Contrary to widespread misconception, the 56 signers did not sign as a group and did not do so on July 4, 1776. The official event occurred on August 2, 1776, when 50 men probably took part. Later that year, 6 others were added. Those who did sign on August 2 undoubtedly did not realize that others would follow them and thus allowed no room to accommodate the signatures of the later six men. Two of them, George Wythe and Richard Henry Lee, found ample room above their fellow Virginians. One, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, crowded his name into space between the Massachusetts and Rhode Island groups. Two others – Thomas McKean and Oliver Wolcott – signed at the bottom of columns following their State delegations. Only Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire needed to add his name separately from his colleagues – at the bottom of the 1st column on the right at the end of the Connecticut group.
The most impressive signature is that of John Hancock, President of Congress, centered over the others. The other Delegates signed in the six columns which ran from right to left.
Some, who were initially for independence, didn’t sign it – like Robert Livingston of New York who worked on the drafting committee but couldn’t bring himself to put his name on the completed document.
The signers ranged in age at the time from 26 (Edward Rutledge) to 70 (Benjamin Franklin).
Among the signers, by occupation, were farmers, doctors, 4 ministers, merchants, shippers, and lawyers. For their dedication to the cause of independence, the signers risked a loss of fortune, imprisonment, and death for treason. The homes of nearly 1/3 of the signers were destroyed or damaged, and the families of a few were scattered when the British pillaged or confiscated their estates.