Although this post concerns mostly my American friends, the 4th of July had a profound impact on Greece, as well, as it inspired its own war of independence, in 1821. Much like the people mentioned below, the protagonists of 1821 more often than not found untimely death, died in penury or, in one notable case, were imprisoned post-independence by their fellow Greeks during political infighting.
It can be hard to remember that the people we worship as heroes today were just normal people like you and me, who made a conscious choice to sacrifice comfort and security for freedom. Since some complain that Pearseus, my epic fantasy series, is a bit hard on its heroes, I was curious: 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 serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.
- Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
So, 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 Dillery, 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.
Compared to all that, I believe that you’ll agree: my heroes’ travails are like a walk in the park. Truth can, indeed, be scarier than fiction.