The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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to call up before him an august assemblage gravely seated around a table, with the Declaration spread out upon it, and each member of the Continental Congress in turn taking a pen and with great dignity affixing to it his name. Nothing, however, can be further from that which actually took place, very few of the delegates, if indeed any, signed the original document on the 4th, and none signed the present one now in Independence Hall, for the very good reason that it was not then in existence.

        "On July 19th, Congress voted that the Declaration be engrossed on parchment. Jefferson, however, says that New York signed on July 15th. Consequently, New York must have signed the original Declaration before it had gone into the hands of the engrosser. On what day the work was done by the copyist, is not known. All that is certainly known, is that on August 2d, Congress had the document as engrossed. This is the document in existence now in Independence Hall. It is on parchment or something that the trade calls parchment. On that day (August 2d) it was signed by all the members present.

        "The original Declaration is lost, or rather was probably purposely destroyed by Congress. All the signatures were made anew. When the business of signing was ended, is not known. One, Matthew Thornton, from New Hampshire, signed it in November, when he became a member for the first time; and Thomas McKean, from Delaware, as he says himself, did not sign till January, 1777. Indeed, this signing was, in effect, what at the present day would be called a "test oath." The principles of many of the new delegates coming into Congress from the different States, were not known with certainty--some of them might be Tories in disguise--and thus each one was required, on first entering Congress to sign the Declaration. In January, 1777, an authenticated copy, with the names of all the signers, was sent to each State for signatures--a fact which may have put a stop to the business of signing. It shows, however, the little importance that was attached to this ceremony, that Robert R. Livingston was one of the committee of five that reported the Declaration, and yet did not sign it, unless his signature is lost with the original document.

        "The truth is the Declaration of Independence was considered at that time, of much less importance than now, nor did the signers dream of its becoming a shrine almost of worship at the present day. It was like the Scottish Covenants of the previous century, which so strongly tinctured the Mecklenburg Declaration of May 20, 1775."

        Another distinguished member of this Committee or Congress was Waighstill Avery. We have already recorded his biography. (See p. 76.)

        Rev. Hezekiah James Balch was also a member of this body. He was a native of Deer Creek, Harford county, Maryland, born 1748. He was the uncle of Rev. Stephen B. Balch, late of Georgetown, D. C. He graduated at Princeton, in 1766, in the same class with Waighstill Avery, Oliver Ellsworth, Luther Martin, and others. He studied for the ministry and was appointed by the synods of New York and Philadelphia, a missionary to North Carolina. He was the first pastor of Rocky River and Poplar Tent churches, and so continued until his death. He was as an exemplary Christian as he was a devoted patriot. He combined great enthusiasm with unquestioned firmness. He died in 1776, and lies buried in the churchyard of Poplar Tent. The following inscription is over his remains:

        "Beneath this marble are the mortal remains of the Rev. Hezekiah J. Balch: the first pastor of Poplar Tent Congregation, and one of the original members of the Orange Presbytery. He was licensed a preacher of the Everlasting Gospel by the Presbytery of Donegal in 1766, and rested from his labors in 1776, having been pastor of Poplar Tent and Rocky River about
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