The signers of the Declaration


In honor of the Fourth of July, and as a former social studies teacher and history expert extraordinaire, I am going to rank my top 10 signers of the Declaration of Independence. I’m sure you know that there were 56 colonial freedom fighters that had the courage to sign, so whittling the list to 10 was not easy.

Without further ado, here’s my list with a comment or three about each man. Remember kids, you may not be sitting where you are today without these bona fide American bad boys.

10. Button Gwinnett (Georgia) — Gwinnett was born in England but loved the colonial south. He ended up dying in a duel with a rival, but may be best known for his rare signature which is more valuable than any other except for William Shakespeare. Full disclosure: Button Gwinnett ultimately makes my list because he has the best name ever.

9. Thomas Nelson Jr. (Virginia) — Nelson was the governor of Virginia in addition to being the general of the Virginia Militia at Yorktown. Cool fact: He ordered troops to fire on Cornwallis, who happened to be staying in Nelson’s house at the time.

8. Samuel Adams (Massachusetts) — Sam Adams was quite possibly the loudest, most rambunctious rabble-rouser amongst all the signers. This cat was screaming for independence from the get-go. Eventually he became governor of Massachusetts, no small feat of its own. He also has a beer named after him which weighed heavily in my decision to put him in the top 10.

7. Elbridge Gerry (Massachusetts) — Another cool name, amirite? People knew how to name their kids back then. Anyway, old Elbridge was one of the main dudes that drafted the Bill of Rights, which ended up being sort of significant. Oh, and he was also vice president, so there’s that.

Sarcasm alert.

6. Roger Sherman (Connecticut) — Roger not only helped draft the Declaration, he was one of the main framers of the Constitution. Double trouble for the Brits. Hells to the yah, man.

5. John Adams (Massachusetts) — John Adams was the cousin of Sam Adams, though for some reason a lot of folks believe them to be brothers. John was the more level-headed of the two and was, in fact, an important voice for order and not rushing into war. He also strongly believed in a centralized government, a pretty controversial stance for its time.

4. Benjamin Rush (Pennsylvania) — Rush was a doctor of some renown. And get this — he believed in anti-slavery, was pro-educating women, was a public health advocate, and was for the humane treatment of the mentally ill. That’s pretty cool. One negative — he believed that being black was a treatable skin disease. Dang it. And he was doing so well.

3. John Hancock (Massachusetts) — John Hancock was one of the richest men in the colonies and wasn’t interested in independence until the English took over his house. Then he got ticked and got really involved. He ended up being the president of the Continental Congress as well, but is probably best known for being responsible for the first and largest signature on the Declaration. Oh, and he was a big-time smuggler, but that’s neither here nor there. To this day, any signature is known as a “John Hancock.” Cool beans.

2. Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania) — Franklin was America’s foremost politician, author, diplomat, scientist, inventor, publisher and political theorist. Not bad, eh? He also invented swim fins, the odometer, the Franklin Stove, the lightning rod and bifocals, among many other things. Probably more than any other individual Ben Franklin defined what it meant to be an American. He was also the 18th century’s pre-eminent ladies man. Dude had girlfriends on both sides of the big pond and was known to dispense sex advice liberally. Ben Franklin, man. Big-time playa in his day.

1. Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) — Thomas Jefferson was the most eloquent proponent of American democracy. No doubt a genius, he basically wrote the Declaration of Independence. How would that look on your resume? He also advocated for free public education, founded the University of Virginia, made the Louisiana Purchase, and launched the Lewis and Clark Expedition. But one of the biggest reasons he’s at No. 1? After visiting Europe, he popularized macaroni and cheese in the United States. Atta boy T.J.!

There you go, my top 10 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in Southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at

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