This Day in History: Lyman Hall, signer of the Declaration of Independence
On this day in 1724, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence is born in Connecticut. Lyman Hall may have had the oddest path of anyone to his historic vote for independence. When he first showed up at the Continental Congress, he didn’t technically represent *any* colony. He’d been sent by only a small portion of Georgia.
He represented THEM, not the entire colony.
Georgia had the largest Loyalist population in the thirteen colonies. I guess you could say that they were a bit slow to join the cause? Once they jumped in, though, they were ready to fight!
But how did a Connecticut native come to represent any portion of Georgia?
Hall spent the first three decades of his life in Connecticut. He attended Yale College and became a minister. He was married—then widowed. His life as a minister wasn’t going so well, either. He changed professions and studied medicine. Finally, he and his second wife decided that more opportunities for doctors existed in the southern colonies. The Halls made their way toward South Carolina, then toward Georgia.
Eventually, Hall settled into life as a doctor and a rice farmer in St. John’s Parish, Georgia. Patriot sentiment was stronger there than in other parts of the colony! You won’t be surprised to hear that locals didn’t react so well when Georgia was slow to cooperate with other colonies in the conflict against Great Britain.
In 1774, every colony except Georgia appointed delegates to the First Continental Congress, a body that was formed in the wake of the Boston Tea Party (and Britain’s “intolerable” response to that Tea Party). St. John’s Parish noted Georgia’s absence in that assembly. They had no intention of being left behind again! When a second Continental Congress was formed in 1775, locals elected Hall to represent them in Congress.
Hall’s arrival in Philadelphia presented an interesting problem. He was welcomed by Congress, and he participated in the proceedings of that body. But no one was quite sure whether to count his vote, since he didn’t represent a full colony. Fortunately, that problem went away in July 1775, when Georgia finally decided that it had had enough. It officially appointed delegates, including Hall, to represent the full colony in the proceedings of the Continental Congress.
Three of those delegates were present in July 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was approved. Hall and two others would eventually affix their names to that document.
Hall returned home later, only to be driven out again when the British overtook Georgia in 1778. Hall’s home and plantation were destroyed. He was forced back to Connecticut, where he lived until the end of the war.
Fortunately, Hall’s story has a happy ending. He was eventually able to return home, and he served as a Governor of Georgia. He was able to purchase a new plantation. He also helped to found the University of Georgia.
He’d taken many risks for his country. In the end, he passed away on his plantation in 1790.
Benson John Lossing, Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence (1866)
C. Brian Kelly, Best Little Stories from the American Revolution (2011)
Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1832)
Dennis Brindell Fradin, The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence (2003)
Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale College (1896) (vol. II)
Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (Robert T. Conrad ed. 1865)