John Hart (1713 – May 11, 1779) was a Delegate from New Jersey to the Continental Congress and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Little is known of the life of John Hart, but what we do know is that he was an honorable man who loved his family and served his country. He was known for his common sense and his ability in practical matters. He was selected to represent New Jersey in the Second Continental Congress. Here he would serve alongside fellow New Jersey delegates: John Witherspoon, Richard Stockton, Francis Hopkinson, and Abraham Clark. At the age of 63 he was one of the senior members of the Congress.
Early Life of John Hart
John Hart was born in 1713 to the Justice of the Peace of Hopewell Township, Edward Hart. He received some education, but did not go to the prestigious schools as many of the other signers of the Declaration of Independence. He eventually learned the law which enabled him to serve on the Continental Congress, but was not known for his legal mind. Hart had a keen mind for money and business matters and took a common sense approach to these matters. He was able to take the complicated and break it down so that a simple man could understand it.
In 1739 he married Deborah Scudder and the two went on to have twelve children. He and Deborah were married until 1776 when she passed away.
Although he had not received the best education John Hart served New Jersey in many political stations. He was first elected to the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1750 and then the New Jersey colonial Assembly in 1761. From the Assembly he was appointed to the local Committee of Safety and the Committee of Correspondence. Soon after he would become a judge for the Court of Common Pleas. It would be here that he would showcase his character and gain the reputation as an honest and just man. He would earn the nickname “Honest John.”
His public service elevated his name in the New Jersey political arena and soon landed him as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. How he arrived there is a bit of a controversy. At the First Continental Congress the New Jersey delegates were opposed to Independence and were then replaced y those in favor of a break from Britain. This helped tip the scales for the Declaration of Independence and unify the 13 original colonies. John Hart was then thrust into the international spotlight and would sign his name and be branded a traitor by King George III.
John Hart did not escape the war without scars. His wife would die in October of 1776 and then he would have to flee his home for a few days due to the Hessian presence in the area. After the Battle of Trenton, Hart resumed his lifestyle. He would have dinner with George Washington shortly before the Battle of Monmouth and the Continental Army would set up their quarters on his land.
John Hart returned from the Assembly in Trenton and fell ill two days later. He complained of sharp pains which were diagnosed as gravel or what we would now call kidney stones. This occurred around November 10, 1778 and it would last until his death on May 11, 1779. It was a slow and painful death for this American patriot.
The New Jersey Gazette eulogized him:
On Tuesday the 11th instant, departed this life at his seat in Hopewell, JOHN HART, Esq. the Representative in General Assembly for the county of Hunterdon, and late Speaker of that House. He had served in the Assembly for many years under the former government, taken an early and active part in the present revolution, and continued to the day he was seized with his last illness to discharge the duties of a faithful and upright patriot in the service of his country in general and the county he represented in particular. The universal approbation of his character and conduct among all ranks of people, is the best testimony of his worth, and as it must make his death regretted and lamented, will ensure lasting respect to his memory.
Hart died with much debt and his land was seized and sold by the loyalists of New Jersey. With the exception of two, his kids were grown and moved to the frontier or married in the area.