The Keystone State

Pennsylvania’s Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Benjamin Franklin

(January 17, 1706 — April 17, 1790)

Benjamin Franklin is most famously remembered as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He was one of five men to draft the Declaration of Independence and is remembered for his contributions to this nation today.

Also known as the, “First American,” Franklin was a man of many innovative ideas. He served several different roles, as a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.

Franklin is widely known for his inventions, including the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among many others. In addition to his role as an inventor he helped found universities and libraries, as well as the first public hospital, public library system, postal-service system, volunteer fire department, and fire insurance company.

Not only did Franklin play a role in shaping the country through inventions and facilitative duties, but also through foreign policy. He was the first United States Ambassador to France and helped the young and budding United States grow among other nations.

His commitment to civic duty, passion, and integrity has played a role in creating and shaping the United States into the country it is today.

Benjamin Rush

(January 4, 1746-April 19, 1813)

Benjamin Rush was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a signer of the United States Constitution. He was a civic leader of Philadelphia, where he was most notably a surgeon, humanitarian, and intellectual.

Benjamin Rush was born in Byberry Township outside of Philadelphia and was one of seven children. He studied to become a lawyer at The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and received his degree in 1760 at the age of 14. He moved to Philadelphia where he changed careers and began training as a physician. He was under the guidance of John Redman and William Shippen, Jr. Redman who both urged Rush to go to Scotland for its advances in medicine. Rush went to Scotland and received a medical degree from Edinburgh University. In his consequent travels in Europe, he came into contact with Benjamin Franklin, and the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.

In 1769, he returned to Pennsylvania to open his own medical practice and pursue publishing. He was appointed as the Chair of Chemistry at the College of Pennsylvania, making him the first professor of chemistry in America at the age of 23. At the same time, he helped start the first anti-slavery society in America, the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage.

During the Revolution, Benjamin Rush became one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the surgeon general of the Middle Department of the Army.

After the war, Rush taught at the University of Pennsylvania and developed research on disease and mental illness that would shape the field for decades. His work earned him the title “Father of American psychiatry.” He became one of the founders of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and was a father to 13 children before dying of typhus fever.

George Taylor

(1716-February 23, 1781)

George Taylor was born in Ireland and immigrated to the Philadelphia in 1736 at the age of 20. To pay for his trip, he served as an indentured servant, working as an ironmaster and then a bookkeeper for Samuel Savage, Jr.

Taylor entered public life as a Justice of Peace for Bucks County from 1757–1763. Taylor then moved to Easton and opened Bachmann’s Tavern, later known as the Easton House in 1761.

In 1764, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. Taylor was reelected to the Assembly in 1775. In July, he was commissioned as a third battalion of the Pennsylvania Militia. On August 2, he secured a contract with Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety for canon shot, becoming the first ironmaster in Pennsylvania to supply munitions to the Continental Army.

On July 20, 1776, Taylor was one of the replacements for five of the loyalist members of the Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration of Independence among 55 others of foreign descent and the only ironmaster.

Taylor was not reelected to Congress, but instead was elected to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council in March 1777. He became ill and retired in April. He continued to be an ironmaster until his death on February 23, 1781.

Robert Morris

(January 20th, 1734 — May 9th, 1806)

Robert Morris was an integral part to the American Revolution, not as an intellectual or a soldier, but as a financier. Although he never received a formal education, Morris found an extraordinarily successful import/export business by the age of 18. He became involved in politics in 1765 when he joined a committee of merchants organized to protest the tyrannous Stamp Act.

His role in American politics would only grow larger, seeing him elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1775. Morris ultimately continued on to be a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and became a pivotal player in our fight for independence; almost single-handedly financing the entire war.

Morris donated his own private ships to the war effort, at one point having 250 ships sailing to foreign nations for war supplies. With America’s currency nearly worthless, Morris donated 10,000 pounds to pay Washington’s troops before the Battle of Princeton. He was so crucial to the financing of the war that 80% of all bullets fired and 75% of all other expenditures for the Continental Army were personally financed himself.

Morris would go on, with the help of Alexander Hamilton, to establish our first National Bank, and attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787 before retiring from public service.

James Smith

(1720 — July 11, 1806)

James Smith was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Educated by clergy in his younger days, he attended the Philadelphia Academy and decided to pursue a legal career with his brother later in life.

In 1774, Smith attended a provincial assembly where he presented an essay he wrote suggesting a boycott on all British goods. Later that year, he organized a volunteer militia and became their captain. As the militia changed into a battalion, Smith deferred leadership to younger men and soon got elected to the Continental Congress in 1776. While in Congress, he provided his office for the meeting of the Board of War.

Smith retired from Congress in 1777 and decided to serve in few public offices after, including the State Assembly and State High Court of Appeals. Smith was also chosen to be a Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania militia in 1782.

James Wilson

(September 14, 1742 — August 21, 1798)

One of our great founding fathers, James Wilson, was an original signer of the Declaration of Independence and a driving force behind the drafting of the United States Constitution.

Born and educated in Scotland, Wilson did not move to the United States until 1766, settling in Philadelphia. He worked as a teacher at the Philadelphia College and was awarded an honorary Master of Arts.

In 1767, he decided to pursue a legal career as well and set up a practice in Reading, PA. In 1774, Wilson attended a provincial meeting and was elected a member of the local Committee of Correspondence. The following year, he was elected to the Continental Congress thanks to a pamphlet he wrote about Parliament having no authority to pass laws for the colonies.

As a congressman, Wilson strongly pushed for independence. Throughout the rest of his life, he played many different roles, including a diplomat for France, director of the original Bank of North America, and member of the Constitutional Convention.

George Clymer

(March 16, 1739 — January 23, 1813)

George Clymer established himself as a national and state leader during the struggle for independence and following formation of the new nation. He was one of six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Born in Philadelphia on March 16, 1739, he became a partner in his uncle’s mercantile firm and served on the Philadelphia Committee of Public Safety. Motivated by the British economic restrictions on his business, Clymer became one of the first patriots to advocate complete separation from Britain. He led Philadelphia protests against the Tea Act and Stamp Act.

Clymer was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776, where he served for nearly six years. During his tenure, he was a member of the War and Treasury Boards and co-treasurer of the Congress. He was one of three members who did not flee Philadelphia when the British army prepared to capture the city.

In 1780, Clymer was elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature, and a few years later was chosen to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention. He was elected to the First Congress in 1789.

After leaving Congress, Clymer remained active in Philadelphia society. He was the first president of the Philadelphia Bank and Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, as well as vice president of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society. Before his death, he donated the property for the county seat of Indiana County, Pennsylvania.

John Morton

(1725 — April 1, 1777)

John Morton cast the deciding vote that secured Pennsylvania’s Continental Congress delegation in favor of independence.

Morton was born in Ridley Township, Pennsylvania, in 1725. His stepfather gave him the schooling necessary to make him a powerful advocate and advisor to his neighbors. In 1756, Morton was elected to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. He served in the legislature until 1766, when he was chosen as Sheriff of Chester County. He returned to the Provincial Assembly in 1769 and elected Speaker in 1775.

Morton enjoyed a successful legal career. He was a Justice of the Peace, Presiding Judge of the General Court and Court of Common Pleas, Justice of the Orphans Court, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He was later selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Stamp Act Congress and First and Second Continental Congresses.

Initially skeptical of independence, Morton was unsure of his vote for the Declaration of Independence. He ultimately cast the deciding vote for Pennsylvania, earning the state its nickname, the Keystone State. He chaired the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation, but he did not live to see his efforts realized.

On April 1, 1777, Morton became the first signer of the Declaration of Independence to die.

George Ross

(May 10, 1730 — July 14, 1779)

Initially a Crown supporter, George Ross changed his political sympathies and became a bold supporter of the powers of state legislatures.

Ross was born in New Castle, Delaware, on March 10, 1730. He received a classical education at home and studied law at his brother’s Philadelphia law office. Admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1750, Ross opened his own practice in Lancaster.

At first a Tory supporting the British monarchy, Ross served as a Crown prosecutor for 12 years before being elected to the provincial legislature in 1768. There, his sympathies changed as he observed firsthand the conflict between the colonial assemblies and Parliament.

In 1774, Ross was elected to the provincial conference to send delegates to the Continental Congress, letter being drafted himself. He was elected to the Continental Congress twice more, where he became the last Pennsylvania delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence. While serving in the Continental Congress, he continued to serve as a state legislator and member of the Committee of Safety. He was also a colonel in the Continental Army and vice president of the first Pennsylvania state constitutional convention.

In 1779, he was appointed a judge on the Pennsylvania Court of Admiralty, a position he held until his death that year.

Did you know that something is written on the back of the Declaration of Independence? The writing reads: “Original Declaration of Independence
dated 4th July 1776
” and it appears on the bottom of the document, upside down. While no one knows for certain who wrote it, it is known that early in its life, the large parchment document (it measures 29¾ inches by 24½ inches) was rolled up for storage
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