"You know my heart wishes for peace upon terms of security and justice to America. But war, anything, is preferable to a surrender of our rights."
Thomas Stone, April 24, 1776
Could you willingly make a decision that could cost you your property, your possessions, or even your life? That is the question men like Thomas Stone had to make once the decision was made to create the Declaration of Independence. It was not an easy decision to make.
Thomas Stone was like many Americans in 1776. The transition for him from loyal British subject to American revolutionary was slow and deliberate. Thomas Stone was a man who believed in peace, but when all signs pointed to an escalation of the conflict, he supported the cause of freedom. Like the other 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence, he had much to lose. The pledging of their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" was not an idle boast to these founding fathers. Stone had a large house, thousands of acres of land, and a young family, along with as many as 30 enslaved African Americans who performed the labor that supplied Stone's wealth. The toll on Stone was great; he spent large sums of money supporting the revolution and his health was destroyed by constant travel, concern for his financial situation, and worry over his wife's health. Stone would barely live to see an independent America.
Thomas Stone was born at Poynton Manor in 1743, located near Port Tobacco, in Charles County, Maryland. Not a great deal is known of Thomas's youth, including the month and day he was born. Like many young affluent men of the day, his education emphasized Greek and Latin language and philosophy. His early education later influenced Thomas to study law. By 1765, Stone finished his law education and began his practice by circuit riding between Port Tobacco, Frederick, and Annapolis. Stone gained a reputation as a man who carefully considered all options before making decisions. This was a trait that Stone would have his whole life.
At the age of 31, Thomas Stone got his start in politics. Stone was chosen to become a member of Charles County's Committee of Correspondence to communicate with all of the other colonies. The next year he was chosen to represent Maryland at the Second Continental Congress. It was a meteoric rise for Stone from county lawyer to a member of a congress comprised of all the colonies. By the time Congress met in May 1775, an issue that few of them truly wanted to think about had arisen - WAR! The fighting at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts had began the war three weeks before.
Stone was a lover of peace. Even after the incidents at Lexington and Concord, and later at Bunker Hill, Stone believed that peace could still be reestablished and he was one of the men who pushed for a letter to be sent to King George III. The letter, which would come to be known as the Olive Branch Petition, informed the king of the continued support of the colonists, but the king refused to read it and declared the colonies to be in rebellion.
By the time Congress reconvened in May 1776, the tone of the war had changed and the majority of the men now favored independence. After a vote on July 2, the Declaration of Independence was approved by 12 of the 13 colonies. New York abstained from the vote that date, but would approve by July 15. After two days of editing, the Declaration was approved in its final form on July 4. Stone and most of the other 55 men who would end up signing the document signed on August 2, 1776. The last signature was placed on the document by January 1777.
Stone would serve out the remainder of the 1776 Congressional session, but in 1777 he would decline reappointment and instead be selected to serve in the Maryland Senate in Annapolis where he would stay the remainder of his life. Part of the reason for the change was the health of his wife, Margaret. Margaret was bedridden for many of the last years of her life and Stone wanted to be closer to her. His family moved out of their Haberdeventure property in 1783 and went to Annapolis, buying the house known as the Peggy Stewart House.
In June 1787, Margaret died at the age of 36. Thomas was grief-stricken at her loss, even declining to represent Maryland at what would be the Constitutional Convention. Stone did not long survive his wife, dying on October 5, 1787, aged 44, just four months after his wife. They are both buried in the family cemetery located on the property.
Careful deliberation was more important to Thomas Stone than making rash decisions. Both reconciliation and independence were carefully studied by Stone, and when a decision to support independence was made, Stone put all of his energy into it. His forgotten role in the quest for liberty and justice assures his placement among our most significant founding fathers.