Signers of the Declaration of Independence
John Hart(Feb 21, 1713- May 11, 1779)* was a poor farmer, son of Captain Edward Hart, a farmer, public assessor, Justice of the Peace, and Martha Hart of New York. His father led the local militia during the French and Indian War, but the family had no great wealth. John received only a rudimentary education. Edward raised militia, but New Jersey didn’t want to fund it – they sent him off to New York. Edward spent fifteen months waiting around and paying bills for the militia that sent him into debt. Thus as John was growing up, they were poor – in fact, due to land disputes, they had to re-purchase one hundred acres of their own land in order to gain a clear title.
John is one of the less remarkable and lesser-known signers. In 1741 (or 1739, depending on your source), John Hart married Deborah Scudder (1721–1776). The couple had thirteen children: Sarah, Jesse, Martha, Nathaniel, John, Susanna, Mary, Abigail, Edward, Scudder, an infant daughter, Daniel, and Deborah, of whom only Daniel and Deborah were still minor children at the time of John Hart’s death in 1779.
Elected to the New Jersey assembly in 1761, he pressed for New Jersey to join in the Stamp Act Congress in New York. Known as a man of sound judgment, clear perception, liberal views, and pure motives, Mr. Hart was called to aid in public affairs long before the revolution. In the assembly and as a judge, he promoted education and helped to establish seminary schools. John spoke out against the Townshend Acts, and when elected to the Second Continental Congress joined in the campaign to proclaim independence.
“The cry of blood shed on the 19th of the preceding April, had infused a spirit in Congress widely different from that which pervaded it a few months before.“L. Carroll Judson. A Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, and of Washington and Patrick Henry / With an appendix, containing the Constitution of the United States, and other documents (Kindle Locations 4235-4236).
On June 22nd, 1776 he was elected as one of 5 delegates to the 2nd Cont’l Congress-“anyone member with full rights to cast a vote” for the state July 4th, 1776 he signed the Declaration of Independence, with the other 4 delegates from NJ. On August 13th, John was re-elected to the new state Assembly, and on Aug 29th he was made its Speaker. In October, he returned home to see his sick wife, attempted to return to the assembly but on October 7th he was called home again. On Tuesday, October 8th, the Assembly adjourned until Nov. 13th because they could not hold business without the Speaker. That day- Oct.8th 1776- Deborah Hart died.
By December 1776, John’s part of New Jersey was in British hands. With Deborah gone, he sent his two remaining children to a neighboring farm for safety. The Hessians raided his farm, and did property damage, but did not fire the house. John hid in the woods behind a rock formation, standing for many hours in the cold to avoid capture.
He continued to serve in the courts and the assembly until 1778 when he fell ill with painful kidney stones. He rarely rose from the bed, and continued to suffer from this malady until his death on May 11, 1779.
*Due to his obscurity, there is some contention about the dates of John’s birth and marriage. We’ve used the dates here from family records. Also, the picture shown is an artist’s conception from 1860 – there are no known actual paintings or drawings of him.