Founding Fathers - John Morton
Born: 1725 (Ridley Township, Pennsylvania)
Died: April 1, 1777 (Ridley Township, Pennsylvania)
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Many details of John Morton's life have faded into the misty obscurity of history, including the exact date of his birth, but we know that he was born along the Delaware River just outside of Philadelphia at some point in 1725. He never knew his father, a Finnish man named Johan Marttinen who had anglicized it to John Morton, because he died the same year (likely before the baby's birth). Although John's mother, Mary, did not provide him with formal schooling she did see to it that he had an education. Young John was taught at home by an English surveyor by the name of John Sketchley, who eventually married Mary and became the boy's stepfather in 1732. Having learned basic skills as well as his new father's trade, John was noted for his intelligence and hard work, and soon prepared to set out on his own. At the age of 23 he married Ann Justis and the couple would have nine children together.
Working as a farmer and surveyor, John Morton's life was largely spent outside of the public eye until 1756 when he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. The following year he became justice of the peace, but while his political positions occupied much of his attention for the next 20 years he maintained his home near Philadelphia. In 1765 Morton was chosen to represent Pennsylvania at the Stamp Act Congress, the first meeting of elected leaders to collectively address concerns of the colonies to the British. A year later he returned home and resigned his seat in the Assembly to serve as sheriff in his home county, a position he held until 1769. He was then immediately elected once again to the Assembly and eventually rose to the position of Speaker before he was chosen to attend the First Continental Congress in 1774, just 14 miles away from his home.
In 1775 John Morton was one of five members of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Second Continental Congress, and was considered a moderate. Fellow delegate John Dickinson had championed the cause of extending an olive branch to King George III, while Benjamin Franklin was firmly convinced that freedom could only be achieved through independence. Morton was undecided and the delegation of the colony which hosted the gathering appeared to be stuck in a tie, right up until July 1 when he dramatically threw his support behind the vote to break away from the British. With Pennsylvania's support now assured, the Declaration was passed without any state's dissent. Morton soon began participating on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation and was elected as its chairman. Shortly after the Articles were written, but before they could be ratified, Morton suddenly fell ill from tuberculosis and passed away at his home. He became the first signer of the Declaration to die, less than a year after solidifying the Keystone State's important role in the struggle for independence.
The signature of John Morton can be found as the fourth name in the fourth column beneath the Declaration of Independence.