The United States of America is a country built on pioneering – hard work, pushing boundaries, and taking risks. That’s why we’ve decided to celebrate the Fourth of July by honoring some of America’s small business owners. Today, we’ll commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence by remembering some of the people who signed it and the businesses they ran.
John Adams – Lawyer
Most famous as a writer and politician (and our second president), John Adams first started getting attention as a lawyer with his own practice in Boston. He used his knowledge of the law to publicly argue against British taxes. But his business really took off after he agreed to provide legal defense for the British soldiers who had been involved in the Boston Massacre. In 1770, before the Revolutionary War had even begun, a crowd of hundreds of Bostonians gathered around a small group of British soldiers, throwing snow, ice, and rocks. The overwhelmed soldiers eventually fired on the crowd, killing five Americans. Going against popular opinion, Adams took on the job of defending the soldiers in court, believing that justice can’t take sides.
Benjamin Franklin – Printer
Benjamin Franklin is known as an inventor, activist, diplomat, author, and founder of institutions of all kinds, including the first homeowner’s insurance company in the United States. But he also owned his own print shop, where he printed newspapers, his famous almanacs, and even money for the colony of New Jersey. Through this business, he was able to influence monetary policy in the colonies and spread his thoughts about the events leading up the American Revolution, including some famous political cartoons.
Paul Revere – Silversmith and Engraver
Today, we’re more likely to know about Paul Revere’s midnight ride than about any of his business activities. But long before “that famous day and year”, Paul Revere was a silversmith who did some engraving, manufacturing, and even dentistry on the side. Through his work, Revere made many of the connections that would eventually draw him into patriot leadership and he would sometimes use his engraving abilities to further the cause. The Boston Massacre, which turned public opinion further against the British, was made famous through an engraving he did based on a drawing by Henry Pelham. The bottom of the engraving reads “Engraved, Printed, & Sold by Paul Revere Boston” – because, at the end of the day, he was still a business-owner.
Hercules Mulligan – Tailor
Hercules Mulligan is probably the least well-known on the list, and for good reason. Spies tend to keep a low profile. Mulligan was a patriot with important connections on both sides of the battlefield. He is credited with convincing Alexander Hamilton to join the American cause but he also furnished high-ranking British military men with stylish clothes and hats as one of New York’s fashionable tailors. That put him in the perfect position to gather information for the Continental Army. Working with his slave, Cato, Mulligan used his business connections to save George Washington’s life on multiple occasions. After the war, his business continued to thrive and he went on to found the New York Manumission Society to end slavery in the new country.
Betsy Ross – Flag Maker
Betsy Ross is a bit of a legend. She’s credited with sewing the first American flag and even giving George Washington some design tips when he was planning it. But we can’t actually be sure the story is true. What we do know is that she was an upholsterer in Philadelphia. She met her first husband when they were both apprentice upholsterers. He was a member of the Pennsylvania militia and was killed early in the war, leaving her as the sole proprietor of their upholstery business. She made tents and repaired uniforms for the Continental army and the local government paid her “fourteen pounds twelve shillings and two pence for Making Ships Colours” for the Pennsylvania navy.
Although Ross is the face on the myth, there were other small business owners who should share the credit: Rebecca Young was another Philadelphia flag-maker who we know was making continental flags by 1781, and Young’s daughter made the flag that would eventually inspire the writing of our national anthem.
As you can see, you don’t have to lead a huge corporation to make history. From the earliest days of our history as a country, small businesses have been making things happen. Today, we salute the small business owners and entrepreneurs who have chosen this way of expressing the American spirit. Happy Fourth of July!