Independence Day Trivia
George Washington wasn’t the first president, and a former slave signed the Declaration of Independence. Say what?
Here is some trivia involving the signers of the document:
- There are 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence.
- Only two went on to become president—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
- Many of the signers believed they were signing their death warrant, as the British made it clear the actions were treasonous. The penalty was death by hanging.
- The delegate from Maryland, Samuel Chase, was known as “Old Bacon Face.” George Washington later appointed him to the Supreme Court, where he became the only justice to be impeached. This was viewed as a political move by Jefferson, and “Old Bacon Face” was acquitted by the Senate.
- Who was really the first president of the yet to be formed United States? Connecticut’s Samuel Huntington who was elected president of the Congress, and was serving in that role when the articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781, transforming the thirteen colonies into the United States of America. (The executive office of president wasn’t created until the Constitution was ratified in 1787.)
- Technically speaking, one of the signers had been a slave. Pennsylvania’s George Taylor was born in Ireland, and immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1736. He was indentured (a form of slavery, but far different than the practice chattel slavery), as an iron maker until he worked off his debt.
- Virginia’s George Wythe was not hanged, but the nations first law professor was murdered by his grandnephew hoping to gain a family inheritance.
- While he was not hanged, New Jersey’s John Hart had to flee his property when the British invaded. It is believed he lived in the wild for months, sleeping in caves.
- Richard Stockton, also from New Jersey, fled his property when the British invaded. He was not so fortunate. He was betrayed by Loyalists and imprisoned in New York. The details surrounding his release from prison are ambiguous, but he died of cancer a short time later, and before the fighting ceased.
- Four other signers became officers in the Army, and were captured in battle, and held as prisoners of war.
- Georgia’s Button Gwinnett was a colorful character. He had a feud with the commander of the Georgia militia. Gwinnet was wounded in a dual with Colonel McIntosh, and later died of gang green. Of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence, his signature is the rarest—about 50 in all. One of his signatures sold for $722,500 in 2011, making it one of the most valuable signatures in history.
- The youngest signer was twenty-six year old, Edward Rutledge. The oldest was seventy-year old Ben Franklin.
Have a happy AND safe Independence Day, celebrating the 4th of July!
Bill O’Reilly and David Fischer, Legends and Lies, The Patriots, (Henry Holt and Company, NY, 2016), 125-130.