Community Life

Montville Residents Continue Traditional Reading of Declaration of Independence

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Patriots gather to read the Declaration of Independence honoring July 4th. From left: Claire Kolaritsch, Flo Greco, Judi Nordman, Jean Kilzer, Scott Russell, Geri Zauzig Van Dyke and Patrick Bottone Credits: Gail Bottone
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MONTVILLE, NJ - A small group of patriotic citizens got together at the Montville Township Community Park pavilion on July 4th to read the Declaration of Independence and discuss its meaning. This year is the 242nd anniversary of this important day in history.

Due to circumstances, the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Doremus House was not held this year. A group of local women planned to continue this patriotic tradition and contacted Scott Russell, president of the Montville Area Tea Party. Russell sent an e-mail to Tea Party members inviting them to join the group at the pavilion. 

The women who organized this event are citizens who every year would go to the Doremus House for the ceremonial reading and then go to the pavilion to have a traditional picnic lunch. Since there was no Doremus House event this year, the group decided to keep up the tradition and invite others to join them. These women are Claire Kolaritsch, Flo Greco, Judi Nordman, Jean Kilzer and Geri Zauzig Van Dyke.

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The event started with the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of God Bless America. It also included a prayer that was given at the opening of the First Continental Congress on Sept. 7, 1774. This same congress gave our country the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The prayer included the words, “That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people.”

Next came the reading of the Declaration of Independence, including these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The impromptu event was full of dialogue on the meaning of being an American citizen in 1776 and in 2018. Jean Kilzer and Geri Zauzig Van Dyke told stories about their family members coming to the United States looking for a better life and finding it. There was discussion on how values and patriotism have changed. 

It was said that it is important to read the Declaration of Independence and reflect on it because it gives insight on just what these men envisioned for America and what they sacrificed by signing this document. 

The Declaration of Independence ends with these words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Did you ever wonder what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

The following is courtesy of the Montville Area Tea Party:

“Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. 

Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. 

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. 

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. 

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. 

What kind of men were they? 

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. 

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags. 

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. 

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. 

John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. 

Some of us take these liberties so much for granted, but we shouldn’t. 

Remember: Freedom is never free.”

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