This just in

On Yale & Yale alumni.
Ico print Print | Ico email Email | Facebook | | RSS

“Damn the consequences. Give me the pen.”

On every Fourth of July, at New Haven’s Grove Street Cemetery, men with muskets join with girls bearing wreaths to honor the signers of the Declaration of Independence, with special attention to the signer who is buried at Grove Street: Roger Sherman.

Sherman is best known as the only person to sign all four of America’s founding documents: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. Sherman also served as treasurer of Yale College (although he was not a graduate) and was the first mayor when the town was incorporated as a city in 1784.

But Sherman isn’t the only signer of the Declaration with Yale ties. Four alumni of the college were among the 56 signers. (If you must know, eight were Harvard alumni, and three went to Princeton.) In honor of Independence Day, here’s a little bit about each of them.

Lyman Hall, Class of 1747, was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, in 1724. (The high school in Wallingford is named for him.) He was ordained as a Congregational minister, then studied medicine. He moved to South Carolina to be part of a Puritan community there, but later moved on to Georgia, where he owned a plantation in addition to practicing medicine. His service in the Continental Congress led to the burning of his plantation and to his being charged with high treason. After the revolution, he served as governor of Georgia. He died in 1790.

Philip Livingston, Class of 1737, came from a wealthy Hudson Valley family. His father, also named Philip, had made a fortune in the slave trade and was one of Yale’s earliest major donors. The younger Philip was a merchant in New York City and an early colonial activist. Two years after signing the Declaration as a delegate from New York, he died while attending Congress in York, Pennsylvania.

Lewis Morris, Class of 1746, hailed from a family estate called Morrisania, the site of the Bronx neighborhood that now bears the name. With extensive landholdings in New York and New Jersey, Morris took great risk in joining the patriots’ cause in an area with much Loyalist sentiment. When his half-brother Gouverneur Morris tried to warn him of this, Lewis Morris is said to have exclaimed “Damn the consequences. Give me the pen.” His lands were burned and his house ransacked as a result of his actions; he spent his later years rebuilding his estate before dying at Morrisania in 1798.

Oliver Wolcott, a classmate of Hall’s in the Class of 1747, came from Windsor, Connecticut. Immediately on graduating from Yale, he was commissioned a captain in the New York militia and served on the state’s northern frontier in King George’s War. After that, he was sheriff and a legislator in Litchfield, Connecticut, for many years. Elected to the Continental Congress, he missed the session that included the vote and signing of the Declaration due to illness. When he recovered, he resumed a military role, commanding Connecticut militia in the defense of New York. (He later was able to add his signature to the Declaration.) He served as a general in the war; afterward, he was elected lieutenant governor then governor of Connecticut. He died in 1797.

Besides their Yale affiliation, these four men—who signed one of the most important and influential assertions of human liberty in the history of the world—had at least one other thing in common: each of them kept human beings in slavery at some point in their lives. That bold declaration 238 years ago in Philadelphia was only the beginning of a long struggle to live out its promise, one that continues to this day.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Declaration of Independence, Lyman Hall, Philip Livingston, Lewis Morris, Oliver Wolcott
The comment period has expired.