Guide to the Papers of John Hart Signer of the Declaration of Independence 1761-1778 (bulk 1777-1778) MG 60
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Inventory prepared by Danielle Kovacs as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Finding aid encoded by Danielle Kovacs. February 2004. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.
John Hart lived for most of his life in Hopewell Township, New Jersey where he worked as a farmer. The exact date of his birth is unknown, although most sources cite the year as 1711. It is believed that he was born in Stonington, Connecticut and moved to Hopewell with his parents at an early age. His father, Edward Hart, worked as a Justice of the Peace, public assessor, and farmer; he was also a commander of the New Jersey Blues, a corps of volunteers that served in the French-Canadian wars. Father and son worked together to build a successful farm, which John later inherited after his father’s death in 1752.
In 1739, John Hart married Deborah Scudder, daughter of Lt. Richard Scudder of Scudder’s Falls; together the couple had thirteen children: Sarah, Jesse, Matthew, Nathanial, John, Susannah, Mary, Abigail, Edward, Scudder, Daniel, Deborah, and an unnamed baby girl. By 1750, he was elected Freeholder for Hunterdon County, the highest elected office in the county. Five years later he was named Justice of the Peace, which entitled him to add “Esquire” to his signature and secured his place as a gentleman. John Hart was becoming a leading member of his community. In 1761, he was elected to the Provincial Assembly of New Jersey, a position he held for several terms until it was dissolved in 1771. During his tenure in the assembly, Hart promoted laws for the improvement of roads, the founding of schools, and the administration of justice. More importantly, he pressed for the New Jersey participation in the Stamp Act Congress of New York.
In 1775, he was appointed to the local Committee of Safety, the Committee of Correspondence, and a judge to the Court of Common Pleas. The following year Hart was elected to the newly formed Provincial Congress of New Jersey, and was sent as one of five delegates to represent the state at the 2nd Continental Congress. On July 4th, he and the other four delegates from New Jersey signed the Declaration of Independence. Not long after the signing, Hart was elected to the new State Assembly and chosen as its speaker. He took his seat in the assembly at Princeton, leaving behind him his farm, livestock, grist mills, and property, all of which were destroyed during the course of the war. A greater loss still was the loss of his wife, who died on October 8, 1776 after an illness brought on by the family’s hardships. Only a month after the death of his wife, the British and Hessians invaded New Jersey. Hart eluded capture by hiding in the forest and sleeping in caves, while his children sought refuge with family and friends. After Washington’s success at the Battle of Princeton, the British and Hessians began to pull out of the state and Hart reemerged. He called together a meeting of the General Assembly to convene at once in Pittstown on January 22, 1777.
During the next year, the state assembly met a total of ten times over a course of two hundred seventy days. In 1778, he was elected to the Council of Safety and as President of Joint Meetings of the New Jersey Congress; he also served as Commissioner of the New Jersey Loan Office, signing his name to bill of credit notes. By November of the same year, Hart returned home. Suffering from kidney stones, he found himself too ill to travel to the General Assembly in Trenton. He remained at home in Hopewell until his death on May 11, 1779 at the age of sixty-eight.
The papers of John Hart document his role as Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly and span the years 1761-1778, with the bulk of material dating from 1777-1778. The collection consists chiefly of certificates of attendance for the New Jersey General Assembly, but also includes a bond, a claims assessment, and a receipt.
The certificates of attendance were issued to members of the assembly and were used as proof of the time they spent convened in Trenton and Princeton. As Speaker of the General Assembly, Hart was called upon to certify the length of a member’s stay as well as the amount of compensation he would receive. After the documents were signed, they were most likely submitted to the Treasurer of the State of New Jersey, who in turn paid out the determined sum. The collection includes certificates of attendance for the following individuals: Jacob Brookfield, John Buck, Jacob Drake, Nehemiah Dunham, Edward Fleming, James Graham, Benjamin Holme, John McMurtrie, James Mott, Thomas Peterson, Roelof Sebring, Thomas Smith, Peter Tallman, Jacob Van Dike, and William Woodhull.
The collection also contains a claim assessment for John Smyth from the Province of New Jersey regarding the building of the Secretary Office at Perth Amboy and a receipt signed by John Hart for the services of a man and horse.
Finally, the collection includes a photocopy of a 1767 bond between John Hart et al and William Franklin, the Royal Governor of New Jersey and son of Benjamin Franklin.
This collection is arranged alphabetically by type of document and chronologically therein.
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.
Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.
The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.
For materials at The New Jersey Historical Society related to John Hart, see:
Includes an autograph commission signed by John Hart issued to Joseph Brearly authorizing him to raise a company of minutemen in Hunterdon County, dated September 11, 1775.
For collections at The New Jersey Historical Society related to the New Jersey Assembly, see:
One item, a claims assessment dated 1761, was purchased from the Anderson Auction Company; the source of the remainder of the collection is unknown.
This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 60, John Hart Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.
Patterson, Louis H. “John Hart, The New Jersey Signer.” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society. 10 (1925): 375-382.