Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer Abraham Clark
Abraham Clark and his signature on the Declaration of Independence
Sarah Hatfield was born in 1728, the eldest daughter of Isaac and Sarah Price Hatfield, a farming family in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Abraham Clark was born February 15, 1725, and in his boyhood, he was too frail for farm work. His father, Thomas Clark, realized that Abraham had a natural gift for mathematics, so he hired a tutor to teach Abraham the profession of surveying.
Clark’s love of study, and the generosity of his character, naturally made him popular – his opinion was valued, and often sought. He was called to fill various offices, the duties of which rendered himself highly useful in the community in which he lived. While working as a surveyor, he taught himself law and went into practice. He became quite popular and became known as the poor man’s councilor, because he offered to defend poor men when they couldn’t afford a lawyer.
Abraham Clark married Sarah Hatfield in 1748, with whom he had ten children: Aaron, Thomas, Abraham Jr., Hannah, Andrew, Sarah, Cavalier, Elizabeth, Abraham Clark III, and Abigail. It is said that Sarah was an intrepid and resourceful women, whose care and devotion allowed her husband the opportunity for decades of public service. She ran the family farm and reared their ten children. The Clarks attended the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, where her father was an Elder.
Clark followed his father’s example by taking an active part in civic affairs. He entered politics as a clerk of the Provincial Assembly. Later he became High Sheriff of Essex County, and in 1775 was elected to the Provincial Congress. He was also a member of the Committee of Public Safety. Between 1774 and 1776, he attended several Revolutionary conventions, and won election to the provincial assembly. In whatever capacity he acted as a public servant, he attracted the respect and admiration of the community, by his punctuality, his integrity, and perseverance.
Early in the American Revolution, Clark was highly vocal on his opinion that the American colonies should have their independence. Early in 1776, the New Jersey delegation to the Continental Congress opposed independence from Great Britain. As the issue heated up, the state convention replaced all their delegates with men who favored separation from the mother country. On June 21, 1776, they appointed Abraham Clark, along with John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton, and John Witherspoon as new delegates.
Clark was well aware, as were his fellow congressional delegates, of the gravity of the decision for independence from Great Britain. He knew full well that fortune and individual safety were at stake, but personal considerations did not compare to the honor and liberty of his country. Clark was prepared to risk everything he held dear for freedom from British tyranny.
Abraham Clark arrived in Philadelphia on June 28, 1776, and a few days later, he was called upon to vote for, or against, the proclamation of independence. On July 2, 1776, he voted for the Declaration of Independence, and affixed his name to that sacred document, determined to meet the consequences of that noble but dangerous act with fortitude and resolution, becoming a free born citizen of America.
Abraham Clark Letters:
In the early hours of July 4, 1776, Abraham Clark wrote his friend Elias Dayton, the Colonel of a battalion of Jersey troops at German Flatts, from his lodging in Philadelphia.
… Our Congress Resolved to Declare the United Colonies Free and Independent States. A Declaration for this purpose, I expect, will this day pass Congress, it is nearly gone through, after which it will be Proclaimed with all the State and Solemnity Circumstances will admit. It is gone so far that we must now be a free independent State, or a Conquered Country… This seems now to be a trying season, but that indulgent Father who hath hitherto Preserved us will, I trust, appear for our help, and prevent our being Crushed; If otherwise, his Will be done.
Ten days later Clark wrote again to Dayton:
Our Declaration of Independence I dare say you have seen. A few weeks will probably determine our fate. Perfect freedom, or Absolute Slavery. To some of us freedom or a halter. Our fates are in the hands of An Almighty God, to whom I can with pleasure confide my own; he can save us, or destroy us; his Councils are fixed and cannot be disappointed, and all his designs will be Accomplished.
Four days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, Clark wrote:
As to my title, I know not yet whether it will be honorable or dishonorable; the issue of the war must settle it. Perhaps our Congress will be exalted on a high gallows. We were truly brought to the case of the three lepers; if we continued in the state we were in, it was evident we must parish; if we declared Independence we might be saved – we could but perish… Nothing short of the power of God can save us… I think an interposing Providence hath been evident in all the events that necessarily led us to what we are – independent states.
Despite poor health and a deep concern for the welfare of his family and the safety of his home, located not far from an area of British occupation, Clark stayed in Congress throughout the War for Independence and sometimes sat concurrently in the State legislature.
Abraham Clark Monument
On July 4, 1848 the citizens of Rahway erected a ten-foot obelisk monument in Clark’s honor. The inscription states:
Firm and decided as a patriot,
zealous and faithful as a friend to
the public, he loved his country,
and adhered to her cause in the
darkest hours of her struggles
He suffered additional anxiety when the British captured two of the Clarks’ sons, who were officers in the Continental Army, and incarcerated them for a time on the prison ship Jersey, where hundreds of captives perished. Captain Clark was thrown in a dungeon and given no food except that which was shoved through a keyhole. Congress was appalled and protested to the British, and his conditions were improved.
At the end of the war in 1783, Clark resumed his life in New Jersey. The next year, he began a three-year term in the State legislature, which he represented at the Annapolis Convention in 1786. In 1787, Clark was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention, which framed the U.S. Constitution; but because of ill health, he was unable to take his seat in that body.
Clark had serious objections to the constitution as originally proposed, until it incorporated the Bill of Rights. But his enemies took advantage of his objections, and for a time he was placed in the minority in the elections of New Jersey.
His popularity, however, again revived, and he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in both the Second and Third United States Congress, and served there from March 4, 1791, until his death. In 1787, he returned to the Continental Congress, but in 1789, he remained in New Jersey as commissioner to settle his State’s accounts with the Federal Government.
When Congress adjourned in June, 1794, Clark finally retired from public life.
Abraham Clark died on September 15, 1794, at the age of 69, two hours after suffering a sun stroke, while observing the construction of a bridge on his property. It is said that he may have survived if he had not taken time to drive his cousin home first. But considering his own well-being before that of others would have been out of character for Abraham Clark. He was buried at the Presbyterian Cemetery in Rahway.
Abraham Clark’s obituary September 17, 1794 in The New-Jersey Journal:
On Monday last, very suddenly, the Hon. Abraham Clark, Esq. member from this State, to the Congress of the United States, in the 69th year of his age. In the death of Mr. Clark, his
Family has sustained an irretrievable loss, and the state is deprived of a useful citizen, who, for forty years past, has been employed in the most honorable and confidential trusts, which he ever discharged with that disinterestedness, ability, and indefatigable industry, that redounded much to his popularity; indeed it may be said of him, that he was a person from his youth, with whom
the amor patriae pieponderated every other consideration.
It could not be expected that such a character would pass unnoticed by the jaundiced eye of envy and faction, which was really the case with the deceased, but his conduct was so unequivocally upright, that the unvenomed shafts of envy could never remove him from the confidence of the people, or shake his popularity.
Abraham and Sarah Clark Burial Site
The stone slabs marking both Abraham and Sarah’s graves in the Rahway Cemetery were encased in a monument in 1924 by the Rebecca Cornell DAR Chapter. Their sons, Captain Thomas Clark and Cavalier Clark, and Abraham’s father Thomas Clark are also buried there.
Sarah Hatfield Clark died at Rahway on June 2, 1804, and she was buried beside her husband.
Abraham Clark – farmer, surveyor, self-taught lawyer, and politician – typifies those Signers of the Declaration of Independence who dedicated most of their lives to public service but never gained national renown.