Founding Fathers Friday: Thomas Stone
by Derrick G. Jeter
“Pains of love be sweeter far
Than all other pleasures are.”
–John Dryden, “Ah, How Sweet It Is to Love”
Who knows if Thomas Stone ever read the seventeenth-century English poet John Dryden, but Dryden’s words are a fitting epitaph for Stone’s grave.
Stone was an unassuming man. A man of dignity, faith, and devotion to the wife he adored. A son of Maryland, he grew up on a plantation and became a lawyer. In his twenties he met the beautiful Margaret Brown and fell in love. They married and had three children. Margaret’s dowry was substantial enough for the couple to purchase land near Port Tobacco and to build a home, Habre-de-Venture.
Stone dedicated his life to his family and to the practice of law. But in 1774 his dedication widened and, unbeknown to him, would have a lasting impact on generations to come. That year, Stone played the prosecutor in a case against a man who refused to pay a poll tax in support of the Church of England. This during a time when opposition to direct taxation was becoming heated in the colonies, placing Stone on the wrong side of history. His opponents in the case were Thomas Johnson, William Paca, and Samuel Chase. Stone lost the case. And though he argued for the Crown he was elected, later that year, to represent Maryland in the Continental Congress.
Maryland was not like Massachusetts, it was not hungry for independence. The Maryland assembly agreed with the sentiments of John Dickinson—that an olive branch be extended to King George III in hopes that a way forward could be found to calmer waters. When Stone took his seat in Congress in 1775 he sided with the assembly and the Dickinson’s faction. However, Stone was quiet about his support. He spoke rarely, if at all in Congress.
During the summer of 1776 when the tide began to turn toward independence, Stone followed the new dictates of the Maryland assembly in support of the Lee resolution. He voted with his delegation for independence on July 2 and signed the engrossed document on August 2.
Stone continued as a congressman until 1778, serving on the drafting committee for the Articles of Confederation. When he left Congress, Stone served Maryland as a state senator. Re-elected to Congress in 1783, he went on to serve as acting president. In 1787 he attended the Constitutional Convention, though if he could have known what would transpire that summer he would have never left home.
A decade earlier, in 1777, Stone’s beloved Margaret was inoculated for smallpox. A unpleasant procedure, the physician extracted pus from a smallpox victim and transfered the disease through an incision under the skin to the one being inoculated. The result was often a mild case, rendering the individual immune to the disease in the future. In some cases, however, the inoculated individual didn’t become immune, went blind, or even died.
After her inoculation Margaret’s health worsened. The ten years between her inoculation and the beginning of the Constitutional Convention were years of suffering. The Convention began in May 1787; Margaret died in June of that year, while her husband was in Philadelphia. To assuage his broken heart, Stone closed his legal practice and planned a trip to England. He rode to Alexandria, Virginia, where he was to board ship. While there he suddenly collapsed and died. It was four months after Margaret’s death.