Not as vocal as his compatriots, Thomas Stone is one of the lesser known signers of the Declaration of Independence. He served his country when called to do so, but preferred a quiet life with family over a life in the limelight. Thomas Stone was born at Poynton Manor in Charles County Maryland in 1743. He was educated by a Scottish school-master, and according to legend, he loved learning, even as a boy, and, as the story goes, rode 10 miles on horseback every day to attend school. Later, he studied law at the office of Thomas Johnson, Maryland’s first governor. He was admitted to the Bar in 1764 and set up practice in Frederick, Maryland, which was moderately successful. In 1768, he married Margaret Brown. Her dowry allowed them to purachase land near Port Tobacco, and in 1771, the Stones built Habre-de-Venture. The pair were extremely happy together and had three children. Over time, Stone’s law practice grew, and he built a reputation for promoting anti-British policies. He was a prosperous landowner and moderately successful lawyer.
He began his public service on a county committee of correspondence, whose job was to establish lines of communication with other colonies for the purpose of trade, transportation, etc. According to Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnest in Signing Their Lives Away (page 163, Quirk Books, ©2009), “In 1774, he received some early – but not necessarily positive – public exposure in the developing battle between the patriots and the motherland when he acted as a prosecutor in a case against a man who had refused to pay the poll tax being collected to support the Anglican clergy. By that time, taxes had long been a touchy subject for the colonists, and supporting the Crown’s position in this matter did not boost Stone’s popularity among the patriots. The defense team was made up of William Paca, Thomas Johnson, and Samuel Chase, all of who would later be at Congress when Stone took his seat. He lost the case.”
Stone was elected to Continental Congress in 1774 and was re-elected several years in a row. He was not as vocal as some of the other Congressmen, but we do know that he was was pro-independence, even though he supported reconciliatory measures to begin with and the State of Maryland limited his ability to vote for extreme patriotic measures.
The Maryland legislature was cautious of the rebellious spirit which had taken over in Boston after the Boston Tea Party. Maryland ordered the delegates of their state not to vote for independence without the prior approval of the state. Therefore, Stone and the other Maryland signers, Samuel Chase and William Paca, frustrated some of the Congressmen who were very strongly in favor of separation from England. When, however, it appeared that separation was the only choice, Maryland gave the go ahead, and the Maryland delegates voted in favor of independence. They all signed the Declaration of Independence, but Thomas Stone hoped that America would peacefully resolve things with England, as he was a pacifist and hoped to avoid loss of life.
He was a member of the committee that framed the Articles of Confederation. During this time, his wife came to visit him in Philadelphia. At the time, smallpox was running rampant through the colonies, so Thomas had Margaret inoculated. The process involved removing pus from an infected person’s lesions to be transferred under the skin of person receiving the inoculation. When the person came down with a mild case of smallpox, he/she was placed in quarantine he recovered, but Margaret Stone never fully overcame the process. It affected her poorly. She grew very sick; and though she initially recovered, her health was never the same. She continued to decline over the years.
After signing the Declaration, Thomas took Margaret home, and didn’t take further part in the Congress at Philadelphia, only attending a few meetings when Congress met in Annapolis in 1784. When the Maryland legislature began to question whether they’d made a mistake joining the confederacy, Stone joined the Maryland legislature in order to help win them over. He helped explain the Articles until Maryland agreed to sign them.
After representing Maryland at the Mount Vernon Conference, he was elected to Congress again in 1783 and served as chairman, but retired at the end of his term. He was elected to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787, but declined the office because of his wife’s failing health.
She died 1787, and Stone never got over the grief. Four months after Margaret’s death, his physician recommended a sea voyage to cheer him up. He decided to travel to England, but died in Alexandria, Virginia, while waiting for the ship. He was forty-four years old. Little else is known of Thomas Stone, as no letters or papers accounting his life have ever been found.