Thursday, September 26, 2013

Constitutional Trivia

By Frank Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator

This week’s blog entry is a continuation of our series about our Founding Fathers and the 1787 Federal Convention in Philadelphia that created the Constitution. These are random musings and factoids that the writer thought interesting, therefore you should as well. Or not.

Not one of the 55 delegates who attended the Convention was born in the United States. Of course, you remember, the United States didn’t exist, they were not united, nor were they states, but separate British colonies when our Founding Fathers were Founding Infants. A bit more interesting, perhaps, is the fact that eight delegates were not even born in America.

William R. Davie represented North Carolina, but he was born in Cumberlandshire, England. South Carolina’s Pierce Butler was Irish, having been born in County Carlow. James McHenry from Maryland was also Irish, born in County Antrim.You may not remember him for signing the Constitution, but his name lives on at a certain fort in Baltimore Harbor made famous in 1814. Another County Antrim lad was William Paterson, representing New Jersey.

Three of the eight members of the Pennsylvania delegation were from the other side of the pond: Robert Morris from Liverpool, James Wilson from Caskerdo, Scotland, and Thomas Fitzsimons, born in Wexford, Ireland.

The final foreign-born delegate, arguably the most renowned of the eight, represented New York. He was Alexander Hamilton from Nevis, British West Indies. He was also the sole member of the New York delegation to sign the Constitution as his fellow delegates left the convention early (see our September 5 blog post).

Seven men who signed the Constitution (George Clymer, PA; Benjamin Franklin, PA; Morris; George Read, DE; Roger Sherman, CT; Wilson, and George Wythe, VA) had signed the Declaration of Independence.

Six signers (Daniel Carroll, MD; John Dickinson, DE; Gouverneur Morris PA; Morris, and Sherman) had signed the Articles of Confederation.

Only two men, Roger Sherman and Robert Morris, signed all three of our nation's basic documents.

Thirteen delegates owned or managed slave-operated plantations or farms: Richard Bassett from Delaware; Daniel Carroll and Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer from Maryland; North Carolina’s William Blount and Richard Spaight, South Carolina’s Pierce Butler, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and John Rutledge; and John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, and George Washington of Virginia.

Benjamin Franklin freed his two slaves in 1785 and became an abolitionist.

Nine delegates were named William, six were named John, and five were named George.

Of the 55 men who attended the Convention at some point during that summer of 1787, no more than 38 delegates were present at any one time.

Forty-one delegates were or had been members of the Continental Congress.

At least 29 delegates had served in the Continental Army.

The youngest delegate was Jonathon Dayton from New Jersey at 26. Benjamin Franklin at 81 was the eldest. At 62, George Mason was the fifth oldest of the delegates.

The last delegate living was James Madison, who died in 1836 at the age of 85.

Riverfront of Gunston Hall. 
Alexander Hamilton and Richard Spaight were killed in duels.

Virginia delegate George Wythe died under mysterious circumstances in 1806 when he was 80, probably from poison delivered by his heir and grandnephew, George Wythe Sweeney.

In 1829, delegate John Lansing, then 75 was visiting New York City. He left his hotel to mail some letters and disappeared without a trace.

The average age of death of a delegate to the Convention was 67.

George Mason died in 1792. At the age of 67.

Works Cited
"America's Founding Fathers - Delegates to the Constitutional Convention." America's Founding Fathers - Delegates to the Constitutional Convention. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013. <>
"Individual Biographies of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention | Teaching American History." Teaching American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013. <>.

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