Happy Independence Day!
The historical significance of July fourth should be revisited each year. Do we, as American citizens truly understand what this day means. Like many holidays, the fourth of July has become a day off to barbeque, go to the beach and watch fireworks. But as an arm-chair historian I cannot help but feel this is also a time of reflection.
Our forefathers (and mothers) declared their independence from the tyranny of a monarch’s rule. Their choices, as in not also doing away with slavery at that same time, and their methods, tossing the tea in the Boston harbor dressed as Indians, were not always the best for all Americans. But like all parents, our ancestors sought what was best for themselves and those of their immediate concern. We often give these men and women, heroic and mythic abilities and ideals. But in truth, they, like each of us, were doing what they could with what they knew at that moment.
A friend noticing a plaque on my desk that read “Home of the free because of the brave,” made the comment, “home of the free because of the slave.” At first, I took offense. My son was in the army. He was fighting for our freedom. But then I really thought about it. We as Americans owe our freedoms not just to these “mythic” heroes but to the real men and women who sacrificed to give us this blessing. They were freed and slave, black and white, native and newcomer, rich and poor. Many of our forefathers gave up landholdings in Europe, titles even, to secure our freedom.
As we celebrate our Independence Day, let us remember these freedoms were won with blood, sweat and sacrifices. Not all who chose to fight for our freedom remained free, and many did not live to enjoy the freedom they wrought.
There is still a price to pay for freedom, are we willing to make those sacrifices?
I have added some websites I think you might find interesting. Check them out for more information about our forefathers and those who fought to make the United States of America.
The American Revolution was NOT a Whites Only War
(to read Fredrick Douglas’ oratory and more about African Americans in the Revolutionary War, check out the above website.)
At least 20 blacks were among the ranks of the rebels when the British launched their attack on the American position outside Boston in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Peter Salem, born a slave in Framingham, Mass., earned his stripes as a minuteman fighting at Concord and later at Bunker Hill. Salem is credited with firing the shot that killed British Maj. John Pitcairn, who led the Redcoats when they attacked at Lexington.
Getting into the fight wasn’t easy for Salem or other blacks at the time. At the start of the war, George Washington opposed the recruitment of blacks, whether free or slave. Washington had plenty of company. Many slave owners considered the training and arming of slaves akin to inviting insurrection.
But they soon found that there weren’t nearly enough white men willing and able to fight the British, so Washington relented.
Salem fought in other battles, and after the war, lived in a cabin and worked as a cane weaver. He died in a Framingham poorhouse in 1816 . Twenty years later, the town erected a monument in his honor.
Former slave Salem Poor was also at the Battle of Bunker Hill. His service drew the praise of 14 officers who petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to grant him a reward. They wrote “that a negro man called Salem Poor, of Colonel Frye’s regiment, Captain Ames’ company, in the late Battle at Charlestown, behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier. To set forth the particulars of his conduct would be tedious, we would only beg leave to say that in the Person of this said negro centers a brave and gallant soldier. The reward due to so great and distinguished a character, we submit to the Congress.”
It was not to be. Poor died in a Boston shelter for the homeless in 1802.
Saul Matthews was a slave when he enlisted as a soldier in the Virginia militia, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Matthews served as a spy, undertaking missions into British camps to collect information on troop positions and movements. He, too, drew praise from top leaders of the Revolution.
When the war ended, Matthews was returned to slavery for nearly 10 years.
He petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for his freedom. It was granted in 1792.
The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, called the “Black Regiment” because of its large number of African American soldiers, engaged in five years of fighting in New York, New Jersey and Virginia.
Christopher Greene commanded the 1st Rhode Island Regiment until 1781, when he and many of his black soldiers were killed in a skirmish with loyalists. Greene’s wounded body was reportedly dragged from his house into the woods and mutilated as possible punishment for having led black soldiers.
After the war, as the Army’s official Web site reports, some black soldiers, like those who served in the 1st Rhode Island, went on to live as freed men. However, many others, after having fought for freedom, were returned to slavery.
Frederick Douglass’s “This 4th of July is yours” assertion was biting oratory. But in helping to earn America’s freedom, the black soldiers of the Revolution have made the Fourth of July all of ours. The nation should salute them, too.
American Revolution for the Non-White
To read the rest of this article, check out the above website.
Attempting Legal Channels to Freedom During the Revolution
A few educated slaves managed to make a written challenge to the hypocrisy of bondage amidst a war for freedom.
In Boston, Massachusetts, four Black men petitioned the governor and state assembly in April 1773, expressing gratitude for recent attempts to abolish slavery but asserting that, “as the people of this province seem to be actuated by the principles of equity and justice, we cannot but expect your house will again take our deplorable cause into serious consideration, and give us that ample relief which, as men, we have a natural right to.”132
African Americans of the counties of Bristol and Worcester in Massachusetts also petitioned the Committees of Correspondence in March 1775 for assistance in obtaining their freedom, and the Worcester County Convention responded by passing a resolution that “we abhor the enslaving of any of the human race, and particularly of the Negroes in this country. And that whenever there shall be a door opened, or opportunity present, for anything to be done toward emancipating the Negroes: we will use our influence and endeavor that such a thing may be effected.”133
Some Black and white abolitionists penned broader appeals that addressed not just their state assemblies but the general public, too.
Though she was a devout Christian owned by exceptionally doting masters in Boston, the African-American child prodigy and poetess Phillis Wheatley nonetheless began inserting subtle pleas for emancipation into her work by 1772. This young slave, the first published Black poet in North America, recognized the powerful symbolic ties between America’s cause and the cause of freedom for her people.
She wrote verse directed at King George III to request a repeal of the Stamp Act, decried a British customs officer who murdered a Boston teenager, and wrote a poem praising George Washington, to which Washington responded with a hand-written letter humbly thanking her.134
Wheatley followed the classical poetic conventions of her time, but incorporated an unmistakable message in her lines, as when she celebrated:
The silken reigns, and Freedom’s charms unfold.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress’d complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain.135
Wheatley also reminded her readers that—as a slave—”can I then but pray / Others may never feel tyrannic sway?”136
Such eloquent appeals weren’t exclusively the product of well-known child prodigies. An anonymous New England mulatto—then a term for a person who was half white and half Black—penned an attack on slavery in 1776 that quoted the Declaration of Independence (“that all men are created Equal”) and the Bible (“make of one Blood all nations of men, for to dwell upon the face of the Earth”) to make a very persuasive case against human bondage.137
Our Nations’ First TRUE Patriots
Thanks to Bob Aldrich for sharing this
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?
For the record, here’s a portrait of the men who pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” for liberty many years ago.
Fifty-six men from each of the original 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Nine of the signers were immigrants, two were brothers and two were cousins. One was an orphan. The average age of a signer was 45. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 70. The youngest was Thomas Lynch Jr. of South Carolina at 27.
Eighteen of the signers were merchants or businessmen, 14 were farmers, and four were doctors. Twenty-two were lawyers – although William Hooper of North Carolina was “disbarred” when he spoke out against the king – and nine were judges. Stephen Hopkins had been governor of Rhode Island. Forty-two signers had served in their colonial legislatures.
John Witherspoon of New Jersey was the only active clergyman to attend. (Indeed, he wore his pontificals to the sessions.) Almost all were Protestants. Charles Carroll of Maryland was the lone Roman Catholic.
Seven of the signers were educated at Harvard, four at Yale, four at William & Mary, and three at Princeton. Witherspoon was the president of Princeton, and George Wythe was a professor at William & Mary. His students included Declaration scribe Thomas Jefferson.
Seventeen signers fought in the American Revolution. Thomas Nelson was a colonel in the Second Virginia Regiment and then commanded Virginia military forces at the Battle of Yorktown. William Whipple served with the New Hampshire militia and was a commanding officer in the decisive Saratoga campaign. Oliver Wolcott led the Connecticut regiments sent for the defense of New York and commanded a brigade of militia that took part in the defeat of General Burgoyne. Caesar Rodney was a major general in the Delaware militia; John Hancock held the same rank in the Massachusetts militia.
The British captured five signers during the war. Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, and Arthur Middleton were captured at the Battle of Charleston in 1780. George Walton was wounded and captured at the Battle of Savannah. Richard Stockton of New Jersey never recovered from his incarceration at the hands of British Loyalists. He died in 1781.
Thomas McKean of Delaware wrote John Adams that he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy – compelled to remove my family five times in a few months.” Abraham Clark of New Jersey had two of his sons captured by the British during the war.
Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s New York home was razed and his wife taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey, and he died while fleeing capture. Carter Braxton and Nelson, both of Virginia, lent large sums of their personal fortunes to support the war effort but were never repaid.
Fifteen of the signers participated in their states’ constitutional conventions, and six – Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Franklin, George Clymer, James Wilson, and George Reed – signed the U.S. Constitution.
After the Revolution, 13 signers went on to become governors. Eighteen served in their state legislatures. Sixteen became state and federal judges. Seven became members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Six became U.S. senators. James Wilson and Samuel Chase became Supreme Court justices. Jefferson, Adams, and Elbridge Gerry each became vice president. Adams and Jefferson later became president.
Five signers played major roles in the establishment of colleges and universities: Franklin and the University of Pennsylvania; Jefferson and the University of Virginia; Benjamin Rush and Dickinson College; Lewis Morris and New York University; and George Walton and the University of Georgia.
Adams, Jefferson, and Carroll were the longest surviving signers. Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll was the last signer to die in 1832 at the age of 95.
Sources: Robert Lincoln, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, with Biographical Notices of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (Brattleboro Typographical Company, 1839); John and Katherine Bakeless, Signers of the Declaration (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).
Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.
Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged:
“For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor”.
They gave you and me a free and independent America. The history books never told you a lot of what happened in the Revolutionary War.
We didn’t just fight the British. We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government!
Some of us take these liberties so much for granted…we shouldn’t.
Founding Father’s who lost their lives and fortunes but not their honor
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On this Independence Day, as Americans celebrate their freedom with parades, parties and fireworks, we should pause to honor and remember the many “Founding Fathers” (and Mothers) who made it possible. We all know the stories of the most famous leaders of that momentous era – Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and John/Abigail Adams will be remembered for time immemorial. Yet the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776 could not have known just how successful their effort would be.
Rather, all they knew was that they had committed High Treason against Great Britain and their sovereign, King George the 3rd, by signing their name to a document that renounced their allegiance to their mother country. “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” is Jefferson’s final sentence; for over 20 of the signers, that pledge would take on a woeful meaning in the years after 1776.
9 signers paid the ultimate sacrifice – their lives – for the cause of Independence. 17 (almost 1 for every 3 who signed) lost every penny they had and every piece of property they owned. Yet not a single one reneged on their pledge to stand “for the support of this Declaration”.
Let me repeat – not one man out of the 56 signers of the Declaration ever recanted or apologized for their brave act in 1776. As delegate William Ellery recalled years later, having stood next to the document while it was being signed, “in no face was [I] able to discern real fear”. That courage was sorely tested, but never faltered.
This was despite the terrible price many of them paid, and the hardships all of them endured during the Revolutionary War that followed. The ones we remember today survived and went to perform even greater service for their new nation. Many did not.
Going from North to South (as was the tradition then), here are some of the Founding Fathers who truly gave their lives and/or their well-being for the cause of Liberty:
William Ellery, Rhode Island: His house and entire estate was burned to the ground. He survived the war and later became a vocal opponent of slavery.
William Floyd, New York: He and his family escaped the British invasion of Long Island to Connecticut, but left behind their home and his entire income. The home was a charred ruin when they returned, penniless, a full 7 years later. He went on to become a U.S. Senator and Congressman from New York.
Francis Lewis, New York: His home and estates on Long Island were destroyed by the British. Even worse, Mrs. Lewis was captured and imprisoned, dying from complications stemming from her incarceration.
Lewis Morris, New York: Far from being a “courteous abstainer” during the debate (as the musical 1776 tells us), Morris literally put his money where his mouth (and signatures) was; the entire Morris financial fortune was put at the service of the Continental Army. Loyalist neighbors confiscated his property, forcing him apart from his family for the duration of the war. His brother Gouverneur (of Constitution fame) also lost most of his wealth during the Revolution.
Phillip Livingston, New York: One of the wealthiest men in American in 1776, Livingston lost every shilling he had as a result of signing the Declaration. His family was driven from their house by the British and his estate plundered. Livingston died impoverished just two years later, while still serving in the Continental Congress.
John Hart, New Jersey: Hart’s wife was dying as he signed the Declaration. He hurried home in time to say goodbye, only to be forced to flee as the British approached. His 13 children never saw their father again: they were all forced to flee for their lives as well. He died in 1779.
Richard Stockton, New Jersey: Judge Stockton was arrested by the British in 1776 and imprisoned in a military stockade. He was released 5 years later, his health crippled, and died a pauper in Princeton. Richard Stockton College in New Jersey is named in his honor.
John Witherspoon, New Jersey: A native of Scotland, he earned his Doctorate in Divinity from the University of St. Andrews before immigrating to the colonies to serve as President of the College of New Jersey (better known today as Princeton University). The British responded to his signing the Declaration by burning the College library to the ground when they occupied Princeton a few months later, and pillaged the rest of the campus. Witherspoon returned after the British were expelled from the area by the Continental Army, and lived to see the College rebuilt.
Robert Morris, Pennsylvania: Morris earned a massive fortune as a banker and commercial magnate – and gave it all away to finance the Revolution. The “blockade runners” that brought provisions from Europe to the colonies were entirely paid for and provisioned by Morris. He also loaned the then-enormous sum of $10,000 to the Continental Congress when it was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1776. Unlike the global bankers of today, Morris didn’t set any preconditions on a loan that literally kept the nation afloat; also unlike today’s CEOs, he never got his money back. He died impoverished in 1806, but not before becoming the nation’s first effective Secretary of the Treasury (before 1789, that is).
John Morton, Pennsylvania: Despite living in a Loyalist-dominated part of the colony, and personally preferring reconciliation with Great Britain, Morton signed the Declaration. His neighbors turned on him, and he was forced to remain in Philadelphia. Just before his death in 1777, he submitted to Congress what became known as the “Articles of Confederation”.
Thomas Nelson, Virginia: Nelson lived in Yorktown, which of course saw the final showdown of the Revolutionary War. As American guns shelled the British defenses, an anguished Nelson (now a General in the Continental Army) saw that they were sparing his house, which was General Cornwallis’ headquarters. As the story goes, Nelson personally turned a cannon towards his home and blew it up, to show that he was no less willing to sacrifice than his fellow Virginians. He loaned over $2 million to the Continental Congress, none of which was repaid, and died impoverished.
The entire South Carolina delegation: All four Palmetto State signatories paid dearly for joining the cause for Independence. Edward Rutledge (the pro-slavery aristocrat in 1776), Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward, Jr. were all imprisoned by the British when Charleston was taken in 1780. They were beaten and humiliated in prison, then released to their plantations a year later – which of course had been burned to the ground and completely pillaged. They were more fortunate than co-signatory Thomas Lynch – he disappeared at sea while seeking medical help in the West Indies, together with his young wife, at some point in 1779.