John Penn - Signer of the Declartion of Independence Biography by
Appleton's edited by Stanley L. Klos
Signer of the Declaration of Independence
JOHN PENN was
born on May 17, 1741 in Caroline County, Virginia. He was a "transplanted"
patriot, as he would build his political and legal career in North Carolina.
He was the only child of Moses
Penn a moderately successful plantation owner and his wife, Catherine
Taylor. Penn received little formal education, although his parents could well
afford to pay the expense of his tuition. At the age of eighteen, upon the death
of his father, he had only been instructed for a few years at a country school
and was largely self-educated. At that time, he was urged to study law by his
mentor, Edmund Pendleton. Pendleton maintained a vastlaw library, which he put
at Penn's disposal. Penn studied hungrily and remarkably passed the bar
examination at Virginia at the age of twenty-one.
however, unable to forge a rewarding practice in Virginia so he moved with his
wife, Susannah Lyme, and their three children to Williamsboro, North
Carolina. There, he displayed great ability and eloquence, and his practice
flourished, as did his interest in politics. He soon became a leader in his
community. He was elected to the provincial legislature in 1775 and to the
Second Continental congress, taking his seat on October 12, filling a
vacancy. It was said that Penn, though very talkative in private, rarely spoke
in congress. However, he was very diligent in public business and voted
consistently for independence.
signing the Declaration, John Penn returned home and was chosen at once to
occupy an important position on the North Carolina board of war. His major task
was to keep the militia well supplied. His dedicated efforts in fact helped the
Americans force Lord Cornwallis into retreat before the end of 1780. In March of
1784, he was appointed receiver of taxes for North Carolina, but he resigned
that office the following April. His reason for doing so was the fact that the
state, while eagerly maintaining the cause of independence by resolutions and
declaration, refused to furnish the means by which it could be secured.
John Penn afterward resumed his life as a private
citizen due to the state of his health, and continued to practice law. He died
on September 14, 1788 at the age of forty-eight.
Declaration of Independence
A Brief History and early record of
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