John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the son of Edward Hart, of Hopewell, a man of considerable importance, who raised a company of volunteers in the French war, and fought bravely in the campaign against Quebec.
John was born at Hopewell, New Jersey, grew up in high esteem among his neighbors, and became eminent for his honesty, kindness, modesty, and benevolence. He had no taste for political life, made few speeches, but was ready with brave sacrificing deeds. Such a man could not remain in the background during the period preceding the birth of his country’s nationality. He was identified with the cause of the patriots from the beginning.
When he entered the Continental Congress of 1774 he was about sixty years of age. He resigned the next year, and became Vice President of the Provincial Congress of New Jersey. He was again elected to Congress in 1775, and he was re-appointed to the same body by the convention of New Jersey in 1776, and took his place among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In the same year he was chosen Speaker of the Assembly, and re-elected in 1777 and 1778. He was also an important member of the Committee of Safety, and particularly obnoxious to the British and Tories.
When, in 1776, the Legislature fled from Princeton to Burlington, to Pittstown, in Salem County, and to Haddonfield, where it dissolved, John Hart returned to find that his wife and children had fled to the mountains, that his crops were consumed, and that his stock had been driven away by the Hessians. Though the old man was a fugitive, pursued with unusual malice, sleeping in caves and in thickets, not permitted to visit his dying wife, his spirit was not broken, nor did he despair of the cause. After the battle of Princeton he came from his hiding place, and convened the Legislature at Trenton. He died May 11, 1779, worn out by his labors and privations.
In 1865, a fine monumental shaft of Quincy granite was erected by the State of New Jersey near the old Baptist meeting-house in Hopewell to honor his memory. It was dedicated July 4, 1865, with imposing ceremonies, among which was an eloquent oration by Joel Parker, governor of the State, upon the life and services of John Hart. This monument prominently exhibits the words, “Honor The Patriot’s Grave.” The following is an extract from Governor Parker’s address:
“As his public career was without blemish so was his private life pure and exemplary. He was a consistent member of the old Hopewell Baptist church, and gave to the congregation the, land on which the meeting-house was erected, and in which his remains are now deposited. He was a true patriot. I am of opinion, after a careful examination of the history of New Jersey during and immediately preceding the Revolutionary war, that John Hart had greater experience in the colonial and State legislation of that day than any of his contemporaries, and that no man exercised greater influence in giving direction to the public opinion which culminated in independence.”
William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia