Lewis Morris saw his land destroyed, his family scattered.
Philip Livingston died within a few months from the hardships of the war:
John Hancock is well-remembered, mostly due to a quirk of fate rather than anything he stood for. That great, sweeping signature, attesting to his vanity, towers over the others. One of the wealthiest men in New England, he stood outside Boston one terrible night of the war and said, “Burn Boston, though it makes John Hancock a beggar if the public good requires it.” He, too, lived up to the pledge.
Of the Fifty-six, twelve had their homes – from Rhode Island to Charleston -sacked, looted, occupied by the enemy, or burned. Two lost their sons in the army. One had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six died in the war, from its hardships or from its more merciful bullets.
I don’t know what impression you had of the men who met that hot summer in Philadelphia. But I think it is important what we remember about them:
They were not poor men or wild-eyed pirates. They were men of means: Rich men, most of them, who enjoyed much ease and luxury in their personal living.
Not hungry men, but prosperous men. Wealthy landowners, substantially secure in their prosperity.
But they considered liberty-indeed they had learned that liberty-so much more important than security that they pledged their lives, …their fortunes… and their sacred honor. And they fulfilled their pledge. They paid the price.
And freedom was born.
Here is the documented fate of some of those gallant 56:
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas. To pay his debts he lost his home and all his properties.
Thomas Lynch, Jr. was a third-generation rice grower. An aristocrat. A large plantation owner. After he signed, his health failed. With his wife, he set out for France to regain his health. Their ship never got to France-was never heard from again.
Thomas McKean of Delaware was so harassed by the enemy that he was forced to move his family five times in five months. He served in Congress without pay. His family lived in poverty and in hiding.
Vandals looted the properties of Elery, Clymer, Hall, Gwinnett, Walton, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton.
And Thomas Nelson, of Virginia, raised two million dollars on his own signature to provision our allies, the French fleet. After the war, he personally paid back the loans, wiping out his entire estate. He was never reimbursed by his government.
In the final battle for Yorktown, Nelson urged General Washington to fire on Nelson’s own home, which he believed was occupied by Cornwallis. He died bankrupt. Thomas Nelson had indeed pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.
The Hessians seized the home of Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey.
Francis Lewis had his home and belongings destroyed, his wife imprisoned. She died within a few months.
Richard Stockton was captured and mistreated. His health broke to the extent that he died at fifty-one. His estate was pillaged.
Thomas Heyward, Jr., was captured when Charleston fell.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside while she was dying. Their thirteen children fled in all directions for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves and returned home after the war to find his wife dead, his children gone, and his properties gone. He died a few weeks later of exhaustion and a broken heart.