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Joseph Hewes - Signer of the Declartion of Independence Biography by Appleton's edited by Stanley L. Klos

Joseph Hewes

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

JOSEPH HEWES  was born in 1730 in Kingston, New Jersey. His parents were Quaker by faith. They were Connecticut farmers who moved to New Jersey in 1728 in search of a more quiet and secure life away from marauding Indians and free of religious prejudices. In the 1720's, many parts of New England were suffering from the frequent hostility of Indians who would roam through the forests and communities raiding the inhabitants and marking their route with the most shocking barbarities. The Indians murderous spirit was inflamed by the government of Massachusetts, which had increased the bounty paid on Indian scalps and prisoners to a hundred pounds. By way of retaliation, the Indians often made their bloodthirsty raids into Massachusetts and sometimes extended their journeys to the farms of Connecticut. The Hewes barely escaped the death they wished to avoid in their flight to New Jersey. On passing the Housatonic River, a party of Indians came so close to them that Mrs. Hewes was wounded in the neck by a ball shot from the gun of one of their attackers. When they finally arrived in New Jersey, they found a peaceful and secure home.  

 

Hewes, after receiving a public education, was enrolled in Princeton College. He graduated and moved to Philadelphia, where he entered a counting house and was trained to be a merchant. On leaving his employer, he entered into the mercantile business for himself, and soon became an active and prosperous merchant. At the age of thirty, he moved to North Carolina and settled in the village of Edenton, where he became a ship owner and a merchant. The same prosperity, which he had attained in Philadelphia, followed him and within a few years he had acquired a handsome fortune. It was in Edenton, that he met John Paul Jones, whom he helped to get his first command in the navy. He was a man of integrity and honor, acquiring the confidence and esteem of the people and they elected him to represent them in the colonial provincial legislature. With increasing usefulness to his constituents and increasing credit to himself, he was re-elected for several successive years.

 

In 1774, he was elected to represent North Carolina in the Continental congress that was assembling in Philadelphia.  While Hewes seldom spoke in Congress, he participated actively and tirelessly in several vital committees. Hewes was a member of the committee to "state the rights of the colonies in general, the several instances in which these rights are violated or infringed, and the means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them". Hewes assisted in preparing the committee's celebrated report. In the beginning of 1775, the Society of Friends (the Quakers), to which he and his family belonged, held a general convention denouncing the proceedings of congress. Hewes, being a true Patriot, at once severed his connection with the Society and became a promoter of war against Britain.

 

Hewes, although a merchant who had been engaged in commercial business with England for over twenty years, cheerfully assisted in forming a plan of the non-importation association, and most readily became a member of it. In 1776, he was a member of the secret committee of the committee on claims, and was virtually the first secretary of the navy. John Adams, who was especially fond of him, would often boast that he and Hewes "laid the foundation, the cornerstone of the American Navy". With General Washington, Hewes conceived the plan of operations for the ensuing campaign, and voted in favor of the immediate adoption of the declaration, North Carolina being the first of all the colonies to declare in favor of throwing off all connection with Great Britain.  

 

During the recess of congress, from the end of July until September, he made a visit to his friends in New Jersey, and in September again resumed his seat. He served from then until October 29, 1779, representing the state of North Carolina, with the exception of a little more than a year, during which he devoted himself to his private affairs and to the interests of his state.

The last time that he appeared in congress was on October 29, 1779, after which, an illness that he had had for quite some time confined him to his bed, and on November 10, 1779, he died. Congress attended his funeral on the following day, as did the general assembly of Pennsylvania, the president and supreme executive council, the minister plenipotentiary of France and numerous citizens. In testimony of their respect for him, congress resolved to wear crape armbands for one month, in mourning. Hewes had remained a bachelor – the girl he loved had died a few days before their wedding and he never married – leaving no children to inherit his large estate.


 


 


 


 

Source: Centennial Book of Signers

 

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