America’s 13 original colonies met in a hot room in Philadelphia and decided to break ties with Britain. Signing the Declaration of Independence was an act of treason. They knew full well the penalty would be death if captured. Of the 56 original signers, 5 were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. 12 had their homes ransacked and burned. 2 lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. 9 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. So, who were these men who signed and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor?
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy farmer and trader, saw his ships captured by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was hounded by the British and forced to live on the run with his family in hiding. McKeam served in the Congress without pay. His possessions were taken from him leading to a life of poverty. Soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson saw British General Cornwallis take over his home for a headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire on it. Nelson’s home was destroyed and he died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The British jailed his wife and she died within a few months.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.
During a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina this past April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Our [Country’s] Founders recognized that religion and religious people play a key role in strengthening our society. They feed the hungry, heal the sick, and comfort the grieving. They teach right behavior and give meaning to life. They are present at birth and at death….That’s why the Founders gave the public expression of religious belief a triple protection in our Constitution by protecting the “free exercise” of religion—not just worship in secret, [but] banning an established religion and ensuring the freedom of speech…Our Founders reserved a space for people of faith in the first lines of the First Amendment…ensuring that people of faith can find have a fair shot at finding space in every town and every city in America.”
As we return home this weekend after celebrating the birth of our Country, let’s remember that religious freedom was something the Founders of our Great Nation fought hard and gave their life for. We can honor their sacrifice by exercising that freedom every day – by going to church, voting our faith, fighting for the rights of the unborn and the oppressed, and openly praying in public that God continues to bless our nation with prosperity and freedom for all.