John Hart of New Jersey was one of the most persecuted of the Signers by the British. Hart had gained his early education at home and apparently took it much farther by his own efforts, judging by the later offices he held. But for the most part, he was a farmer and content to be one.
He and his wife had thirteen children, a large and happy family. Then Hart was selected to represent New Jersey in the Continental Congress and signed his name on the Declaration of Independence, making himself forever an enemy of King George and Parliament.
Early in the war, Hart’s wife became very sick. He was at her bedside when neighbors brought the news that the British were on the road to his farm to arrest him, presumably to hang as a traitor. He refused to leave her bedside. But his neighbors insisted that he was too important to the cause of independence to tarry any longer. They would take care of his wife and children, they said. He must run. Now!
Indeed, John Hart was barely ahead of the approaching British soldiers. For nearly a year he had to live like an animal in the woods, eating what he could forage and sleeping in caves and rock hollows. He talked later of bedding down sometimes with a large dog that befriended him, huddling with his new pet for warmth in the bitter New England cold.
John Hart returned to his farm to find it ruined by the invaders. His wife was dead and his children scattered to wherever a temporary home could be found for them. He had paid a high price for his vote for freedom. But he never regretted it.
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