From the Wise Master (July, 2011)

posted May 22, 2015, 3:02 PM by San Jose Scottish Rite   [ updated May 22, 2015, 3:03 PM ]

John Unger

In years past there has been information go around about what happened to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Some died in the war, some were tortured, several died in poverty, etc. 
In looking on line to find it to report here, I found a contradiction which I tend to believe. The home of one of the signers from Charleston, South Carolina, is now a hotel where Claudia and I stayed a few years back. It is about half a block from the original location of the Southern Jurisdiction.
Summary of eRumor:  
This email goes through a list of some of the signers of the Declaration of Independence that led to the formation of the United States more than 200 years ago.  It says that the signers lived lives of hardship, personal loss, and poverty, and that five of them were captured by the British, tortured, and died.  The entire email is duplicated here.
"The Price They Paid
1. Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the revolutionary war. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Ellery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.
John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Morris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
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! Perhaps you can now see why our founding fathers had a hatred for standing armies, and allowed through the second amendment for everyone to be armed.
Frankly, I can't read this without crying. Some of us take these liberties so much for granted. We shouldn't."
>    The Truth:  
This is a delicate one and could possibly be affected by which history book you read and how you interpret what is there.  The courageous patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence, as well as other of the fathers of our country, deserve all the recognition and honor we can give.  They risked everything to bring this country into being.  This email, however, makes it sound as though the British won, not the Colonists.  We don't want to diminish the sacrifices each of them experienced.  There were hardships and losses, but to characterize the signers as not having enjoyed the fruits of their project of liberty is to overlook the quality of their abilities and the success of what they did.  
Here are some of our findings:
First, none of the signers of the Declaration of Independence died in captivity.  All but two, or possibly three, died natural deaths and the majority of them lived to advanced age and had adequate possessions if not wealth.  Of the deaths, Thomas Lynch, Jr. was lost at sea on a recreational voyage, Button Gwinett died from injuries in a duel with a political rival, and George Wythe was thought to have been poisoned by a man who wanted his estate, but the man was acquitted.  At least four of the signers were captured by the British, but apparently because they were soldiers, not signers of the Declaration.  We consulted seven sources about the signers and none contained accounts of what could be called torture, at least not that was directed toward any of them for being founding fathers.  Two who were captured may have experienced some kind of torture because of the severity of their confinement, but that is conjecture.  All were released and died natural deaths, although the health of some was affected by their imprisonment.
Not sure which version is true, but it makes for interesting reading. That such different stories come from the internet purported to be true, it's hard to know what to believe.

John P. Unger ,  Wise Master