John Hart, a member of the Baptist church of Hopewell, New Jersey, was one of the famous signers of the immortal Declaration of Independence. That document was published at first with only the names of John Hancock, as president, and Charles Thompson, as secretary. It was issued on the 4th of July, 1776, and on the 2d of that month the British landed on Staten Island, and soon after removed to Long Island. To give greater weight to the Declaration of Independence it was signed by all the members on the 2d day of the succeeding August, and circulated extensively throughout the Colonies.1
John Hart owned a valuable farm, grist, saw and fulling mills; he had a wife and family, whose happiness and safety were dear to him; he was
1 Biography of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, 1831, III, 236.
just at hand, with a large army of the enemy likely in a week or two to destroy everything he possessed except the soil, and to scatter his dear ones if their lives were spared, and to kill him if by the providence of the Evil One, they could seize him, and yet he did not hesitate to affix his signature to the Declaration of Independence, though it might prove his own death warrant, and could hardly fail to inflict the heaviest losses and the sorest sufferings on him and his. Mr. Hart was a man of great intelligence, and, consequently, was generally chosen to decide the disputes of his neighbors, and he was universally recognized as a man of remarkable integrity, this feature of his character made thousands speak of him as “Honest John Hart.” The enemy soon reached the Delaware and the home of Mr. Hart. His children fled, his property was wasted, and though an old man, tottering with the burden of years, he had to fly for his life. He was pursued with unusual vindictiveness, he could not sleep in safety twice in the same place, he concealed himself in caves and thickets and endured every hardship. To add to the intensity of his anguish he was driven from the couch of his dearly cherished and dying wife. But the venerable patriot never despaired, and never repented, and he lived to see the Revolution triumphant and the Colonies free. Mr. Hart had no taste for political life, nor a desire beyond the happiness and prosperity of his country. In Congress he expressed himself by noble deeds rather than by eloquent speeches. In the social relations of life he was a man of great gentleness and benevolence. He built the Baptist church of Hopewell, and he gave it its graveyard. In that meeting-house he and his family worshipped God till he was called to the church in glory. John Hart, the Baptist of Hopewell, in brave deeds and saintly worth, left a name fit for the illustrious document that ushered in our independence.
[From the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, “The Baptists and the American Revolution,” by Rev. William Cathcart, D.D., 1875, pp. 62-63. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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