J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, September 01, 2023

“Pray Subscribe for me the Declaration of Independence”

Elbridge Gerry left Philadelphia on 16 July 1776, heading for home in Massachusetts with a pound of green tea.

His fellow Continental Congress delegate John Adams wrote that Gerry was “worn out of Health, by the Fatigues of this station.”

But Adams also wrote that he expected Gerry to enthusiastically inspect the Continental Army and fortifications while traveling through New York, and that’s just what Gerry did.

On Sunday, 21 July, while staying near the King’s Bridge that connected Manhattan to the mainland, Gerry sat down to write a long letter to Adams and his cousin, Samuel Adams.

Gerry wrote of the Continental officers:
they appear to be in high Spirits for Action and agree in Sentiments that the Men’s as firm and determined as they wish them to be, having in View since the Declaration of Independence an object that they are ready to contend for, an object that they will chearfully pursue at the Risque of Life and every valuable Enjoyment.
The area was well fortified, he judged, and the people of New Jersey and New York City enthusiastic about the Patriot cause.

He reported on Adm. Lord William Howe’s interactions with Gen. George Washington, which included rejecting a proposal for a prisoner swap of Philip Skene, Loyalist governor of Crown Point and Ticonderoga, for James Lovell, a Boston Patriot.

Gerry recommended removing Gen. Philip Schuyler from command of the Northern Department. Indeed, he suggested that Schuyler should be “sent to Boston, recalled to answer any Charges that may be brot against him.” With the collapse of the invasion of Canada, “The N England Colonies are warm for the Measure.”

After discussing how to reenlist and resupply the army, Gerry shared an idea for increasing business with the French:
Would it not be a good Measure to propose to the French Court to supply with Grain their Army in the West Indies and to impower them to employ suitable persons in the States for that purpose who shall be supplyed by Congress with Money and Ship it in their own Vessels; Whilst they are to make Returns by allowing Us a Factor in their Kingdom to purchase Arms or other military Stores to a certain Amount who is to be furnished by their Court with Money for that purpose. This would be a speedy Way of coming at Arms and Ammunition, and open a Channel for a Breach with Britain.
Finally, Gerry addressed two political matters. He asked for one of the confidential printed copies of the new draft Articles of Confederation, and he wrote:
Pray Subscribe for me the Declaration of Independence if the same is to be signed as proposed. I think We ought to have the privilege when necessarily absent of voting and signing by proxy.
After Gerry had left Philadelphia, the Congress formally approved creating the handsome handwritten Declaration that we know. If Gerry’s proposal had been adopted, some of those signatures would not have been the delegates’ actual signatures but signatures of their friends for them. Gerry was worried that after voting for independence he’d be left out.

TOMORROW: About Gerry’s signature.

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