Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.
Among those bold patriots who pledged life, fortune, and honor in support of the independence of the United States of America, left behind them but few written memorials of the scenes in which they took a conspicuous part, and hence the biographers who first engaged in the task of delineating the characters and acts
of those men, were obliged to find their materials in scattered fragments among public records, or from the lips of surviving relations or compatriots. Such was the case of Thomas Stone, the subject of this brief sketch, whose unassuming manners and attachment to domestic life kept him in apparent obscurity except when called forth by
the commands of duty.
Thomas Stone was born at the Pointoin Manor, in the Province of Maryland, in the year 1743. After receiving a good English education, and some knowledge of the classics, he entered upon the study of the law, and at the age of twenty-one years he commenced its practice. Where he began business in his profession is not certainly known, but it is supposed to have been in Annapolis. Although quite un-ambitious of personal fame, he nevertheless, from the impulses of a patriotic heart, espoused the cause of the patriots and took an active part in the movements preliminary to the calling of the first General Congress in 1774. He was elected one of the first live delegates thereto from that state, and after actively performing his duties throughout that first short session, he again retired to private life. But his talents and patriotism had become too conspicuous for his fellow citizens to allow him to remain inactive, and toward the latter part of 1775, he was again elected to the General Congress. As we have before observed, the people of Maryland, although warmly opposed to the oppressive measures of the British government, and determined in maintaining their just rights, yet a large proportion of them were too much attached to the mother country, to harbor a thought of political independence. They therefore instructed their delegates not to vote for such a proposition, and thus Mr. Stone, like his colleagues, who were all for independence, felt themselves fettered by an onerous bond. But the restriction was removed in June, 1776, and Mr. Stone, like Paca and others, voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. And it is worthy of record that on the fourth of July, the very day on which the vote for Independence was given, Mr. Stone and his colleagues from Maryland, were re-elected by the unanimous voice of the same convention, which, about six weeks previously forbade them thus to act.
The unobtrusive character of Mr. Stone kept him from becoming a very prominent member of Congress, yet his great good sense and untiring industry in the business of important committees, rendered him a very useful one. He was one of the committee who framed the Articles of Confederation, which were finally adopted in November, 1777. He was again elected to Congress that year, and finally retired from it early in 1778, and entered the Legislature of his own State, where he earnestly advocated the adoption, by that body, of the Articles of Confederation. The Maryland Legislature was too strongly imbued with the ultra principles of State rights and absolute independence of action to receive with favor the proposition for a general political Union, with Congress for a Federal head and it was not until 1781 that that State agreed to the confederation.
Mr. Stone was again elected to Congress in 1783, and was present when General Washington resigned his military commission into the hands of that body. In 1784, he was appointed President of Congress, pro tempore; and had not his native modesty supervened, he would doubtless have been regularly elected to that important station, then the highest office in the gift of the people.
On the adjournment of Congress, he returned to his constituents and resumed the duties of his profession at Port Tobacco, the place of his residence, where he died, on the fifth of October, 1787, in the forty-fifth year of his age. 1
Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.
Thomas Stone was the son of David Stone, of Pointon Manor, Charles County, Maryland. His father was a de-scendant of William Stone, who was governor of Maryland during the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. The boyhood of Thomas Stone was distinguished by an unusual fondness for learning. At the age of fifteen, having acquired a re-spectable knowledge of the English language, he obtained the reluctant consent of his father to enter the school of a Mr. Blaizedel, a Scotchman, for the purpose of pursuing the Greek and Latin languages. This school was at the distance of ten miles from his father’s residence; yet, such was the zeal of young Stone, that he was in the habit of rising sufficiently early in tile morning, to traverse this distance on horseback, and enter the school at the usual time of its commencement.
On leaving the school of Mr. Blaizedel, the subject of our memoir was anxious to prosecute the study of law. But, although his father was a gentleman of fortune, his son was under the necessity of borrowing money to enable him to carry his laudable design into effect. He placed himself under the care of Thomas Johnson, a respectable lawyer of Annapolis. Having finished his preparatory studies, he entered upon the practice of his profession in Fredericktown, Mary-land, where having resided two years, he removed to Charles county, in the same state.
During his residence in the former of these places, his business had enabled him to discharge the obligations under which he had laid himself for his education. At the age of twenty-eight, he married the daughter of Dr. Gustavus Brown, with whom he received the sum of one thousand pounds sterling. With this money, he purchased a farm, near the village of Port Tobacco, upon which he continued to reside during the revolutionary struggle.
The business of Mr. Stone, during a considerable part of that period, was not lucrative; and as the soil of the farm upon which he lived was poor, he found it difficult to obtain more than a competent livelihood. The expenses of his family were increased by the charge of four brothers, who were yet of tender years. The situation of many of our fathers, during those trying times, was similar to that of Mr. Stone. They had small patrimonies; business was in a great mea-sure suspended; and, added to this, their time and talents wore imperiously demanded by their suffering country. Yet, amidst all these difficulties and trials, a pure patriotism con-tinued to burn within their breasts, and enabled them most cheerfully to make any and every sacrifice to which they were called by the cause of freedom. Nor should it be for-gotten, that in these sacrifices the families of our fathers joy-fully participated. They received without a murmur “the spoiling of their goods,” being elevated by the reflection, that this was necessary for the achievement of that indepen-dence to which they considered themselves and their posteri-ty as entitled.
Although Mr. Stone was a gentleman of acknowledged ta-lents, and of inflexible and incorruptible integrity, it does not appear that he was brought forward into public life until some time in the year 1774. He was not a member of the illustrious Congress of that year, but receiving an appointment as a delegate in December, he took his seat in that body in the following May; and, for several years afterwards, was annually re-elected to the same dignified station.
In our biographical sketches of the other gentlemen who belonged about this time to the Maryland delegation, we have had frequent occasion to notice the loyalty and affection which prevailed in that province, for several years, towards the king and the parent country; and hence the reluctance of her citizens to sanction the Declaration of Independence. When, therefore, towards the close of the year 1775, such a measure began seriously to be discussed in the country, the people of Maryland became alarmed; and, apprehensive lest their delegation in congress, which was composed generally of young men, should be disposed to favor the measure, the convention of that province attempted to restrain them by strict and specific instructions: “We instruct you,” said they, “that you do not, without the previous knowledge and approbation of the convention of this province, assent to any proposition to declare these colonies independent of the crown of Great Britain, nor to any proposition for making or entering into an alliance with any foreign power; nor to any union or confederation of these colonies, which may necessarily lead to a separation from the mother country, unless in your judgments, or in the judgments of any four of you, or a majority of the whole of you, if all shall be then attending in Congress, it shall be thought absolutely necessary for the preservation of the liber-ties of the united colonies; and should a majority of the colo-nies in congress, against such your judgment, resolve to declare these colonies independent of the crown of Great Britain, or to make or enter into alliance with any foreign power, or into any union or confederation of these colonies, which may necessarily lead to a separation from the mother country, then we instruct you immediately to call the convention of this province, and repair thereto with such proposi-tion and resolve, and lay the same before the said convention for their consideration; and this convention will not hold this province bound by such majority in congress, until the repre-sentative body of the province in convention assent thereto.”
The cautious policy observable in these instructions, arose. not so much from timidity on the part of the people of Ma-ryland, as from a sincere attachment to the royal government and an equally sincere affection to the parent country. Soon after, however, the aspect of things in this province began to change. The affections of the people became gradually weaned from Great Britain. It was apparent that a reunion with that country, on constitutional principles, though infinitely desirable, was not to be expected. By the fifteenth of May, 1776, these sentiments had become so strong, that a resolution passed the convention, declaring the authority of the crown at an end, and the necessity that each colony should form a constitution of government for itself.
In the latter part of June, the work of regeneration was accomplished. The people of Maryland generally expressed themselves, in courtly meetings, decidedly in favor of a De-claration of Independence. This expression of public sentiment proved irresistible, and convention proceeded to resolve: “That the instructions given to their deputies be recalled, and the restrictions therein contained, removed; and that the deputies of said colony, or any three or more of them, be authorized and empowered to concur with the other united colonies, or a majority of them, in declaring the united colonies free and independent states; in forming such further compact and confederation between them; in making foreign alliances; and in adopting such other measures as shall be adjudged necessary for securing the liberties of America; and that said colony will hold itself bound by the resolutions of the majority of the united colonies in the pre-mises; provided the sole and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police of that colony be reser-ved to the people thereof.”
Being thus relieved from the trammels which had before bound them, Mr. Stone and his colleagues joyfully recorded their names in favor of a measure, which was connected with the imperishable glory of their country.
Soon after the declaration of independence, congress ap-pointed a committee to prepare articles of confederation. To act on this committee, Mr. Stone was selected from the Maryland delegation. The duty devolving upon them was exceedingly arduous. Their report of the plan of a confede-ration was before the house for a long period, and was the subject of debate thirty-nine times. Nor was it at length agreed to, till the fifteenth day of November, 1777. Although the people of Maryland had consented to a declaration of in-dependence, after their first fervor had subsided, their for-mer jealousy returned; and the Maryland convention pro-ceeded to limit the powers of their delegates, as to the forma-tion of the confederation. At the same time, not obscure-ly hinting in their resolution, that it might be still possible and certainly desirable, to accommodate the unhappy diffe-rences with Great Britain.
The above resolution was expressed in the following terms: “That the delegates, or any three or more of them, he authorized and empowered to concur with the other United States, or a majority of them, in forming a confedera-tion, and in making foreign alliances, provided that such confederation, when formed, be not binding upon this state, without the assent of the general assembly; and the said delegates, or any three or more of them, are also authorized and empowered to concur in any measures, which may be resolved on by Congress for carrying on the war with Great Britain, and securing the liberties of the United States; reserving always to this state, the sole and exclusive right of regulating the internal police thereof. And the said dele-gates, or any three or more of them, are hereby authorized and empowered, notwithstanding any measure heretofore taken, to concur with the congress, or a majority of them, in accommodating our unhappy difference with Great Britain, on such terms as the congress, or a majority of them, shall think proper.”
After seeing the confederation finally agreed upon in Con-gress, Mr. Stone declined a re-appointment to that body, but became a member of the Maryland legislature, where he pow-erfully contributed to meliorate the feelings of many, who were strongly opposed to the above plan of confederation. He had the pleasure, however, with other friends of that measure, to see it at length approved by the general assembly and the people generally.
Under this confederation, in 1783, he was again elected to a seat in Congress. In the session of 1784 he acted for some time as president pro tempore. On the breaking up of con-gress this year, he finally retired from that body, and again engaged actively in the duties of his profession. His prac-tice now became lucrative in Annapolis, whither he had re-moved his residence; and in professional reputation he rose to great distinction. As an advocate, he excelled in strength of argument. He was often employed in cases of great difficulty; and by his brethren of the bar, it was thought emi-nently desirable, at such times, to have him for their colleague.
In 1787, Mr. Stone was called to experience an affliction which caused a deep and abiding melancholy to settle upon his spirits. This was the death of Mrs. Stone, to whom he was justly and most tenderly attached. During a long state of weakness and decline, induced by injudicious treatment on the occasion of her having the small pox by inoculation, Mr. Stone watched over her with the most unwearied devo-tion. At length, however, she sank to the grave. From this time, the health of Mr. Stone evidently declined. In the autumn of the same year his physicians advised him to make a sea voyage; and in obedience to that advice, he re-paired to Alexandria, to embark for England. Before the vessel was ready to sail, however, he suddenly expired, on the fifth of October, 1787, in the forty-fifth year of his age.
Mr. Stone was a professor of religion, and distinguished for a sincere and fervent piety. To strangers, he had the appearance of austerity; but among his intimate friends, he was affable, cheerful, and familiar. In his disposition he was uncommonly amiable, and well disposed. In person, he was tall, but well proportioned.
Mr. Stone left one son and two daughters. The son died in 1793, while pursuing the study of law. One of the daugh-ters, it is said, still lives, and is respectably married in the state Virginia. 2
Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, 1848 original
Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1829 original