Continuing series on the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
George Clymer( March 16, 1739 – January 23, 1813) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, descended from a merchant family of Bristol, England. His father died at a young age, and his mother soon after, leaving him to his maternal uncle and aunt, Hannah and William Colemen, to raise. His uncle saw to it that he gained a basic education, as well as an apprenticeship in his merchant enterprise, which he subsequently left to George on his death. George also inherited a love of reading and self-education from his uncle and became prosperous in the merchant trade.
In the early 1760s, George merged his merchant firm with that of Reese Meredith, to their mutual advantage. George played about and told a rector later by contrition that he fathered a son, but did not marry the mother. Some sources say this was Rachel Huddleston, but her identity is not known for certain. While at the newly merged firm, he met and married Elizabeth Meridith, and they had nine children, four of whom died in infancy.
As might be expected, George vigorously opposed the Stamp Act of 1765, since it cost his business a great deal of money. Likewise the later Tea Act. George became involved with the local militia, and the politics of rebellion. He attended patriotic meetings, served on the Pennsylvania council of safety, and in 1773 headed a committee that forced the resignation of Philadelphia tea consignees appointed by Britain under the Tea Act. Inevitably, in light of his economic background, he channeled his energies into financial matters. In 1775-76 he acted as one of the first two Continental treasurers, even personally underwriting the war by exchanging all his own British pounds for Continental currency. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775. George was not a flaming orator, like Adams or Patrick Henry. Rather, he distinguished himself in negotiations, obtaining compromises and deals behind the scenes, in committee work.
As the British advanced on Philadelphia, and Congress fled, George remained behind with George Walton and Robert Morris to continue the affairs of Congress. As the situation grew desperate, the British made a detour in their advance, specifically with the purpose of vandalizing and burning George’s home and property, while his wife and children hid in the nearby woods.
In his duties with Congress, he traveled to Ticonderoga, to report back on the defenses there. In his travels, Mr. Clymer was appointed a commissioner, in conjunction with several other gentlemen, to proceed to Pittsburgh, on the important and confidential service, of preserving a good understanding with several Indian tribes in that country, and particularly to enlist warriors from the Shawnee and Delaware Indians into the service of the United States. During his residence at Pittsburgh, he narrowly escaped death from the tomahawk of the enemy, having, in an excursion to visit a friend, accidentally and fortunately taken a route which led him to avoid a party of savages, who murdered a white man at the very place where Mr. Clymer must have been, had he not chosen a different road.
George, together with Robert Morris, another signer, invested a great deal in a bank to supply the needs of the Continental Army. He lost a son in the Battle of Brandywine.
Mr. Clymer was again elected to congress in 1780; from which time, for nearly two years, he was absent from his seat but a few weeks, so faithfully and indefatigably attentive was he to the public service. In the latter part of 1782, he removed with his family to Princeton, in New-Jersey, for the purpose of giving to his children the advantages of collegiate education, in the seminary in that place.
After a brief retirement following his last tour in the Continental Congress, Clymer was reelected in the years 1784-88 to the Pennsylvania legislature, where he had also served part-time in 1780-82 while still in Congress. As a State legislator, he advocated reform of the penal code, opposed capital punishment, and represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention (1787). He was one of a few to sign both the Declaration and the Constitution. The next phase of his career consisted of service as a U.S. Representative in the First Congress (1789-91), followed by appointment as collector of excise taxes on alcoholic beverages in Pennsylvania (1791-94). In 1795-96 he sat on a Presidential commission that negotiated a treaty with the Indians in Georgia.
During his retirement, Clymer advanced various community projects, including the Philadelphia Agricultural Society, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia Bank. At the age of 73, in 1813, he died at Summerseat, an estate a few miles outside Philadelphia at Morrisville that he had purchased and moved to in 1806. His grave is in the Friends Meeting House Cemetery at Trenton, N.J.