American Grown with Irish Roots:
The Irish Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Who They Were & Where They’re From
Happy 4th of July! As we celebrate our peace, liberty and freedom, it’s also a time to commemorate the men and women who built our nation. In 1776, many of those founding fathers were of Irish descent, and they brought their Irish spirit to the new world.
Today we remember eight fine Irish men who were integral to the birth of America, by signing the Declaration of Independence… and two more Irishmen who helped along the way. §
James Smith, Matthew Thornton, George Taylor
Ulster, Limerick, Antrim
Three of the eight Irish signers emigrated to the new world from their Irish hometowns. James Smith was born in 1719 in the Ulster province and moved to America at a young age with his family, eventually landing in Pennsylvania. He studied law and was an outspoken writer who published legal opinions concerning the legality of British rule in America. In his life he served as a Colonel of the Pennsylvania Militia and a member of the Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration of Independence when he was 57 years old.
Matthew Thornton was born in Co. Limerick in 1714, and also emigrated with his family at a young age. He practiced medicine, served as a Colonel in the New Hampshire Militia, served as Chief Justice for a time, and signed on behalf of New Hampshire when he was 62. His family moved to Massachussets after fleeing south from Maine, where they were attacked by Native Americans. §
George Taylor from Co. Antrim was born in 1716 and he emigrated to America much later, when he was 20 years old. Despite becoming an indentured servant the moment he landed, he worked his way up and became a premiere iron manufacturer in Pennsylvania. He signed for Pennsylvania when he was 60 years old.
Thomas Lynch Jr, Edward Rutledge, Thomas McKean
Galway, Tyrone, Antrim
Thomas Lynch Jr. was born in 1749 in South Carolina, but it was his father Thomas Lynch Sr. who was a member of the famed Continental Congress. Thomas Lynch Sr, son of the exiled Jonas Lynch of Galway, was ill when the signing took place in Pennsylvania. So his 27-year-old son signed on his behalf. Unfortunately, Thomas Lynch Jr. disappeared mysteriously at sea just two years later.
Edward Rutledge was another representative who signed on behalf of South Carolina. His father, Dr. John Rutledge, emigrated from Co. Tyrone in 1735, and Edward was born in 1749. Edward went on to fight in the Southern Campaign in the War for Independence. He was actually held as a P.O.W. in Florida for three years. He is known as the youngest signer, at just 27 years old. That’s just a bit younger than Thomas Lynch’s son… but Edward was actually in the Congress with Lynch Sr! He went on to become the 39th Governor of South Carolina.
The Honorable Thomas McKean was born in Pennsylvania in 1734 to parents originally from Co. Antrim. He lived a life dedicated to public service: he served as a Commander of a patriot militia group and was President of Congress for a time. He also served as a Senator, a Chief Justice, and the Governor of Pennsylvania. When Thomas was 42 he signed the Declaration of Independence, at the height of his life in public office.
George Read, Charles Carroll
While two of the five Irish-American signers were born in Maryland, only one truly represented our Old Line State, the other was a Senator for Delaware. George Read was born in Maryland in 1733 to parents originally from Dublin. They moved to Delaware shortly after George was born. After studying law in Philadelphia, Read was appointed Crown Attorney General in Delaware before joining the Continental Congress. This is his now famous response to the angry British: “I am a poor man, but, poor as I am, the King of England is not rich enough to purchase me.” He signed when he was 43 years old.
Being based in Maryland, we have saved our most local connection for last. Our own Charles Carroll of Carrollton was not only one of the few Irishmen who signed, but he was also the only Catholic man to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was born in Maryland in 1737 to a family from Co. Offaly, signed the Declaration of Independence when he was 39… and then outlived every other man who signed it. He lived to be 95 years old. We’ll save his legacy in our home state for another full blog post, but this fact is worth noting: he is a descendant of Clan Ó Cearbhail, a prominent Irish family who can trace their roots to early Irish tribes from the third century C.E §.
Charles Thompson & John Dunlap
Our other two key players? None other than Congress Secretary Charles Thomson from Co. Derry, and printer John Dunlap from Co. Tyrone. Charles Thomson served as the Secretary of the Continental Congress. It was he who wrote out the original finalized Declaration of Independence on July 4th, signed it alongside John Hancock and then delivered it to John Dunlap’s printing press. This is why he is often also credited as an original Irish signer of the Declaration of Independence… it was because he wrote it all down and signed it. §
Then John Dunlap took that original document and printed 200 copies to deliver across the 13 former colonies. § That document, known as the Dunlap Broadside, was printed and sent to many newspapers in order to spread the word and truly declare our independence. John Dunlap went on to fight alongside George Washington in the battles of Trenton and Princeton with the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. §
**Interested in wearing the tartans designed for each Irish County? Check out the links on each county name! We have them available in scarves, caps, sashes, and ties.**
These Irish families made a home for themselves here in the New World… and thereby built a home for us, too.
Happy Independence Day, and Sláinte Mór!
Try these ways to add some Celtic Red, White, and Blue to your wardrobe: