On this day in 1787, a signer of the Declaration of Independence passes away. It’s been said that Thomas Stone died of a broken heart.
You’ve probably never heard of Stone. He wasn’t a big, famous personality like Benjamin Franklin. He didn’t do anything flashy, like Caesar Rodney did when he made a midnight ride from Delaware to Philadelphia, making it just in time to vote in favor of the Declaration. Stone didn’t go on to become President like John Adams or Vice President like Elbridge Gerry. Instead, Stone was simply a Patriot who worked hard, served his country, and put his life on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence—a document that King George III viewed as treason.
How wonderful to live in a country where such a statement can be made. He “simply” put his life on the line. Nothing too flashy?!
Unfortunately, Stone’s wife became sickly at about the time that the Declaration was approved. Margaret Stone had decided to get inoculated against small pox, but the process didn’t go well. She was never the same again. For 11 years, she struggled with ill health before finally passing away in 1787.
The grief-stricken Thomas Stone died just four months later. Shortly before his death, he wrote a letter. “I am now in a weak state,” he told his 12-year-old son, “about to travel, and probably shall not see you more.” He was saying good-bye! What would he wish his son to know? What principles would enable his son to live a good and successful life?
“Shun all giddy, loose and wicked company,” Stone told his son, “they will corrupt and lead you into vice, and bring you to ruin. Seek the company of sober, virtuous and good people, who will always shew you examples of rectitude of conduct and propriety of behaviour which will lead to solid happiness. . . . Take care not to be seduced by the professions of any person to do what your heart tells you is wrong . . . .”
Good advice that still rings true today, doesn’t it?
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)
Nathaniel Dwight, The Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (1852)
Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (Robert T. Conrad ed. 1865)
J. Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland: From the Earliest Period to the Present Day (1879) (Vol. II)