Joseph Hewes was born in Princeton, New Jersey, but he amassed his fortune in a shipping business located in Wilmington, North Carolina. When the revolution broke out, Hewes placed his ships at the service of the Continental Army. Unfortunately because Hewes had no direct line descendants his contributions are sometimes overlooked.
Hewes was the son of Quaker farmers whose ancestors came to America from England in 1735. They settled in the Connecticut Colony. Aaron and Providence Hewes left Connecticut because of religious intolerance, as well as an upswing of Indian attacks. Settling at Maybury Hill, an estate outside of Princeton, where they remained for some 25 years. Little is known of Hewes’ life prior to his attending Princeton College and his apprenticeship in a counting house. In North Carolina, he founded a prosperous shipping business. He was engaged to Isabella Johnston, sister to Samuel Johnston, who served as a governor of North Carolina. Regrettably, she died before the wedding date, and Hewes remained a bachelor for the remainder of his days. (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)
Hewes represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress and helped developed the “Halifax Resolves,” which chronicled North Carolina’s grievances against English rule, and he helped form a plan of non-importation for the colonies. As a Quaker, Hewes was under pressure to denounce the colonial efforts for independence, but he stood strong. Moreover, he shunned other teachings of Quakers by attending socials and dances and enjoying the company of women. “On the advice of the committee appointed October 5, 1775, Congress voted to fit out four vessels, A committee of seven was formed by Congress for the defense of the United Colonies. By this vote, Congress was fully committed to the policy of maintaining a naval armament. This committee was the first executive body for the management of naval affairs. It was known as the “Naval Committee” and the members were John Langdon of New Hampshire, John Adams of Massachusetts, Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, Silas Deane of Connecticut, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, Joseph Hewes of North Carolina and Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina. Hewes chaired the committee that was responsible for fitting out the first American Warships. He also put his entire fleet at the disposal of the Continental Armed Forces. The disbursements of the Naval Committee were under his special charge, and eight armed vessels were fitted out with the Funds placed at his disposal.” (The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)
“Joseph Hewes was a friend and benefactor of John Paul (alias Jones). John Paul was a ship boy on a merchantman from Scotland, and at twenty one was master of a Brigantine. He arrived in America in 1773. and became a friend of Joseph Hewes. When the time came to appoint the Nation’s first Naval captains, Hewes and John Adams clashed for one of the positions. Hewes nominated his friend John Paul Jones. John Adams maintained that all the captaincies should be filled by New Englanders, and stubbornly protested. New England had yielded to the South in the selection of a commander in chief of the Continental Army and Adams had fostered the selection of the able Virginian George Washington, so he was not now about to make a concession on the Navy. Hewes, sensing the futility of argument, reluctantly submitted. John Paul Jones, was to become the most honored Naval hero of the Revolution, but he received only a Lieutenant’s commission. Jones never forgot his patron and sponsor and many letters are extant telling of the great gratitude he felt for Hewes’ interest in him. The following is an excerpt from one of the letters:
‘You are the angel of my happiness; since to your friendship I owe my present enjoyments, as well as my future prospects. You more than any other person have labored to place the instruments of success in my hands.’ (John Paul Jones)” (The Society for the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence)
From North Carolina History, we learn “North Carolinians were pleased with Hewes’s representation and elected him to Congress for a second time in 1775. He stayed until its adjournment in July. He continued to serve the state of North Carolina, almost entirely uninterrupted, for the next four years. His final appearance in Congress came on October 29, 1779. Hewes struggled with an illness for sometime and remained confined in his chamber from October until his death on November 10, 1779. His funeral took place the following day. Congress, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, the President and Supreme Executive Council, the Minister Plenipotentiary of France, and a number of citizens came to pay their respects to a great man who dedicated so many years to the Patriot cause. To honor the memory of Hewes, members of Congress wore a crape around their left arms for one month.”