HART, John, signer of the
Declaration of Independence, born in Hopewell township, New Jersey, in 1713;
died there in 1779. He was the son of Edward Hart, who commanded the New Jersey
blues, a corps of volunteers that served in the French-Canadian wars. John was a
farmer, without military ambition, and took no active part in the French wars.
He acquired 380 acres of his own, including grist mills, married a local girl,
Deborah Scudder in 1739 and had thirteen children. He is said to have been a man
of medium height and well proportioned, with very black hair and light eyes, and
to have been called handsome in his youth.
While his farm prospered, in
1750, John Hart was elected Freeholder for Hunterdon County, the highest elected
office in the county. In 1761, he was elected to the Provincial Assembly of New
Jersey. He served for several terms in the provincial legislature, and was the
promoter of laws for the improvement of roads, the founding of schools, and the
administration of justice. He was known in the community as "Honest John
Hart." In 1765, on the passage of the stamp act, he was one of the first to
recognize the tyrannical character of that measure, and assisted in the
selection of delegates to the congress that was held in New York in October of
He served in the congress of
1774 and that of 1775. and in 1776 was elected with four others to fill the
vacancies caused by the resignation of the New Jersey delegation, who were
unwilling to assume the responsibility imposed by Lee's resolution of
independence. In 1776, he was designated one of the officials to sign the new
Bill of Credit notes issued as money for the state. He signed each of the 15,583
notes issued for the western New Jersey division of the treasury in 1776. In
that same year he was elected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress
and signed the Declaration of Independence in early August. Fellow Signer,
Benjamin Rush, described him as "a plain, honest, well meaning Jersey farmer,
with but little education, but with good sense and virtue enough to pursue the
true interests of his country."
New Jersey currency note signed "John Hart."
John Hart, the signer of the
Declaration, has frequently been confounded with John de Hart, who was one of
the number that resigned. In 1777-'8 he was chairman of the New Jersey council
of safety. After signing the Declaration, Hart's life was one of tragic losses.
Shortly after signing the Declaration, he was elected to the new State Assembly
and chosen its Speaker. When he left Philadelphia to take his seat in the state
legislature at Princeton, his farm, livestock, grist mills and property were
destroyed by Hessian mercenaries. Because of these hardships, Hart's wife became
ill, and due to his frequent absences to be at her side, the State Assembly
adjourned until November because they could not hold business without the
Speaker. His wife died the same day the decision to adjourn was made. Upon
hearing the British were seeking to capture him, Hart eluded them by hiding in
forests and sleeping in caves. His children were forced to hide and seek refuge
with family and friends.
This terrible turn of events
took its irreversible toll on Hart and his own health started to fail. After
Washington won at the Battle of Princeton, Hart returned from hiding and called
for the Assembly to reconvene at Pittstown. In 1779 Hart resigned from the state
legislature. On May 11 of that year, at the age of sixty-eight, John Hart died
near Hopewell, New Jersey. His death came less than three years after he placed
his signature on the Declaration.