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The Women Behind the Signers

Wives of the Signers of the United States (US) Constitution
From left: Elizabeth Hamilton, Deborah Read, Dolley Madison, Martha Washington.

70 men were chosen to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787, only 55 attended, and of that 55 only 39 signed. Many of them left wives and families in order to be there, a sacrifice that was difficult, but necessary for the development of the government of the United States.

Here is a list of the women that were left behind, the individuals who supported the Founding Fathers, and took care of their affairs while they were away.

Connecticut

William Samuel Johnson

Married Anne Beachon November 5, 1749. Together they had five daughters and six sons. She died on April 24, 1796.

Johnson married again, to a relative of Anne's, Mary Brewster Beach, but they had no children together.

Roger Sherman

Married Elizabeth Hartwell in 1749. Together they had seven children. She died in 1760.

Sherman married again to Rebecca Minot Prescott (1742-1813) on May 12, 1763. Together they had eight more children. Rebecca was friends with Betsy Ross, who let her sew three of the stars on the original United States flag. Because of her success in this role, Rebecca was picked to create the first flag of Connecticut. She was also referred to by George Washington as the "most beautiful of the Cabinet ladies." She died in 1813.

Delaware

Richard Bassett

Married Ann Ennals, a woman from Maryland, in 1774 and together they had three children.

After Ann's death in 1796, Bassett married Elizabeth "Betsy" Garret, another Maryland native. She was a strong Methodist,* and both she and Richard Bassett spent significant time in their local church. She died in 1819.

There are no existing portraits of Ann or Betsy, as the Bassett mansion was destroyed in a fire not long after the death of its main residents.

Gunning Bedford Jr.

Married Jane "Jenny" Ballareau Parker in 1772. Jenny* was the daughter of James Parker, a journalist from New Jersey and a friend of Benjamin Franklin's. Franklin famously called Jenny "Jenky." She was classically educated and spoke French fluently, and her natural grace allowed her to catch the eye of Bedford. Together they had five children, two of which died in infancy. Jane Parker died at the age of 85, on July 26, 1831, outliving her husband by 19 years.

Jacob Broom

Married Rachel Pierce on December 14, 1773 and together they raised eight children, two of their children died in childhood. Rachel was the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Pierce of Greenville, New Jersey.

John Dickinson

Married Mary "Polly" Norris, the daughter of Isaac Norris II, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. She was an accomplished reader, avid correspondent, and an astute gardener. The two were married in secret, as Dickinson did not want to associate with the Society of Friends, a Quaker institution that the Norris family was associated with.* Together they had five children, three of whom died in infancy. Polly died on July 23, 1803 in Wilmington, Delaware.

George Read

Married Gertrude Ross Till (1733 -September 2, 1802) on January 11, 1763, and together they had five children. Gertrude was the daughter of the Rev. George Ross, the Anglican rector of Immanuel Church in New Castle sister of George Ross a future signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gertrude was a widow, previously married to Thomas Till. She was an avid gardener, and a lover of tulips, and spent many hours tending to them. Gertrude died on September 2, 1802, at her home in New Castle, Delaware.

Georgia

Abraham Baldwin

Never Married.

William Few

Married Catherine "Kitty" Nicholson (August 7, 1764 - 1854) in July of 1788, a fellow New Yorker, the daughter of Commodore James Nicholson of the Royal Navy, and friend of writer Thomas Paine.* Together they had three daughters. Kitty died in 1954, outliving her husband by many years.

Maryland

Daniel Carroll

Married his second cousin Eleanor Carroll (1732 - 13 April, 1763) in 1750, which brought him a sizable dowry of 3,000 pounds.* Together they had two children, a son and a daughter. The son is depicted in the only portrait ever created of Eleanor. Eleanor died on April 13, 1763 at the young age of 31, long before Daniel ever became a public figure. He never remarried.

Daniel Jenifer of St. Thomas

Never married.

James McHenry

Married Margaret "Peggy" Allison Caldwell (October 8, 1762 - November 20, 1833) in 1784 and wrote to her consistently throughout his career. Often his letters contained poetry he had written. They had a very happy marriage, and together had five children, two of whom died young. Peggy was deeply religious, and was not always interested in her husband's affairs, although she always supported him.* She died on November 20, 1833, outliving James by 17 years.

Massachusetts

Nathaniel Gorham

Married Rebecca Call (May 14, 1744 - November 18, 1812) on September 6, 1763 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the daughter of Caleb Call and Rebecca Stimson. Nathaniel and Rebecca had nine children together. She died on November 18, 1812.

Rufus King

Married Mary Alsop (October 17, 1769 - October 18, 1769) in New York City on March 30, 1786, the only daughter of John Alsop, a wealthy merchant, and a delegate for New York to the Continental Congress. Mrs. King was known as being beautiful with gentle manners. She died in Jamaica, New York on October 18, 1769.

New Hampshire

Nicholas Gilman

Married Ann Taylor on December 21, 1752 and together they had eight children.

John Langdon

Married Elizabeth"Betsy" Sherburne. Together they had two children, only one who survived to adulthood. After thirty-six years of marriage, Elizabeth died in 1813.

New Jersey

David Brearly

Married Elizabeth Mullen (1741-1791) in 1767. Her father died when she was young, so she was raised mainly by her mother. When Elizabeth was 18, she eloped with the son of the Earl of Carhampton, Henry Lawes Luttrell,* and together they fled to England. Unfortunately, the decision hadn't been legal because both were underage. Her mother went to retrieve her, to bring her back to New Jersey, while Henry continued onto England. She had been pregnant, however, and gave birth to a daughter soon after, which Brearly raised as his own once they were married. Together, David and Elizabeth had four children.

After Elizabeth Mullen died, Brearly Married Elizabeth "Betsy" Higbee and together they had three children. Elizabeth died on August 20, 1832 at the age of 81.*

Jonathan Dayton

Married Susan Williamson of Elizabethtown, New Jersey on March 28, 1779.* Together they had four children. Susan died in childbirth on November 27, 1804.

William Livingston

Married Susanna French in 1747, daughter of a well-to-do New Jersey landowner. Together they had 13 children. According to Livingston's biographer, Susannah had a strong influence on her husband in spite of his unyielding temper. She was a woman of sense and endless tenderness. She died on July 17, 1789.

William Paterson

Married Cornelia Bell (June 4, 1780 - Aug. 6, 1844) in 1779, daughter of the wealthy Somerset County landowner John Bell. Together they three children before her death in 1783. One of their children died young.

In 1784, Two years after Cornelia's death, he married Euphemia White, who had been a close friend of Cornelia's. She helped him raise his children.

New York

Alexander Hamilton

Married Elizabeth "Eliza" Schuyler (August 9, 1757 - November 9, 1854) on December 17, 1780, the daughter of American Revolutionary War General Phillip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler of the influential New York Rensselaers. Together, Alexander and Eliza had 8 children. Because of the famous duel between Hamilton and Burr, Eliza outlived her husband for 50 years. She spent most of her life tending to widows and orphans, and co-founded the New York Orphan Asylum Society.

North Carolina

William Blount

Married Mary "Molsey" Grainger on February 12, 1228.* She was the granddaughter of Joshua Grainger, one of the founders of Wilmington, NC. Together, Mary and William had 9 children, three of whom died in infancy. Mary was strongly attached to North Carolina, and when Washington appointed Blount to be governor of Tennessee, she was reluctant to leave. However, Blount built a beautiful home for her and brought her family to the region, and she was able to live out the rest of her days peacefully. She died of Malaria in 1800, only a month or two before her husband died of unhappiness. The town of Maryville and the county of Grainger are named in honor of her.

Richard D. Spaight

Married Mary Leach (1760-1810) on March 24, 1788. Together they had three children. She died in 1810.

Hugh Williamson

Married Maria Apthorpe in January 1789, the daughter of the Honorable Charles Ward Apthorpe. Together they had two sons. Maria died soon after giving birth to their second son.

Pennsylvania

George Clymer

Married Elizabeth Meredith (1743-1815) on March 18, 1765. Elizabeth was born into a prominent Philadelphia family who were close friends with George Washington. Together they had nine children, five of whom reached adulthood. John Adams, after meeting her at a social dinner, described her in his diary as a "very facetious and social lady.*" She died in 1815, two years after her husband, in their estate in Summerseat, Pennsylvania.

Thomas Fitzsimons

Married Catherine Meade on November 23, 1761, the daughter of Robert Meade and Mary Stretch. She died on June 27, 1810.

Benjamin Franklin

Entered into a common-law marriage with Deborah Read (February 14, 1708 - December 19, 1774) in 1730. Their marriage would have been legal, except that Deborah was already married to John Rodgers, who had fled to Barbados to avoid paying his debts, never to return. Deborah was pivotal in raising Franklin's first son, and together they had two more children. Their daughter, Sally, died of smallpox as a child. Deborah died of a stroke on December 14, 1774.

Jared Ingersoll

Married Elizabeth Pettit (1758-1816) in 1781, daughter of Charles Pettit and Sarah Reed. Together they had three children.

Thomas Mifflin

Married his cousin Sarah Morris (April 5, 1747 - August 1, 1790) on March 4, 1765. Little is known about her life.

Gouverneur Morris

Married Anne "Nancy" Cary Randolph when he was 57. Nancy was the sister of Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., husband of Thomas Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, who was also her cousin. Gouverneur and Nancy had one child together, a son.

Robert Morris

Married Mary White (1749-1827) on March 2, 1769, and together they had seven children. Mary was born to Colonel Thomas and Esther White from a prominent family in Maryland, and her brother was Anglican Bishop William White. Mary was known for her hospitality, and was one of the most well-liked women of her generation. She did in 1827, at the age of 78.

James Wilson

Married Rachel Bird (1750-1786) on November 5, 1771, the daughter of William Bird and Bridget Hulings. Together they had six children. Rachel died in 1786.

After Rachel died, James married Hannah Gray (April 4, 1760 -1834) on September 19, 1793. They had a son, who died in infancy. When James died, Hannah married again.

South Carolina

Pierce Butler

Married Mary Middleton (1750 - 1790) in 1771, daughter of a wealthy South Carolinian. It was an advantageous marriage for Butler. However, the couple lost a majority of their wealth in the British occupation of South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Together they had eight children, two of whom died young. Mary died in New York on November 13, 1790* from a drawn out illness. She was buried in her home town of Charleston, SC.

Charles Pinckney

Married Mary "Polly" Eleanor Laurens (Apr. 27, 1770 -Oct. 6, 1794) on April 27, 1788, daughter of a wealthy and politically powerful South Carolina merchant Henry Laurens. Together they had three children. She died in 1794, leaving Pinckney a widower.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Married Sarah Middleton in 1773, the daughter of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Henry Middleton.

After Sarah's death, he married Mary Stead (November 14th, 1796 to August 29th, 1797) in 1786. She once accompanied Charles to Paris, when he was appointed minister to France.

John Rutledge

Married Elizabeth Grimke (November 29, 1741- 1792) on May 1, 1763. Together they had 10 children. Rutledge was very devoted to his wife, and built the John Rutledge House in Charleston for her. Elizabeth's death on July 6, 1792 was a major cause of the illness that affected Rutledge in the last part of his life.

Virginia

John Blair Jr.

Married his cousin Jean Balfour on December 16, 1756 in Edinburgh, Scotland.* She was the daughter of a writer, Archibald Blair. Together they lived in Williamsburg, VA and raised six children, four of which lived to be adults. Jean died in 1792, leaving John a widower.

James Madison

Married Dolley Payne Todd (May 20, 1768 - July 12, 1849) on September 15, 1794, a widow who was 16 years his junior. James and Dolley had no children together. Dolley Madison was born into a Quaker family in North Carolina. She married John Todd in 1790, a Quaker from Philadelphia. Together they had two sons. In 1793, yellow fever broke out in the region, causing the death of her husband John Todd and her younger son William.

Dolly was renowned for her social graces. Her hospitable nature contributed to her husband's popularity as president. Famously, when the capitol building burned in 1814, she is credited with saving the Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington.

George Washington

Married Martha Dandridge Custis (June 2, 1731 - May 22, 1802) on January 6, 1759, the widow of Daniel Parke Custis. Martha had four children with her first husband, only two of whom reached adulthood. George and Martha never had children together, but George raised Martha's children as his own.

As the first First Lady, Martha established many of the customs which would be observed by future First Ladies. She died at her home on May 22, 1802. She was 70 years old.

* Retrieved from Janice E. McKenny's book: Women of the Constitution: Wives of the Signers. Found at:books.google.com

- Notes on Mrs. Margaret McHenry attributed to Chapter 6 of The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry, Secretary of War under Washington and Adams by Bernard Christian Steiner

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