Before the Revolution
Abraham Clark was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in 1726. He was an only child. Although his father raised him to be a farmer, Abraham displayed great interest in mathematics and civil law. Instead, he became a surveyor.
While working as a surveyor, Clark taught himself law and went into practice. He was famous because he often represented poor people pro bono. As a result, they elected him first as a clerk of the Provincial Assembly. Later, he became sheriff of Essex County.
Clark married Sarah Hatfield in 1749. They had ten children.
The Continental Congress
Early in 1776, the New Jersey delegation to the Continental Congress opposed independence from Great Britain. The New Jersey state convention replaced the state delegation with delegates who supported independence. On June 21, 1776, New Jersey appointed Abraham Clark, John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton, and John Witherspoon as new delegates. They arrived in Philadelphia on June 28, 1776, and voted for independence in early July.
Two of Clark’s sons were officers in the Continental Army. Later, they were captured, tortured, and beaten. Clark learned that one of his sons was put on the prison ship, Jersey, notorious for its brutality. Captain Clark was given no food except what was shoved through a keyhole. Congress directed that a British officer in captivity be given the same treatment as Captain Clark. As a result, Captain Clark’s treatment improved. The British offered Clark the lives of his sons if he would recant signing the Declaration of Independence; he refused.
Clark remained in the Continental Congress until his election as a member of Essex County’s New Jersey Legislative Council in 1778. New Jersey returned him twice more to the Continental Congress, from 1780 to 1783 and from 1786 to 1788.
In 1787 Clark he was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention. However, because of poor health, Clark was not able to attend the convention. After he recovered his health, Clark was elected to the federal Congress. When Congress adjourned in June 1794, Clark retired from public life. Unfortunately, he soon died of sunstroke. He is buried in the churchyard at Rahway, where a marble slab has the following inscription:
Firm and decided as a patriot,
zealous and faithful as a friend to the public,
he loved his country,
and adhered to her cause
in the darkest hours of her struggles