13 May 2012

Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence representing New Jersey - Part 4


Engraved by Ole Erekson; Library of Congress photo

          Richard Stockton was born in Princeton, New Jersey on 1 October 1730.  He was educated first at Nottingham Academy in Rising Sun, Maryland, and then at the College of New Jersey in Newark.  He graduated from the latter in 1748 and was admitted to the bar in 1754.  Stockton's rise was fairly quick from this time forward.  In 1755 he married Annis Boudinot. [1]  The couple had six children.
          In 1756, the College of New Jersey was moved from Newark to Princeton, with much assistance from Stockton and his family.  A fellow trustee at the college, the Reverend Doctor John Rodgers called Stockton a gentleman, scholar and the head of his profession in New Jersey. [2]  In 1768 Stockton began a term on New Jersey's Provincial Council, a position that he held until June 1776.  In 1773, he wrote to Lord Dartmouth [3] a piece called An Expedient for the Settlement of the American Dispute.[4]  In 1774 Stockton was named an associate justice to the state Supreme Court, a position which he also held until June 1776.
          In 1776, Stockton was sent to the General Congress in Philadelphia as a delegate from New Jersey.  Though initially doubtful of an immediate declaration of independence, he quickly changed his mind and voted in favor of independence after considering the arguments of other Congressmen.
[5]  Stockton was the first man to sign for the state of New Jersey when the time arrived to declare independence.
          In September 1776, Stockton received an equal number of votes as William Livingston for governor of New Jersey, but after further discussion Livingston was awarded the position.  Stockton was soon on the run, anyhow.  When the British moved into Princeton in 1776, Stockton's home, Morven, was ransacked by the redcoats.  His books and most of his furnishings were destroyed.  Luckily, Stockton had removed his wife and children from the area earlier, fearing the worst.  Though our signer initially escaped to the home of a friend, John Covenhoven, about thirty miles east of Princeton, the British caught up with him on 30 November 1776. [6]  He was imprisoned first in the common jail of Amboy by the British, but later moved to the more deplorable conditions at the old Provost prison in New York City.  Stockton was abused by his captors, suffering from cold and starvation at the least.
                                    Morven - the home of Richard Stockton in Princeton, NJ. Photo by the author
Once Stockton was exchanged, he came home a broken man.  Ill in health (besides his ill treatment by the British, he probably had cancer) and poor in wealth, Stockton died at home on 28 February 1781.  He was buried at the Stoney Brook Quaker Burial Ground in Princeton.  He is also honored
with a statue in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. - only one of six signers to be so honored.  Stockton also had a college named in his honor; Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, located in Galloway Twp., was founded in 1969.

          The Stockton's first born child, Julia, married Benjamin Rush, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a well-known physician of the time period, especially in Philadelphia.  Two of Stockton's sons obtained political success.  His son Richard was a U.S. Senator from New Jersey, while another son, Robert Field Stockton, served as a Commodore in the War of 1812, was the first military governor of California in 1846 and was also a New Jersey Senator.

[1] Annis was the sister of Elias Boudinot.  Elias served as commissary general of prisoners in the Revolutionary Army from 1776 until 1779.  He was a member of the Continental Congress in 1778, and from 1781 until 1783.  He served as President of that body from November 1782 to November 1783.  After signing the Treaty of Paris with England, ending the war, he resumed his law practice, but in 1789 he was elected to the first U.S. Congress.  He was twice reelected, serving until 1795, at which time he was named third Director of the U.S. Mint.  He remained as Director until 1805, when he resigned.  Elias Boudinot died in 1821.
[2] Cunningham, John T. Five Who Signed. Trenton: NJ Historical Commission, 1975; 13.
[3] Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1772 to 1775
[4] The writing was a plan for self-government in the colonies; though they would be independent of Parliament, they would still remain loyal to the Crown.
[5] Lossing, Benson J. Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1859; 79.
[6] Ibid., 51.


  1. Dan, did you do a part 5 on John Witherspoon?

    I'm posting links to it on my wife's blog over at Chief 187 Chatter.

  2. Not yet. I've been off the site for some time. I'm hoping to get it up by next week.