John Penn, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born on May 17, 1741, in
. His father, Moses Penn, apparently had the means to provide a good education for his son, but he neglected to give him any more education than what he obtained during two or three years at the county school. John was just eighteen years old when his father passed away and became the sole heir of "a competent, though not large estate." Carolina County, Virginia
Even though John was quite young when he inherited the estate, he apparently was mature enough to not waste it with "gay and thoughtless" associates. John possessed a strong mind and seemed to naturally "pursue an honorable and virtuous course."
John lived near a relative by the name of Edmund Pendleton and was given "free use of his extensive library." John used this opportunity to acquire knowledge and soon decided to pursue the profession of law. He entered "a course of legal study, guided and instructed only by his own judgment and good common sense." He was admitted to the bar at age 21 and soon had a successful business. "His eloquence was of that sweet persuasive kind, which excites all the tender emotions of the soul, and possesses a controlling power at time irresistible."
In 1774 John moved his business practice to
and soon became well known for his abilities and patriotism. In 1775 he was elected as a delegate to represent North Carolina in the Continental Congress and was seated in October 1775. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress for three years and "faithfully discharged the duties of his high station." The North Carolina instructions to its delegates coincided with John's own judgment and feelings, and he voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. North Carolina
After the British defeated General Gates and his army at Sanders' Creek near
Camden, South Carolina, in 1780, British Lord Cornwallis left Colonel Ferguson to fight the Americans in South Carolina and marched his army northward into western . He intended to invade North Carolina Virginia and made prior arrangements for General Leslie to meet him on the with reinforcements. The shore of Chesapeake Bay legislature gave John Penn "almost absolute dictatorial powers, and allowed him to take such measures for the defence of the state." It was obvious that the public had great confidence in John, and he did not abuse the power bestowed upon him. Lord Cornwallis was "harassed" so much by "bands of patriots" that he was slowed in his travels. When he heard that Colonel Ferguson had been defeated and killed at King's Mountain, he hurried back to North Carolina . Thus South Carolina -with little or no defense - was spared from a "destructive invasion." Virginia
John retired from public service in 1781 and resumed his law practice. It was a short retirement. Robert Morris, the Treasurer of the Confederation, appointed John to be a Sub-Treasurer in 1784 to be the "receiver of taxes for
. This appointment showed great honor and trust in John, but it was not a popular job. He was willing to do whatever he could to serve his country, but he resigned the position a few weeks later because "he soon found that he would do but little that could in anywise conduce to the public weal." This was John's last public office. North Carolina
John Penn died in September 1788 at age 47 years. "The life of John Penn furnishes another example of the high attainments which may crown him who, though surrounded by adverse circumstances, by persevering industry cultivates mind and heart, and aims at an exalted mark of distinction. If young men would, like him, resolve to rise above the hindrance of adverse circumstances and push boldly on toward some honorable goal, they would seldom fail to reach it, and the race would be found to be far easier than they imagined it to be, when girding for its trial."
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 208-210.