The seeds of our journey were planted while on vacation in the oddest of places for such a quest – Hawaii. As we walked to the Kailua-Kona 4th of July parade my oldest daughter, then 7 years old, asked a simple question: What is the 4th of July all about? Eschewing a short answer, I opened the Declaration app I had on my iPhone and proceeded to read the Declaration to our two daughters, discussing it as we went along. They were surprisingly attentive and particularly appalled at the transgressions of the British.
We then turned our attention to the bios of the Signers on the app. With both sets of grandparents living on the East Coast we realized there are many Signers buried near their houses. The idea of “It would be neat to visit some of them” quickly turned into, “Let’s go visit ALL of them!” And thus the concept of the quest was born.
Needless to say there is a bit of logistical planning needed to tackle this quest. With summers off, as ours is a house of teachers, we devised a plan to visit the gravesites over four years in conjunction with our annual visits to family and friends back East. A massive three-ringed binder housed our research. Each Signer had a page with a brief bio, the Erekson engraving of the Signer, picture of the grave, and any relevant info (contact info for the church/graveyard, map of graveyard, latitude/longitude of the grave, etc.)
With binder in hand, we headed off to our first Signer, Thomas Nelson, Jr. in Yorktown, Va. From this first visit we developed our routine: Prior to arriving at the grave we would read about our next Signer. One daughter would be in charge of finding the grave. The other would plant a small American flag at the base of the grave. Our daughters wrote a word of thanks for us to recite and they kept it short and sweet: “We the Webbs thank you for your great service to our country. Thank you for signing the Declaration of Independence. We honor your courage and bravery.”
Our routine – read, find, plant, recite – was repeated 56 times in 46 different graveyards/monuments, in 41 different towns across 10 states and three commonwealths. Along the way we met some wonderful people and visited so many beautiful parts of our country. Amazingly, not a single grave was visited in the rain!
We finished our quest recently with, appropriately, Thomas Jefferson. Upon hearing of our quest, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in conjunction with the Monticello Association rolled out the red carpet for us. It was a memorable day and a great way to wrap up our quest.
With the quest over, my wife and I feel a bit empty. The joy in the quest was the adventure, the journey, not the goal of 56. But we’ve made memories to last a lifetime and hopefully gave our daughters a better understanding of the history of these United States.