 1729, Amesbury, MA19 May 1795, Kingston, NH2802
Braxton, CarterVA10 Sep 1736, Newington, VA10 Oct 1797, Elsing Green, VA2803
Carroll, CharlesMD19 Sep 1737, Annapolis, MD14 Nov 1832, Baltimore, MD2785
Chase, SamuelMD17 Apr 1741, Princess Anne, MD19 Jun 1811, Baltimore, MD2804
Clark, AbrahamNJ15 Feb 1726, Elizabethtown, NJ15 Sep 1794, Rahway, NJ2179
Clymer, GeorgePA16 Mar 1739, Philadelphia, PA23 Jan 1813, Morrisville, PA2768
Ellery, William B.RI22 Dec 1727, Newport, RI15 Feb 1820, Newport, RI2805
Floyd, WilliamNY17 Dec 1734, Brookhaven, NY4 Aug 1821, Westernville, NY2806
Franklin, BenjaminPA17 Jan 1706, Boston, MA17 Apr 1790, Philadelphia, PA364
Gerry, ElbridgeMA17 Jul 1744, Marblehead, MA23 Nov 1814, Washington, DC388
Gwinnett, ButtonGA1735, Gloucester, England19 May 1777, Savannah, GA2793
Hall, LymanGA12 Apr 1724, Wallingford, CT19 Oct 1790, Burke county, GA2786
Hancock, JohnMA23 Jan 1737, Quincy, MA8 Oct 1793, Quincy, MA440
Harrison, Benjamin V. VA13 Dec 1730, Berkeley, VA24 Apr 1791, Berkeley, VA2784
Hart, JohnNJ5 Nov 1713, Hopewell, NJ
(date & place of birth still disputed)
11 May 1779, Hunterdon county, NJ2731
Hewes, JosephNC9 Jul 1730, Kingston, NJ10 Nov 1779, Philadelphia, PA2773
Heyward, Jr., ThomasSC28 Jul 1746, Jasper county, SC6 Mar 1809, Jasper county, SC2807
Hooper, WilliamNC28 Jun 1742, Boston, MA14 Oct 1790, Wilmington, NC10100
Hopkins, StephenRI7 Mar 1707, Smithfield, RI13 Jul 1785, Providence, RI502
Hopkinson, FrancisNJ21 Sep 1737, Philadelphia, PA9 May 1791, Philadelphia, PA2774
Huntington, SamuelCT15 Jul 1731, Scotland, CT5 Jan 1796, Norwich, CT2808
Jefferson, ThomasVA13 Apr 1743, Shadwell, VA4 Jul 1826, Albermarle county, VA544
Lee, Francis LightfootVA14 Oct 1734, Stratford Hall, VA11 Jan 1797, Warsaw, VA2809
Lee, Richard HenryVA20 Jan 1732, Westmoreland county, VA19 Jun 1794, Westmoreland county, VA1168
Lewis, FrancisNY21 Mar 1713, Llandaff, Wales31 Dec 1802, Manhattan, NY621
Livingston, PhilipNY15 Jan 1716, New Albany, NY12 Jun 1778, York, PA2776
Lynch, Jr., ThomasSC5 Aug 1749, Prince George’s Parrish, SC1779, At Sea2782
McKean, ThomasDE19 Mar 1734, New London, PA24 Jun 1817, Philadelphia, PA2676
Middleton, ArthurSC26 Jun 1742, Charleston county, SC1 Jan 1787, Berkeley county, SC2810
Morris, LewisNY8 Apr 1726, Morrisania, NY22 Jan 1798, Morrisania, NY2767
Morris, RobertPA20 Jan 1734, Liverpool, England8 May 1806, Philadelphia, PA739
Morton, JohnPA10 Mar 1724, Chester county, PA1 Apr 1777, Chester county, PA2781
Nelson, ThomasVA26 Dec 1738, Yorktown, VA4 Jan 1789, Hanover county, VA2771
Paca, WilliamMD31 Oct 1740, Abingdon, MD23 Oct 1799, Queenstown, MD2811
Paine, Robert TreatMA11 Mar 1731, Boston, MA12 May 1814, Boston, MA787
Penn, JohnNC6 May 1740, Caroline county, VA14 Sep 1788, Granville county, NC2779
Read, GeorgeDE18 Sep 1733, Cecil county, Maryland21 Sep 1798, New Castle, DE2777
Rodney, CaesarDE7 Oct 1728, Dover, DE29 Jun 1784, Dover, DE2783
Ross, GeorgePA10 May 1730, New Castle, DE14 Jul 1779, Philadelphia, PA2775
Rush, BenjaminPA24 Dec 1745, Byberry, PA19 Apr 1813, Philadelphia, PA915
Rutledge, EdwardSC23 Nov 1749, Charleston, SC23 Jan 1800, Charleston, SC920
Sherman, RogerCT19 Apr 1721, Newton, MA23 Jul 1793, New Haven, CT950
Smith, JamesPA17 Sep 1719, County Armagh, Northern Ireland11 Jul 1806, York, PA62
Stockton, RichardNJ1 Oct 1730, Princeton, NJ28 Feb 1781, Princeton, NJ2732
Stone, ThomasMD1743, Charles county, MD5 Oct 1787, Alexandria, VA2812
Taylor, GeorgePA1716, Ireland23 Feb 1781, Easton, PA2778
Thornton, MatthewNH1714, Limerick, County Limerick, Ireland24 Jun 1803, Newburyport, MA2813
Walton, GeorgeGA1741, Cumberland county, VA2 Feb 1804, Augusta, GA2787
Whipple, WilliamNH14 Jan 1730, Kittery, ME28 Nov 1785, Portsmouth, NH2814
Williams, WilliamCT23 Apr 1731, Lebanon, CT2 Aug 1811, Lebanon, CT2815
Wilson, JamesPA14 Sep 1742, Ceres, Fife, Scotland28 Aug 1798, Edenton, NC1682
Witherspoon, Rev. JohnNJ5 Feb 1723, Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland15 Nov 1794, Princeton, NJ1156
Wolcott, Sr. OliverCT20 Nov 1726, Windsor, CT1 Dec 1797, Farmington, CT2816
Wythe, GeorgeVA3 Dec 1726, Chesterville, VA8 Jun 1806, Richmond, VA2792

References

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