On July 4th, “Think Presbyterian!”
Many Presbyterians signed the Declaration of Independence. How many of the 56? A good question! Between Continental Congress representatives who were Presbyterian and others with strong Calvinist convictions, Parliament called the American Revolution the “Presbyterian Rebellion”!
Here are the 12 “proven” Presbyterian Signers: Abraham Clark, John Hart, Richard Stockton and Rev. John Witherspoon (NJ), William Floyd and Philip Livingston (NY); Thomas McKean (DE); Benjamin Rush, James Smith and George Taylor (PA), George Walton (GA), and Matthew Thornton (NH). Presbyterians boast John Witherspoon as the only minister signer, but Jim Elbrecht reminds us Lyman Hall and Robert Treat Paine were Congregational ministers before taking up other work (Hall: Medicine; Paine: Law). He notes that 9 were ministers’ sons: Samuel Chase, Button Gwinnett, John Hancock, William Hooper, Francis Lewis, Robert Treat Paine, George Ross, William Williams and Witherspoon. John Adams also studied for the ministry.
“Counters” sometimes include two more as Presbyterian: George Ross’ father was a Presbyterian minister, then an Episcopal priest; George began Presbyterian, later joined Christ Church, Philadelphia. Betsy Ross was his cousin. James Wilson, born near St. Andrews, Scotland, had Presbyterian roots, but became a member of Christ Church, too; it counted 6 Signer-members, plus Benjamin Franklin as a regular attendee.
The greatest number of Signers were Anglican/Episcopal (26); then Presbyterian (12), Congregationalist (11), Quaker (2), Deist (2) and (1 each) Roman Catholic and Unitarian.
The best list I found of church affiliation of the Signers listed 13 as not determined. Taking time to do the research, I found an answer to all 13 of the 13, as noted here:
Episcopal: George Ross (PA), see above. Arthur Middleton (SC), per David Ramey marketing director, Middleton Place, Charleston. Francis Lewis (NY), vestryman, Trinity Church, NYC. Thomas Lynch Jr. (SC), per Raejean Beattie at Hopsewee Plantation; his St. James Santee Parish’s old Brick Church still stands. Thomas Nelson, Jr. (VA), per Marcia Fleishman, vestryman at Grace Episcopal, Yorktown, where he’s buried. Benjamin Harrison (VA), per the rector of Westover Church, where kin still belong. Francis Lightfoot Lee (VA) and Richard Henry Lee (VA), per Judith S. Hynson, Director of Research at Stratford Hall; as was Francis’ son, Gen. Robert E. Lee. Thomas Heyward, Jr. (SC), per J. Grahame Long, Curator of History and Julia Logan at The Charleston Museum who confirms that he and Thomas Lynch were pew holders at St. Michael's, Charleston. John Morton (PA), per descendent John Bullock, “John Morton and also his son Sketchley, from whom I descend, were both Vestrymen at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chester, founded in 1702.” Lewis Morris (NY), vestryman at Trinity Church, NYC, per parish recorder Ella Jenness. Quaker: Stephen Hopkins (RI), per Meredith Paine Sorozan, Associate Library Director/Reference Librarian, Rhode Island Historical Society Library. Not known yet (ah, but see update below to learn that he too was an Episcopalian): John Penn (NC).
“Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land!” (Leviticus 25:10)
THE 56 SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE:
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr.,Arthur Middleton
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe*, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson*, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush*, Benjamin Franklin*, John Morton, George Clymer (Judy, John and Anne Dalles are direct descendants of George Clymer, a "double signer" who also signed the U S Constitution), James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett*, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton*
Massachusetts: Samuel Adams, John Adams*, Robert Treat Paine*, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins*, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
*Jim Elbrecht has done an extensive study of the Signers.
The most complete source I could find for religious affiliation is Steve Mount at this web site:http://www.usconstitution.net/declarsigndata.html
Update: John Penn is one of the most obscure of the Signers, today. His home north of Stovill NC no longer exists, save the foundations. Most historians do not mention his religious affiliation. Even the marvelous David McCullough (one of my favorite historians, ever, and a fellow Pittsburgh native, hooray!) who is a descendent of John Penn, does not give us any clue in his excellent biographical sketch found here:
However, several sources do say that John Penn was an Episcopalian, which make sense both from his Virginia birthplace and his North Carolina adulthood. These sources are: