Roger Sherman: Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor (part 1)

Mark Cole

Over the years in America and the west generally, the nature and means of education have dramatically changed. But it is a serious error to think that before the contemporary era of schooling on a mass scale that no one was deeply or broadly educated. Many in colonial America were exceptionally well-educated, yet largely self-taught or taught by a tutor or mentor.

Such was the case with scientist, lawyer, theologian, merchant, statesman, patriot and father of fifteen children, Roger Sherman. In his astonishingly productive life as one of the leading citizens of colonial America, Sherman studied privately with Rev. Samuel Danbar, worked as a shoemaker and a farmer, and then as a land surveyor before becoming an author of a series of almanacs filled with astronomical calculations. He read for the bar (as was the custom of his day) and became a lawyer, though he did not have a college degree. He made an in-depth study of theology and received an honorary degree from Yale, where he also served as treasurer for more than a decade. He was also a professor of religion for many years and carried on an active dialogue with the leading New England theological minds of his day.

And he did all of that while playing a leading role in the independence movement and in the formation of the United States under the Constitution. Not bad for someone who never set foot in a classroom as a student.

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Roger Sherman was born in 1721 in Newton, Massachusetts. He lived there until he was about twenty, when his father died. He then moved to Connecticut and began working in various trades. As the appointed surveyor for New Haven County, Sherman took an active role in public life, serving as a selectman, a deacon of a local Congregational church, juryman, school committeeman and town agent before the colonial assembly. In addition to his almanacs (which provided him with a decent income, together with his ownership of New Milford’s first general store and his nascent legal practice), Sherman published a pamphlet warning against the dangers of unsound currency.

Sherman moved to New Haven when he was in his 40’s, and there he opened a general store near the Yale campus, continued his legal practice and held numerous governmental posts. In 1766, he began a twenty-three year tenure on the Connecticut Superior Court.

A list of the legislative, judicial and executive positions to which he was elected demonstrates just how widely respected and well-known throughout Connecticut Roger Sherman was: both houses of the Connecticut legislature, justice of the peace, judge of the Superior Court of Connecticut, member of the Continental Congress, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Mayor of New Haven, member of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. And those are only the major posts that he held. The list of minor offices he held and responsibilities he took on are legion. No job was too big, or too small for Roger Sherman.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Roger Sherman NEXT WEEK!

For more awesome stories about the Signers – 

Check out Mark’s book: 

Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor: The Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence

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