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Cornelius Harnett - One of America's Founding Fathers

Posted on Thursday, December 24, 2020

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Birth: April 1723
Death: April 1781 (age 58)
Colony: North Carolina
Occupation: Plantation Owner, Merchant, Politician
Significance: Signed The Articles of Confederation (at the age of 55); served as a member of the Continental Congress(1777-1779); served as President of North Carolina Provincial Congress (1775-1776)

Articles of Confederation - Original 1777 Printing

Cornelius Harnett was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in North Carolina, Harnett operated a plantation and was able to build a successful mercantile business in Wilmington, North Carolina. Harnett became involved in politics starting in the 1750s, and he received a series of political appointments including Wilmington Town Commissioner and Justice of the Peace. In 1754, Harnett was elected to the North Carolina House of Burgesses.

Harnett spoke out fiercely against the 1765 Stamp Act, and he became the Chairman of his local Sons of Liberty. In 1775 and 1776, Harnett served as the first President of the North Carolina Provincial Council, the chief executive of North Carolina's Colonial backed state government (a position analogous to the present day position of Governor).

In 1777, Harnett stepped down from his position in order to serve in the Second Continental Congress. While in the Continental Congress, Harnett was present when the first signers of the Articles of Confederation signed the document on July 9, 1778. Harnett himself was not able to sign the Articles of Confederation himself until the Articles were ratified by his Colony of North Carolina. After news arrived in Philadelphia that North Carolina had ratified the Articles, Harnett signed the Articles on July 21, 1778.

Harnett returned to North Carolina in 1779. In 1781, Harnett was in Wilmington, North Carolina when the British took the city of Wilmington and captured Harnett. Harnett was only held as a prisoner for a few months, but his imprisonment severely impacted his health. Noticing that Harnett was near death, the British released him, but Harnett nonetheless died a few days later.

Cornelius Harnett in Philadelphia

Cornelius Harnett traveled to Philadelphia to serve as a member of the Second Continental Congress. While in the Continental Congress, Harnett worked at Independence Hall, where he signed The Articles of Confederation. 

Today, Independence Hall is one of the stops visited along The Constitutional Walking Tour!

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