Here’s an interesting pamphlet from the 1959 dedication of a John Hart plaque at the Hart farmstead in Hopewell Borough that includes a sketch and chronology of Hart’s life and service: John Hart Farmstead Plaque Dedication (PDF). The marker was jointly placed by the New Jersey Societies of the Sons of the Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution.
Of course, the name of John Hart is well known here in Hopewell, as our own signer of the Declaration of Independence. However, Hart’s major contributions were locally and in New Jersey, so he is not celebrated and recorded to the level of the better-known founders. Hart was in public service for almost 30 years, serving in the New Jersey Assembly and then the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, as delegate to the Continental Congress, and as Speaker of the General Assembly of the new state. Hart also hosted Washington and his army on his fields in 1778 during the growing season.
Hart also sacrificed much: He was age 65 when he signed the Declaration of Independence, his property was raided by the British in 1776 and he had to flee to the Sourlands, his wife also died in 1776, and he died only a few years later in 1779, well before the end of the Revolutionary War.
This pamphlet then has an interesting backstory, marking the beginnings of Cleon Hammond’s quest to discover and document the life and public service of this man that contemporaries called “Honest John Hart.”
Lt. Colonel and Mrs. Cleon E. Hammond bought the Hart farmstead around 1952, and set about restoring the property and learning about its history. More than two decades later, in 1977, Hammond published the result of his work, John Hart: The Biography of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. The book chronicles Hart’s life, and also includes topic chapters examining various issues including the accuracy of his portrait, whether he should be regarded as Presbyterian or Baptist, his actions on slavery, his family and children, and the rarity of his writings.
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, described John Hart as “a plain, honest, well meaning Jersey farmer, with but little education, but with good sense and virtue enough to pursue the true interests of his country.” [DSDI]
Thanks to Bob Lawless for discovering and sharing the pamphlet.