ABRAHAM CLARK was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey on February 15, 1726 the only child of Thomas Clark, a farmer. He was raised to follow in his father’s footsteps, however, because of his slight build and weak fortitude, he was inadequate at the laborious tasks of farming. He turned his attention to surveying, and he conveyed legal advice to landowners on their rights during boundary disputes. Many believed that he did not have a law degree and that he studied law on his own. However, as he gave his advice gratuitously, he was known as “the poor man’s counselor”. His sharp comments on the pretensions of lawyers won him enemies but also gained him approval from his fellow citizens, and he became a champion for their rights.
Clark’s love of study and the generosity of his character rendered him very popular. His opinion was valued, and often sought even beyond Elizabethtown. In 1749, Clark married Sarah Hatfield, who was very enterprising. Sarah ran the family farm and reared their ten children, allowing Clark to enter into public life. He was called to fill various offices, first as a country sheriff and clerk of the assembly, where he gained valuable political experience.
Clark was all for independence, having formed his opinion on the great question very early in the revolution. He was appointed to the committee of public safety and some time after was elected by the provincial congress. Because of his enthusiasm for independence, he was sent to Congress on June 22, 1776, to vote in favor of it. Clark new full well that fortune and individual safety were at stake, however personal considerations did not influence his decision. He voted for the declaration of independence and affixed his name to the document with firm determination to meet the consequences of his noble but dangerous action.
In November 1776 he was elected to the Continental congress, and was continuously re-elected until 1783 with the exception of one year, 1779. Two of Clark’s sons were officers in the army during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately the British captured them, and they were at one point confined to the notorious prison ship, Jersey, where they endured extreme suffering. Clark scrupulously avoided calling the attention of congress to the condition of his sons, as painful as it personally was, but he did make a single exception. One of his sons, a captain of the artillery, had been cast into a dungeon, where he received no food other than that which was forced through a keyhole for him by his fellow prisoners. Clark conveyed these facts to Congress, which immediately directed a course of retaliation against the British Officer. Captain Clark’s condition was promptly improved
He was a member of the New Jersey legislature from 1782 until 1787, and while holding that office acquired great influence and was responsible for all the important measures passed during his term of service. Clark attracted the respect and admiration of the community, by his punctuality, his integrity and his perseverance. He was a delegate to the convention that framed the Federal constitution in 1787 and in 1789 was appointed a commissioner to settle the accounts of New Jersey with the United States. Later he became a member of the United States Congress, serving from October 24, 1791.
On the adjournment of congress in June 1794, Clark finally retired from public life. However, he did not live long enough to enjoy even the limited comforts he possessed. On September 15, 1794, Clark suffered sunstroke and was dead within two hours.
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