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The Continental Congress Adopts the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776

As we celebrate America’s birthday, let’s take a look back through the original documents of the Continental Congress available on Fold3 to see how history unfolded!

In 1774, as the relationship between colonists and the British deteriorated, the First Continental Congress was established. Their Articles of Association was an attempt to respond to the British Intolerable Acts (a series of punitive laws meant to punish colonists for the Boston Tea Party), and to assert some level of independence.

Fold3 Image - The Declaration of Independence
On September 5, 1774, the First Continental Congress convened in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia with the intention of drafting a declaration of rights. Peyton Randolph was elected president.

The British did not respond warmly to their efforts and attempted to quell the rebellion. In the meantime, colonists were organizing and strengthening militias. Tensions came to a head when the British arrived at Concord, Massachusetts for a routine raid on colonial military supplies. Shots rang out and the American Revolutionary War began.

On May 10th, 1775, a Second Continental Congress was convened to determine how to respond to the British threat. In June, Congress authorized the printing of money to buy war supplies. There were no taxes, so colonies were asked to contribute men and supplies. Congress met throughout May to “take into consideration the state of America.” A committee was appointed to conduct relations with foreign governments. Congress had become a functioning government.

On June 14th, Congress created a Continental Army and put George Washington in command. Congress relocated to York, Pennsylvania because British troops occupied Philadelphia. In July, Congress drafted The Olive Branch Petition in one last attempt to avoid war. It was rejected.

By the time 1776 rolled around, the discussions in Congress had shifted to complete independence. In June of that year, a committee was formed to begin drafting a declaration. On July 2nd, 1776, the Declaration of Independence passed Congress and on July 4th, Congress approved it!

Do you have ancestors that participated in the Continental Congress or fought in the Revolutionary War? If you want to dive deeper into the records, search our archives!


  1. H. Martin Soward says:

    From what I’ve been able to determine, your Revolutionary Pension records are very limited. I am searching for pensions for participants from the state of New York. Do you not have any or am I searching incorrectly?

    • Crystalbeutler says:

      Look on Fold 3.

    • Gretchen Anderson says:

      I don’t have an answer for you because I have a lot of trouble with Fold 3, and no customer service support. Also, the quality of images saved to Ancestry is poor and unreadable. And if you are not currently a member of Fold 3, you can’t click on the poor copy and see the better copy that they have. It should operate differently but seems to operate so that one must continue membership forever to be able to view the documents you’ve saved. Very unlike Ancestry’s other documents.

  2. John Jones says:

    I can’t even sign on fold3 and have contacted fold3 before and no one has contacted me to even try to help. It will be canceled when it expires next year

    • Try locating a Family History Center which would be housed in a church building owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Typically there are regular hours and staff who MAY be able to help you. All staff there is volunteer, but some may have the expertise that you need. there will no charge for you using the facility; they are delighted to have people come in. You will likely have to pay for photo copies if you make them.

  3. Cindy White says:

    How do I find any ancestor who might have been involved with the CONTINENTAL congress?

  4. Robert Yee says:

    Reverend John Knox Witherspoon (1722-1794) signed the Declaration of Independence and was a first cousin 9X removed from Linda M. Neil in our family tree.

  5. Wanda Hunt says:

    I celebrate my 12th cousins, President John Adams, and Samuel Adams (yes, the beer guy), and 13th cousin, President John Quincy Adams. Thank you for being brave enough to fight for my freedoms!

    • Robert says:

      Thanks Wanda. The Adams family is noted for their valor and their beer is not bad either. .

  6. Michael Hogan says:

    Three of the four delegates from Massachusetts were relatives. Robert Treat Paine was a 2nd cousin 8 times removed, and Samuel and John Adams were 3rd cousins 8 times removed. Several direct ancestors were members of the Committees of Correspondence in the states, mostly in New Hampshire.

  7. William Morton Dillon says:

    George Washington was named for my 6th great grandfather. Mary Ball and Augustine Washington were married in his home.

    • Janet Miller Tucker says:

      Hi William. My great great grandfather was Littleton Downman Mitchell..decendant of Joseph Ball of Morattico VA. We Miller cousins had a family reunion at Bewdley Plantation summer. Wonderful experience. Have you ever been there?

    • William Morton Dillon says:

      No, much of what I am learning is very new to me. We are connected on this heavily branched tree, as my 10th great grandfather was William Ball, father of Hannah, who married Capt. David Fox.

  8. Bob Hastings says:

    It was printed by one of my ancestors Claypool

    • Evelynn Herring says:

      In the early snows of January, 1777, the beleaguered Continental Congress Commissioned the first official printing of the cherished Declaration of Independence. Congress chose Baltimore’s capable printer, and also its first continental postmistress, to print the historic document. Mary Katherine Goddard
      She printed her full name on the bottom of Delecration. She spent fifteen years in her mother’s and then brother’s print shops. She prepared the document, and then took from her pocket the money needed to pay post riders to distribute it throughout the colonies. This is my cousin Evelynn Herring

  9. Nancy says:

    Please cancel 1 week trial members hip

  10. Susan Cote says:

    My first cousin 7x removed was Lyman Hall one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. There is a school in Wallingford, CT also named after him.

  11. William Morton Dillon says:

    Another in-law, the brother in law of my 4th great grandfather was Richard Henry Lee. Who proposed the Lee Resolution. Setting in motion the Declaration of Independence.

  12. Jayne says:

    does fold 3 do worldwide? just the united states is not good for me

  13. Patricia Ford says:

    I doubt if my family had anything to do with writing the constitution they are black. We know the constitution says we are not a person. I don’t need to look up history unless I missed something. I think it should be changed after all the years because it is not including We The People.

    • William Morton Dillon says:

      Here is a poem to celebrate Independence Day
      And despite whatever contemporary historians may say
      Between freedom and government, our Founders sought communion
      Starting us on a journey of justice for all, equality of rights, and a more perfect union
      Ah, but today the Founders are all faulted
      Because they may have owned slaves
      Or if they didn’t, they permitted others to live in slavery
      Which made them all knaves
      That when Jefferson wrote the words,
      “All men are created equal”
      He never intended that the end of slavery, and then civil rights for all Americans, would be its sequel
      But we must remember the times in which these men existed
      It was a time when kings, usurpers, and tyrants persisted
      Yet they fought for freedom when others were fearful and frightened
      Yes, with all their faults, they were still valiant, bold, honorable and enlightened
      Yes they owned slaves, women had no rights, still, they were more sinned against than sinning
      Since then we’ve made a kind of golden progress towards freedom
      And it all started when they declared independence
      That amazing, marvelous, magnificent beginning
      Ben Franklin said the Founders gave us a republic if we could keep it
      The Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights sowed for us a harvest of freedom and we have been blessed to reap it
      So yes they were imperfect in seeking a union of perfection
      Yet despite all their faults, we can only look back upon them with the greatest affection
      So let’s all lift our glasses and give our country a toast
      For the freedom the founders gave us, and for all those who died for that freedom, we love them the most

    • Ken Morgan says:

      Dear Patrica, Crispus Attucks is thought to have been among the first casualties of the revolution. He was a former slave that was among the men killed by British soldiers. It has become known as the “Boston Massacre”. The British soldiers were put on trial and were represented by our future president John Adams. There were many from all ethnic backgrounds that participated on both sides. I have several ancestors who served in militia units during the revolution. They didn’t participate in the Declaration Documents I am sure. I had read documents from that time period. Many communities invited comments about this before sending delegates to represent them in the drafting and ratification process.

  14. Roy Hearn says:

    The Constitution was written by Geniuses to govern Idiots.

  15. Roberta M. Sahr says:

    I, too, have a difficult time threading my way through Fold 3s records to find my ancestors’ names on the American Revolution Roles, Pensions, etc. Every time I try to strengthen the search by adding or subtracting information, Fold3 sends me back to the beginning of the search and I must start again, often having to re-enter the original data. Then, how am I to know what unit, brigade, battalion, or under which general, Capt, or other military person my ancestor was enrolled when I am trying to simply verify if he WAS an American Patriot in the Revolutionary War effort? I find your system very cumbersome. You need to establish an INDEX of names by State to hone or narrow the search for we non-pro researchers to locate a reasonable data base and discard those other units that our ancestors would or could not have served in. Sometimes my search is interrupted by your website popping up a message that I have to belong to Fold3 to continue the search or see the full document when I ALREADY AM a member! In so many instances I don’t have time to go in the circles your web site sends me on. This is why I dropped my membership the FIRST time. Will I ever learn?

  16. Ann M Graves says:

    Fold3 is a slog to dredge up information on ancestors. Entering the correct parameters is not intuitive by any stretch. And the returns are frequently off base. Fold3 needs to simplify its user interface and seriously upgrade its search engine.

  17. Lisa Van de Water says:

    My cousin Walter Courtis, who passed on in 2011 at 99, had a small vial of tea leaves from the Boston Tea Party. Amazing that it had survived all this time!

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