Primogeniture was alive and well in the colonies as many of the signers of Declaration of Independence could affirm. Although raised in a family of means and given a good education, not every younger son took advantage. Thomas Stone did. Riding many miles to school each day, Stone’s intellectual acumen combined with his stern self-discipline to impel him, like so many of his political colleagues then and now, into the study of law and service at the bar.
He borrowed the money to study law under Thomas Johnson, a fortuitous decision as Johnson was rising through the ranks to become Maryland’s first state governor. He established a practice in Charles County, Maryland near Port Tobacco, where he had met and married Margaret Brown. With her substantial dowry, he built his estate “Habre-de-Venture” and raised three children there.
His neighbors thought highly of Stone and elected him to the Continental Congress. He served on the county committee of correspondence to keep abreast of the news from the other colonies and keep his own community informed of British intentions. A man of patriotic sentiment, but conservative instincts, Thomas hoped for reconciliation with the Mother Country. He had contended in a court case prosecuting a local patriot who refused to pay taxes in support of the local Anglican clergy but lost the case against fellow attornys who would end up as fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence.
When the Congress addressed Richard Henry Lee’s proposition to declare autonomy from Britain, some thought the quiet man from eastern Maryland might vote in opposition—certainly many of his constituents counselled caution. When the time to vote arrived, however, Thomas Stone voted Yea for the proposition and Maryland “went out.” He played a key role on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation and he continued serving in the Maryland Senate. Returning to the Congress in 1783, he even served briefly as President.
Although he was elected to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Thomas’s beloved wife died, an event that crushed his spirit and his health. She had been inoculated for smallpox ten years earlier and had been ill ever since. She succumbed in June of ’87. Stone became so disconsolate that he gave up his law practice and politics and finally heeded the advice of friends to visit Europe. While waiting for the boat in Alexandria, Virginia, the signer from Maryland dropped dead at age forty four, some said of a broken heart.