Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 23rd: A Founder of the U.S. Navy

Do you know who this is?
-His beloved wife-to-be died just days before their wedding, and he never again considered marriage.
-He was one of two bachelors who signed the Declaration of Independence.
-He was a founder of the U.S. Navy.

Joseph Hewes was born near Kingston, New Jersey, on January 23, 1730. His parents were Aaron and Providence Hewes, members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who fled from the colony of Connecticut to the colony of New Jersey soon after their marriage because of prejudices evidenced by the New England Puritan descendents as well as the threat from Indians.

Not much is known about Joseph’s early years, until he attended the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) and, upon graduation, was placed in a Philadelphia merchant’s counting house to learn about operating a business. He apparently learned the business trade well, because soon after he left the counting house, he became a merchant himself – and a successful one, too.

At the age of thirty, Joseph moved to Edenton, North Carolina, continuing his merchant interests, becoming a ship owner, and building a respectable name for himself as well as a respectable fortune. He established a reputation as being a man of high principles, morals, and honor. A few short years after he moved to North Carolina Joseph was elected to the North Carolina legislature where he served several terms (1766 – 1775).

In 1774 the Continental Congress first met, and Joseph was one of the three delegates from North Carolina. He as asked to serve on a committee that was to "state the rights of the colonies in general, the several instances in which these rights are violated or infringed, and the means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them". This committee provided a report which included such statements as:

- That they (colonists) are entitled to life, liberty, and property;
- They are entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural born subjects, within the realm of England.
- That the foundation of English liberty, and of free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council; and as the English colonists are not represented, and, from their local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures,
- That England should exclude every idea of taxation, internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects in America, without their (colonists) consent.
- That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the king;
- That the keeping a standing army in these colonies in times of peace, without consent of the legislature of that colony in which such army is kept, is against the law.

Even though Joseph had been a merchant engaged in commercial transactions with England for more than twenty years, he assisted in forming a plan of non-importation, and supported it whole-heartedly. In a letter to a merchant friend in England on July 31, 1775, he wrote:
“We are in a terrible situation indeed; all trade here is now at an end, and
when it will again be revived, God only knows. Every American to a man is
determined to die, or be free. We are convinced, nothing can restore peace to
this unhappy country, and render the liberty of your's secure, but a total
change of the present Ministry, who are considered in this country as enemies to
the freedom of the human race, like so many Devils in the infernal regions,
sending out their servants, furies, to torment where-ever they choose their
infernal vengeance should fall.”
He was reappointed to the Continental Congress in 1775, would lose the office in 1777, partially because of health problems, and return in 1779. While there, he would advocate independence – a stance which ultimately would force him to break with the Society of Friends (Quakers), who held a general convention in 1775 and denounced the activities of the Continental Congress. As an advocate for independence, he stated while signing the Declaration of Independence:
“My country is entitled to my services, and I shall not shrink from the cause,
even though it should cost me my life.”
He also served on the marine committee, and with John Adams was instrumental in forming the U.S. Navy. He also was responsible for bringing John Paul Jones into the American Navy. He also placed his ships at the service of the fledgling Navy.

Joseph was ill and – the last month of his life – bedridden. Many felt that he had overworked himself to death in the cause of independence. He died at the age of 50 on November 10, 1779, and was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia. His last words on his deathbed were: “Do not fret or worry about my going, for I have full confidence in the mercy and the goodness of God. Pray for me.”

As Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, author of the Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1856), wrote:
“Although the events in the life of Mr. Hewes, which we have been able to
collect, are few, they perhaps sufficiently speak his worth, as a man of
integrity, firmness, and ardent patriotism. To this may be added, that in
personal appearance he was prepossessing, and characterized in respect to his
disposition for great benevolence, and in respect to his manners for great
amenity. He left a large fortune, but no children to inherit it.”

Web Resources:
Biographies of the Founding Fathers

Local Library Resources:
Dennis B. Fradin: The Signers: the Fifty-six Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence

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