While New Hampshire is renowned for its stunning natural scenery and thriving wildlife population,
The Granite State is also of immense historical importance, having played a pivotal role in revolutionary activities against the British and the eventual signing of the Declaration of Independence.
New Hampshire Paving The Path To Freedom
Despite their initial loyalty to the throne, the inhabitants of this great state were resolute that independence was the only way forward, and they were willing to fight for their cause, too. In fact, New Hampshire was the very first state to declare itself a free agent independent of British rule, even going as far as drafting its own constitution.
So you might say that this fair land instigated the domino effect that led to nationwide revolution in a bid for autonomy from the crown.
How Is New Hampshire Linked To The Declaration Of Independence?
Having been such a powerful rallying force against King George III and his royalist allies, needless to say, when the time came to compose and sign the Declaration of Independence, New Hampshire officials were heavily involved.
The Gathering Of The Delegates
While the spirit of independence was well-defined in the minds of state leaders, such a motion was yet to be made official. To do so would require the creation of a physical document that could be signed by delegates of all the major colonies, thus, the Declaration of Independence was penned.
Congressmen were invited to either sign and support the document and its content, or refuse and contest the document and its content.
Of the 56 congressional delegates, three represented the state of New Hampshire, all of which signed with pleasure. These men were Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, and Matthew Thornton, and get this… all but Thornton were the very first delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Why Were New Hampshire Men First To Sign The Declaration Of Independence?
It was decided that the signing of such an important document should be stewarded, giving some order to the event, allowing a clear understanding of the states that supported and did not support the bid for independence.
Rather than use an alphabetical system, a geographically linear approach was chosen: delegates would sign state by state, moving from north to south, and being that New Hampshire was the northernmost colony at the time, this state’s delegates were asked to sign the virgin document and change the course of history!
Which Of The New Hampshire Delegates Signed The Declaration Of Independence First?
It would be esteemed physician, Josiah Bartlett, who’d first take up the quill and darken the parchment of the Declaration of Independence with his signature, followed by William Whipple. Matthew Thornton’s signature would be added at a later date.
Of course, Dr. Bartlett’s wasn’t the first signature overall, as John Hancock of Massachusetts, President of Congress would beat everybody to the punch, which is why when somebody asks you to sign something they may ask for your John Hancock.
The leader of the continental congress didn’t choose an understated approach either, signing in large lettering, after which he held it up to his fellow congressmen and stated, “There, John Bull can read my name without spectacles; he may double his reward, and I put his at defiance.”
John Bull – for the uninitiated – was the English equivalent of Uncle Sam, a fictional manifestation of patriotism across the pond.
So, New Hampshire’s own Josiah Bartlett was second to sign the historic declaration, and indeed the very first of the delegates to sign — Pretty cool, huh?
First Up To Sign: A Blessing Or A Curse?
Although looking back it seems like it would be the honor of these New Hampshire delegates’ lifetimes to be first in line to scratch their names onto the Declaration of Independence, it likely wasn’t so.
By all historical accounts, the signing ceremony in a Pennsylvania state house (later renamed Independence Hall), was not a boisterous or happy occasion. All who handled the quill that day were aware of the true gravity of the situation.
Though the revolutionary war had already been raging for over a year, the attendees understood that the signing of a document that legitimized this struggle for independence was the highest treason in the eyes of the crown, and should the English ever get their hands on them, well… let’s just say it wouldn’t have been a happy ending.
So, in fact, being the first ones up to sign the Declaration of Independence took some real guts, but as Josiah, Matthew, and William were dedicated to the cause, they carried out their duty without flinching.
Certain delegates refused to sign the declaration, while others still signed begrudgingly to promote a sense of unity within congress.
New Hampshire: Drawing First Blood
A state of many firsts, it seems fitting that New Hampshire was also the first colony to take up arms against the British, fighting a battle for Fort William and Mary so that it could be used against the British in the conflicts to come.
Granted, there were only 6 royalist caretakers stationed at the fort defending it against hundreds of New Hampshire men, and ultimately, no one was killed, but the symbolic significance of this event was important, a spark that became a wildfire of revolution.
The rebels broke into the powder room, stealing all the gunpowder and arms they could carry, and the giant Union Jack was torn down. The caretakers were held for only an hour and a half before they were set free to do as they pleased.
Pre Rebellion… Rebellion
Although the scuffle detailed above is considered the first armed rebellion against the British, anti-royal sentiment had been brewing for years in New Hampshire.
For instance, In 1772, the Pine Tree Rioters of Hillsborough County refused to pay the King’s tree taxes, and when their neighbors were called upon by the Governor to snuff out their state-fellows’ rebellion, the order was refused.
As such, the rioters were permitted to continue tarring and feathering any man of the King that crossed their path.
Post Rebellion… Rebellion
What’s more, it’s recorded that a year after the move on Fort William and the stripping bare of the armory, there were numerous reports of the King’s military being harassed by New Hampshire natives, proving the state a hotbed of revolutionary potential.
Defining The Structure & Governance Of The USA
The historical significance of the state of New Hampshire doesn’t start and end with the revolution. As the ninth and deciding state to vote on the political structure of the nation, New Hampshire representatives had the opportunity to shape the US and define its principles.
The state voted that North America would stand as a republic, and the rest, as they say, is history! The US has remained true to this style of governance ever since that fateful day.
New Hampshire is a state of amazing firsts, a land that, with initiative – and no shortage of bravery – forged its own course through history to the betterment of its populace and indeed the US as a whole.
With the first flaring of revolutionary sentiment building in New Hampshire, the Declaration of Independence was the logical political closure point of a chain of events that arguably started with this state and its righteously defiant population.
As such, I’d say it’s only fitting that Dr. Josiah Bartlett was the first delegate to sign the historic declaration.