Dedicating his life to serving North Carolina and the United States, Joseph Hewes (1730-1779) was immortalized in American history on August 2, 1776. Hewes, along with William Hooper and John Penn, signed the Declaration of Independence on behalf of North Carolina. Hewes, a successful merchant in Edenton, incorporated a tireless work ethic with a strong sense of duty to the state.
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Joseph Hewes was the oldest son of Aaron and Providence Hewes, a Quaker farming family near Kingston, West Jersey (now New Jersey), born on January 23, 1730. After receiving his education locally, Hewes moved to Philadelphia in 1749, where he apprenticed under a merchant. In 1755, he struck out on his own, only to be frustrated and began searching for a more lucrative market, which he found in North Carolina. After moving to Edenton in 1755, Hewes prospered and quickly rose through the town’s social circles, which provided him an entrance to politics as Edenton’s representative in the General Assembly.
Hewes would prove to be a mainstay in the North Carolina political scene, as he became a leading member of the state’s Whig party. Alongside John Ashe, Richard Caswell, and Cornelius Harnett, Hewes evinced a political interest which shifted from local assemblies to larger proceedings. He served on the Committee of Correspondence and First Continental Congress in 1774, the Congressional Naval Board in 1775 and 1776, and signed the Halifax Resolves on April 12, 1776. The Halifax Resolves laid the groundwork for the severance of all ties between North Carolina and England, and three men, including Hewes, were sent to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where delegates signed the Declaration of Independence.
Hewes helped draft the state constitution in late 1776, and served in the General Assembly for the next two years. The assembly appointed him once again to the Continental Congress in 1779. Due to rapidly declining health, however, Hewes resigned while in Philadelphia, and died shortly thereafter on November 10, 1779. Hewes is interred in Christ’s Church, Philadelphia, where members of the Continental Congress attended his funeral and observed a month-long period of mourning.
Robert L. Ganyard, The Emergence of North Carolina’s Revolutionary State Government (1978)
Michael G. Martin, Jr., “Joseph Hewes: ‘Reluctant Revolutionary’?” (M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1969)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 123-5—sketch by Michael G. Martin, Jr.
W.C. Allen, History of Halifax County (1918)
National Park Service, “Joseph Hewes,” in Signers of the Declaration website: