Founding Fathers Bios
56 men signed America’s Declaration of Independence
How many of them do you know?
Most Americans can name just a few of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. We may know that Thomas Jefferson is the principal author of the famous document, or that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin or John Hancock put their signatures to it.
But there were 56 men in all who signed that parchment of political freedom. Most of their names have become footnotes in American history books. Founding Fathers Black Hills honors their roles as American patriots and tells their stories.
Here are a few of them:
Age at signing – 70
“We must now hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.”
Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the most famous American of his time, was the oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Franklin was the 10th son of a poor candle maker from Boston. He had little formal education but became wealthy as a printer and publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac and famous as a scientist, philosopher, philanthropist and inventor.
Franklin made his home and fortune in Philadelphia, but he spent many years living abroad in England and France. Always an astute politician, Franklin enjoyed close ties with the British early in his career but would later became one of the leading voices for American independence.
Franklin returned to America in 1775 after 10 years in London, and was elected to the Continental Congress where he was appointed to a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence and gave Thomas Jefferson advice on his original draft.
Franklin spent the war and post-war years as America’s chief diplomat to France and died at age 84 in 1790 in Philadelphia.
Secretary of Congress *
Charles Thomson was born in Ireland and emigrated to America as a 10-year-old boy with his father and brothers. His father died during the sea voyage and when the sons landed in America, young Charles was raised by a Delaware blacksmith.
He was educated in the classics at a Pennsylvania academy and Thomson worked as a Latin tutor and teacher before he got involved in Philadelphia politics. He was well-known throughout the colonies as an organizer of trade boycotts and other anti-British protests.
Thomson was appointed secretary at the first meeting of the continental congress in 1774 and he served in that role for 15 years, until the U.S. Constitution created the House of Representatives and the Senate. Sometimes criticized for his accuracy, Thomson’s congressional record even led to some brawls on the floor of congress.
As secretary, Thomson’s name appears, along with the name of congressional president John Hancock, as the only two signatures on the first published copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Dunlap broadside, that was widely circulated in the colonies. Thomsen did not, however, sign the engrossed parchment copy signed by all delegates on Aug.2, 1776, which is considered the official historic document.
Age at signing – 50
”Why should we be so fond of calling ourselves dutiful subjects?
We must declare ourselves a free people.”
George Wythe was called “my second father” by Thomas Jefferson, who studied law under him.
Wythe was an early and outspoken advocate for independence while serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Appointed to the continental congress from 1775 to 1777, his final accomplishment there was having Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane appointed ministers to France.
Back in Virginia, he continued public service in state politics and taught the first college law curriculum in America at Virginia’s William and Mary College. His students included Henry Clay, James Monroe and John Marshall, the first chief judge of the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed a judge in Virginia courts, he is credited with establishing the legal precedent that laws could be held unconstitutional.
In his old age, Wythe was living with two of his freed slaves when he was poisoned by his great-nephew, who had been written out of Wythe’s will. He and a black youth who stood to inherit part of Wythe’s estate died, but the nephew was acquitted of murder because a black person could not testify against a white man at that time.