February 17: Honest John Hart

Honest John Hart — February ?, 1713
by Rev. David T. Myers

There is much which we don’t know about Honest John Hart, as he was known by all. For example, no one seems to know the date of his birth. We know that it was the second month of the year, but the exact day is unknown. So for the purposes of this web magazine, we have chosen this day. Some don’t even know the year of his birth, though we have placed down the generally accepted year of 1713. And as far as the place of his birth, that too is not known. Some say John Hart was born in Connecticut, and others say New Jersey. But what this humble man accomplished for his new country and especially for the Lord God is well known.

His chief accomplishment was that John Hart was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, representing the State of New Jersey. And like his fellow delegate John Witherspoon, who signed the Declaration, John Hart was also a Presbyterian. We know that he was baptized as a child in the Maidenhead Meetinghouse, which is currently the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on December 31, 1713. Fellow signer, Benjamin Rush, also a Presbyterian, described him as “a plain, honest, well meaning Jersey farmer, with little education, but with good sense and virtue enough to pursue the true interests of his country.”

Married to Deborah Scudder in 1739, he settled down on 193 acres near what is presently Hopewell, New Jersey. Eventually, from this marital union, they would have 13 children. John Hart would serve in various offices of local and regional government, until his election to the Continental Congress as one of five delegates from New Jersey. In that office, he was the thirteenth member to put his signature on the bottom of the Declaration of Independence.

For that, his life incurred a great degree of personal and family suffering, as the British and Hessian forces destroyed all that he owned in Hopewell. During this time after his signing of that historic document, his wife was sick unto death. And even though there was a price on his head, John Hart would not leave his sick wife. Finally after her death, he sent the children to live with relatives and friends, while he became a fugitive, living in barns and caves, always one step ahead of the British authorities. There is online a sign which speaks of John Hart’s cave. With the end of that Revolutionary War, he was able to return to his farm.

Though he was Presbyterian, John Hart knew that the local Baptist church was looking for ground to build their church. He gave part of his land for the building of that church and cemetery. Today both John and his wife are buried in that Baptist church cemetery in Hopewell, New Jersey, with appropriate monuments indicating his place in the history of our republic.

Words to Live By:
Let us be known for our godly conversation and conduct before both believers and unbelievers alike. Let us remain faithful to Him, regardless of the opposition of the world, the flesh, and the devil have for us in the present, and whatever the future holds. Peter says in 2 Peter 3:17 “You therefore, beloved, . . . be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”(NASV)


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