Founding Fathers - John Hart
Born: Unknown - ca. 1713 (likely Stonington, Connecticut)
Died: May 11, 1779 (Hopewell, New Jersey)
This week we'll take a look at a simple man with a simple name and a simple profession who had an oversized impact on his community and nation's history. The details of when and where John Hart were born have been lost over time, with various historians dating his birth as early as 1706. His parents, Edward and Martha, moved into Connecticut in 1713 and had their son baptized on New Year's Eve, and this fact has led many to believe this was the actual year (but also prevents certainty regarding the correction location) of his birth. Edward Hart had been a farmer, justice of the peace, and he raised John to follow in his footsteps. As the young man grew into adulthood, he developed a reputation of possessing honestly and common sense, and with successful returns as a farmer he was able to acquire acreage and develop several mills. John married his wife, Deborah, in 1741 and the couple would eventually have 13 children.
Despite a lack of formal education, the character and acumen that John Hart displayed encouraged others to support him as he pursued various positions of public service. His first contribution to his community, however, was not in the field of politics but religion - he donated land to a group of Baptists who wanted to build a church. In 1750 Hart was elected to a county board, and five years later he became a justice of the peace like his father before him. It was during this time that Edward Hart served as a militia captain during the French and Indian War, tasked with raising and leading a unit nicknamed the "New Jersey Blues", indicating that John had been raised by a father with a fervent patriotic spirit. By 1761 John Hart won a seat on New Jersey's Colonial Assembly, where he served for the next 10 years before also becoming a judge with the state's Court of Common Pleas. His pro-liberty beliefs became apparent as tension grew between the colonies and the Crown, and because of his opposition to British policies such as taxation and the stationing of troops in New Jersey, Hart was elected to the provincial Congress and named to both the Committee of Safety and Committee of Correspondence.
New Jersey's delegation to the First Continental Congress opposed independence, but by 1776 an entirely new group was selected and authorized to support the revolutionary cause. John Hart and four other men arrived to join the Second Continental Congress in June, and actively supported the proposed break from Britain during their short time in Philadelphia. After voting for and signing the Declaration of Independence, Hart only remained in Congress until August when he returned home to assume his role as speaker of New Jersey's newly-formed state assembly. His wife, Deborah, died in early October of the same year, which caused the scattering of the children, two of whom were still minors. As winter approached, the still-mourning Hart was forced to flee and hide in the nearby mountains, a hunted man sought by the invading Redcoats, until Colonial victories at Princeton and Trenton allowed his return home. He found that his property had been raided but not destroyed. In the summer of 1778, while still serving in his role as Speaker, he invited the Colonial Army to stay on his land and on at least one occasion hosted George Washington for dinner just days before the general led his troops to victory at the Battle of Monmouth. Unfortunately, Hart fell ill with a severe case of kidney stones that same fall and was too sick to return to serve in the state assembly. After suffering for several months he wrote his final will in April 1779, and died the following month before the struggle for independence was won. John Hart was buried in the grave yard beside the Baptist church he had helped build, on property he had once owned.
The signature of John Hart can be found as the eighth name in the fifth column beneath the Declaration of Independence.