What does the Fourth of July mean to you? Parades? Fireworks? A day off from school or work? Unfortunately, many of you know very little about the true meaning of the birthday of our country. On July 4th, 1776, John Hancock, who was president of the Continental Congress and Charles Thompson, who was the Secretary, signed the Declaration of Independence, a document that stated we were no longer willing to be ruled by the British. Have you ever wondered what happened to those 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 their wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.
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. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. 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 this 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 Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers, or both looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walten, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge 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. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire, which was done. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and his 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 field and his grist mill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead and his children gone. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
These are the people that enabled us to live the lives we do today. Were they a lucky lot due to their stance and pledge. How fortunate are we that they did? And who can show us the true meaning of such fortune? One of the most recognizable fourth's was 1939. It was a day where New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig addressed the crowd at Yankee stadium with his famous speech.
Was Gehrig any luckier than the rest of us? I think not. The only difference is, Gehrig knew it. How about you?