New Hampshire Signers of the Declaration of Independence

July 4, 2018 0

The United States Declaration of Independence, presented to Congress by Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1776, expresses the ideals that our nation is built upon.  When congress voted for the Declaration on July 4, 1776, the unanimous decision of all 13 colonies to secede from the British Empire was made public to a very different world than we know today.  Up to that point, self-government had never followed a model quite like the American one.  The document laid out the fact that we believe all people to be created free and equal, and that freedom is an inherent right from our natural creator, and that any legitimate elected government exists primarily to secure that right.

The Declaration became official when Congress voted to ratify the document on July 4, 1776.  Contrary to popular belief, the famous signatures were not necessary to make the Declaration official.  However, those signatures belong to some of the most important names of the revolutionary period and are symbols of the heavy support for declaring independence from King George III.  Out of the 56 signatures on the document, three of them belong to prominent Granite Staters of the time.  They are Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, and Matthew Thornton.  Often overlooked due to more famous signatures belonging to the likes of John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson among others, these New Hampshire delegates led fascinating lives and influenced national public policies in many ways.  The purpose of this article is to explore the exciting lives that these men led, and how their actions during the revolutionary period affected our young nation in its formative years.

Josiah Bartlett was born in what is now Amesbury, Massachusetts in 1729.  He became a physician and shortly before his 21st birthday moved to Kingston, New Hampshire where he built a home, started a farm, and began his practice.  As the only physician practicing in that part of the county at that time, he stayed busy during an outbreak of fever called “Throat Distemper” in the mid-1730s.  The illness was often fatal for young children, and a serious disease in adults.  When the fever broke out again in the mid-1750s, Bartlett discovered that Peruvian Bark relieved the associated symptoms long enough for the body to recover due to the presence of quinine in the bark.

Bartlett was heavily involved in the political affairs in Kingston, and as the Revolutionary period heated up he was constantly finding himself at odds with the Royal Governor John Wentworth.  He was selected as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775, and as the only delegate from New Hampshire he served on every committee (Safety, Secrecy, Munitions, Marine, and Civil Government).  On July 4, 1776, Josiah Bartlett became the second person to sign the Declaration of Independence, right after John Hancock.  He then served on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation, and subsequently was the delegate from New Hampshire and Chairman of the convention for the adoption of the United States Constitution.  Under this new government, he was selected by the New Hampshire legislature as the United States Senator from New Hampshire, but he declined the position.  He was elected the “President of New Hampshire” in 1790, a position which was renamed “Governor of New Hampshire” in 1792.  One of his most notable acts as Governor was the creation of the New Hampshire Medical Society, of which he was the first president.  He resigned as governor in 1794, and passed away at his home in Kingston in 1795.

William Whipple was born in Kittery, Maine in 1730 and by age 21 had become a ship’s master.  He amassed a large fortune working the historically significant triangle trade between New England, Africa and the West Indies.  Some historians believe that he worked primarily in the West Indies, however there is at least one account of his ship containing slaves from Africa.  He settled in Portsmouth in 1759 and became a merchant and well liked member of the community, which led to his second career in the military and politics.

Whipple was placed in charge of a brigade of four militias during the Battle of Saratoga and was also involved in the Battle of Rhode Island.  He served on the Continental Congress as a delegate from New Hampshire until 1779, where he penned his name on the Declaration of Independence.  In 1784, William Whipple released his slave, Prince Whipple, to become a freedman believing that no man could fight for freedom while holding another in bondage.  After the Revolution he became an Associate Justice of The Superior Court of New Hampshire, and died after fainting from atop his horse while traveling his court circuit.

Matthew Thornton was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1713.  At the age of three his family immigrated to America, and settled in Wiscasett, Maine.  However, their stay in Maine would end in 1722 as they fled from their burning home after an attack by Native Americans.   They re-settled in Worcester, Massachusetts and Matthew later became a physician, eventually opening a practice in Londonderry, New Hampshire.  Matthew Thornton was the first President of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and was elected to the Continental Congress.  However, he did not arrive to Philadelphia until after the ratification of the Declaration of Independence.  He asked for the privilege to sign in November of 1776, and he was allowed to add his name to the document.  Matthew Thornton died in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1803 at the age of 90 while visiting his daughter.  The town of Thornton, New Hampshire is named in his honor.

As we celebrate the fourth of July, all of us on the Smile in Style team hope you and your families find time to celebrate summer together.  Here is wishing our doctors, staff, and patients a happy, safe, and fun fourth of July holiday!

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