Our Founding Fathers

Here in the United States, tomorrow is Independence Day. As I do every year, I think of our Founding Fathers, those brave men who vowed to “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They laid down everything to give us a type of country that had never before existed. This week, while looking through a couple of seed catalogs (planning for the fall planting!), I started wondering what our Founding Fathers actually laid down. What were their lives like? What did they do? I assumed most were lawyers; and, in some cases, that’s true. But I found out many were farmers or plantation owners. As a gardener, I found that interesting. So, I did a little research to see

SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Out of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Indepence, fifteen were farmers or plantation owners. More than one-fourth of the signers (26.8%) made their living off the land! Here they are:

  • Carter Braxton of Virginia
  • Charles Carroll of Maryland
  • Button Gwinnett of Georgia
  • Benjamin Harrison of Virginia
  • Thomas Heyward Jr. of South Carolina (a Charlestonian)
  • Thomas Jefferson of Virginia
  • Francis Lightfoot Lee of Virginia
  • Richard Henry Lee of Virginia
  • Arthur Middleton of South Carolina (of Middleton Place in Charleston)
  • Lewis Morris of New York
  • John Morton of Pennsylvania
  • Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia
  • William Paca of Maryland
  • Caesar Rodney of Delaware
  • Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (a Charlestonian)

Yes, my Charleston friends, 20% of the farmers/plantation owners who signed the Declaration of Independence were from Charleston. (As a note, the one other South Carolina signer was Thomas Lynch Jr., a lawyer from Georgetown.)

SIGNERS OF THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION

The Articles of Confederation, a document that came before the U.S. Constitution, was ratified in 1781. Because this was a document to frame the initial government of the new country, it’s not surprising that most of the signers were lawyers. Yet, of the total 48 signers, six of them (12.5%) were farmers or plantation owners. They were:

  • Daniel Carroll of Maryland
  • Cornelius Harnett of North Carolina
  • Thomas Heyward Jr. of South Carolina (a Charlestonian who also signed the Declaration of Independence)
  • Francis Lightfoot Lee of Virginia (also signed the Declaration of Independence)
  • Richard Henry Lee of Virginia (also signed the Declaration of Independence)
  • John Wentworth Walton Jr. of New Hampshire

For my Charleston friends, 16.7% of the farmers/plantation owners who signed the Articles of Confederation were from Charleston.

DELEGATES TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

In 1787, twelve of the thirteen states sent a total of 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia. (Rhode Island was the only state that sent no delegates.) Of those 55 delegates, twelve (21.8%) were farmers or plantation owners. They were:

  • Richard Bassett of Delaware
  • John Blair of Virginia
  • William Blount of North Carolina
  • Pierce Butler of South Carolina (married Mary Middleton of Charleston)
  • Daniel Carroll of Maryland (signed the Articles of Confederation)
  • Daniel Jenifer of Maryland
  • George Mason of Virginia
  • Charles Pinckney of South Carolina (a Charlestonian)
  • Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina (a Charlestonian)
  • John Rutledge of South Carolina (a Charlestonian)
  • Richard Spaight of North Carolina
  • George Washington of Virginia

Twenty-five percent (three) of the farmers/plantation owners who attended the Constitutional Convention were from Charleston; the fourth attendee from South Carolina married a native Charlestonian (though he was born in Ireland).

SIGNERS OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787, and was signed by 39 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Of those 39 signers, one (2.5%) was a farmer.

  • Daniel Carroll in Maryland

Most of the signers of the Constitution were lawyers, along with several merchants. That’s understandable. However, I think it’s interesting that there was one farmer who signed. We can say that every founding document of our country included the signature of at least one farmer. I like that!

So, when you’re in your garden during this Independence Day weekend, I hope you think about the Founding Fathers who also received their joy (as well as their livelihood) from the land.

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