In Which I am Related to Half the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

1832.3, 69

Happy Fourth of July! Once again we share the famous Trumbull painting to commemorate the signing of the document that made America’s political separation from Great Britain official. As promised in our earlier post, we revisit the topic to discuss our personal connections to the guys who made the document. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, I am related to 28, or half (undoubtedly more, but these are the connections I know of to date).

Of the Committee of Five, the sub-committee charged with drafting the document, I am related to four members. I am beyond proud to be quite closely related to John Adams, the primary agitator for independence in the Second Continental Congress; the last Adams in my family tree died in 1884 (go here for more on Adams, the President I am most closely related to). And I am nearly as closely related to Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, the only man to sign all four founding documents: the Continental Association, the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution). My great-great grandmother Louisa Sherman died in 1892; this family was among the founders of Rhode Island. I am also related to New York’s Robert Livingston (who later negotiated the Louisiana Purchase as Minister to France) a bit farther back in Scotland, through an ungodly dense tangle of Livingstons, Flemings, Stewarts (both spellings), Rosses, Hamiltons and Moncrieffs. As we wrote here, I am also related to the Declaration’s drafter Thomas Jefferson through a slender thread of a handful of medieval ancestors. Sadly, I have yet to find a connection to Benjamin Franklin, the Committee’s fifth member.

As a general proposition, I am related to nearly all of the New England delegates (through my mother’s side of the family), and a great many of the Southern delegates (through my father’s side of the family), and far fewer of the mid-Atlantic members (those also through my father’s side).

The Massachusetts delegation is a near total sweep. I am related to the Convention’s President, John Hancock through a 10th great grandmother, Jane Hancock. As well as the above mentioned Adams, his cousin Sam Adams, and Robert Treat Paine. I am also related to Nathaniel Gorham, who was a delegate, but didn’t sign, although he later signed the Constitution. The only Massachusetts member I haven’t found a connection to is Elbridge Gerry, which is disappointing.

Not surprisingly given my background, I am related to the entire delegation from Rhode Island. You may remember Stephen Hopkins as comic relief in the musical 1776 (he’s the alcoholic Quaker). The Hopkins family were among the founders of the state and I have many connections to them. My connection to William Ellery is slightly further back in England. From Connecticut, I am related to the aforementioned Sherman and William Williams, but not the other two members. From New Hampshire, I have a medieval connection to General William Whipple; none to the other two members.

On the southern side, I am related to almost the entire Virginia delegation excepting only George Wythe: this includes the aforementioned Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison (progenitor of presidents), Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson. I am related to two of Georgia’s three delegates, George Walton and Lyman Hall. (Interestingly, my connection to the latter, through the Lyman family, is on my New England side). I am also related to one of North Carolina’s two delegates John Penn, and one of South Carolina’s four delates (Thomas Lynch). (No connection thus far to the well known South Carolinian Edward Rutledge.)

Of the mid-Atlantic states, most of my connections are in New York: the aforementioned Robert Livingston (who didn’t sign but was prominent at the convention), his cousin Philip LivingstonLewis Morris, and William Floyd, leaving only Francis Lewis without a discovered connection. I am related to half the Maryland delegation: Thomas Stone (through our mutual ancestor William Stone) and Charles Carroll. Of Delaware, I am related to Caesar Rodney, but not the other two delegates. So far I have found connections to only two of Pennyslvania’s nine delegates, George Ross and George Taylor, leaving out the distinguished Franklin, James Wilson, Benjamin Rush and Robert Morris, among others. And thus far, none of the New Jersey delegates.

In the immediate wake of the Declaration’s international circulation it was widely influential worldwide through the various Revolutions of 1848, though its constant emphasis on human rights were rarely put into practice, and only imperfectly realized even in the United States. The full potential of its inspiring words first began to be articulated later, as in the Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls in 1848, and by Abraham Lincoln in the years before and during the Civil War. Equality and human rights for all! The Declaration of Independence is a hugely important benchmark in a continuing process, and I’m massively proud to be related to individuals who took part in its creation. But we have miles to go before we sleep, Americans!

For a couple of related posts, see “My Revolutionary Relatives” (ancestors and relations who fought in the Revolutionary War) and “The Revolutionary Battle That Happened on My Street”. And what the hey, this one on Magna Carta. 




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