Independence Day – New Jersey History

Five NJ Signers of the Declaration of Independence - Mr Local History
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Here are the Jersey five of the fifty-five signers of the Declaration of Independence.

New Jersey signers of the Declaration of Independence – 5 of the 53 signatures from each of the 13 colonies. The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, with 12 of the 13 colonies voting in favor and New York abstaining.
The date that the Declaration was signed has long been the subject of debate. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams all wrote that it was signed by Congress on the day when it was adopted on July 4, 1776.

Early in 1776, while the state believed in separation, there was heated discussions between the Patriots and the Loyalists. As the issue heated up, the New Jersey state convention replaced all their delegates with those favoring the separation.The Provincial Congress arrested Royal Governor William Franklin (Ben’s son) at his Propriarity House in Perth Amboy and voted to replace the New Jersey delegation. Abraham Clark was highly vocal on his opinion that the colonies should have their independence, so he became one of the chosen five.

1880 partial depiction of the arrest of Governor William Franklin, a loyalist who did not what to approve the Declaration of Independence at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

On June 21, 1776 New Jersey appointed the delegation including a sheriff, a politician who preferred poetry and songwriting to the law, a preacher, a South Jersey farmer and an associate justice of the state’s Supreme Court. They were, in that order, Abraham Clark of Railway, who was 50 years old; Francis Hopkinson Bordentown, who was 38; John Witherspoon of Princeton, 53; John Hart of Hopewell, 65, and Richard Stockton of Princeton, 46. The Representatives from 13 colonies arrived in Philadelphia on June 28, 1776, and the first vote for the Declaration of Independence took place on July 2, 1776.


2nd Design – Signers of the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey.
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Attending that June 21, 1776 vote in Burlington representing Somerset County included:

  • Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant
  • John Witherspoon
  • Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh
  • James Linn
  • Frederick Frelinghuysen
  • William Paterson

Richard Stockton – Princeton, New Jersey

Richard Stockton, justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and Continental Congressman.
Representing New Jersey at the Continental Congress. Princeton (Mercer County).

Richard Stockton was appointed to the royal council of New Jersey in 1765 and remained a member until the government was reformed. 

Richard was a son of John Stockton (1701–1758) the wealthy Princeton landowner who donated land and helped bring what is now Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey located in Newark) to Princeton, New Jersey. Richard was born at the Stockton family home now known as Morven in the Stony Brook neighborhood of Princeton, New Jersey,

Richard Stockton’s wife was poet Annis Boudinot Stockton, sister of New Jersey statesman Elias Boudinot. The Stocktons had six children. Their son Richard Stockton became an eminent lawyer and prominent Federalist leader. Elias Boudinot was married to Stockton’s sister Hannah Stockton (1736–1808).

Stockton, when captured by the British where he was intentionally starved and subjected to freezing cold weather. After nearly five weeks of abusive treatment, Stockton was released on parole, his health was battered. He returned to his estate, Morven, in Princeton, which had been occupied by General Cornwallis during Stockton’s imprisonment. All his furniture, all household belongings, crops and livestock were taken or destroyed by the British. His library, one of the finest in the colonies, was burned.

The 1777 historic Boudinout House is now a member of the Somerset Hills Historic Village Wooden Keepsake Collection - Get yours now. #mrlocalhistory
The 1777 historic Boudinout House is now a member of the Somerset Hills Historic Village Wooden Keepsake Collection – Get yours now. #mrlocalhistory

Stockton was buried in Stony Brook Quaker Meeting House Cemetery (470 Quaker Road, Princeton), where you’ll find a marker instead of a modern gravestone in his memory.

Abraham Clark – Roselle, NJ

Abraham Clark – Lawyer, Congressman from Rahway. (Union County). Clark Township in Union County is named for him, as is Abraham Clark High School in Roselle.

Abraham Clark – Two of Clark’s sons were officers in the Continental Army. He refused to speak of them in Congress, even when they both were captured, tortured, and beaten. However, there was one instance when Clark did bring them up and that was when one of his sons was put on the prison ship, Jersey, notorious for its brutality. Captain Clark was thrown in a dungeon and given no food except that which was shoved through a keyhole. Congress was appalled and made a case to the British and his conditions were improved. The British offered Abraham Clark the lives of his sons if he would only recant his signing and support of the Declaration of Independence; he refused.

Clark remained in the Continental Congress through 1778, when he was elected as Essex County’s Member of the New Jersey Legislative Council. New Jersey returned him twice more, from 1780 to 1783 and from 1786 to 1788.

Clark’s old property at 101 West Ninth Avenue in Roselle and is open one day each fall as part of Union County’s Four Centuries in a Weekend home tour. The Union County town of Clark is named for the signer, who is buried with his sons in nearby Rahway Cemetery (1670 Saint Georges Avenue, Rahway). Look for a 10-foot-tall obelisk engraved with the signer’s name.


John Hart – Hopewell Township, New Jersey

John Hart – Farmer and statesman and NJ delegate from Hopewell Township (Hunterdon County). Hart Avenue in Hopewell bears his name.

John Hart – When New Jersey formed a revolutionary assembly (or provincial congress) in 1776, he was elected to it and served as its Vice President. Prior to June 1776, the New Jersey delegation in the First Continental Congress was opposed to independence. As a result, the entire delegation was replaced, and Hart was one of those selected for the Second Continental Congress. He joined in time to vote for and sign the Declaration of Independence.

He served until August of that year, then was elected Speaker of the newly formed New Jersey General Assembly.

Hart’s house and farm were probably plundered or damaged, but he wasn’t ruined. A year and a half after his runaway adventure, Hart generously hosted George Washington at his place and allowed 12,000 of the general’s troops to camp in his fields. His grave is marked with an obelisk in First Baptist Church Cemetery on West Broad Street in Hopewell. The tombstone incorrectly reports the date of Hart’s death as 1780. He died in 1779.


Francis Hopkinson – Bordentown, New Jersey

Francis Hopkinson – Delegate to the Continental Congress, 1776; Judge of admiralty for Pennsylvania, 1780; Appointed Judge to the US Court for the District of Pennsylvania, 1790.

Francis Hopkinson lived at 101 Farnsworth Street in Bordentown, Burlington County, New Jersey, United States. Built in 1750, it was the home of Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791), the designer of the United States Flag and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. He lived in this home with his wife Ann Borden (1747-1827) from 1774 until Hopkinson’s death in 1791. Ann Borden was the granddaughter of Joseph Borden, the founder of Bordentown, New Jersey. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

After signing the Declaration of Independence, Hopkinson later designed the first official flag of the new nation.

Learn about who is now being called the “America’s Flagman”

His house is at 101 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown. Occupied by various businesses today, it’s partially open to the public, and includes wall displays in tribute to the signer. Hopkinson, who died in 1791 at age 53, is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.


John Witherspoon – Princeton, New Jersey

John Witherspoon – President of College of New Jersey, 1768-1792; Delegate to the Continental Congress, 1776-1782; Twice elected to State Legislature of New Jersey, Princeton (Mercer County).

John Witherspoon brought some impressive credentials and a measure of public acclaim with him when he joined the colonies in 1768, as president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). Witherspoon was a very active member of congress, serving on more than a hundred committees through his tenure and debating frequently on the floor. n November, 1776, he shut down and then evacuated the College of New Jersey at the approach of British forces. The British occupied the area and did much damage to the college, nearly destroyed it. Following the war, Witherspoon devoted his life to rebuilding the College. 

John Witherspoon was the the only active church minister out of 56 men to sign the Declaration of Independence. You can lift a glass in his memory at the Witherspoon Grill (57 Witherspoon Street), and inspect his grave in the President’s Lot on the southwest edge of Princeton Cemetery (29 Greenview Avenue).

Five NJ Signers of the Declaration of Independence - Mr Local History
Five NJ Signers of the Declaration of Independence – Mr Local History

Did you Know?

  • The Declaration of Independence is made up of five distinct parts: the introduction; the preamble; the body, which can be divided into two sections; and a conclusion.
  • On June 21, prior to sending a delegation to Philadelphia, the NJ Provincial Congress at Burlington votes 53-3 to break ties with Great Britain.
  • Thomas Jefferson presented a draft of what would become the Declaration of Independence in the days before July 4, 1776. The full Congress debated, revised and edited the document on July 2 and July 3. By July 4, they ratified the wording. But the formal copy of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t officially finalized until two weeks later and it wasn’t signed until August 2.
  • The New Jersey delegation apparently had little connection with either the preliminaries or the actual drafting of the historic document Hopkinson was the only member of the delegation who was there for the entire proceedings.
  • Delaware signers were first. New Jersey was the 11th colony to sign.
  • New Jersey was the third state to ratify the US Constitution on December 18, 1787. The state’s 38 electors were all Federalist supporters of the framework, selected just prior to the state convention. New Jersey seemingly viewed the Constitution’s ratification as a necessity, because under the new plan, the state would mostly preserve its stature in the general government and would benefit from the protection of the militia in cases of upheaval.
  • Benjamin Franklin, 70, was the oldest signer of the document.
  • Although Congress had adopted the Declaration submitted by the Committee of Five, the committee’s task was not yet completed. Congress had also directed that the committee supervise the printing of the adopted document. The first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were turned out from the shop of John Dunlap, official printer to the Congress. After the Declaration had been adopted, the committee took to Dunlap the manuscript document, possibly Jefferson’s “fair copy” of his rough draft. On the morning of July 5, copies were dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops. Also on July 5, a copy of the printed version of the approved Declaration was inserted into the “rough journal” of the Continental Congress for July 4. The text was followed by the words “Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest. Charles Thomson, Secretary.” It is not known how many copies John Dunlap printed on his busy night of July 4. There are 26 copies known to exist of what is commonly referred to as “the Dunlap broadside,” 21 owned by American institutions, 2 by British institutions, and 3 by private owners. 
  • On July 19, Congress was able to order that the Declaration be “fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile [sic] of ‘The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America,’ and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.”
  • After the signing ceremony on August 2, 1776, the Declaration was most likely filed in Philadelphia in the office of Charles Thomson, who served as the Secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789. 
  • In 1800, by direction of President John Adams, the Declaration and other government records were moved from Philadelphia to the new federal capital now rising in the District of Columbia. 
  • The Declaration remained safe at a private home in Leesburg for an interval of several weeks–in fact, until the British had withdrawn their troops from Washington and their fleet from the Chesapeake Bay. In September 1814 the Declaration was returned to the national capital. With the exception of a trip to Philadelphia for the Centennial and to Fort Knox during World War II, it has remained there ever since.
  • In 1876 the Declaration traveled to Philadelphia, where it was on exhibit for the Centennial National Exposition from May to October. 
  • The 26 copies of the Dunlap broadside known to exist are dispersed among American and British institutions and private owners. The following are the current locations of the copies.
    • National Archives, Washington, DC
    • Library of Congress, Washington, DC (two copies)
    • Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
    • University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (two copies)
    • Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia, PA
    • American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA
    • Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
    • Scheide Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
    • New York Public Library, New York
    • Morgan Library, New York
    • Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA
    • Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
    • Chapin Library, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
    • Yale University, New Haven, CT
    • American Independence Museum, Exeter, NH
    • Maine Historical Society, Portland, ME
    • Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
    • Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, IL
    • J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, Dallas Public Library, Dallas, TX
    • Declaration of Independence Road Trip [Norman Lear and David Hayden]
    • Private collector
    • National Archives, United Kingdom (three copies)
  • Had the British been more aggressive and cut off Washington in Manhattan, the war could have been lost, the Declaration of Independence would have been nothing but evidence of treason — and there’s no telling what kind of history we’d be talking about today.
New Jersey Delegates to the Continental Congress (Signers are in white). Source: Wikipedia

Declaration of Independence Transcript

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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