Who were these congressional visitors to York Town, anyway?
The new York Revolution minor league baseball team’s association with the county’s rich Revolutionary War past could pique interest in the delegates who fled to York from Philadelphia.
Continental Congress came here in 1777-78 after the British pushed them out of the comforts of Philadelphia.
John Hancock was in York. So was Samuel Adams. And his cousin, John. Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee was here. So was Princeton Prez John Witherspoon.
Some of the 64 delegates who served in York Town, as it was then called, were luminaries. Some are little known today, and not that well known in their day.
To help make them come alive a little more, the following from “Nine Months in York Town” http://www.ydr.com/ninemonths/ might intrigue you:
1. Twenty-six of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence
served as delegates to Continental Congress in York Town. Sixty-four
delegates answered the roll call in York Town during Congress’ nine-
2. Charles Carroll, Maryland delegate, died in Baltimore in 1832,
honored as the last surviving signer of the Declaration of
Independence and recognized as the wealthiest American citizen. Ann
Gerry, wife of Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, died in 1849,
the last surviving widow of a signer.
3. Elbridge Gerry later became vice president under U.S. President
James Madison. Gerry is better known today for lending his name to
gerrymandering, the practice of dividing a voting area to strengthen
one political party or weaken another.
4. Four Annapolis residents signed the Declaration of Independence,
and two attended Congress in York Town. All of their homes have been
preserved, and three are open to the public: the Charles Carroll
House; the Chase-Lloyd House, residence of Samuel Chase; and the
William Paca House and Gardens. The house of Declaration signer
Thomas Stone is a private residence not open to the public. Carroll
and Chase served in York Town.
5. The delegates in York Town averaged about 44 years in age on Dec.
31, 1777. Gouverneur Morris of New York was the youngest delegate, at
26, when he came to York Town in early 1778. Joseph Wood of Georgia,
at 65, was the oldest. James Smith of York Town and Francis Lewis of
New York were both 64 at the end of 1777. However, Smith’s birth date
is sometimes listed as 1719, which would have made him 58 at the time
he took his seat.
6. Henry Laurens’ body was cremated in 1792, one of the first
instances of cremation in America. The South Carolina delegate made
this request in his will.
7. Congress had several physicians and even more lawyers, but only
one doctor/lawyer: Thomas Burke of North Carolina.
8. James Lovell of Massachusetts reportedly never visited his wife
and children during his five years in Congress. The fight for freedom
also exacted its toll on Henry Laurens. He returned home to his
beloved South Carolina only once between 1777 and 1785.
9. On one trip from Philadelphia to Connecticut, Oliver Wolcott
carried with him a leaden equestrian statue of King George III, found
along the way. Women in his state melted the figure into bullets.
10. Many delegates came from prominent families and traveled to
England for their education. But not all were so privileged.
George Walton, a Georgia delegate, became an orphan at an early age,
but an uncle took him in and raised him. Edward Langworthy, another
Georgia delegate and also an orphan, attended a school connected to
the Bethesda Orphan House in Georgia and later taught at the school.
11. After Jonathan Smith married Susannah Bayard, he adopted his
wife’s maiden name as his middle name. The Pennsylvania delegate is
known to history as Jonathan Bayard Smith.
12. William Ellery of Rhode Island positioned himself near Secretary
Charles Thomson during the signing of the Declaration of
Independence. One story suggests he watched the expressions of the
delegates as they signed their names to a potential death warrant. He
said that all consistently displayed “undaunted resolution.”
13. Financiers William Duer of New York and Robert Morris of
Pennsylvania served time in prison when their financial dealings went
awry toward the end of their lives. Duer lived as an aristocrat, at
times serving 15 different sorts of wine while entertaining dinner
14. Benjamin Rumsey, Maryland delegate, died in Joppa, Harford
County, Md. He was active in Harford County for much of his life.
Harford County is one of the Maryland counties immediately south of
York County. Rumsey served as chief justice of the Maryland Court of
Appeals from 1778-1805.
15. Charles Carroll signed “of Carrollton” after his name when inking
the Declaration of Independence. He had followed this practice for 10
years prior to the Declaration to distinguish himself from others of
the same name. An often-repeated, but incorrect story, suggests that
he made the addition after someone claimed he wasn’t taking the same
risk as other Declaration signers because several prominent men of
that name hailed from Maryland.
16. Josiah Bartlet, Martin Sheen’s president character in TV’s “West
Wing,” is portrayed as a descendant of Josiah Bartlett, New Hampshire
17. Elbridge Gerry, James Lovell and Henry Laurens did not take a
leave from Congress during its entire nine-month stay in York Town.
18. Seventeen of the 64 delegates married a “Mary” during their
lifetimes. One was Edward Langworthy, a Georgia delegate, who married
Mary Moore of York Town and spent several years in his wife’s town
after the war. Eight delegates married an “Ann” or “Anne.” John
Witherspoon, a New Jersey delegate, married Anne Dill of the founding
family of Dillsburg in 1790. Eight “Elizabeths” were married to
congressmen. Generally, congressmen did not bring their wives to York
Town because of its isolation, the uncertainties of war and their
contributions were needed to keep houses and plantations running back
19. John Penn of North Carolina showed good character after Henry
Laurens challenged him to a duel some time after Congress left York
Town. The two, lodging at the same place, ate breakfast together on
the morning of the face-off. On their way to the meeting site, Penn
assisted his much older challenger across a virtually impassable
street. On the other side, Penn suggested they call off the duel. To
which, Laurens agreed.
20. The delegates, often distinguished statesmen, sometimes referred
to each other in letters — and presumably in person — by informal
names. “Bob Morris still thinks the Enemys ships will not be able to
get to Philadelphia this winter …” Cornelius Harnett wrote Thomas
Burke. And William Duer sent his greetings to Board of War member
Richard Peters via Francis Lightfoot Lee: “… (R)emember me to the
Members of the Board, particularly our Fellow Labourer in the
Vinyard, Dick Peters.”