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Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor

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Part II

Thomas Nelson, Jr. of Virginia raised $2,000,000 on his own signature to provision our allies, the French fleet. After the war, he personally paid back the loans, wiped out his estate and was never reimbursed by his government.

He urged General Washington to fire on his, Nelson’s, own home in the final battle of Yorktown when Lord Cornwallis occupied the house.

Richard Stockton of New Jersey was taken prisoner by the British and tortured. His health broken, he never recovered and died at 53. His estate was pillaged.

A party of Hessians seized the home of Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey. The family barely had time to escape before the invaders plundered the house and its contents.

Francis Lewis of New York had his home and everything destroyed. His wife was captured, held prisoner for several months, tortured. She died shortly thereafter.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. was captured when Charleston fell. During his imprisonment, his plantation was plundered, his property seized and carried away.

The enemy drove John Hart from his wife’s deathbed; their thirteen children fled for their lives.

His fields and gristmill were destroyed and for more than a year he lived in the forest and caves.

He returned to find his wife dead, their children gone, his property gone. He died within a short time from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Philip Livingston of New York took his seat in Congress even though his wife begged him not to go because of failing health.

He said his final farewell to all his friends, assumed his seat and died a little over a month later from the hardships of the war.

John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in Massachusetts.

When the American army was besieging Boston, American officers proposed the entire destruction of the city to expel the British. John Hancock readily acceded to the plan.

He said, "Burn Boston though it makes John Hancock a beggar if the liberties of his country should require it."

Button Gwinnett of Georgia signed the pledge and he died nine months later.

Lyman Hall also signed.

He had all his property confiscated and had to move his family from Georgia when the British took control.

George Walton of Georgia was wounded in the battle for Savannah.

The British captured, held for several months, tortured and eventually released him.

And, finally, there is Abraham Clark, signer from New Jersey, whose two sons served in the Revolutionary Army officer corps.

Both were captured and sent to the infamous British prison hulk, the hell ship "Jersey," afloat in New York harbor.

Eleven thousand American captives died there.

The Clarks were brutally treated because of their father.

One was put in solitary and given no food.

Abraham Clark was offered his sons’ lives by the British if he would recant and come out for the King and parliament.

No one would have blamed him; after all, the war was almost over and the end almost in sight.

When he answered, "No," the despair and anguish he must have felt can hardly be imagined.

Of the 56 men who signed the pledge, few were to survive long.

Five were captured by the British and brutally tortured before they died.

Twelve had their homes sacked, looted, occupied or burned.

Two lost sons in the war; one had two sons captured.

Two wives were brutally treated.

Nine of the 56 died in the war from the hardships or from wounds.

All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes.

Redcoats looted the country mansions of Middleton, Heyward, Witherspoon, Hopkinson, Ellery, Clymer, Gwinett, Rutledge, Walton, Hall and Lewis Morris. They burned Braxton’s great house to the ground.

I don’t know what perception you previously had of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, but let’s remember this: All of the world’s other revolutions were begun by men who had nothing to lose.

These men had everything to lose and only one thing to gain: freedom.

So, in order to secure freedom they pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

They paid the price. They fulfilled the pledge. And a new nation and freedom were born.


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