Tomorrow, 4 July, is Independence Day in the United States. I am proud to say that I have a family connection to the events it celebrates.

My eighth great grandfather Richard Dana, born in England – quite possibly in Manchester – in 1617, crossed the Atlantic about 1640 and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Around 1648 he married an American girl named Anne Bullard (1626 – 1711), who was born in Massachusetts. Between 1649 and 1670 they had eleven children. I am descended from Richard’s son Daniel (1663 – 1749) and grandson Richard (1700 – 1772).

My sixth great grandfather Richard Dana appears to have been the first of the family to graduate from a university – Harvard. He became a notable lawyer and politician, a magistrate, and a leading figure in the agitation against British imperial government. He was a founding member the Sons of Liberty, and led Massachusetts opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765.

The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt. Engraving by Paul Revere. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. Richard Dana served as a member of the committee that investigated the Boston Massacre in 1770.

I have written several times about Richard’s oldest son, my 5th great grandfather Edmund Dana (1739 – 1823).  As a young man he travelled to Edinburgh to study. He married in Edinburgh in 1765 and became a clergyman in England with the support of his wife’s family. He did not return to America

On July 4, 1776, the 13 American colonies claimed independence from England, an event which eventually led to the formation of the United States. Each year on Independence Day, the fourth of July, Americans celebrate this historic event.

Edmund Dana’s brother Francis (1743-1811) has a prominent place in this period of American history. In 1773 he married Elizabeth (1751 – 1807), daughter of William Ellery, who became one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

John Trumbull’s 1819 painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee presenting the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. Among those depicted is William Ellery. The image can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill designed in 1976. The original painting hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.

Francis Dana became a leading lawyer and a close associate of George Washington. In 1775 the Continental Congress sent Francis Dana to England in an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the differences leading to the Revolutionary War. He returned the following year and reported to General Washington that a friendly settlement of the dispute was impossible. Dana’s opinion helped influence the adoption of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. He was elected a delegate to the Second Continental Congress on 10 December 1776, where he signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778. He was sent as Ambassador to Russia in 1780. The future President John Quincy Adams served as his secretary. Again a member of Congress in 1784 and a leader of the Federalist Party, Francis Dana later joined the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, where he served as Chief Justice from 1791 to 1806.

Some of the signatures on the Articles of Confederation including Francis Dana who was one of six who signed on behalf of Massachusetts Bay and Francis’s father in law William Ellery who was one of three who signed on behalf of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. John Hancock also signed on behalf of Massachusetts; Hancock is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence, so much so that the term “John Hancock” has become a synonym in the United States for signature.


with apologies to Spike Milligan

  • Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (1956). The Dana Family in America. Wright & Potter Printing Company, 32 Derne Street, Boston

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