The Fourth of July means summer fun, fireworks, and lots of red, white, and blue decorations, for most of us.

It also marks the day that the Second Continental Congress approved a resolution to declare independence from Britain 242 years ago.

Historians believe that most of the founders didn't actually sign the document until about a month later. But July 4 was the date on the copies that got circulated around the colonies, so that's what the US went with.

Many Americans learn about famous founders like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in school.

But many of the guys who showed up in sweltering Philadelphia during the summer of 1776 were relatively obscure. And a good number of Founding Fathers, like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, and John Jay, didn't even sign the Declaration.

So let's take a look at the lives and careers of some of these lesser known founders. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the signers were prominent members of their communities. They worked as lawyers, physicians, merchants, and planters before being elected to the Continental Congress. A vast majority of them also owned slaves.

Here's a breakdown of the career paths of all 56 signers and what brought them to Philadelphia in the sweltering summer of 1776:

John Hancock was a wealthy smuggler

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The man with the most famous signature in American history led an allegedly illicit career before he entered the political realm.

On the surface, the president of the Second Continental Congress was a prominent New England merchant and a major financial backer of the revolutionary cause in Boston.

However, Hancock's mercantile fortune was allegedly bolstered through the illegal smuggling of products like Dutch tea, glass, lead, paper, and French molasses, according to the Boston Tea Party Historical Society.

He was charged with smuggling, but was acquitted thanks to his savvy lawyer — John Adams.

Samuel Adams was an incompetent tax collector

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The founding father — and inspiration behind the modern day beer company — had a rocky start to his career after graduating from Harvard in 1740.

His first few business ventures ended poorly, and he dropped out of studying law. Even worse, he was an incompetent tax collector, neglecting "to collect the public levies and to keep proper accounts," according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

He later achieved great influence in local politics, founding the Sons of Liberty, Boston's revolutionary group. This activity allowed Adams to become a driving force in the growing movement against Britain's series of new taxes, which ultimately snowballed into the Revolution.

John Adams was an unfulfilled teacher before becoming a lawyer

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John Adams established a reputation as a talented lawyer that would launch him on the path to the presidency. However, his first job mostly involved keeping order in the classroom.

After graduating Harvard, Adams took his first job as as a schoolmaster in Worcester, Massachusetts, according to the University of Groningen's biography of the second US president.

The career was not fulfilling for Adams and he was often filled with self doubt, as evidenced by the personal entries in his famous journal, which the Massachusetts Historical Society has posted online. To keep up with his own reading and writing, Adams would sometimes ask the smartest student to lead class.

Benjamin Franklin was a runaway printer

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Philosopher, statesman, inventor, author — Benjamin Franklin was a true Renaissance Man.

His curious and independent nature was clear early on in his career. Franklin had been apprenticed to his older brother, a printer. This meant that he was legally bound to serve in the role for a set number of years.

The static situation wasn't ideal for him.

According to "Bonds of Citizenship: Law and the Labors of Emancipation" by Hoang Gia Phan, Franklin wrote that he "lik'd [the printer's profession] much better than that of [his] Father, but still had a Hankering for the sea."

So he ran off. Franklin absconded to Philadelphia, where he worked as a rogue printer, before traveling to London to work as a typesetter.

Thomas Jefferson was an egalitarian lawyer

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After graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1764, Jefferson began to study law, clerking in the office of fellow signer George Wythe. 

He was admitted to the bar in 1769. Jefferson handled 900 matters while specializing in land cases as a lawyer in the General Court in Williamsburg, Virginia, according to Encyclopedia Virginia. That same year, he was elected to become a delegate in the House of Burgesses.

Influenced by his political ideology, Jefferson served clients from all classes. As he wrote in his "Autobiography" in 1821, he wanted to create a "system by which every fiber would be eradicated of ancient or future aristocracy; and a foundation laid for a government truly republican."

Edward Rutledge was a free speech advocate

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At 26, Rutledge was the youngest signer at of the Declaration of Independence. 

At the age of 20, Rutledge sailed to England to study law at the Inner Temple in London. He returned to the colonies in 1773 and began practicing law in 1773.

When he was just 24, Rutledge "gained recognition as a patriot when he successfully defended a printer, Thomas Powell, who had been imprisoned by the Crown for printing an article critical of the Loyalist upper house of the colonial legislature," according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

During the war, he was captured during the occupation of Charleston, along with his co-signers Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward.

Roger Sherman was a well-rounded Massachusetts official

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Thomas Jefferson is quoted as calling Sherman "a man who never said a foolish thing in his life," according to "The Portfolio" by Joseph Dennie and John Elihu Hall.

He is the only person to sign the US Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution.

The Connecticut representative to the Continental Congress received a fragmented education, growing up in a Massachusetts border town. Eventually, Sherman was urged to study law, and was accepted to the bar in 1754.

Before he became involved in creating and signing the four most important documents in early American history, he served as justice of the peace, justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut, and New Milford's representative in the General Assembly.

Francis Lewis survived two shipwrecks

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Orphaned at the age of five, Lewis was sent from his hometown of Llandaff, Wales up to live with relatives Scotland. He learned Gaelic, received an education from London's Westminster School, and was apprenticed to a mercantile business in the capital.

After receiving some of his inheritance at the age of 21, Lewis left England for the American colonies. The future signer settled down in Philadelphia and became a merchant. Lewis traveled throughout northern European ports and survived two shipwrecks off the coast of Ireland, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

During the French and Indian War, Lewis signed with the British as a clothing contractor at Fort Oswego and supplied the soldiers with uniforms, but was captured in 1756 and imprisoned in France.

Seven years later, Lewis was released and largely retired from business. Instead, he focused on revolutionary activities and became a founding member of the Sons of Liberty, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

During the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, British soldiers attacked burned his home in Whitestone, New York and captured his wife, Elizabeth. She never recovered from her imprisonment and passed away a few years later in 1779, after reuniting with Lewis in Philadelphia.

Robert Treat Paine was a failed ship's master and an itinerant preacher

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After his father lost their family's fortune,Robert Treat Paine served as a ship's master on several financially unsuccessful voyages to the Carolinas, Spain, the Azores, and Greenland. During one trip, he managed to get awarded an MA degree from Harvard in absentia.

With personal interests in literature, electricity, and even clock-making, Paine taught school for some time after graduating from Harvard, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Later gigs included a stint as a militia chaplain and some itinerant preaching, before he was admitted to the bar in 1757. Paine eventually moved to Taunton, Massachusetts, where he became very involved in local politics.

During his legal career, Paine became a rival of John Adams. The two lawyers faced off against one another in the tense, landmark trial of the British soldiers who shot civilians during the Boston Massacre. As the defense attorney, Adams prevailed and the accused were acquitted or given reduced sentences.

George Taylor was an indentured servant

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Originally immigrating from Northern Ireland as an indentured servant, Taylor worked for an iron-master as a laborer and a bookkeeper.

After the iron-master died, Taylor married his widow and opened up two more iron-works. In 1757, he became the justice of the peace in Pennsylvania's Bucks County.

According to USHistory.org, he was a last minute addition to the Continental Congress: "In 1775 he was appointed to replace a member of the Pennsylvania delegation who refused to support independence. He arrived too late to vote, but did sign the Declaration."

John Morton was a Pennsylvania sheriff

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John Morton is now largely remembered as the first of the signers to die, passing away in 1777 at the age of 51.

The descendant of Finnish immigrants, Morton was born in Pennsylvania in 1725. He was a member and speaker of the colony's assembly, served as sheriff of Chester County, and was a justice of the colony's supreme court.

"In 1765, Morton attended the secretive Stamp Act Congress in New York as a delegate from Pennsylvania, placing him at the center of the controversy over unjust British taxation policies," according to the Johnny Morton Project.

Button Gwinnett went through a number of rocky financial ventures

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Button Gwinnett's name might sound odd, but it's worth quite a lot of money nowadays.

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Gwinnett's rare signature can fetch up to $800,000, making it the most valuable of the signers of the Declaration.

Gwinnett originally hailed from England, sailing to Savannah in 1765 as a merchant. The Georgia Historical Society's Stan Deaton writes that after his mercantile business crashed and burned, he bought St. Catherines Island and became a planter, only to fail financially again in 1773.

On the eve of the revolution, he became active in local politics again. However, his career didn't last. In 1777, he was shot and killed during a duel with a political rival.

Benjamin Harrison was a college dropout

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The man who would become known as the "Falstaff" of the Continental Congress was born to a powerful planter family in Virginia and attended the College of William and Mary.

He dropped out of school at the age of 19, after a bolt of lightning killed his father and two of his sisters, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Starting in 1749, he served in Virginia's House of Burgesses for 25 years and became governor of the state after the Revolution.

"John Adams wrote that Harrison had 'contributed many pleasantries that steadied rough sessions,'" reports The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

His son, William Henry Harrison, was elected US president in 1840, and his great grandson Benjamin Harrison was also elected US president in 1888.

Philip Livingston was a New York City alderman

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Born into a wealthy Albany family, Philip Livingston attended Yale and became a successful merchant, according to The New Netherland Institute.

In 1754, Livingston was elected to become New York City's alderman. Later on, he became a member of the state's house of representatives and became involved with the colony's rebel government in 1775. He was also a founder of King's College, which is now known as Columbia University.

Benjamin Rush helped combat a yellow fever epidemic

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A handful of practicing physicians signed the Declaration, but Benjamin Rush was the only one among them with an actual medical degree.

At the age of 14, Rush left Philadelphia to study at the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University. Upon returning home, he began apprenticing with some of Philadelphia's most distinguished physicians, eventually joining the new department of medicine at the College of Philadelphia, according to the University of Pennsylvania's archives. During this time, he chronicled the yellow fever that swept through the city in 1762.

Rush went on to study at the University of Edinburgh, St. Thomas's Hospital in London, and with physicians in France. Upon returning to Philadelphia in 1769, he opened a practice geared toward the poor and served as a professor at the College of Philadelphia. He published pro-revolutionary articles in pamphlets, along with the first American chemistry textbook.

Richard Stockton was a Princeton trustee

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Stockton attended the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton, which was possible in part due to land donations from his father. After graduating, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1754 and served as a trustee of his alma mater.

After touring in England, Scotland, and Ireland, he joined New Jersey's Provincial Council and the colony's Supreme Court.

Stockton had the misfortune of being captured and imprisoned during the Revolutionary War. While conditions for prisoners could be brutal and Stockton may have been singled out for being a signer, as historian J.L. Bell points out, some tales of his mistreatment at the hands of the English may stem from 19th century exaggerations.

Stockton survived his captivity and was freed, although he died before the war ended in 1781, according to the Journal of the American Revolution.

George Wythe was the nation's first college law professor

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On the Declaration itself, George Wythe's signature comes first out of all the the Virginian delegates, as a testament to his lengthy career.

Wythe first practiced law in Elizabeth City County in 1746 at the age of 20, and later served as a clerk in the House of Burgesses, according to Colonial Williamsburg.

He served as a mentor to other future political leaders, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Henry Clay.

A lifelong scholar, Wythe studied the classics, served in the House of Burgesses, served as an attorney general, was the nation's first college law professor, served on the board of the College of William and Mary, and helped frame the Constitution after the war.

Francis Hopkinson was a poet and songwriter

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It's likely that the story about Betsy Ross designing the US flag is just that — a story.

In fact, Biography.com reports, Francis Hopkinson is a more likely candidate when it comes to designing the stars and stripes.

Hopkinson received his bachelor's, master's, and law degree from what is now the University of Pennsylvania. He penned treaties with the Delaware and the Iroquois tribes on behalf of the state of Pennsylvania, before moving to New Jersey to work as a customs collector. In 1767, he moved to England in an unsuccessful bid to be appointed a higher position within the customs apparatus.

Returning back to the colonies, he opened a dry goods business, became a customs collector in Delaware, and later became a member of New Jersey's Provincial Council.

His contributions to society went beyond politics and trade — Hopkinson also composed numerous essays, satirical poems, and popular songs including one called "The Battle of the Kegs." He also claimed to have designed at least one version of the US flag.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton helped burn a ship bringing tea to Maryland

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A member of the Maryland delegation, Charles Carroll was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration. He was also the last survivor of all of the signers, dying at the age of 96 in 1832, according to the official website of the Charles Carroll House.

Long before he became the last living signer of the Declaration, he was born into a prominent and wealthy Annapolis planting family. He clandestinely received his education at a Jesuit school, with his cousin John Carroll, who would become the first Catholic bishop in the US. Carroll went on to study at St. Omers in Flanders and later at the Inner Temple in London.

In 1773, Carroll penned a series of letters to the Maryland Gazette, promoting pro-independence views. The following year, he played a role in the burning of the Peggy Stewart, a ship carrying tea to Maryland.

Josiah Bartlett was a cash-strapped and innovative doctor

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Originally hailing from Amesburg Massachusetts, Bartlett moved to New Hampshire to practice as a physician at the age of 21. When he arrived in the state he would later represent in the Continental Congress, the young doctor carried only "about $30, a small horse, saddle, bridle, saddlebags, with a small bill of medicine, a pocket case of surgeon's instruments and some instruments for pulling teeth," according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Bartlett's medical career was distinguished. He once drank a lot of cider to cure his own dangerous fever. Later, when diphtheria tore through Kingston, New Hampshire, Bartlett administered the relatively new treatment of quinine to his patients, instead of bleeding them.

For all you "West Wing" fans, his fictional descendant and namesake is US President Josiah Bartlett.

Thomas Lynch Jr. studied law in London and later disappeared

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Out of all the signers, Thomas Lynch Jr.'s signature is one of the hardest to come by. That's not surprising, given that he vanished at the age of 30.

Born in South Carolina, Lynch traveled to England to receive an education at Cambridge University and study law in London.

After returning home in 1772, he became "politically engaged," according to USHistory.org, and took on a role as a company commander in a South Carolina regiment. Shortly after retiring from the Continental Congress due to a bout of illness, he and his wife were lost at sea when their ship disappeared.

William Whipple was a young ship's captain

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New Hampshire representative William Whipple went to sea at a young age. According to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Whipple was the captain of his own ship by 21.

NBC reported that, after becoming a successful merchant and politician, Whipple put his seafaring background to use, serving as the chairman of the marine, foreign relations and quartermaster committees in Continental Congress.

Matthew Thornton was a physician who served in King George's War

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Thornton's family emigrated from Ireland to America when he was three. Growing up in New Hampshire, he became a physician. According to USHistory.org, at the age of 31, he became the New Hampshire militia's official surgeon during King George's War.

Despite his involvement in the anti-Stamp Act agitation, The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence reports that he "held a commission as colonel of militia" under the royal colonial government.

Robert Morris ran an importing business

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Morris was born in England, but came to Philadelphia at the age of 10. USHistory.org reports that he was "apprenticed to the counting room of Charles Willing at the age of 16." He partnered with his employer's son after Willing died two years later.

Morris's importing business thrived over the years, but British measures to tax merchants caused him to develop pro-independence views. Ultimately, Morris would go on to effectively finance the Revolution against Britain.

Elbridge Gerry was a Harvard-educated merchant

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The nation's fifth vice president was born into a prominent merchant family in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a bastion of anti-Crown feeling. After graduating from Harvard, he joined the family business.

According to the official website of the US Senate, Gerry "played a limited role in the resistance movement until the spring of 1770, when he served on a local committee to enforce the ban on the sale and consumption of tea."

Stephen Hopkins was the scientifically-inclined cousin of Benedict Arnold

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This cousin of Benedict Arnold can be credited with helping to put his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island on the map, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

At 23, he became a justice of peace in Scituate, RI. Down the line, he became the first chancellor of Rhode Island College — now known as Brown University — and was elected governor of Rhode Island in 1755. An avid student of the sciences, he also helped to build a telescope in Providence, which was used to track the path of Venus in June 1769.

Hopkins also makes an appearance in John Trumbull's famous painting "The Declaration of Independence." He's the guy wearing a hat in the background.

William Ellery was a customs collector

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After graduating from Harvard, this Newport, Rhode Island native joined his father in the mercantile business.

Ellery eventually shifted into politics, according to the National Park Service's biography, eventually becoming a customs collector and the clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. In 1770, he was admitted to the bar and became immersed in revolutionary activity with the Sons of Liberty.

Samuel Huntington was a cooper's apprentice

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Born the fourth of 10 children in Connecticut's Scotland Parish, Huntington grew up helping his father on the family farm. As a teenager, he was apprenticed to a cooper, "completing his apprenticeship willingly but without enthusiasm," according to to the Connecticut State Library.

The future president of the Continental Congress used his spare time to study law in the library of Rev. Ebenezer Devotion. He was admitted to the bar in 1754, and in 1761 he married the reverend's daughter, Martha Devotion.

William Williams was a jaded French and Indian War veteran

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This signer was initially set to continue his father's legacy and become a Christian minister after graduating from Harvard.

Instead, he followed his uncle — and early Williams College benefactor — Colonel Ephraim Williams to battle, after the French and Indian War erupted. Ephraim lost his life after being shot through the head near Lake George in 1755.

"William returned home after this wartime experience with a feeling of contempt for the British officers in general, who were haughty and who openly regarded the colonists as inferior men. He put aside the idea of further religious study, opened a store in Lebanon, and prospered as a merchant," according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

He embarked on a political career at the age of 25, becoming a town clerk, then a selectman for the town of Lebanon, Connecticut, and representative and speaker of the lower house for the Connecticut Assembly.

Oliver Wolcott was at the top of his class in Yale

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After graduating in the top of his class from Yale, Wolcott received a captain's commission to fight in the French and Indian War.

The Litchfield Historical Society reports that after the war, the Windsor, Connecticut native studied medicine for some time, and then moved to Litchfield to become a merchant and the county's first sheriff.

The future Revolutionary War general worked as an assembly representative and held positions within the local militia.

William Floyd was a prominent Long Island businessman

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Floyd grew up in Brookhaven, Long Island and lost his father when he was 17. As the eldest son, he inherited his wealthy family's estate and became an "excellent farmer and manager," according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In addition to farming, Floyd's estate featured a dock on the Atlantic Ocean, allowing him to trade and fish for seafood. He quickly became a prominent figure in eastern Long Island, and held positions as a Brookhaven trustee, militia officer, and member of the local assembly.

Lewis Morris was a judge

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This Yale graduate was the half-brother of founding father Gouverneur Morris, according The New Netherland Institute. Early on in his career, helped "his father in running the large agricultural estate, named Morrisania, located in what is now New York City."

In 1760, Britain appointed Morris to a judgeship of the Admiralty Court — he resigned from the post in 1774 when he became more active in revolutionary politics.

John Witherspoon was the president of Princeton

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In addition to being a signer of the Declaration, John Witherspoon also became Princeton's sixth president in 1767. He was the only college president to sign the document.

The University of Edinburgh graduate was originally an ordained Church of Scotland minister. "The trustees of [Princeton] first elected him president in 1766, after Samuel Finley's death; but Mrs. Witherspoon was reluctant to leave Scotland, and he declined," according to W. Frank Craven's entry in "A Princeton Companion."

However, the efforts of medical student and future fellow Declaration signer Benjamin Rush persuaded the Witherspoons, their five children, and their 300 books to make the journey across the Atlantic.

"They were greeted a mile out of town by tutors and students, who escorted them to Morven, home of Richard Stockton," Craven writes. "That evening the students celebrated the occasion by 'illuminating' Nassau Hall with a lighted tallow dip in each window."

He strived to fix the college's increasingly dire financial situation by increasing enrollment and improving academic standards.

John Hart was a justice of the peace

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It's unclear exactly when or where this New Jersey delegate was born, but it's likely that he lacked much formal schooling. However, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Hart "... was well regarded for his common sense, was reasonably well read as proved by his understanding of the law, and showed acumen on business matters."

He bought property in the town of Hopewell, New Jersey and eventually purchased a large mill in the area, as well. He was elected justice of the peace in 1755 and served on the New Jersey's colonial legislature.

Abraham Clark was known as a 'poor man's councilor'

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Born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, Clark started off as a surveyor and later switched to law. According to the "Biographical Annals of the Civil Government of the United States," he became known as the "poor man's councilor" due to his penchant for representing and giving legal advice to members of the lower class.

George Clymer was a counting house apprentice

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According to the University of Pennsylvania's Archives, Clymer got his start apprenticing in a counting house. By the late 1750s, he had established himself as a prominent Philadelphia merchant.

As a result, he became a city councilman and alderman and served on several local committees that pressed for revolution.

James Smith was a surveyor and a lawyer

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Smith was born in Ireland, but his family eventually settled in Pennsylvania, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The founder attended Philadelphia Academy, which is now known as the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating, he became a surveyor and, subsequently, a lawyer.

James Wilson was a college tutor

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After dropping out of St. Andrews due to financial difficulties, this Scottish native took up tutoring and later learned merchant accounting.

According to the University of Pennsylvania's Archives, Wilson came to the colonies in 1765, as a tutor at what is now the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his M.A. from the school and studied law.

In the 1770s, he became involved with the pro-independence movement Pennsylvania and began publishing an anti-Crown pamphlet.

George Ross was a Crown prosecutor

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Studying law at his older brother's office, Ross was admitted to the bar at the age of 20. According to USHistory.org, he served Carlisle, Pennsylvania as a Crown prosecutor for 12 years, and then served in the colony's legislature.

"There he came to understand first hand the rising conflict between the colonial assemblies and the Parliament," USHistory.org reports. "He was an unabashed supporter of the powers of the former."

Caesar Rodney was a sickly sheriff

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The Dover, Delaware native inherited his family's plantation at the age of 17, after his father's death, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

He was sickly throughout his life, stricken with asthma and, later on, facial cancer. Still, he ascended to the office of Kent County sheriff, delegate from Kent County to the colonial legislature, and judge of the Delaware Superior Court, among others.

George Read was an attorney general

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Born in Cecil County, Maryland, Read studied law and was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia at the age of 19. Ten years later, Read was appointed attorney general.

According to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, he attempted to warn "British government of the danger of attempting to tax the colonies without giving them direct representation in Parliament" but eventually resigned when that proved fruitless.

Thomas McKean was a loan office trustee

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After studying law in his home state of Pennsylvania, McKean left to join the Delaware bar in 1754. He also gained certification to work as a barrister in 1758.

He became involved in local governments, serving as justice of the peace, trustee of the local loan office, deputy attorney general for New Castle County, and representative of the Delaware Assembly, according to the The American National Biography.

In 17773, he moved to Philadelphia, where he became an opponent against the Crown.

Samuel Chase became known as the 'Maryland Demosthenes'

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The future Supreme Court Justice was born in Maryland and began to study law in Annapolis in 1759.

During his tenure in the colony's legislature, Chase became known as the "Maryland Demosthenes" due to his revolutionary fervor and strength as an orator, according to The American National Biography.

William Paca was an anti-poll tax activist

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According to USHistory.org, Paca obtained his master's degree from Philadelphia College at the age of 18 before moving to Annapolis and the Inner Temple in London to study law.

After being admitted to the bar, Paca became involved in local politics, opposing the royal governor's poll tax.

Thomas Stone was a well-traveled lawyer

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Born near Welcome, Maryland in 1743, Stone decided early on that he wanted to study law, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. He moved to Annapolis to study, and later to Frederick, Maryland to practice after being admitted to the bar at 21.

He started practicing on the circuit court in 1765, a career path that saw him traveling between Port Tobacco, Frederick, Annapolis, and Philadelphia.

"This travel pattern was not only long and time consuming, but dangerous and fatiguing, all the while maintaining active law practice in two localities," The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence reported.

Richard Henry Lee was a 'fiery' planter

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Lee belonged to an influential planting family. After receiving his formal education in Yorkshire, England and serving as a justice of the peace in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Lee was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1758.

According to the official website of the Lee family's estate, Stratford Hall, Lee was a skilled orator and "possessed a fiery, rebellious spirit," which earned him an enemy in Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia.

Along with his brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee, he was active in revolutionary activities even since the passage of the Stamp Act and promoted the foundation of the Committees of Correspondence in 1768, a system that allowed the colonies to exchange information and ultimately rallied against the Crown.

Thomas Nelson threw a one-man tea party in protest of the Crown's tax policy

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Born in Yorktown to a powerful family, Thomas Nelson Jr. became "a leading merchant, businessman, Burgess, and member of the Governor's Council," according to the National Parks Service.

Nelson was sent to England to receive his education at Christ's College at Cambridge University. He returned to the colonies and began serving in Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1761. The legislative body was dissolved in 1774, after it condemned the Crown's reaction to the Boston Tea Party.

According to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, "To protest this action, Nelson began spending some of his personal fortune, sending needed supplies to Boston. He arranged a Yorktown tea party and personally threw two half-chests of tea into the York River."

Francis Lightfoot Lee was a reluctant politician

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Francis Lightfoot Lee was born to a prominent and powerful Virginia planting family.

According to the official website of the Lee family's estate, Stratford Hall, Lee was not eager to enter public service and serve in the First Virginia Convention on the eve of the Revolution: "He served reluctantly at first, preferring to spend time with his new wife and the building of their home, Menokin. But as the Revolution neared, Frank cast his lot with the Virginia patriots."

Lee befriended Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, and later served in the second Continental Congress with his brother, Richard Henry Lee.

Carter Braxton was a calming influence in Virginia politics

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Born to a wealthy planting family in Virginia. Braxton received an education the College of William and Mary. According to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, he moved to England in 1757 for three years, after the death of his first wife. Upon returning, he was elected to the House of Burgesses.

Before the Revolutionary War broke out in Virginia, Braxton helped to calm the turbulent political crisis that followed after the royal governor confiscated Williamsburg's store of gunpowder. 

William Hooper was a Tory who was once attacked by anti-government rioters

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Defying his parents' wishes that he would enter the Anglican clergy, Hooper obtained an M.A. in theology from Harvard, but went on to practice law, according to the North Carolina History Project.

Before the Revolutionary War, Hooper became a deputy attorney, a deputy attorney general, and a state representative in North Carolina. He supported the Crown throughout much of his early political career. Anti-government rioters even attacked him in 1770, dragging him through the streets of Hillsborough.

In the following years, Hooper began to shed his loyalist mantle and adopt more rebellious opinions.

Joseph Hewes was a New Jersey native living in North Carolina

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How did this New Jersey native and Princeton graduate come to represent North Carolina during the Continental Congress?

After graduating, Hewes moved to Philadelphia to apprentice with a local importer and merchant, and later set up his own successful mercantile venture, according to the North Carolina History Project.

He moved to North Carolina in 1760 and was elected to the colony's legislature only three years later.

John Penn was a legal apprentice

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Starting at the age of 18, Penn served as a legal apprentice to his uncle, Virginia House of Burgesses member Edmund Pendleton. In 1762, he received a law license and moved to Granville County, North Carolina, according to the North Carolina History Project.

At the age of 34, he was elected to North Carolina's Provincial Congress, and then selected to represent the colony in the Continental Congress of 1775.

Thomas Heyward was a tourist traveling around Europe

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Born to a South Carolina planter family, Heyward received a formal education and then began studying law with a prominent barrister. Later, Heyward travel to England, to finish his studies in Middle Temple.

He took several years to tour Europe and then returned to the colonies, having adopted anti-Crown sentiments, according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

During the war, he was captured during the occupation of Charleston. He nearly drowned after falling off a prison ship, but survived by clinging to the rudder.

Arthur Middleton was the member of a secret pro-independence committee

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After graduating from Cambridge University and studying law at London's Middle Temple, South Carolina native Arthur Middleton took two years off to tour throughout Europe.

In 1763, Middleton returned to South Carolina at the age of 21. According to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, he became a justice of the peace and a member of the colony's House of Commons, where he joined a secret committee to prepare South Carolina for war.

In 1770, he and his wife Mary embarked on another three year tour of Europe. Upon returning, he continued to support radical policies, including "tar and feathering and confiscation of estates belonging to Loyalists who had fled the country," according to The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Middleton was captured during the occupation of Charleston, but was freed in 1781 and continued to serve in South Carolina's government.

Lyman Hall was a Yale-educated physician

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Hall started out as a Yale-educated Congregational minister, but became a physician in 1753, according to the Georgia Historical Society's Stan Deaton. In Georgia, he balanced his medical career with an avid interest in local revolutionary activity.

George Walton was a bored carpenter

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After being orphaned at a young age, Walton was adopted by an uncle who apprenticed him as a carpenter. However, carpentry held little interest for the future signer of the Declaration.

Walton was probably around 20 years old when he arrived in Savannah, Georgia to pursue a legal career. "By the eve of the American Revolution he was one of the most successful lawyers in Georgia," writes the Georgia Historical Society's Stan Deaton.


This article was written by Áine Cain from Business Insider and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.