History In Ink®  Historical Autographs







Benjamin Harrison

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

In the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War,

Harrison certifies a familyʼs entitlement to land

due a deceased soldier for his military service

Benjamin Harrison V, 1726–1791.  Signer of the Declaration of Independence; Governor of Virginia, 1781–1784.  Manuscript Document Signed, Benj Harrison, one page, 3⅞” x 6”, Council Chamber, June 24, 1783.  Countersigned by Thomas Meriwether, Thos Meriwether.

This is a poignant document that shows the reality of war.  In the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War, Harrison, then Governor of Virginia, certifies that a deceased soldierʼs family has the right to a grant of land due the soldier for his military service.  He certifies “that the representative of Robert Turk is entitled to the proportion of land allowed a Private of the Virginia Line for three years service.”

The Revolutionary War was effectively over on October 19, 1781, when British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army to a combined force of American Continental Army troops commanded by General George Washington and French troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau.  But it took until 1783 for the British government to negotiate peace.  On April 18, 1783, Washington issued general orders announcing the “Cessation of Hostilities between the United States of America and the King of Great Britain,” but the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the war, was not signed until September 3.  In June 1783, Washington personally signed discharge documents for the Continental Army troops, but most bore certificates that designated the soldiers “as being on Furlough” and stated that discharge would become effective upon “the Ratification of the definitive Treaty of Peace.” 

This document, dated June 24, 1783, was issued shortly after Washington furloughed his troops.  The proximity of dates is a direct tie to the Revolutionary War.

Harrison, the father of President William Henry Harrison and the great-grandfather of President Benjamin Harrison, was a member of both the First and Second Continental Congresses.  In the First Continental Congress, Harrison signed the 1774 Petition to the King by which the delegates requested that King George III pay attention to the grievances of the colonies and repeal the Coercive Acts, which the British parliament enacted to punish the colonies after the Boston Tea Party. 

In the Second Continental Congress, Harrison presided over the final debates on Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee’s independence resolution and over the debates on the actual Declaration of Independence itself.  Congress voted to declare independence on July 2, 1776, and approved the formal language of the Declaration on July 4.  Harrison became one of the 56 men to sign the Declaration.

Harrison has signed this document in heavy brown ink.  The document is in the hand of Col. Thomas Meriwether, a Revolutionary War veteran who served as assistant clerk of the Council of State.  Meriwether has written and countersigned it in brown.  It appears that this Thomas Meriwether was a cousin of explorer Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, and also a very distant cousin of Harrison.

A notation on the back side identifies Thomas Turk, Jr. (1755–1833?), as the legal representative of Robert Turk, the deceased soldier whom this document says was entitled to the land. The note is signed by Zechariah Johnston, who appears to have been a Revolutionary War soldier himself who later served in the Virginia legislature and constitutional ratification convention.

This document has been expertly laid into a slightly larger sheet that is a bit irregularly trimmed.  Ink from the back bleeds through slightly to the front, affecting two lines of the text and two letters of Harrisonʼs signature.  There are a few small cracks and holes in places in the handwriting, including a few in Harrisonʼs signature, where the old iron gall ink has corroded the paper.  Those could likely be repaired by a conservator.  Overall the piece is in fine condition.




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