York County historian Jim McClure shares a partial listing of those among the 64 Continental Congress delegates visiting York Town and their spouses who sustained deprivation and even death.
1. James Duane’s wife, Mary, suffered a nervous breakdown during the New York delegate’s long tenure in Congress in 1777 and early 1778. Duane did not immediately return to Congress so he could care for her.
2. Philip Livingston, New York, died in office in York Town and was buried in that relocated capital.
3. William Henry Drayton, South Carolina, died a painful death from typhus, an infectious disease often transmitted by the bite of fleas or lice, while serving in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1779.
4. The British captured Henry Laurens, en route to Holland on a diplomatic mission, and confined the former Continental Congress president to the Tower of London for 15 months. The British killed his beloved son, Col. John Laurens, in an inconsequential skirmish days before the war’s end.
5. Thomas Heyward Jr., Richard Hutson and Arthur Middleton, South Carolina delegates, suffered in a St. Augustine, Fla., prison for a year after the British captured them in Charleston in 1780. Heyward narrowly escaped death on his way back from captivity. One account states that he fell over the side of a ship but held onto its rudder until help arrived. During imprisonment, his plantation was ravaged, and his slaves carried away, possibly to sugar plantations in Jamaica.
6. James Forbes, representing Maryland in Congress, died in Philadelphia in 1780. Members of Congress attended the funeral, conducted by the Rev. William White, with crepes around their left arms and continued in mourning for one month.
7. Nathaniel Scudder, New Jersey, a soldier as well as a delegate, died in a skirmish near Shrewsbury, N.J., in 1781. The fight occurred three days before the British surrender at Yorktown, Va.
8. Tories kidnapped North Carolina Gov. Thomas Burke in 1781. The former delegate escaped and resumed his duties as governor.
9. The British captured Cornelius Harnett, North Carolina, in January 1781. He died later that year while on parole from prison.
10. The British captured Elizabeth Lewis, wife of delegate Francis Lewis, and destroyed their home. Imprisonment hastened the New York woman’s death.
11. The redcoats, occupying Newport, R.I., burned delegate William Ellery’s property as revenge for his patriotic activities.
12. George Walton, Georgia, also served as a colonel in his state’s militia. Fighting around Savannah, Ga., a British musket ball broke his leg, knocking him from his horse. The British captured him, but he was exchanged for a British officer that same year.
13. James Witherspoon, eldest son of John Witherspoon, New Jersey, was killed in the Battle of Germantown in October 1777.
14. When Massachusetts delegate James Lovell sent a map to Abigail Adams, the sealed letter, in Lovell’s handwriting, distressed the wife of John Adams. She feared it contained news that her husband was dead. “It seems almost imposible that the Humane mind could take in, in so small space of time, so many Ideas as rushd upon mine in the space of a moment, I cannot describe to you what I felt,” Abigail Adams wrote. After seeing the map was part of the letter, she realized her fear was unfounded. “… (B)ut I pray Heaven,” she said, “I may never realize another moment of distress.”