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John Penn - Signer of the Declartion of Independence Biography by Appleton's edited by Stanley L. Klos

John Penn

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

 

JOHN PENN was born on May 17, 1741 in Caroline County, Virginia. He was a "transplanted" patriot, as he would build his political and legal career in North Carolina.  He was the only child of Moses Penn a moderately successful plantation owner and his wife, Catherine Taylor. Penn received little formal education, although his parents could well afford to pay the expense of his tuition. At the age of eighteen, upon the death of his father, he had only been instructed for a few years at a country school and was largely self-educated. At that time, he was urged to study law by his mentor, Edmund Pendleton. Pendleton maintained a vastlaw library, which he put at Penn's disposal. Penn studied hungrily and remarkably passed the bar examination at Virginia at the age of twenty-one. 

 

Penn was, however, unable to forge a rewarding practice in Virginia so he moved with his wife, Susannah Lyme, and their three children to Williamsboro, North Carolina. There, he displayed great ability and eloquence, and his practice flourished, as did his interest in politics. He soon became a leader in his community. He was elected to the provincial legislature in 1775 and to the Second Continental congress, taking his seat on October 12, filling a vacancy. It was said that Penn, though very talkative in private, rarely spoke in congress. However, he was very diligent in public business and voted consistently for independence.

 

After signing the Declaration, John Penn returned home and was chosen at once to occupy an important position on the North Carolina board of war. His major task was to keep the militia well supplied. His dedicated efforts in fact helped the Americans force Lord Cornwallis into retreat before the end of 1780. In March of 1784, he was appointed receiver of taxes for North Carolina, but he resigned that office the following April. His reason for doing so was the fact that the state, while eagerly maintaining the cause of independence by resolutions and declaration, refused to furnish the means by which it could be secured.

 

John Penn afterward resumed his life as a private citizen due to the state of his health, and continued to practice law. He died on September 14, 1788 at the age of forty-eight.
 


 

 

 

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