while working for our nation's independence from England, Benjamin
Franklin said, "Indeed we must all hang together, otherwise we will
hang separately." The penalty for treason against the British was
death by hanging.
In this column we often cover stories
that are timely and relevant, so we celebrate our nation's freedom
by taking a look at two signers of the Declaration of Independence
who were also known as inventors in their day. As regular readers of
this column know, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson -- two of the
most famous among the 56 signers -- were inventors. There were two
other signers who were inventors but who are unknown to most
Americans. We will introduce these two signers and inventors to you
Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) was born
in Philadelphia. His father was one of the first trustees of the
College of Philadelphia, now called the University of Pennsylvania,
as well as its first graduate. Hopkinson went on to become a judge.
The only "inventions" that Judge
Hopkinson created were the American flag and the Great Seal of the
United States. While history credits Betsy Ross with designing the
flag, it was probably Hopkinson who played the larger role in its
design. Betsy Ross had sewn the flag together, and this may be why
she is regarded as the person who designed the flag. The journals of
the Continental Congress indicate that Hopkinson designed the flag,
though. In 2000 the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of
Hopkinson's flag design.
In addition to being an inventor,
Hopkinson was an author. In 1778 he wrote a ballad called "The
Battle of the Kegs," loosely based on a battle in which gunpowder
kegs floated down the Delaware River toward the British at
Philadelphia, and the British returned the favor by firing back.
Hopkinson was also a chemist, a physicist, a musician, a composer
and an artist.
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in this article]
Like Hopkinson, George Clymer
(1739-1813) was born in Pennsylvania. He was an orphan who was
raised by his uncle, and his paternal ancestors were among the
earliest settlers of the state.
Clymer invented the Columbian printing
press, which was an improvement over Ben Franklin's printing press.
But the Columbian, with all its bells and whistles, never caught on
in the United States.
You may have heard the story of how the
signers of the Declaration of Independence were hunted by the
British for treason. The 56 signers literally risked everything
fighting for our nation's freedom. Each one became a marked man.
Some were captured, while others, like Thomas Jefferson, escaped.
Nine of the signers died as a result of
the war, but all were driven from their homes at one time or
another. Five were captured, imprisoned and abused. Seventeen
signers lost everything they owned, including 12 who had their homes
completely burned. Several lost their wives and families. One lost
all of 13 of his children.
George Clymer and Francis Hopkinson
both escaped with their families, but their properties were
completely destroyed. Clymer was the only signer who returned to
England. His reason for returning was that England presented him
with a better opportunity for his Columbian printing press.
Thomas Jefferson died on the Fourth of
July in 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence
was adopted. Coincidentally, it was the same day that another
signer, John Adams, died.
In the end,
each of the 56 signers kept his word to "… mutually pledge to each
other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. A special thanks goes out to Jessica Summers
for her contributions to this article.
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004