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Thomas McKean - One of America's Founding Fathers

Posted on Tuesday, December 31, 2019

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Birth: March 19, 1734
Death: June 24, 1817 (age 83)
Colony: Delaware
Occupation: Lawyer, Politician, Judge
Significance: Signed The Declaration of Independence (at the age of 42); served as President of the Continental Congress (1781); served as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania (1777-1799); and served as Governor of Pennsylvania (1799-1808)

Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in Pennsylvania to Scottish immigrants who managed a tavern, McKean was educated in Pennsylvania before he was sent to the Lower Counties (today known as Delaware) to study law under his cousin, David Finney. McKean began a successful legal career in Delaware and also became involved in politics, as he was elected to General Assembly of the Lower Counties in 1762.

As tensions between the American Colonies and Great Britain began to grow, McKean was looked to as a leader of Delaware, his longtime home, even though at this point his primary residence was in Philadelphia. In 1765, he was chosen to represent Delaware at the Stamp Tax Congress and in 1774, McKean was voted to be one Delaware's representatives to the First Continental Congress. At both early Colonial gatherings, McKean served as an important delegate and leader.

The following year, McKean was re-elected and served in the Second Continental Congress. McKean voted for Independence, and he signed The Declaration of Independence. After signing The Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, McKean served in the Continental Congress until 1783. During his time in the Continental Congress (Congress of the Confederation), he became the 8th President of the Continental Congress. It was while McKean was President of the Continental Congress that the British surrendered at Yorktown, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. It was also during this time that he was appointed Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, a position he held for over 20 years from 1777-1799.

Due to the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, the Continental Congress was forced to leave Philadelphia for Princeton, New Jersey, and McKean decided to resign from the Continental Congress and remain in Philadelphia. In 1799, McKean was elected Governor of Pennsylvania, and served in the position until 1808. After his term as Governor concluded, McKean now in his mid 70s, largely retired and spent his last years in Philadelphia. He died in 1817, and he is now buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, a Victorian cemetery that houses many of the most notable people to call Philadelphia home. 

Thomas McKean in Philadelphia

McKean spent most of his life in and around the City of Philadelphia since he was born in Pennsylvania in the countryside outside of Philadelphia and called the City his primary home for the last half century of his life. Although living in Philadelphia, McKean served as a Delegate of Delaware to the First Continental Congress which met at Carpenters' Hall in September 1774. The following year in 1775, McKean again represented Delaware as a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress.

While serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, McKean worked at Independence Hall, and he signed The Declaration of Independence. A plaque commemorating McKean for signing The Declaration of Independence can be found on Signers' Walk on the 600 block of Chestnut Street (between 5th and 6th Streets). Signers' Garden pays tribute to the Founding Fathers, including those such as McKean who signed The Declaration of Independence. Carpenter's Hall, Independence Hall and Signers' Garden are all stops visited along The Constitutional Walking Tour!



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