Friday, June 05, 2015

Thomas Lynch Jr., the youngest signer

The story of the youngest man to sign the Declaration of Independence is also the story of a son's loyalty to his father as well as his country. Thomas Lynch Jr., a tale that ends with both their deaths shortly after the signing.

The Lynch family originated as the Linzt family in Austria, emigrating to England and Anglicizing their name. The family wanted to be British, not Austrian. In 1690, Jonack Lynch came to America and built the first of five rice plantations in coastal South Carolina. He left his son, Thomas, little money and a lot of land. Land rich, cash poor was a Southern affliction. Thomas Lynch built a successful enterprise, including the Hopsewee mansion in the 1730s. Nearly three centuries later, it is still standing and is still a private family home despite its status as a National Historic Landmark. The furnishings are mainly 18th and 19th century.

When the first Thomas Lynch died in 1738, his son Thomas, assumed the name Thomas Lynch Sr., whose son, Thomas Lynch Jr., was born on August 5, 1749.

Born in 1727, the father was active in Patriot politics, although he would send his son to England for an education, as was the American Way in colonial times. The son stayed there eight years. Meanwhile, South Carolina landowners elected the father to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, which succeeded in lobbying for it repeal, and then elected him to the first and second Continental Congresses. the father as well as Benjamin Harrison and Benjamin Franklin traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to meet with George Washington to discuss “the most effectual method of continuing, supporting, and regulating the Continental Army.” Financing the war would prove to be an ongoing headache for the commander-in-chief and congress.

Back home, the son had married. In 1775, he too was elected to the First Continental Congress, serving alongside with his father. Returning home, the son founded a militia and served as captain. But he fell ill to malaria rather than the musket ball. He never fully recovered from the disease.

Although ailing himself, the son wanted to leave the military to got to Philadelphia to tend his father, who suffered a paralytic stroke just as the Declaration of Independence was created. Remarkably, Colonel Christopher Gadsden of Gadsden Flag fame initially denied the son' request for a furlough. This caused a controversy, which led to the election of the son to congress. The father was so well-regarded that they left a space for his signature on the document during the initial signing. On August 2, 1776, when the New York delegation and others signed the declaration, Thomas Lynch Jr. was able to affix his signature between the signatures of fellow South Carolinians Thomas Heyward Jr. and Arthur Middleton. The son signed three days before his 27th birthday.

Then he had the task of returning to South Carolina with with his father, who expired in Annapolis just days after leaving Philadelphia.

At the time of the signing, Middleton and Rutledge were brothers-in-law as Rutledge had married Middleton's sister. Upon her death, he married a sister of Middleton's wife -- who also happened to be a sister of Lynch's wife, making the three signers brothers-in-law.

However, by that time, Thomas Lynch Jr. and his wife had died. They were lost at sea when their ship went down during a storm in the Bermuda Triangle in 1779. they were headed for the West Indies, where they planned to take a ship to France for treatment of his malaria. The youngest signer would also be the youngest of those 56 men to die. They left no children.

Instead, they left a nation and a mansion, both of which survive all these years later.

Don't forget, my first collection of "Exceptional Americans" is available here.

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