Essay 42 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Roger Sherman was one of the most significant of our Founding Fathers but is little known and appreciated today. He was deeply involved in national affairs from 1774-1793 and signed five of our nation’s most important founding documents. No other early American leader signed as many. His rise from humble beginnings to a position of prominence among our nation’s finest is remarkable.

Sherman was born on April 19, 1721 in Newton, Massachusetts. His father, William, was a farmer and cordwainer (shoemaker) and taught Roger, his second oldest son, his profession. As was common with tradesmen’s children, Roger did not receive much formal education, only completing grammar school.

That said, William Sherman had an extensive library and Roger spent much of his free time reading and educating himself. Sherman showed a natural gift for mathematics and was able to teach himself surveying.

When Sherman’s father died in 1743, Roger moved the family to Connecticut where he was hired as the surveyor for New Haven County in 1745 and, later, for Litchfield County. He also met Elizabeth Hartwell and the couple was married on November 17, 1749. They had seven children together and their three oldest sons all served as officers in the Continental army.

The ever-aspiring Sherman next decided to study law on his own. By 1754, he was admitted to the bar and just a year later was appointed Justice of the Peace for Litchfield County and won an election to Connecticut’s General Assembly.

Elizabeth died in 1760, leaving Roger a widower with seven children. He soon met Rebecca Prescott, a twenty-year-old niece of his brother’s wife. They married in 1763 and had eight children together.

Over the next decade, as things started to heat in the colonies, Sherman held several political positions including Justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut, and became an advocate for the patriotic cause. The combination of his excellent record of service and his stance on the issues of the day led to his election as a delegate for Connecticut to the First Continental Congress in 1774, thus beginning his time on the national stage.

This legislative body met in Philadelphia to discuss their collective grievances with Parliament, primarily the recently enacted Coercive Acts which imposed harsh penalties on the colony of Massachusetts for their continued mischief. At this convention, Sherman agreed with and signed the two key documents created by this legislative body which signaled to King George that the colonists were not happy subjects.

One of these was a “Petition to the King” which outlined grievances against Parliament but largely held the King blameless, and the other was the Articles of Association (sometimes called the Continental Association) which implemented a boycott on English trade.

Congress adjourned in late October 1774 and Sherman returned home, but not for long. By May 1775, the relationship with England was getting worse and the fight at Lexington and Concord had already happened. Consequently, the colonies convened the Second Continental Congress and, once again, Sherman was chosen by Connecticut to represent the state.

A year into this convention, with no hope for a reconciliation with England, a Committee of Five was selected by Congress to draft what became our Declaration of Independence. This team comprised most of the heavy hitters of that era: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, as well as Roger Sherman. His selection gives clear indication of the respect Sherman’s peers had for him. Congress approved their draft and Sherman became one of its 56 signatories on July 4, 1776.

Another year passed and the war continued. Congress, on November 15, 1777, finally finished the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, essentially our first Constitution, which Sherman signed along with forty-eight others. Unfortunately, this system of government proved to be a failure and, in 1787, it was decided by our country’s leaders to convene a conference with the intention of improving it.

Sherman was selected to represent Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention and it was here he made his most significant mark. The conference was in danger of breaking down due to a conflict regarding how to determine representation in Congress. Large states like Virginia favored apportionment based on population and small states such as New Jersey wanted all states to have the same representation.

To break the impasse, Sherman crafted what came to be known as the Connecticut Compromise. It called for a lower house with representation based on population (the House of Representatives) and an upper house with equal representation (the Senate). Sherman’s plan was brilliant and quickly approved.

Finally, after much work, the delegates created and signed our current Constitution on September 17, 1787. By now, Sherman was 66 years old, the second oldest delegate at the Convention (Benjamin Franklin was the oldest), but there was no rest in sight.

After the new Constitution was ratified, Sherman was chosen to represent Connecticut in the House of Representatives in the first session of the new United States Congress in 1789. After serving two years, Sherman received his final political honor, being selected to serve as United States Senator for Connecticut, a position he held until his death on July 23, 1793.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Roger Sherman and all he did for America matter to us today?

Roger Sherman is representative of the many great Americans who sacrificed and worked so diligently to create America. While our schoolbooks typically teach us about a few monumental figures like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams, the yeoman’s work of creating this wonderful country of ours was done by so many forgotten figures.

Moreover, Roger Sherman, a farmer’s son with limited formal education, is a shining example of what people from modest circumstances and with few opportunities can accomplish in this great country of ours by applying themselves. This sort of rags-to riches story can only happen in America and we need to be reminded of that fact.

SUGGESTED READING: “Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic” is an excellent book written by Mark Hall. Published in 2012, it details both Sherman’s life and the role religion played in the founding of our country.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Essay 41 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand
U.S. Public Domain Image https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:William_Ellery.jpg James Read Lambdin (1807-1899) “William Ellery of Rhode Island: Merchant, Lawyer, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand”

William Ellery of Rhode Island was a strong supporter of the American effort to gain its independence from England. He did this in many ways, but perhaps most significantly by signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Ellery was born on December 22, 1727 in Newport, Rhode Island. He was the second son of William Ellery and Elizabeth Almy. His father was a graduate of Harvard and a successful merchant. Young William did not attend any formal schools, but instead his learned father provided most of his instruction.

He was a fast learner and went to Harvard at the age of 16. Ellery graduated four years later in 1747 and, by all accounts, was a good student. William soon returned to Newport and entered the family business. Two years later, in 1750, he married Ann Remington with whom he had seven children.

Ellery then moved on from his father’s employment and became a customs collector and then later the Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. While in this capacity, William was able to become familiar with writs, deeds, and other practices of the legal profession. He found he enjoyed this field and began studying law. William passed the Bar and set up his own practice in 1770 at the age of 43.

When relations between England and her American colonies soured in the 1760s, Ellery became a vocal opponent of British oppression and joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of like-minded Patriots. He stated, “To be ruled by Tories (supporters of England) when you may be ruled by the Sons of Liberty is debasing.”

Interestingly, two of the first acts of resistance in the colonies occurred in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay and were initiated by Ellery’s fellow Rhode Islanders. The first incident was the burning of the British ship Liberty, a craft used to collect maritime revenues, on July 19, 1769.  Then, on June 8, 1772, these same Rhode Islanders burned the British ship Gaspee, another customs vessel. In both cases, these ships had apprehended a boat owned by an American colonist for supposed customs violations.

When the Second Continental Congress was called in 1775 to address the deteriorating situation with England, Ellery let it be known he would gladly participate if needed. When Samuel Ward, one of Rhode Island’s delegates to this conference, died on March 26, 1776, state leaders selected Ellery to replace him.

Ellery joined this assemblage on May 16, 1776, and proudly affixed his signature to the Declaration of Independence when it was officially signed on August 2, 1776. He wrote to his brother Benjamin, “We have lived to see a period which a few years ago no human forecast could have imagined – to see these Colonies shake off and declare themselves independent of a state which they once gloried to call Parent.”

He continued to be an active participant in Congress until 1785, especially in maritime matters. Because of his experience as a shipping merchant, Ellery was named to the Marine Committee and the Admiralty Court. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in November 1777.

Unfortunately for Ellery, his involvement in the colonial cause cost him quite a bit of money. Besides not being available to do work for his paying legal clients, when the British captured Newport in 1778, they sought out Ellery’s home and burned it to the ground. This incident is a reminder of what our Founders sacrificed and risked promoting our quest for independence.

When the new Federal government was instituted in 1789, President George Washington named William as the Collector of Customs for the Newport District. Ellery held this post through many administrations until his death in 1820.

When Ellery died on February 15, 1820, he was 92 years old, one of only three signers (Charles Carroll of Carrollton and John Adams) who lived into their 90s. In his lifetime he outlived two wives, fathered 19 children, served five different Presidents as a customs’ official, and signed the Declaration of Independence. He had quite a life.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should William Ellery and what he did for America matter to us today?

William Ellery was an early and strong advocate for American independence. Despite having a lucrative law practice, Ellery gladly gave his time and energies to the Second Continental Congress.

He was highly respected by his contemporaries and his advice was sought on many matters. Although he spent most of his life in private pursuits, Ellery did all he could to help his country when it needed him most. That sort of life deserves to be remembered.

SUGGESTED READING: An excellent book on our founding principles like those stated in the Declaration of Independence is We Still Hold These Truths by Matthew Spalding. Published in 2009, it is well worth reading.

PLACES TO VISIT: The Naval War College Museum in Newport, Rhode Island is a great place to visit. Housed in Founders Hall, which was originally built in 1819, the museum has displays on the history of naval warfare and the naval activities that took place in Narragansett Bay.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 40 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Stephen Hopkins was a Founding Father who was very influential during much of the 1700s in his home state of Rhode Island. In fact, he has been called “the greatest statesman of Rhode Island.” Moreover, he participated in all major pre-Revolutionary joint colonial conferences.

Hopkins was born in Providence in the Colony of Rhode Island on March 7, 1707 into a family with a long history in that area. His father, William, was descended from Thomas Hopkins who had moved to Providence from Plymouth in 1641 following Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island.

His mother, Ruth Wilkinson, was the granddaughter of Lawrence Wilkinson who arrived in Providence in 1652. Stephen grew up on a farm in what is now the town of Scituate (it broke off from Providence in 1731) receiving virtually no formal schooling. Instead, he read all the classics and was instructed by his mother and other relatives in subjects such as mathematics and surveying. By all accounts, Hopkins was very bright.

In 1726, Stephen married Sarah Scott with whom he had seven children. Hopkins became a surveyor and was soon a leading citizen in Scituate and, in 1735, at the age of 28, was named president of the town council. He also represented Scituate in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1732 to 1741 and was named its Speaker in 1742.

Stephen moved to Providence in 1742 where his brother Esek lived and together they began a prosperous mercantile-shipping firm, including building and outfitting ships. His business acumen was largely responsible for transforming Providence into a thriving commercial center.

While growing his business, Hopkins was also growing his influence in state affairs. He served in the Provincial Assembly from 1744-1751 and became the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court in 1751. In 1755, Hopkins was elected to the Governorship of Rhode Island, a position he held for nine of the next thirteen years.

In 1754, at the start of the French and Indian War, colonial leaders met at the Albany Congress to discuss how to best organize their efforts against the French. Rhode Island selected Hopkins to represent their interests at this conference.

At this meeting, Hopkins met Benjamin Franklin who introduced the so-called “Albany Plan,” the first effort to unify the energies and resources of the various colonies. Hopkins strongly supported this proposal, but it was not approved by the King’s officials because the governors of the separate colonies and the Ministry back in England feared losing their power.

As the years moved forward and the relationship between the Mother Country and her colonies worsened, Hopkins became an outspoken proponent of the rights of American colonists. In 1764, Hopkins published a pamphlet called The Rights of the Colonies Examined which detailed those rights. He stated, “British subjects are to be governed only agreeable to laws by which they themselves have in some way consented.” The paper was widely disseminated and praised throughout the colonies.

Ten years later, in 1774, Hopkins was named as a representative to the First Continental Congress where he strongly advocated separation from England. At this meeting, Hopkins stated, “…powder and ball will decide this question. The gun and bayonet alone will finish the contest in which we are engaged, and any of you who cannot bring your minds to this mode of adjusting this question had better retire in time.”

Hopkins was also selected to attend the Second Continental Congress in 1775. Other than his long-time friend Ben Franklin, Hopkins was the oldest delegate there. He suffered from “shaking palsy” and when he proudly signed the Declaration of Independence, his signature appeared unsteady. However, Hopkins declared, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

Soon thereafter, Hopkins, whose health was failing, returned home. He lived long enough to see his country finally attain its independence from England. When Hopkins passed away on July 13, 1785, America had lost one of her truest Patriots.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Stephen Hopkins and what he did for America matter to us today?

Stephen Hopkins was a man who devoted much of his life to helping his local community, colony/state, and country become a better place to live. Although he was self-educated, he attained the highest offices in Rhode Island, serving as that state’s Speaker of the General Assembly, Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Governor, and representative to both the First and Second Continental Congress.

Stephen Hopkins did all in his power to help create this great country of ours. We owe him our respect and gratitude for his efforts.

SUGGESTED READING: The Rights of Colonies Examined written by Stephen Hopkins in 1764 was one of the finest political pamphlets published in pre-Revolutionary America. It is an excellent read and recent reprints can be found online.

PLACES TO VISIT: The Governor Stephen Hopkins House is a museum and National Historic Landmark in Providence, Rhode Island. Originally built in 1707, Stephen Hopkins bought the house in 1742 and lived there for over forty years.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn. 

 

 

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Essay 39 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts was an early voice calling for the American colonies to separate from England and declare independence. However, Gerry and his accomplishments are largely forgotten today.

Gerry was born on July 17, 1744 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. At that time, Marblehead was one of the leading seaports in North America. Gerry’s father was a prosperous merchant operating ships out of that port, primarily exporting dried cod to the Caribbean and Spain.

Elbridge received an excellent education as a child from private tutors and then attended Harvard where he graduated with two degrees, the second of which came in 1764. Gerry soon thereafter joined his father and two brothers in the family business.

In 1765, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act, the first of several legislative measures to raise revenue by taxing the colonies. The recently completed French and Indian War had depleted the British Treasury and England hoped to remedy this situation partly on the backs of their American subjects.

Gerry became an early opponent of these acts by Parliament, and he soon allied himself with Samuel Adams and other leading political figures in Massachusetts. In 1772, Gerry was elected to the Massachusetts Bay legislature which proved to be the start of a successful political career.

In 1775, as relations between England and its American colonies deteriorated, Gerry was assigned to lead a Committee of Safety charged with supplying the Continental Army which was surrounding Boston and the British army located there. His experience in the shipping business proved to be a great asset.

When the Second Continental Congress was convened in 1776, Gerry was selected by Massachusetts to be one of their representatives. At the convention, Gerry was a strong advocate for separating from England. John Adams stated, “If every man here was a Gerry, the liberties of America would be safe.” When the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776, Gerry proudly affixed his signature to this historic document.

Gerry continued to serve in Congress and was a signer of the Articles of Confederation, but he left that assembly in 1780 over a concern that too much power was being concentrated in the central government. In 1783, Gerry was persuaded to return to the Confederation Congress which was meeting in New York. While there, Elbridge met Ann Thompson and the two were married in 1786. Over the course of the next fifteen years, the couple had ten children.

When issues arose due to weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, the states called the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to fix them. Gerry represented Massachusetts but was against the proposed Constitution because he felt the new document vested too much power in the federal government.

Gerry worried the country would drift towards monarchy or aristocratic rule with the new system of government. He also felt the Constitution should include a bill of rights guaranteeing personal freedoms to the people. As it turned out, Gerry was one of only three delegates to the Constitutional Convention that refused to sign the Constitution (George Mason and Edmond Randolph were the other two).

Following the establishment of the new Federal government, Gerry served two terms in the House of Representatives (1789-1793). He chose not to seek a third term and returned home to care for Ann, who was ill, and help care for the children. During this interval, Gerry maintained good relations with then Vice President John Adams.

When Adams became President in 1800, Adams selected Gerry, along with John Marshall and Charles Pinckney, to act as commissioners to France to settle some maritime disputes. This delegation ended badly when French representatives demanded bribes before starting negotiations and the Americans left France in disgust. This episode was called the XYZ Affair with the initials representing the three Frenchmen who demanded the bribes.

Gerry returned home to criticism that he had handled the situation poorly. Following this controversy, Gerry spent the next decade unsuccessfully trying to get elected as Governor of Massachusetts. Finally, in 1811, Gerry achieved his goal and served in this capacity until 1812.

Interestingly, one of his final acts as Governor was to sign a bill which created Congressional districts that benefitted his party, the Democratic-Republicans. One was shaped like a salamander and a cynical correspondent dubbed this district a “Gerrymander,” a name which is still widely used today.

Finally, in 1812, Gerry was selected to be President James Madison’s Vice President for Madison’s second term. It was felt that Gerry could help Madison, a Virginian, secure Northern votes. While serving in this office, Gerry died on November 23, 1814 and was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, Gerry is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence interred in our nation’s capital.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Elbridge Gerry and what he did for America matter to us today?

Elbridge Gerry devoted the better part of his life to the service of his country. Starting in 1770, when he sat on a commission trying to enforce a ban on British goods to when he died in 1814 while Vice President of the United States, Gerry faithfully served America.

This gifted man served in the Second Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, the United States House of Representatives, and as Vice President. That is an impressive resume. Largely forgotten today, Elbridge Gerry deserves to be remembered for all he did to help create this great country of ours.

SUGGESTED READING: If you want to read more about our founding era, an excellent book is “The Founding Fathers; An Essential Guide to the Men Who Made America.” Published in 2007 and authored by Encyclopedia Britannica, it has concise narratives of our nation’s critical documents and Founding Fathers, including Elbridge Gerry.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 38 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Robert Treat Paine was an American patriot who helped our country gain its independence from England. He did this in many ways, but perhaps most significantly by signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Paine was born on March 11, 1731, in Boston near Old City Hall. His father was Reverend Thomas Paine, a Harvard educated minister, and his mother was Eunice Treat, the daughter of a preacher, and granddaughter of Governor Robert Treat of Connecticut. Soon after Robert’s birth, his father left full-time preaching and became a successful merchant.

Robert received an excellent education at the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America. He was a bright child and finished at the top of his class. He entered Harvard at the tender age of 14 and graduated four years later.

Due to Robert’s father losing his fortune in 1749, Robert knew he had to make his own way in the world. After teaching for a year, Robert went to sea as a merchant ship captain from 1751-1754. His business pursuits were not very lucrative and, in 1755, he began to study law under Judge Samuel Willard, a relative in Lancaster, Massachusetts. To help make ends meet, Paine continued to preach part-time in nearby Shirley.

In 1755, the French and Indian War had started. As any adventurous young man might do, Paine took a three-month break from his studies and volunteered as a chaplain on an expedition to assault Fort Saint-Frederic (today Crown Point). While the attack did not amount to much, it was a good experience for Paine and gave him an appreciation for the military and the needs of an army.

Upon returning, Robert resumed his legal studies and, in 1757, was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. He initially set up shop in Boston and four years later he moved his practice to Taunton, Massachusetts. His ability soon made Paine a leading citizen in Taunton and his business flourished.

In 1766, at the age of 35, Paine’s mind turned to romance, and he began courting twenty-two-year-old Sally Cobb. Four years later, the couple was married at the Cobb family house called “the Chapel” in Attleborough, Massachusetts. Robert and Sally had eight children and, surprisingly for the times, all survived to adulthood.

By 1768, Paine had gotten actively involved in the patriotic cause. He served as Taunton’s delegate at a colonial conference to discuss the landing of British troops in Boston earlier that year. While Paine took a moderate stance regarding separating from the Mother Country, he recognized that the abuses of the English could not be tolerated.

Two years later, on March 5, 1770, these same troops quarreled with a group of Boston citizens (more of a violent mob if truth be told). The result of this encounter was the so-called Boston Massacre, in which five civilians were killed by the soldiers. Because the District Attorney was sick, Paine was selected to prosecute the soldiers who were charged with murder. The opposing counsel defending the men was John Adams, our future President. Adams won the case, but Paine won wide praise for his efforts.

As relations between the colonies and England grew worse, the First Continental Congress was called in 1774 to try and rectify the situation. Paine was selected to represent Massachusetts at this meeting, and he signed the Olive Branch Petition to King George which asked the King to be more reasonable to his American subjects. This request fell on deaf ears.

In 1775, after Lexington and Concord, colonial leaders assembled once more in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress. Paine was chosen again by Massachusetts to represent their interests. He took an active role in the debates and chaired a committee tasked with the logistics of supplying the Continental Army.

Paine proudly signed his name to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He wrote to his friend Joseph Palmer, “the issue is joined; and it is our comfortable reflection, that if by struggling we can avoid the servile subjection which Britain demanded, we remain a free and happy people.”

Returning home, Paine participated in many civic affairs. In 1777, he was named as Massachusetts’ first Attorney General, a position he held until 1790. Paine also served as an Associate Justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Court from 1790 to his retirement in 1804. He died on May 11, 1814 at the age of 83.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Robert Treat Paine and what he did for America matter to us today?

By all accounts, Robert Treat Paine was a fine upstanding citizen who contributed to the greater good in his community. He was a good family man, and he had a deep-seated Christian faith. Although he spent most of his life in private pursuits, when his country needed him, Paine answered the call.

Despite having a lucrative law practice, he sacrificed his own work to help in the American cause at both the First and Second Continental Congress. Like so many forgotten Patriots, Paine quietly participated in the shaping of our new nation. We will always owe a debt of gratitude to these unsung heroes.

SUGGESTED READING: An excellent book on our war for independence is Robert Middlekauff’s “The Glorious Revolution; The American Revolution, 1763-1789.” Written in 2007, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is very readable.

PLACES TO VISIT: Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, where the First Continental Congress met, is a great place to visit. Located in Independence National Historical Park, it is just a stone’s throw away from Independence Hall. It is a smaller, but beautiful building and worth a visit.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

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Essay 34 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire was a man who excelled in all that he did, as a physician and surgeon, in the New Hampshire legislature, and as a judge. We are also indebted to Thornton for his efforts to help America gain her independence from England, including his signing of the Declaration of Independence.

This accomplished patriot was born in Lisburn, County Antrim, Ireland on March 3, 1714 to James and Elizabeth Thornton, Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. Interestingly, Matthew was one of three signers of the Declaration of Independence born in Ireland, James Smith and George Taylor, both of Pennsylvania, being the other two.

In 1717, when Matthew was three years old, James emigrated his family to America in the present-day state of Maine. There, in 1722, Matthew’s young life almost ended when Indians attacked their settlement and the family had to flee in a canoe. Having enough of the wilderness, James moved his family to Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was here, at the Worcester Academy, that Matthew received his classical education. He did well in his studies and decided to pursue a life in medicine. While continuing to help his father on their farm, Thornton began his medical studies in nearby Leicester under the direction of Doctor Grout, a relative of the family.

At the young age of 26, Thornton moved to Londonderry, New Hampshire and set up a medical practice as both a physician and surgeon. His hard work and ability soon gained him an excellent reputation and his business flourished.

In 1745, he was appointed as a surgeon in the New Hampshire militia to accompany an expedition to capture Louisbourg, a French fortress in Nova Scotia. Under Thornton’s care only six men died of disease on this mission, a remarkably low number for that time period, and he was praised by his superiors.

For the next decade or so, Thornton applied himself to his medical practice in New Hampshire. By the mid-1750s, he was becoming more prominent in the community and began to think of life outside his work.

In 1758, Thornton’s life in public affairs began when he was elected as a delegate of Londonderry to the colonial assembly. Two years later, at the age of 46, he enhanced his personal life when he married 18-year-old Hannah Jack, a great beauty from Chester, New Hampshire. They had five children together, three boys and two girls.

As relations between England and America grew strained in the 1760s, Thornton was a vocal opponent of several British policies, including the Stamp Act of 1765. In 1775, following the fight at Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire’s Royal Governor, John Wentworth, fled the colony and Thornton was elected President of the Provincial Congress.

He soon was selected to lead a committee to draft a constitution for New Hampshire and their proposal was adopted by the legislature on January 5, 1776. Importantly, New Hampshire’s constitution was the first one adopted by any of the thirteen colonies. Thornton was then elected to be Speaker of the new state legislature.

In September of that year, Thornton was selected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was officially seated on November 4, 1776 and signed the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence (the formal document on parchment paper), making Thornton one of six men who signed the document after the initial signing date of August 2.

Interestingly, the order of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence was determined by the location of each state. Specifically, the signers were arranged from the northernmost state, New Hampshire, to the southernmost, Georgia. Because Thornton was a late signer, there was no room for him to sign near the other men from New Hampshire and, consequently, he signed beneath the Connecticut delegation.

Due to health issues arising from a reaction to a smallpox vaccine he received, Thornton resigned from the Continental Congress and returned home to New Hampshire in the spring of 1777. He resumed his duties as an associate justice of the state Superior Court, a position he held until 1782, despite having no law degree. Finally, in 1784, at the age of 70, Thornton was elected to the New Hampshire Senate.

Thornton fully retired from the public eye in 1786 and spent the last years of his remarkable life on a farm he purchased on the banks of the Merrimac River, near Exeter, New Hampshire. There, besides managing his farm, he operated a ferry across the Merrimac.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Matthew Thornton and what he did for America matter to us today?

By all accounts, Matthew Thornton was highly regarded by his contemporaries. In fact, his original gravestone was inscribed “An Honest Man.”  Besides being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thornton was a talented surgeon, served in the Second Continental Congress, was a judge, a Colonel in the militia, and both a state Representative and Senator.

Matthew Thornton spent the greater part of his life serving the public in some capacity. Starting with his time in the New Hampshire militia in 1745 until he retired from the state Senate in 1786, Thornton did what he could to make New Hampshire and his country a better place. A life like that is worth remembering.

SUGGESTED READING: The book Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire is an older book, written in 1903, by Charles Thornton Adams. It can be found on-line and is a nicely written, thorough account of Thornton’s life.

PLACES TO VISIT: The New Hampshire State House in Concord, New Hampshire, is one of the most beautiful state houses in the country. It is built in the Greek Revival style and topped with an incredible golden dome. It is open for tours and well worth a visit.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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