Thomas Stone is another founding father that is little known but was essential to the development of his state and of the United States. Stone represented the Colony of Maryland, which initially opposed independence. He was elected to Congress in 1775 when Maryland public opinion was tilting towards independence, and he signed the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776. He was also one of the authors of the Articles of Confederation. Stone was re-elected to Congress in1783 but resigned at the end of his term. He was elected to the 1787 Constitutional Convention but declined because of his wife’s failing health. Thomas Stone risked his all for independence. He was a patriot and an American Hero.
Thomas Stone was born in 1743 in Poynton Manor, Charles County, Maryland. He was the second son of the large family of David William and Elizabeth Hannah Stone. His father was a wealthy planter and a descendant of William Stone who was Governor of Maryland during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. Two of Thomas’ brothers also became active in politics: Michael served in the US Congress and John was a Colonel in the Continental Army and a future governor.
Thomas was a tall thin man who was well spoken, religious, and generous. He was very well educated and a member of the “planter class.” He was a quiet man and appeared distant to those who did not know him. His friends, however, said that he had a good sense of humor, was cheerful, familiar, and loyal.
Despite his family wealth Thomas never took it for granted and worked hard to become well educated. When he decided to pursue a legal career, he borrowed (and repaid) the money to finance his training. He studied law under Annapolis, Maryland attorney Thomas Johnson and was admitted to the Bar in 1764. He began his law career in Frederick, Maryland in 1765. Two years later he moved his practice to his home area of Charles County.
In 1768 Thomas Stone married the love of his life, the beautiful Margaret Brown who was the youngest of Dr. Gustavus Brown’s 14 children. Dr. Brown Was a Scottish Lord with an Edinburgh education and extensive property holdings in Scotland and Maryland. He was very wealthy and provided an excellent education to all his children, including the girls (very unusual in those times).
According to those that knew them, Margaret and Thomas had a very close relationship and were quite happy. The union resulted in three children (two daughters, one son) who all lived to adulthood. Margaret came to the marriage with a dowry, which they used to purchase land near the tiny village of Port Tobacco in Charles County. (Port Tobacco is still tiny having only 13 residents in 2010.)
In 1770 Thomas and Margaret began construction of a home that they named Habre de Venture. Before they could complete construction, Thomas’ father died, and five of Thomas’ younger siblings came to live with them. This doubling of the family called for a much larger house. The large Georgian-Style house they built still stands today in the Stone National Historic Site. Thomas also eventually expanded his plantation from 400 to about 1,300 acres.
Thomas Stone’s law practice was becoming more successful and more time consuming, so he brought in his brother Michael to develop the plantation while he concentrated on the law. By 1774 Thomas was also becoming involved in local politics and was appointed to the Charles County Committee of Correspondence.
Tensions with the British were running high in the north particularly in Boston, Massachusetts, and revolution was in the air. However, the people in Maryland were mostly against independence believing that negotiations were the answer. Their ties to England were quite strong and they did not want war with the “Mother Country.” Thomas Stone was a pacifist and a conservative, so he was comfortable with and shared the position of his fellow Marylanders.
In 1775, Thomas was selected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. Maryland was so against independence that the legislature gave written instructions to their delegates that denied them the power to support independence without consultation with and approval of the Maryland legislature. In late 1775 and early 1776, opinions of the people in Maryland began tilting towards independence. This was spurred by growing resistance to the Crown’s new oppressive taxes, and especially by Tom Paine’s “Common Sense” which was published in January 1776. The change in public opinion caused the Maryland legislature to reluctantly weaken their tight restrictions on their congressional delegates.
Thomas Stone’s attitude also did a 360 and he became a strong proponent of independence. On 15 May 1776 he voted in favor of drafting a declaration of independence. He was now a true revolutionary and on 4 July 1776 he signed the Declaration of Independence becoming a “founding father.” Thomas Stone didn’t talk much during the debates, nor did he leave many writings, so we don’t know much about his reasoning that resulted in his changed opinions.
After declaring independence congress had to create a government unlike any that had ever existed. Thomas Stone was the Maryland delegate chosen for the Drafting Committee that was to create that government. His writing skills and law background made him a valuable member of that committee. Stone continued to serve until the Articles of Confederation were agreed to on 15 November 1777. The Articles turned out to be woefully inadequate in practice but were a reasonable first attempt.
During the 1776 congressional session, Margaret had joined Thomas in Philadelphia. Due to recent outbreaks of smallpox, Margaret opted to receive a smallpox vaccination which required the ingestion of mercury. Her care after the vaccination was botched and she developed serious mercury poisoning. Her health began to rapidly decline. After signing the Declaration, Thomas quickly took his beloved Margaret back to their home in Charles County.
Thomas Stone declined re-election to congress except for a short 1784 session in Annapolis. He did serve in the Maryland Senate from 1779 to 1785 where he guided the Articles of Confederation to acceptance by Maryland. This was no easy job because there was still powerful opposition. Maryland was the last state to ratify the Articles.
After his government service, Thomas’ legal practice began to increase significantly so he moved his family to Annapolis where he could spend more time with them. Unfortunately, Margaret’s health continued to decline so he eventually gave up his law practice. He gradually withdrew completely from public life so he could personally care for her. After fighting for more than ten years Margaret died in June 1787 at the age of 36.
Thomas Stone loved Margaret deeply and was so devastated and depressed by her death that his health began to deteriorate significantly. His doctor recommended that he take a sea voyage to get away from all the memories, so he planned a trip to England. He was in Alexandria, Virginia waiting to embark when he died on 5 October 1787. Thomas Stone was only 44 years old. He and Margaret are buried at Habre de Venture.
Thomas Stone is a little-known political figure but was important to the development of the state of Maryland and the United States. He signed the Declaration of Independence and was an important participant in the first efforts to establish a functioning government through the Articles of Confederation. Unfortunately, his contributions were cut short by an early death. Thomas Stone became a revolutionary and a patriot. He was a true American Hero.