It’s the fourth of July and it’s time to fire up the grill, have a blast with friends, and then literally blast some fireworks. But, it’s also a day to take a little time to remember how we became a nation. So this fourth, how about we take a minute to honor the notary who helped found our nation, Thomas McKean.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1734, Thomas McKean was quick to use his family’s influence to jump into politics, and was quite good at it. By 1756 he had already passed the bar exam and had become deputy attorney general of Sussex County, and within a couple of years was named clerk of the assembly. I could go on, but you probably get the point, he rose quickly up the political ranks before the revolution.
The Notary of South Delaware
In 1765, after his vigorous disagreement and verbal barrage on Timothy Ruggles, a duel was accepted in the presence of Congress. (What!!!) Ruggles removed himself from the quarrel before the duel could take place.
Anyways, after this McKean is named the sole notary of South Delaware. Seriously, the sole notary for all of South Delaware.
And I am going to guess he did not come to you. Some people probably had to travel days by horse to get access to his services. And he probably did not offer fax backs, after hours or weekend closings, either.
More seriously, he was also a presiding judge during this time and became a member of the Continental Congress in 1774. Thomas McKean holds the honor as the only member in the Continental Congress to serve from its opening until the declaration of peace at the end of the war.
The Final Signature on the Declaration of Independence
McKean was also the last person to sign the Declaration of Independence, though exactly when is unclear and controversial.
How can a notary not know when they signed a doc?
Thomas McKean was a man of action, traveling to Delaware to secure the votes for Independence before returning for the final vote. After Independence was declared, he quickly left with troops to support George Washington in New Jersey. So, while he was definitely a founder, he does not appear as so in some congressional records.
Most now believe that they let McKean sign the Declaration at a later date, as he had left town to help Washington before the official signing. But, when he signed it is still up for debate. McKean swore on his deathbed he signed at some point before the end of 1776, but other records have been found that indicate he may not have signed it until 1777.
Another reason his memory may be fuzzy?
McKean was under extreme pressure from the British, constantly on the move. In a letter to John Adams, he said he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy”. McKean repeatedly had to move himself and his family to stay safe.
From Founder to President
We all recognize George Washington as the first president of the United States. And rightfully so, as he was the first president elected under our new constitution.
But, did you know the United States had a president before Washington? At that time they were called the President of Congress. And while they do not share all of the same roles and responsibilities that the new presidency would, they are in many ways much the same.
The first President of Congress was Samuel Huntington. He was very respected at the time, but became ill by early 1781. The Congress put off replacing him for as long as possible in the hopes he would recover. But, on July 10th, 1781, Congress elected a new president, the Notary of South Delaware, Thomas McKean.
In his role as President of Congress, McKean sent and received dispatches from Washington, and was the first in the capital to learn of the surrender of General Cornwallis.
Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Fireworks
We just took a glance at the fascinating life of a notary who helped found a nation, Thomas McKean.
So, now you can head back and grill some dogs, spend time with family and friends, have a drink, a dip in the pool and get ready for the fireworks.
And when you are fully satiated, maybe you can take a moment to find out a little bit more about Thomas McKean.
You can start here if you like.