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Friday, July 4, 2014

The Truth About Independence Day and a Patriot Named Richard Stockton

 
 
 
The legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776. Why do we celebrate July 4 as Independence Day? 

After the First Continental Congress failed to persuade Britain to recognize the colonies’ rights, and war was declared. It was time to unite all of the colonies and to stand together against Britain. A declaration was needed -- leave that proclamation of freedom to the Second Congress.

On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted “thumbs up” on a resolution of independence that had been suggested the previous month by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia declaring the United States independent from Great Britain. It was comparable to a "green light behind closed doors." Some think July 2 should be Independence Day. 

John Adams, himself, had written to his wife Abigail just a couple days earlier noting: “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
 
But how about a document? Uh huh, the actual "Declaration" on paper? This document explained the Second Continental Congress' decision and had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its lead author. Signing the document also meant certain death if caught for those brave signers who had just committed treason in the eyes of the Brits. John Hancock supposedly said that Congress, having signed the Declaration, must now "all hang together."
 
The Declaration of Independence was drafted by John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. After the first draft was written by Thomas Jefferson, it was revised by Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson before it was sent to Congress for approval.
 
Here is the kicker: it would take Congress until the Fourth of July to agree on revisions and to approve the now historic document. 

All thirteen colonies stood behind the Declaration of Independence and adopted it in full on July 4, 1776. Heavies like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin all claimed they signed the document on July 4.

Historians now believe the document wasn’t even fully signed until August 2, 1776. After all, consider the times with slower modes of communication and snail-like transportation.

As far back as 1796, signer Thomas McKean disputed that the Declaration had been signed on July 4, pointing out that some signers were not then present, including several who were not even elected to Congress until after that date. "[N]o person signed it on that day nor for many days after," he later wrote. Although Jefferson and Adams disagreed with McKean, his claim gained support when the Secret Journals of Congress were published in 1821

Legal historian Wilfred Ritz argued in 1986 that about thirty-four delegates signed the Declaration on July 4, and that the others signed on or after August 2. Historians who reject a July 4 signing maintain that most delegates signed on August 2, and that those eventual signers who were not present added their names later.

Fifty-six delegates eventually signed the Declaration. I'm sure you recognize some names here, but I bet you've never heard of many of them. Here is a list of signers:

Many sources will tell you that five of those who signed were captured and tortured before they died. According to updated sources today, this is partially true: five of them were captured, but none of them were tortured and none died. Four were taken prisoner in battle and suffered the same hardships as all other prisoners of war. Only one, Richard Stockton, was arrested because he signed and he was taken and jailed by fellow Americans who were loyal to the crown. All five were eventually released or exchanged. 
 
According to legend nine of those who added their names to the Declaration fought and were themselves killed. The only truth in this statement seems to be that nine of those who signed died during the war. Several of these did not fight at all, eight of them died of natural causes and one, Button Gwinnett of Georgia, was killed in a duel with a fellow American officer.  

("Remembering those who signed the Declaration of Independence."  
The (Huntington) Herald Dispatch. July 04, 2014)
 
 
 Richard Stockton
 
My Take
 
History class would have been so much more interesting if the teachers would have raked up the nitty-gritty about July 4th and the Declaration of Independence. The details are so interesting and memorable -- as is the case when in-depth study occurs. The signers of the most important document in American history were not necessarily the freedom fighters on the front line. Colonial statesmen, supporters of independence, loyalists, Revolutionary warriors -- many roles were being played right here in the Thirteen States.

On the 4th, maybe we should make special notation of Richard Stockton, who was jailed for his actions -- by American loyalists, no less! He paid the supreme price for placing his signature on the Declaration and pledging his life, his fortune and his Sacred Honor.

Richard was a son of John Stockton (1701-1758) the wealthy Princeton landowner who donated land and helped bring what is now Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey located in Newark) to Princeton, New Jersey. He was the eldest of eight children. 

Richard was admitted to the bar in 1754 and soon rose to great distinction. In 1763 he received the degree of Sergeant at law the highest degree of law at that time. He was a longtime friend of George Washington.
 
Stockton was six feet tall, with green eyes and a slender yet powerful build of an accomplished swordsman and horseman. In 1757 he wed Annis Boudinot, built their home Morven, and later had two sons and four daughters. Annis was descended from French Huguenots; her grandfather fled France at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and settled in New York.  

In June 1766, Richard Stockton sailed to London and for fifteen months traveled in England, Scotland and Ireland. Stockton’s high character and distinguished abilities preceded him and he was received by the most eminent men of the kingdom.
 
Stockton first took a moderate stance in the troubles between the colonies and Great Britain. In 1774 he drafted and sent to Lord Dartmouth (Secretary of State for the Colonies) "a plan of self-government for America, independent of Parliament, without renouncing the Crown." Stockton wrote: “If something of the kind was not done, the result would be an obstinate, awful, and tremendous war."
 
This Commonwealth approach was not acceptable to the King, had it been, the British could have avoided the war that freed the colonies and deprived the King of the fairest jewel in his crown.

When Parliament resolved to raise revenue in the colonies in 1775, Stockton declared the colonies "must each of them send one or two of their most ingenious fellows, and enable them to get into the House of Commons, maintain them there till they can maintain themselves, or else we shall be fleeced to some purpose."
 
When at last all his attempts to change the minds of the British failed, Stockton decided he must, when given a choice of King or country, choose his native country. He resigned his royal appointments and New Jersey elected him to the Continental Congress in June 1776.

At the Congress, after hearing the irresistible and conclusive arguments of John Adams for independence, Richard fully concurred in the final vote in favor of that bold and decisive measure. Richard gave a short but energetic speech at the close of the debate. Richard Stockton later declared Adams “the Atlas of the hour, the man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independency. He who sustained the debate, and by the force of reasoning demonstrated not only the justice, but the expediency of the measure.”
 
Later, Stockton was appointed by Congress, along with fellow signer George Clymer, to an exhausting two-month journey to Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and Albany, New York to inspect and to assist the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. They found the army in desperate need of the most essential items. Here is part of a letter sent by Stockton to fellow Declaration signer Abraham Clark:

"My heart melts with compassion for my brave countrymen who are thus venturing their lives in the public service and yet so distressed. There is not a single shoe or stocking to be had in this part of the world, or I would ride a hundred miles thought the woods, and purchase them with my own money—for you’ll consider that the weather here must be different from that in New Jersey; it is very cold now I assure you. 
 
"For God’s sake my dear sir, upon the receipt of this collect all the shoes and stockings you can, and send them off for Albany in light wagons; a couple of two horse wagons will bring a great many, which may be distributed among our several Regiments who will be all together at Tyconderoga in a few days -- if any breeches, gloves and coats be ready send them along; but do not wait for them if the shoes and stockings are ready, and the others not. 
 
"We have dispatches from General Gates this morning informing that he hourly expects to be attacked by the Enemy; but our works are very strong and a Boom thrown across the water from Tyconderoga to prevent the enemies shipping from getting below us, therefore I trust with the blessing of Almighty God, that we shall disappoint their wishes and sanguinary purposes.
 
"But shall the brave troops from New Jersey stand in lines half leg deep in snow without shoes or stocking -- God forbid. I shall empty my portmanteau of the stockings I have for my own use on this journey, excepting a pair to take back home, but this is a drop of water in the Ocean.”
 
 (John C. Glynn, Jr., Kathryn Glynn and DSDI Staff. "Richard Stockton." The Society of the Descendents of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. December 11, 2011)
 
The British invaded New Jersey and Stockton rushed home and moved his family to the home of a friend thirty miles from Princeton. On his return, he traveled 30 miles east to the home of a friend, John Covenhoven, to evacuate his family to safety, and away from the path of the British army. 
 
While there, on November 30, 1776, he and Covenhoven were captured in the middle of the night, dragged from their beds by loyalists and marched in freezing weather clad only in nightshirts and breeches to Perth Amboy, a town in Middlesex County, New Jersey, and turned over to the British.
 
The day Stockton was captured, General William Howe  had written a Proclamation offering protection papers and a full and free pardon to those willing to remain in peaceable obedience to the King. Although many took the pardon, Stockton never did. He was put in irons, and brutally treated as a common criminal.
 
He was then moved to the notorious Provost Prison in New York City where he was intentionally starved and subjected to freezing cold weather. Over 12,000 men died in prison ships and prisons in New York compared with 4,435 battle casualties during the entire war. 
 
On January 3, 1777 General George Washington was directed by Congress to protest against “the shocking and inhuman treatment” of the honorable Richard Stockton to General William Howe. After nearly five weeks of brutal treatment, Stockton was released on parole, his health ruined.
 
His estate, Morven, in Princeton was occupied by General Cornwallis during Stockton's imprisonment; his furniture, all household belongings, crops and livestock were taken or destroyed by the British. His library, one of the finest in the colonies, was burned.

Stockton's treatment in the New York prison prompted Continental Congress to pass a resolution directing George Washington to inquire into the circumstances and not long afterward, Stockton was paroled on January 13, 1777. 
 
Because of Stockton’s poor health and the parole requiring him not to participate in the war effort he resigned from Congress. Dr. Rush wrote that it took Stockton nearly two years to recover his health.

Nothing was ever written about doubts of Stockton's loyalty in any of the papers of members of Congress, or in any newspapers or books of the time.

Lately Stockton has been maligned by a few writers claiming that Stockton took the pardon from General Howe and swore allegiance to the king. This claim is based on a private letter quoting a rumor spread by an enemy of Stockton.

There is absolutely no proof this occurred. In March 1777, only two months after Stockton’s release, in a letter to British Parliament General Howe wrote “at no time had a leading rebel sought pardon.” The book His Sacred Honor comes to Stockton’s defense against these revisionist writers using rumors and innuendo to spread this false claim against a founding father.

When his health permitted, Stockton attempted to earn a living by reopening his law practice and teaching new students. Two years after his parole from prison he developed cancer of the lip that spread to his throat. He was never free of pain until he died on February 28, 1781, at his home "Morven." He did not live see his country win independence.

 Annis Boudinot Stockton

Richard's wife, Annis Boudinot Stockton, went on to become one of America’s first female published poets. She was a close friend and favorite correspondent of General George Washington. One of her poems about General Washington, on the surrender of Lord Cornwallis, shows how highly Washington esteemed these complimentary writings by the letter he wrote Annis... 
 
“Philadelphia, July 22, 1782. Madam, Your favor of the 17th, conveying to me your pastoral on the subject of Lord Cornwallis’ capture, has given me great satisfaction. Had you known the pleasure it would have communicated, I flatter myself, your diffidence would not have delayed it to this time.
 
"Amidst all the compliments which have been made on this occasion, be assured, madam, that the agreeable manner, and the very pleasing sentiments in which yours is conveyed, have affected my mind with the most lively sensations of joy and satisfaction. This address, from a person of your refined taste and elegance of expression, affords a pleasure beyond my powers of utterance, and I have only to lament that the hero of your pastoral is not more deserving of your pen; but the circumstance shall be placed among the happiest events of my life. I have the honor to be, madam you’re most obedient and respectful servant, G. Washington.” 
 
Annis was the only woman to be made a member of the American Whig Society. Annis Boudinot Stockton died February 6, 1801 surviving her beloved Richard by nearly twenty years.
 
So, today, good readers, celebrate the 4th and pause for one moment to consider the people -- founding fathers and humble commoners -- most responsible for our freedom and liberty. Perhaps it is also appropriate to remember Richard Stockton. It seems to me he suffered mightily as a true patriot. I'm sure so many other great stories have been passed about Declarations signers, but Richard's must be one of the most important and most memorable. You can bet your John Hancock on it. 
 


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