5 Lesser-Known Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Some were well-known, but many others were not. Who were these other men, and why were they important?

Dec 26, 2022By Christine Cappola, MA US History, BA History
signers of the declaration of independence


United States history tends to focus on the big names when it comes to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and John Hancock are often the first names mentioned when discussions of the American Revolution arise. Yet there are many men who helped to form the basis of the Declaration of Independence and forge the separation from England. Here are five of the lesser-known names and their accomplishments in history.


1. Samuel Adams (MA)

samuel adams boston
Sam Adams, from the original picture by Chappel, in the possession of the publishers, 1862, from New York Public Library via bostonteapartyship.com


Considered to be one of America’s “Founding Fathers,” Samuel Adams was a political activist and state legislator who used his popularity and position within the community to oppose British taxation and pressure local merchants to boycott British products. Adams was not only active in the political arena but also a talented writer. After attending Boston Latin School, he went to Harvard College and was introduced to the philosophical writings of John Locke. Locke’s theories made a deep impression on Adams, who wrote his master’s thesis on the legality of resisting British authority. He also used these writing skills to create propaganda through newspaper articles, pamphlets, and letters promoting resistance to the British in the already unsettled colonies.


His political ambition served him well in life, as he inherited the family business of malted barley in 1748 and failed miserably at the money management part of running the business. Instead, he focused on his activism and disdain for anything British-controlled. He was the local leader of the Sons of Liberty, a radical group that engaged in violent civil disobedience and retaliation against anyone who sided with or cooperated with the British. He assisted with planning the infamous Boston Tea Party riot and praised it publicly in his writing afterward. About the time the Sons of Liberty were becoming powerful, he was elected to the house of representatives for Massachusetts and continued serving in that role for nine years.


sam adams grave marker
Samuel Adams’s grave marker, via massmoments.org


Eventually, British authorities had enough of Adams and his agitation. In 1775, British General Thomas Gage led a force of soldiers from Boston to Lexington on a mission to arrest Adams and fellow colonial radical John Hancock. But American spies got wind of the plan, and American militiamen confronted the British on Lexington Common. The ensuing Battles of Lexington and Concord were the opening armed confrontations that sparked the Revolutionary War.

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Adams continued to serve in the state politics sector after the revolution as President of the Massachusetts Senate and then lieutenant Governor under John Hancock. When Hancock died in office, Adams took over the remaining portion of his term and was then elected to three additional one-year terms before retiring. Many historians believe that without Samuel Adams, the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence may never have come to fruition.


2. Robert Treat Paine (MA)

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Robert Treat Paine portrait, via founderoftheday.com


Robert Treat Paine was another graduate of Harvard Law, pursuing teaching and ministry before politics. During the French & Indian War, he served as a Chaplain on a military expedition. After the war, he returned to Massachusetts to practice law. He famously stood as counsel for the prosecution in the Boston Massacre Trial as well as the Shay’s Rebellion treason trials.


Paine was one of the Massachusetts delegates to the first Continental Congress. There, he was nicknamed “the objection maker” because he argued against so many of the proposals set forth during the first session. He then served as the first Attorney General of Massachusetts from 1777 to 1790 before being appointed by John Hancock as a justice for the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. Politically aligned with the Federalists, Paine helped draft the Massachusetts State Constitution.


3. Samuel Chase (MD) 

declaration independence samuel chase
Samuel Chase by Charles Willson Peale, c.1773, via Maryland Historical Society


Samuel Chase was a lawyer and political activist from Maryland who staunchly opposed the British Stamp Act. He was a direct founder of the county chapter of the Sons of Liberty in Maryland. In 1766, he was first elected as a Representative to the Maryland House of Delegates and in 1774, he was selected as a representative to the first Continental Congress. He would also serve as a Maryland delegate to the second Continental Congress in 1775 and vote for the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776, signing it two days later. Chase was well known as a leader in the fight to make paper currency legal tender for payment of all debts. He also promoted legislation confiscating any British-owned property within Maryland.


His legal knowledge helped him to become a judge in the Baltimore criminal court system and then move up to judge of the general court in Maryland. He was then appointed by President George Washington as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1796. Chase’s most notable Supreme Court decision was in Calder v. Bull (1798), a case that defined four specific areas of constitutional law. Chase discussed natural law, which guaranteed rights and liberties not expressly found outside the Due Process Clause. This later developed into what is referred to as “substantive due process.”


answer to articles of impeachment samuel chase
THE ANSWER AND PLEAS OF SAMUEL CHASE, one of the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, to the articles of impeachment exhibited against him in the Senate, by the House of Representatives of the United States, in support of their impeachment against him, for high crimes and misdemeanors, supposed to have been by him committed. Printed by order of the Senate, via bartlebysbooks.com


Unfortunately for Chase, the Senate filed Articles of Impeachment against him in 1804 on charges of malfeasance in office. Ultimately, he was acquitted of all charges, but his reputation was severely damaged. Chase had refused to dismiss biased jurors and excluded or limited defense witnesses in two very politically sensitive state cases. One of his articles of impeachment accused him of continually promoting his political agenda on the bench.


As a Federalist, he was at odds with current President Thomas Jefferson, who had a hand in securing the initial impeachment charges. However, at the time of the impeachment hearings, the Senate consisted of only nine Federalists. Jeffersonian Republicans made up the majority of the Senate but were undecided on how they would vote going into the hearing. Eventually, they opted to side with the Federalists, creating a voting division that could not be overcome in terms of a two-thirds majority required to convict. In doing so, the Senate also made it much more difficult to attack the judiciary based upon the disapproval of judges’ opinions.


4. Benjamin Harrison (VA)

benjamin harrison gravestone
Picture of Col. Benjamin Harrison V Gravestone via Flickr


Benjamin Harrison the Fifth was a plantation owner and politician in Virginia leading up to the American Revolution. He strongly encouraged the boycott of British goods and was one of the first men to push for the colonies to form a Continental Congress session. He was named as a Virginia delegate to both Continental Congress meetings and also served as a Representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses. During the Revolutionary War, he was Chairman of the Board of War Committee and served as a member of the Secret Correspondence Committee.


In 1781, he was elected as the fifth governor of Virginia and served in that office for three years. He was the fifth Benjamin Harrison in his family to participate in public service and is often dubbed “Benjamin Harrison the signer” in reference to his vote and signature on the Declaration of Independence. (During the colonial era, roman numerals were not used.)


Harrison’s family would remain a staple in american politics for many years to come. Benjamin Harrison’s youngest son, William Henry Harrison, was a congressional delegate to the Northwest Territory, Governor of Indiana, and then became the ninth President of the United States. In turn, William Henry’s grandson Benjamin Harrison (yes, another one) was a Union General in the Civil War, a senator, and eventually became the 23rd President of the United States.


5. Roger Sherman (CT)

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Print showing Roger Sherman, Mayor of New Haven, 1911, from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, via connecticuthistory.org


Roger Sherman was not born or raised a politician. He began his life as a tradesman, pursuing surveyor and cordwainer (leather shoemaking) trades. From there, he moved into merchant trading and then back to surveying. His keen understanding and capability with numbers prompted him to teach himself surveying.


Eventually, he settled on studying and practicing law. Sherman was a gifted political asset to the colonies, spending over thirty years in public service, often holding multiple political and judicial positions at once. He was known as a sensible man who garnered complete control over his emotions. As he settled down with his wife and seven children in Connecticut, Sherman became an active participant in town affairs. After the death of his first wife, he moved to New Haven, where he once again entered the merchant trade, remarried, and had another eight children with his second wife Rebecca.


declaration independence committee five
Committee of Five, Declaration of Independence, July 1776, detail of John Trumbull’s painting, 1819, from the US Capitol, Washington DC


Roger Sherman holds a special and extremely important place in the history of the American Revolution. During his time as a politician, he served on many important committees. He represented Connecticut in both the First and Second Continental Congress sessions. As such, he is the only person to have signed all four significant documents in the creation of the United States. He signed the First Continental Congress association document, the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States of America.


Additionally, Sherman was elected the first mayor of the City of New Haven, Connecticut in 1784 and represented the state at the Philadelphia Convention to draft the Constitution. He was an integral part of shaping the new constitution, supported Hamilton’s proposal for federal assumption of state debts, and fathered the Connecticut Compromise, which led to a bicameral legislature set up in the new government. Sherman went on to serve in the United States House of Representatives for two years and then as senator of Connecticut for two years before dying of typhoid fever.

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By Christine CappolaMA US History, BA HistoryChristine is a self-proclaimed history nerd that has a passion for U.S. History. She has earned a BA in History from Empire State College in New York and a MA in US History from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). She is currently a Sr. Clerk for the Village of East Aurora, NY and pursuing her love of history through writing. She spends her free time with family, being a proud hockey and lacrosse mom to her two children and a fur mom to her two dogs. She rarely misses a chance to share her enthusiastic takes on US History with her friends and family.