Joseph Hewes

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Founding Fathers
Joseph Hewes
State North Carolina
Religion Christian- Quaker, Episcopalian [1]
Founding Documents Declaration of Independence

Joseph Hewes (January 23, 1730 – November 10, 1779) was a patriot from North Carolina and a Founding Father of the United States. He was a wealthy merchant with the most to lose in the American Revolution. Hewes was a man of integrity and honor. He bristled with confidence and esteem helping the Whigs overthrow the royal government. A member of the Colonial Assembly, he signed the Declaration of Independence as a North Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress and was on the draft committee for the Articles of Confederation. He worked directly with General George Washington to defend the colonies and became the de facto first Secretary of the Navy.

Early life

Joseph was born in the year 1730 at a Maybury Hill Kingston estate on the outskirts of Princeton, New Jersey. His parents were Quaker by faith and had moved from their Connecticut farm to a more secure surroundings without religious bigotry and Indian attacks.[2] Joseph grew up on the farm and received a public education. He graduated from Princeton College. Next, he moved to Philadelphia and worked for a merchant.

Then in 1760 he established a shipping business in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he earned his fortune.[3] His confidence and esteem won over the people. Hewes was elected and re-elected to represent the people in the colonial legislature. Hewes had remained a bachelor and heartbroken after his fiance, Isabella Johnston, died days before their wedding. Isabella was the sister of Governor Samuel Johnston.[4]


At first Hewes was against any talk of independence as he articulated the colony's grievences against Britain. His committee would draft the following

State the rights of the colonies in general, the several instances in which these rights are violated or infringed, and the means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them.
The royal governor disbanded the assembly and Hewes became a delegate to the Continental Congress. His Quaker family was against a split from Great Britain and against talk of war. Since Joseph was a patriot in favor of independence, he severed his connection with the Quaker society.

After twenty years of commercial business with Great Britain, Hewes now advocated all American trade connections to be severed. Under his leadership, North Carolina became the first colony to break from King George III. After signing the Declaration, Hewes placed his vast fleet of merchant ships at the service of the Continental Armed Forces. He served the Congress as the Secretary of the Naval Affairs Committee. He would lose his Congressional re-election in 1777, but served the Navy until 1779.[5]


Joseph Hewes died at age fifty years old after a battle with a bed-ridden illness. His funeral was attended by many including President Washington, all of Congress, and the French minister plenipotentiary. His grave is in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pa.

In 1832 the town of Edenton, NC placed a monument to his honor.[6]


  2. Joseph Hewes,
  3. Our Christian Founding Fathers
  4. The North Carolina Booklet: Great Events in North Carolina History, Volumes 7-8
  5. Biographical Scetches Joseph Hewes, National Park Service
  6. Joseph Hewes Memorial, Edenton