The year after Hart's birth in 1711 at Stonington, Conn., his parents emigrated to New Jersey and settled on a farm in the Hopewell vicinity. Hart was to live there and till the soil all his life. In 1740 he married and began raising a family of 13. In time, while gaining the sobriquet "Honest John," he acquired considerable property, including grist, saw, and fulling mills, and emerged as a civic leader. From the 1750's until the outbreak of the War for Independence in 1775, despite a paucity of education, he worked his way up the political ladder in Hunterdon County and the State. He held the offices of justice of the peace, county judge, colonial legislator (1761-71), and judge of the New Jersey court of common pleas.
In the legislature's dispute with the Royal Governor, Hart opposed parliamentary taxation and the stationing of British troops in the colony. During the years 1774-76, he attended the New Jersey provincial congresses, where he achieved the vice-presidency, and won appointment to the council of safety and the committee of correspondence. In June 1776 he and four other Delegates were chosen to replace the incumbent conservatives in the Continental Congress. The new delegation arrived at Philadelphia just a few days before the votes for independence on July 1 and 2 and cast affirmative ballots.
In August 1776, just after Hart signed the Declaration, he departed to accept the speakership in the lower house of the New Jersey legislature. That winter, during the British invasion of the province, the redcoats wreaked havoc on his farm and mills and drove him into hiding among the hills surrounding the Sourland Mountains. When he ended his exile in the wake of the American victories at Princeton and Trenton, he discovered that his wife, ill at the time of the attack, had died and his family scattered. In 1777-78 he sat again on the council of safety, but failing health forced his retirement. He died the next year, at the age of 69, on his Hopewell farm. He is buried in the yard of the First Baptist Church at Hopewell.
Drawing: Oil, ca. 1884, by Herman F. Deigendisch, after Henry Bryan, Jr., Indpendence National Historical Park. Some authorities have questioned the authenticity of his likeness.
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004